Can an artist who is in the Country Music Hall of Fame and won the Entertainer of the Year award at the peak of his fame still be tremendously underrated?
Listening to Greatest Hits, I’d say yes. Roy Clark is best known these days as the pickin’ and a-grinnin’ partner of Buck Owens, who together entertained families for decades on Hee Haw. While Owens had racked up more than a dozen #1 hits when the show began in the summer of 1969, Roy Clark was relatively unestablished, having only one big hit under his belt by that time.
This newly expanded hits compilation attempts to right that wrong, and is quite successful at it. Originally released as a fourteen track collection in 1995, Greatest Hits adds four additional tracks that help give greater context to Roy Clark’s run at country radio. Three of the additions to the chronological set are from his later years, but the addition of “Then She’s a Lover” from his early run makes the opening of the set even stronger than it already was.
And what an opening! Radio didn’t fully embrace all of his early singles, but each one of them stands the test of time. “Tips of My Fingers” was the second of five hit versions of that classic composition, and I’d argue Clark captures the desperation of the lyrics the best. Six long years passed from his 1963 hit to the second track on the collection, which went to radio just as Hee Haw was kicking off its broadcast run. “Yesterday, When I Was Young” is a masterpiece, one of the finest country singles in history, and established that Clark was it his best when expressing the conflicted emotions of the everyday man.
“Right or Left at Oak Street” somehow missed the top twenty, but along with “Then She’s a Lover,” it captures the complicated realities of the domestic suburban household as women are raising their expectations and men are questioning just exactly why they’re doing what’s always been done before. The big hit “Thank God and Greyhound” avoids becoming a novelty record because of Clark’s gritted teeth delivery and true sense of euphoria at seeing the woman who has belittled and bankrupted him finally getting gone.
Clark joins the culture wars with his tongue planted firmly in cheek on “The Lawrence Welk – Hee Haw Counter-Revolution Polka,” which captures the moment in time that networks and advertisers started chasing the coveted 18-49 demo. Clark charmingly delivers the love ballad “Come Live With Me,” his only #1 hit, while also showcasing his instrumental prowess on “Riders in the Sky.”
There’s definitely a downturn in quality as the collection moves through the latter part of the seventies, but there’s still the captivating cheating song, “Somewhere Between Love and Tomorrow,” and the joyous celebration of the later years of marriage, “Honeymoon Feelin’.” The expanded Greatest Hits does better justice to this era than the original compilation did, stretching the collection all the way to his final hit, “Chain Gang of Love,” which reached #21 in early 1980. The best addition of the four new tracks is “The Great Divide,” which rivals “Thank God and Greyhound” as the best “you broke my heart but I’m so over it” kiss-off number in the collection.
Roy Clark’s Greatest Hits is essential listening for country music fans who have yet to discover the impressive body of work that landed him in the Hall of Fame.