100 Greatest Women, #27: Crystal Gayle

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

#27

Crystal Gayle

2008 Edition: #23 (-4)

She had an older sister that was already a country legend by the time she was ready to pursue her musical dream, but Crystal Gayle followed big sister Loretta Lynn’s advice to form her own distinctive style, and she ended up an enormous star in her own right.

Loretta had already married and moved to Washington when Brenda Gail Webb was born. When Brenda was only four, the family moved to Indiana, a good distance away from the Butcher Holler home of her older sister. When Loretta became a star, young Brenda was inspired to follow in her footsteps. She learned guitar, taught herself folk songs and went out on the road with Loretta during her summer breaks from school.

Upon graduation, she signed with Decca Records. They already had Brenda Lee on their label, so they asked Brenda Gail to change her name. Her fondness for Krystal Hamburgers led to her stage name, Crystal Gayle. Loretta wrote her first single “I’ve Cried the Blue (Right Out of My Eyes),” and Gayle performed it in a similar style to hers as well. The song was a modest hit, but future singles fared poorly. The label insisted that Gayle sing like her older sister, which pigeonholed her as an artist.

Frustrated, she received good advice from Loretta, who told her she wouldn’t make a name for herself unless she created her own style. Gayle exited Decca and signed with United Artists, where she began to find her own voice. Working with producer Allen Reynolds, she developed a smooth singing style with a pop flavor. By 1976, it was paying dividends. She scored two #1 hits that year, “I’ll Get Over You” and “You Never Miss a Real Good Thing (Till He Says Goodbye),” and was named the ACM Most Promising Female Vocalist.

The following year, she recorded her signature song, “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” The gold-selling single topped the country charts for four weeks, crossed over to pop and won her a Grammy. The accompanying album, We Must Believe in Magic, was the first female country album to be certified platinum. Her label took the unconventional step of going back to her previous album, 1976’s Crystal, to follow up the mega-hit, resulting in another chart-topper, “Ready For the Times to Get Better,” which Gayle still cites as one of her favorite songs she’s ever recorded.

Thus began a hit run that would go on for more than a decade, and make Gayle a major presence on the adult contemporary charts as well. For three consecutive years, she was nominated for ACM Single of the Year, for “Brown Eyes,” “Talking in Your Sleep,” and “Half the Way.” Her albums regularly went gold, and she dominated the Female Vocalist races, winning the CMA twice and the ACM three times.

One of the reasons that she was so successful was that she didn’t release sound-alike singles. She experimented with different sounds and themes, making her an unpredictable artist. For example, in 1982, her collaboration with Eddie Rabbitt “You and I” was a crossover pop smash, but she followed it with a tender cover of the Rodney Crowell composition “Till I Gain Control Again,” which had been previously cut by Emmylou Harris.

By the time her hit run slowed down, she had accumulated an astonishing eighteen No.1 hits, two more than her older sister had under her belt, and fourth among all women in country music history, behind Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire and Tammy Wynette. She was famous enough to command her own network special, guest starred on shows ranging from Another World to Sesame Street, and became nearly as widely known for her floor-length hair as for her deep catalog of hits.

In recent years, Gayle has continued to tour and record, and has remained eclectic in her endeavors. The nineties and beyond have brought two live albums, a gospel album, a children’s album, a standards collection, and a tribute to Hoagy Carmichael. In 2009, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 2016, she earned the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award, which is the lifetime achievement award of the Academy of Country Music.  Almost fifty years after making her first appearance, Gayle was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in January of 2017. She is currently working on a new studio album, her first since All My Tomorrows in 2003.

Essential Singles

  • Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue, 1977
  • Ready For the Times to Get Better, 1978
  • Talking in Your Sleep, 1978
  • Why Have You Left the One You Left Me For, 1978
  • Half the Way, 1979
  • Too Many Lovers, 1981
  • You and I (with Eddie Rabbitt), 1982
  • ‘Til I Gain Control Again, 1982
  • Baby, What About You, 1983
  • The Sound of Goodbye, 1983

Essential Albums

  • We Must Believe in Magic, 1977
  • When I Dream, 1978
  • Miss the Mississippi, 1979
  • These Days, 1980
  • Cage the Songbird, 1983

Industry Awards

  • Academy of Country Music Awards
    • Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award, 2016
    • Most Promising Female Vocalist, 1976
    • Top Female Vocalist, 1977, 1978, 1980
  • Country Music Association Awards
    • Female Vocalist of the Year, 1977, 1978
  • Grammy Awards
    • Best Female Country Vocal Performance
      • Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue, 1978

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

Next: #26. ?

Previous: #28. Faith Hill

10 Comments

  1. Never cared for her older sister, but I always liked Crystal Gayle. Favorite CG songs:
    Talking in Your Sleep
    When I Dream
    … Brown Eyes Blue
    You and I
    Why Have You Left the One
    I’ll Get Over You
    I’ll Do It All Over Again
    I should check out more of her music since I like her voice so much.

  2. You’d think given my mom’s penchant for the crossover stuff of the late Seventies-early Eighties that I’d be a fan of Crystal Gayle’s music, but the truth is I don’t really care for her. That said, if I did have a favorite song of hers, it’d probably be “You Never Gave Up on Me”.

  3. Crystal may be my favorite pop-country singer (except for Dolly, though I prefer Dolly- the traditional country singer). I think Crystal is always underrated a bit on these types of lists. She was one of he first country singers I listened to.

  4. @Tom,

    Crystal is definitely underrated. We’re at the point of this list where it’s all women who belong in the Hall of Fame eventually, if they aren’t there already. I’d have no qualms with any eligible woman in the top 40 getting inducted.

  5. Crystal Gayle is one of the best crossover artists in country music. She has a amazing voice that can win over anybody.

  6. Her “Ready for the Times to Get Better” was used to great effect in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful 8 a few years back.

  7. Very nice article on my very favorite female country single.

    The albums listed are among my favorite. However, anyone who has never listened to her 1992 gem ‘Three Good Reasons’ should pick it up. Produced by Buzz Stone, it fit right in with the early 90s country sound and Crystal was in excellent form. Too bad radio was no longer playing her or her contemporaries by that time.

    I would add her 1986 version of Johnny Ray’s ‘Cry’ to the very nice list of essential singles. Few vocalists could hit that final note as well as she does. I remember reading that Restless Heart’s Dave Innis played on that song and he was in awe at how big her voice was while recording it.

    Crystal and Anne Murray never get the respect they deserve, probably because they are considered too middle-of-the-road. However, if it weren’t for their success in the 70s and 80s, we probably would’ve never had the opportunity to hear Faith Hill, Martina McBride, or Carrie Underwood on country radio.

  8. I’ve really got to learn to proofread my posts on here. Above, I meant to say she is my favorite female country SINGER, not single. She hasn’t been single since she married her childhood sweetheart right after graduating high school.

    I’ll also add that when she sat down recently to be interviewed by Dan Rather, she told him that she is a singer of songs and that Nashville is full of incredible writers who don’t sing. So she is able to make their songs happen by singing for them. She certainly has sung songs by some of the best writers – from Allen Reynolds, Bob McDill, Richard Leigh, Mark True, Rodney Crowell, Hugh Prestwood, and Vince Gill just to name a few.

    If you only know her for ‘Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue’ then you’re missing out on one amazing singer who certainly entertained millions of listeners for many years. She is a genuine treasure.

  9. @CAJ, your right, she doesn’t get enough credit. I am more of a fan of traditional country but the first country albums I ever had was of Crystal & Dolly. They introduced me to country. My favorite of her’s is “I’ll Do It All Over Again”. I also love the Three Good Reasons CD. Met her briefly once at Dillard’s dept. store. She was very nice.

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