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100 Greatest Men: #54. Hank Thompson

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

A legendary star who performed for more than sixty years, Hank Thompson stayed relevant as country music slowly moved from a regional music to a national one.

Born and raised in Waco, Texas,  Thompson modeled his musical style after Texas swing greats like Bob Wills and Gene Autry.  After a stint in the navy,  Thompson developed his musical craft, putting together an outstanding backing band called the Brazos Valley Boys.   The band released a few singles on independent labels, before Tex Ritter landed them a major label deal with Capitol.

Thompson would record with Capitol for eighteen years, and most of his essential work would be recorded during that period.  Thompson and his band recorded scores of hits in the fifties, including classics like “The Wild Side of Life”, which spent fifteen weeks at #1.   Before Thompson finally went solo in 1968, the band had accumulated more than two dozen top ten singles.

Thompson was a pioneer in country music marketing, starring in the first color television variety show the genre had seen, and having the first tour with corporate sponsorship.  Along with Marty Robbins, he was one of the first to make full-length country albums with a unifying concept, and in 1961, he released country music's first big live album.

Thompson recorded solo material with Dot starting in 1968, which earned him a few scattered hits in the late sixties and the early seventies.   Like many of the country stars of his generation, his star dimmed with the arrival of the Nashville sound and the increasing urbanization (and suburbanization) of the genre's audience.  Still, he remained a huge concert draw around the world, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989.

Thompson passed away in 2007, only a month after officially retiring from live performing.

Essential Singles:

  • Humpty Dumpty Heart, 1949
  • The Wild Side of Life, 1952
  • Rub-a-Dub-Dub, 1953
  • Wake Up, Irene, 1953
  • Wildwood Flower, 1955
  • Squaws Along the Yukon, 1957

Essential Albums:

  • Songs of the Brazos Valley, 1956
  • Dance Ranch, 1958
  • Songs for Rounders, 1959
  • At the Golden Nugget, 1961
  • A Six Pack to Go, 1966
  • Smoky the Bar, 1969

Next: #53. Brooks & Dunn

Previous: #55. Roy Clark

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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Songs For Dad

My dad was passionate about many things, and in my memory, he’s defined by two of them: c0llecting vintage toys and loving music.   Earlier today, my mother and I attended Toy Story 3.  He loved the first two films, and it was a way to get closer to him in spirit this Father’s Day.

I couldn’t let this day end without using my humble little corner of the internet to celebrate some of his favorite songs.  A love for country music was something that my father shared with my mother, and thanks to long car trips as  child, this love eventually rubbed off on me.  This morning, my mother put on the country classics Music Choice channel and it was playing their song: “Blanket on the Ground” by Billie Jo Spears.

It’s one of those songs that always seemed to be on the mix tapes that my parents listened to.  But there are a wealth of country hits that I associate with just Dad.  Some of them I always loved. Some of them I didn’t care for at the time. Some I openly disdained and wished he’d never play again.  All of them are now among my favorites because they remind me of him.

So in honor of Father’s Day, here are some of my Dad’s favorite country songs.  Share your dad’s favorites in the comments!

Alan Jackson, “Livin’ On Love”

From my mom’s point of view, K.T. Oslin’s “Hold Me” perfectly encapsulated their marriage.  For my dad, it was “Livin’ On Love.”

Clint Black, “Nobody’s Home”

My dad loved Clint Black, especially his first two albums.  This was the hit he played to death when Killin’ Time was his album of choice.

Johnny Cash, “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky”

Sure, my dad loved “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and “Five Feet High and Rising.” But he also loved Cash’s campier hits, like “One Piece at a Time” and this chestnut.

Dixie Chicks, “Travelin’ Soldier”

No matter what was going on in the room, my dad would stop what he was doing to watch this video.  As a Navy veteran, this song really hit home for him.

Dwight Yoakam, “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere”

Another guy that Dad couldn’t get enough of.  This was a song that I thought he played too much, never caring for it at the time. Now it’s one of my favorites of his.

John Anderson, “Seminole Wind”

He bought the album for “Straight Tequila Night”, but this quickly emerged as one of his all-time favorite songs.

John Conlee, “Common Man”

I do believe that I’d never have discovered this great vocalist if his greatest hits set wasn’t one of the very first CDs my father purchased. I still remember the “Priceless Music Priced Less” logo on the front.

Johnny Horton, “Sink the Bismarck”

Another hits collection dad played the heck out of. I always thought this was Horton’s biggest hit because Dad played it so much. I remember being shocked to find “Honky Tonk Man”, which I knew as a Dwight Yoakam song, was on there, too.

Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler”

He didn’t care for the man’s love songs or most of his pop hits, but he had this album on vinyl and I only remember hearing him play the title track.

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, “Pancho and Lefty”

Another one of Dad’s first CD purchases. I always thought the opening music sounded like a TV theme song.

Marty Robbins, “Big Iron”

Dad loved the Western subgenre of country music, at least as performed by Marty Robbins.

And finally, it’s not a country song, but it was his favorite song, and I’ll forever associate it with him. Amazing how I used to groan when I heard him playing it on our living room jukebox again, and now I never get tired of it because it’s him.

The Beach Boys, “Sloop John B.”

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ACM Flashback: Single Record of the Year

As with the similar CMA category of Single of the Year, looking over the history of this category is the quickest way to get a snapshot of country music in a given year.  There is a quite a bt of consensus among the two organizations here, and it is very rare for the winner at one show to not at least be nominated at the other. The winners list here would make a great 2-disc set of country classics, at least for those who don’t mind a little pop in their country. The ACM definitely has more of a taste for crossover than its CMA counterpart, and the organizations have only agreed on 17 singles in the past four decades and change.

As always, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back to 1968.

2010

  • Zac Brown Band, “Toes”
  • Billy Currington, “People Are Crazy”
  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
  • Miranda Lambert, “White Liar”
  • David Nail, “Red Light”

There’s usually a “Huh?” nominee among the ACM list in recent years.  This year, it’s David Nail.  Good for him!  Currington hasn’t won yet for this hit, even though he got himself a Grammy nomination for it.  With Lady Antebellum reaching the upper ranks of the country and pop charts with “Need You Now”, my guess is that they’re the presumptive favorites. Then again, Miranda Lambert is a nominee for the third straight year, and she’s up for her biggest radio hit.

2009

  • Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This”
  • Jamey Johnson, “In Color”
  • Miranda Lambert, “Gunpowder & Lead”
  • Heidi Newfield, “Johnny and June”
  • Brad Paisley, “Waitin’ On a Woman”

Adkins has been a fairly regular fixture on country radio since 1996, but this was his first major industry award.  He also won the ACM for Top New Male Vocalist in 1997.

2008

  • Gary Allan, “Watching Airplanes”
  • Big & Rich, “Lost in This Moment”
  • Kenny Chesney, “Don’t Blink”
  • Miranda Lambert, “Famous in a Small Town”
  • Sugarland, “Stay”

“Stay” swept the Song of the Year categories at all three industry shows, along with winning the ACM for Single Record.  Allan’s presence here shows that being a little West Coast can still help a guy at the ACMs.

2007

  • Heartland, “I Loved Her First”
  • Rascal Flatts, “What Hurts the Most”
  • George Strait, “Give it Away”
  • Josh Turner, “Would You Go With Me”
  • Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats”

George Strait earned his second ACM Single Record award a decade after his first (“Check Yes or No”) and two and a half decades after having his first radio hit.  Underwood won at the CMAs later that year.  “Give it Away” is one of a small group of ACM winners to not receive a nomination at the CMA ceremony.

2006

  • Gary Allan, “Best I Ever Had”
  • Brooks & Dunn, “Believe”
  • Brad Paisley, “Alcohol”
  • Sugarland, “Baby Girl”
  • Carrie Underwood, “Jesus, Take the Wheel”

In the battle of biblical hits, the CMA picked Brooks & Dunn but the ACM picked Carrie Underwood.  Much like George Strait would later win a CMA trophy for a different single (“I Saw God Today”), Underwood later triumphed at the CMA with “Before He Cheats.”

2005

  • Tim McGraw, “Live Like You Were Dying”
  • Brad Paisley with Alison Krauss, “Whiskey Lullaby”
  • Rascal Flatts, “Bless the Broken Road”
  • Keith Urban, “Days Go By”
  • Gretchen Wilson, “Redneck Woman”
  • Lee Ann Womack, “I May Hate Myself in the Morning”

Because McGraw picked up the trophy at the CMAs in 2004, the field was cleared for Womack to win the CMA later in 2005.  McGraw had won the ACM before for “It’s Your Love.”

2004

  • Brooks & Dunn, “Red Dirt Road”
  • Alan Jackson with Jimmy Buffett, “It’s Five O’ Clock Somewhere”
  • Alan Jackson, “Remember When”
  • Toby Keith, “American Soldier”
  • Randy Travis, “Three Wooden Crosses”

Among all the lead nominees, only Toby Keith wasn’t a previous winner. Still, the award went to the new alcoholic’s creed, winning over a more pensive Jackson track and a big comeback hit for Randy Travis.

2003

  • Kenny Chesney, “The Good Stuff”
  • Toby Keith, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)”
  • Trick Pony, “Just What I Do”
  • Keith Urban, “Somebody Like You”
  • Mark Wills, “19 Somethin’”

Chesney spent nearly two months at #1 with this hit, perhaps giving him the edge over the other mega-hits at radio from Keith, Urban, and Wills. As for the Trick Pony nomination, somebody really should find out what Heidi Newfield has on those ACM voters.

2002

  • Brooks & Dunn, “Ain’t Nothin’ ‘Bout You”
  • Diamond Rio, “One More Day”
  • Alan Jackson, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”
  • Toby Keith, “I Wanna Talk About Me”
  • Travis Tritt, “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive”

Jackson’s powerful 9/11 reflection stands out as the only ballad among his four ACM Single Record victories.

2001

  • Toby Keith, “How Do You Like Me Now?!”
  • John Michael Montgomery, “The Little Girl”
  • Jamie O’Neal, “There is No Arizona”
  • Aaron Tippin, “Kiss This”
  • Lee Ann Womack with Sons of the Desert, “I Hope You Dance”

Toby Keith’s run of four consecutive nominations began this year. His album of the same name proved victorious that evening.  Womack’s massive hit became an instant standard, and is incidentally the most recent winner to also be a genuine crossover hit.

2000

  • Dixie Chicks, “Ready to Run”
  • Lonestar, “Amazed”
  • Tim McGraw, “Please Remember Me”
  • Brad Paisley, “He Didn’t Have to Be”
  • George Strait, “Write This Down”

As pop hits go, this one was a monster. “Amazed” even topped the Hot 100, the first country single to do so since “Islands in the Stream.”

1999

  • Faith Hill, “This Kiss”
  • Martina McBride, “A Broken Wing”
  • Shania Twain, “You’re Still the One”
  • Steve Wariner, “Holes in the Floor of Heaven”
  • The Wilkinsons, “26 Cents”

Hill and hubby Tim McGraw each have two ACM trophies in this category, one solo and one shared.

1998

  • Diamond Rio, “How Your Love Makes Me Feel”
  • Tim McGraw with Faith Hill, “It’s Your Love”
  • LeAnn Rimes, “How Do I Live”
  • George Strait, “Carrying Your Love With Me”
  • Trisha Yearwood, “How Do I Live (from “Con Air”)”

While Yearwood had won over Rimes at the Grammys a few weeks earlier, the ACM sidestepped the big controversy of the year and gave the trophy to the biggest hit in the bunch.

1997

  • Brooks & Dunn, “My Maria”
  • Deana Carter, “Strawberry Wine”
  • Tracy Lawrence, “Time Marches On”
  • LeAnn Rimes, “Blue”
  • George Strait, “Carried Away”

It’s rare that the ACM goes with the song that was least successful at radio, but don’t let that #10 peak of “Blue” fool you.  That hit was responsible for millions of record sales.

1996

  • Brooks & Dunn, “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone”
  • Faith Hill, “It Matters to Me”
  • Tim McGraw, “I Like It, I Love It”
  • George Strait, “Check Yes or No”
  • Shania Twain, “Any Man of Mine”

It was a stroke of marketing brilliance: add two singles to a box set of a genre superstar. When the first single became one of his biggest hits, the box set quickly became the top selling in country music history.

1995

  • Joe Diffie, “Third Rock From the Sun”
  • Vince Gill, “Tryin’ to Get Over You”
  • Alan Jackson, “Livin’ On Love”
  • Tim McGraw, “Don’t Take the Girl”
  • John Michael Montgomery, “I Swear”

There have been a few wedding standards to win this award, though Montgomery’s hit didn’t cross over in its original form.

1994

  • Clint Black with Wynonna, “A Bad Goodbye”
  • Garth Brooks, “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)”
  • Alan Jackson, “Chattahoochee”
  • Reba McEntire with Linda Davis, “Does He Love You”
  • Dwight Yoakam, “Ain’t That Lonely Yet”

Jackson won the ACM with his massive hit, but the McEntire/Davis duet and the Yoakam track were Grammy winners.

1993

  • John Anderson, “Straight Tequila Night”
  • Brooks & Dunn, “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”
  • Billy Ray Cyrus, “Achy Breaky Heart”
  • Collin Raye, “Love, Me”
  • Tanya Tucker, “Two Sparrows in a Hurricane”

Brooks & Dunn are among the most nominated artists in this category’s history, but this is their only victory.

1992

  • Clint Black, “Where Are You Now”
  • Garth Brooks, “Shameless”
  • Alan Jackson, “Don’t Rock the Jukebox”
  • Travis Tritt, “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)”
  • Trisha Yearwood, “She’s in Love With the Boy”

This was Jackson’s first major industry award.

1991

  • Alabama, “Jukebox in My Mind”
  • Garth Brooks, “Friends in Low Places”
  • Vince Gill, “When I Call Your Name”
  • Alan Jackson, “Here in the Real World”
  • Shenandoah, “Next to You, Next to Me”

Garth-mania was beginning to peak in 1991. He swept the ACMs that  year.

1990

  • Clint Black, “Better Man”
  • Garth Brooks, “If Tomorrow Never Comes”
  • Patty Loveless, “Timber I’m Falling in Love”
  • Keith Whitley, “I’m No Stranger to the Rain”
  • Hank Williams & Hank Williams Jr., “There’s a Tear in My Beer”

Clint Black is one of only three artists in the last twenty years to win for their first proper single, with Carrie Underwood and LeAnn Rimes being the other two.

1989

  • Kathy Mattea, “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses”
  • K.T. Oslin, “I’ll Always Come Back”
  • Ricky Van Shelton, “I’ll Leave This World Loving You”
  • Randy Travis, “I Told You So”
  • Keith Whitley, “Don’t Close Your Eyes”

Mattea’s award-winning hit had such a high profile that it was even referenced in the dialog of the hit movie Rain Man.

1988

  • Restless Heart, “I’ll Still Be Loving You”
  • Ricky Van Shelton, “Somebody Lied”
  • George Strait, “All My Ex’s Live in Texas”
  • Randy Travis, “Forever and Ever, Amen”
  • Hank Williams Jr., “Born to Boogie”

Travis won for the second year in a row with what would become his signature hit.

1987

  • Alabama, “Touch Me When We’re Dancing”
  • Janie Fricke, “Always Have, Always Will”
  • The Judds, “Rockin’ With the Rhythm of the Rain”
  • Reba McEntire, “Whoever’s in New England”
  • Randy Travis, “On the Other Hand”

This was technically his first single, but when released under the name Randy Traywick, it bombed. Warner Bros. then released “1982″ under Randy Travis, and it went top ten. They then re-released this song, and it became his first #1 hit.

1986

  • Lee Greenwood, “Dixie Road”
  • Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, “Highwayman”
  • The Judds, “Love is Alive”
  • Mel McDaniel, “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On”
  • Hank Williams Jr., “I’m For Love”

So successful was this winning single that the four legends would go on to release future collaborations as the Highwaymen.

1985

  • Alabama, “When We Make Love”
  • Julio Iglesias & Willie Nelson, “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”
  • The Judds, “Why Not Me”
  • John Schneider, “I’ve Been Around Enough to Know”
  • Conway Twitty, “I Don’t Know a Thing About Love (The Moon Song)”

Say what you want about this winner, but it was popular enough to sell two million 45s.

1984

  • John Anderson, “Swingin’”
  • Anne Murray, “A Little Good News”
  • Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, “Pancho  and Lefty”
  • Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton, “Islands in the Stream”
  • Shelly West, “José Cuervo”

Another pop smash that moved two million 45s. Is there anybody over 30 who can’t sing along to the chorus?

1983

  • David Frizzell, “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino to Decorate Our Home”
  • Willie Nelson, “Always on My Mind”
  • Kenny Rogers, “Love Will Turn You Around”
  • Ricky Skaggs, “Crying My Heart Out Over You”
  • Sylvia, “Nobody”

Nelson’s had quite a few signature hits, but none bigger than this one.

1982

  • Rosanne Cash, “Seven Year Ache”
  • David Frizzell & Shelly West, “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma”
  • Barbara Mandrell, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool”
  • Ronnie Milsap, “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me”
  • Oak Ridge Boys, “Elvira”

This might be the most pop-flavored lineup in category’s history. Even the Mandrell hit doth protest too much.

1981

  • George Jones, “He Stopped Loving Her Today”
  • Johnny Lee, “Lookin’ For Love”
  • Dolly Parton, “9 to 5″
  • Eddie Rabbitt, “Drivin’ My Life Away”
  • Don Williams, “I Believe in You”

Jones capped his biggest comeback in a career defined by them with several awards for this classic hit.

1980

  • Charlie Daniels Band, “Devil Went Down to Georgia”
  • Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers Band, “All the Gold in California”
  • Crystal Gayle, “Half the Way”
  • Waylon Jennings, “Amanda”
  • Kenny Rogers, “Coward of the County”

West Coast represent!

1979

  • Crystal Gayle, “Talking in Your Sleep”
  • Loretta Lynn, “Out of My Head and Back in My Bed”
  • Willie Nelson, “Georgia On My Mind”
  • Waylon & Willie, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys”
  • Don Williams, “Tulsa Time”

In a category of superstars, the Gentle Giant of Country Music was the victor.

1978

  • Debby Boone, “You Light Up My Life”
  • Crystal Gayle, “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue”
  • Waylon Jennings, “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)”
  • Kenny Rogers, “Lucille”
  • Linda Ronstadt, “Blue Bayou”

All of these records made a big impact on both the country and the pop chart.

1977

  • Mickey Gilley, “Bring it On Home to Me”
  • Loretta Lynn, “Somebody Somewhere (Don’t Know What He’s Missin’ Tonight)”
  • Marty Robbins, “El Paso City”
  • Red Sovine, “Teddy Bear”
  • Waylon & Willie, “Good Hearted Woman”

A surprising win, perhaps fueled by the momentum of Gilley’s previous single, “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time.”

1976

  • Glen Campbell, “Rhinestone Cowboy”
  • Freddie Fender, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”
  • Mickey Gilley, “Overnight Sensation”
  • Willie Nelson, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”
  • Kenny Starr, “The Blind Man in the Bleachers”

Campbell made quite the comeback with this one, and it later inspired the Dolly Parton film vehicle Rhinestone, which earned an ACM nomination of its own for the Tex Ritter Award.

1975

  • John Denver, “Back Home Again”
  • Merle Haggard, “Things Aren’t Funny Anymore”
  • Ronnie Milsap, “(I’d Be) A Legend in My Time”
  • Cal Smith, “Country Bumpkin”
  • Billy Swan, “I Can Help”

Smith may not have gotten all the recognition that his talent warranted, but he made two undeniable classics: “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking”, and his winner here.

1974

  • Merle Haggard, “If We Make it Through December”
  • Byron MacGregor, “The Americans”
  • Jeanne Pruett, “Satin Sheets”
  • Charlie Rich, “Behind Closed Doors”
  • Charlie Rich, “The Most Beautiful Girl”

Rich’s two hits were so big that even with vote-splitting, he still emerged the winner.

1973

  • Donna Fargo, “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.”
  • Merle Haggard, “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)”
  • Johnny Rodriguez, “Pass Me By (If You’re Only Passing Through)”
  • Jerry Wallace, “If You Leave Me Tonight I’ll Cry”
  • Faron Young, “Four in the Morning”

Fargo was a local star on the West Coast before she broke through nationwide with this hit, dominating the 1973 ACM Awards as a result.

1972

  • Merle Haggard, “Carolyn”
  • Freddie Hart, “Easy Loving”
  • Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, “Lead Me On”
  • Loretta Lynn, “One’s On the Way”
  • Charley Pride, “Kiss an Angel Good Morning”

This gold-selling classic helped Hart triumph over the superstars of his day.

1971

  • Lynn Anderson, “Rose Garden”
  • Merle Haggard, “The Fightin’ Side of Me”
  • Anne Murray, “Snowbird”
  • Ray Price, “For the Good Times”
  • Sammi Smith, “Help Me Make it Through the Night”

Each one of these is a classic in its own right. In a battle of Kristofferson-penned hits, Price emerged victorious, though Smith won the CMA later that year.

1970

  • Glen Campbell, “Try a Little Kindness”
  • Johnny Cash, “A Boy Named Sue”
  • Merle Haggard, “Okie From Muskogee”
  • Billy Mize, “Make it Rain”
  • Elvis Presley, “Don’t Cry Daddy”
  • Freddy Weller, “Games People Play”
  • Tammy Wynette, “Stand By Your Man”

Haggard’s only victory in this category came on a night where he also won Album of the Year for the only time in several nominations.

1969

  • Glen Campbell, “Wichita Lineman”
  • Merle Haggard, “I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am”
  • Merle Haggard, “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde”
  • Merle Haggard, “Mama Tried”
  • Roger Miller, “Little Green Apples”

Miller’s known for his legendary songwriting, but his winning hit here was penned by Bobby Russell.

1968

  • Glen Campbell, “Burning Bridges”
  • Glen Campbell, “Gentle on My Mind”
  • The Gosdin Bros., “Hangin’ On”
  • Bobbie Gentry, “Ode to Billy Joe”
  • Merle Haggard, “Branded Man”
  • Merle Haggard, “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive”

A young Vern Gosdin made up half of the nominated Gosdin Bros., a nice historical footnote to the first year of this category. Glen Campbell’s victory was appropriately West Coast for the ACMs first attempt at honoring the national country music scene.

Facts & Feats:

Most Wins

  • (4) – Alan Jackson
  • (3) – Willie Nelson
  • (2) – Glen Campbell, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Kenny Rogers, George Strait, Randy Travis

Most Nominations

  • (12) – Merle Haggard
  • (8) – Willie Nelson
  • (6) – Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson, George Strait
  • (5) – Glen Campbell, Waylon Jennings, Tim McGraw
  • (4) – Garth Brooks, Toby Keith, Loretta Lynn, Brad Paisley, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis

Most Nominations Without a Win

  • (4) – Toby Keith, Loretta Lynn, Brad Paisley
  • (3) – Alabama, Crystal Gayle, The Judds, Miranda Lambert, Hank Williams Jr.

Singles that Won Both the ACM and CMA Award:

  • Merle Haggard, “Okie From Muskogee”
  • Donna Fargo, “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.”
  • Charlie Rich, “Behind Closed Doors”
  • Cal Smith, ‘Country Bumpkin”
  • Kenny Rogers, “Lucille”
  • George Jones, “He Stopped Loving Her Today”
  • Oak Ridge Boys, “Elvira”
  • Willie Nelson, “Always On My Mind”
  • Randy Travis, “Forever and Ever, Amen”
  • Kathy Mattea, “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses”
  • Garth Brooks, “Friends in Low Places”
  • Alan Jackson, “Chattahoochee”
  • John Michael Montgomery, “I Swear”
  • George Strait, “Check Yes or No”
  • Lee Ann Womack with Sons of the Desert, “I Hope You Dance”
  • Alan Jackson, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”
  • Tim McGraw, “Live Like You Were Dying”

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Classic Country Singles: The Browns, “The Three Bells”

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height=”160″ />The Three Bells
The Browns
1959

Written by Dick Manning, Bert Reisfeld and Jean Villard

The structure of “The Three Bells” should be familiar to any listener of contemporary country music. A genre that prides itself on its simplicity is ambitious enough to tell an entire life story in under four minutes. It’s an approach that has created several classic singles like “Where’ve You Been” , “Time Marches On” and “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye.”

One of the most significant historical examples of this structure comes from The Browns, who had a massive crossover hit with their 1959 single “The Three Bells.” It’s a simple tale. The church bells ring three times throughout the course of Jimmy Brown’s life: on the day of his baptism, the day of his wedding, and the day of his funeral. The preacher has words of wisdom for each occasion, ones that would be familiar to any Christian churchgoer, Catholic or otherwise.

That the character shares the same name as lead singer Jim Ed Brown and takes place in a little country town might lead you to believe that this was a song of Nashville origin, but it actually began its life and its worldwide success in France as the story of Jean-François Nicot. Originally written in French, “Les Trois Cloches” was an international hit for Édith Piaf, the songstress that was recently immortalized in the film La Vie En Rose. The Browns, composed of siblings Jim Ed, Maxine, and Bonnie, had been performing the song since seeing it Les Campagnons de la Chanson performing an English-language version on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1952.

When they finally went into the studio to record it in 1959, The Browns thought they were at the end of their recording career. They had just told RCA that the family act was breaking up, despite having enjoyed moderate success since 1954 with eight top fifteen singles. What was intended as their swan song became their signature instead, catapulting them into nationwide fame. Not only did it spend 10 weeks at #1 on the country singles chart, it also topped the pop chart for four weeks and even reached #10 on the R&B chart.

“The Three Bells” came at a time when country music was enjoying its first major crossover success, topping the pop chart a few weeks after Johnny Horton (“The Battle of New Orleans”) and a few weeks before Marty Robbins (“El Paso.”) Robbins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and The Everly Brothers dominated both the pop and country surveys, Guy Mitchell scored a #1 pop hit with his covers of “Heartaches By the Number”, and even two of the big pop stars of the day – Conway Twitty and Brenda Lee – would ultimately find their way to country music and make it their permanent home.

Meanwhile, The Browns would fare better on the pop chart with their next two singles, but continued to be a presence on country radio until the sisters retired. The man who sang lead on the definitive three act country song would have three acts to his own career. After The Browns came to an end, Jim Ed Brown launched a successful solo career, with his 1967 hit “Pop a Top” becoming a bona fide classic later resurrected by Alan Jackson. As the solo hits began to wind down, he reinvented himself as one half of a duo with Helen Cornelius. Their 1976 debut collaboration “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You” took Brown to the top of the singles chart for the first time since “The Three Bells”, and earned them both the CMA award for Vocal Duo in 1977.

“The Three Bells” has crafted quite a legacy of its own, with versions released by everyone from Ray Charles, Alison Krauss, and Roy Orbison to Sha Na Na, Nana Mouskouri and Andy Williams. For modern country fans who haven’t encountered this classic yet, the structure will be instantly familiar.

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The Three Bells
The Browns
1959
Written by Dick Manning, Bert Reisfeld and Jean Villard

The structure of “The Three Bells” should be familiar to any listener of contemporary country music. A genre that prides itself on its simplicity is ambitious enough to tell an entire life story in under four minutes. It’s an approach that has created several classic singles like “Where’ve You Been” , “Time Marches On” and “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye.”
One of the most significant historical examples of this structure comes from The Browns, who had a massive crossover hit with their 1959 single “The Three Bells.” It’s a simple tale. The church bells ring three times throughout the course of Jimmy Brown’s life: on the day of his baptism, the day of his wedding, and the day of his funeral. The preacher has words of wisdom for each occasion, ones that would be familiar to any Christian churchgoer, Catholic or otherwise.
That the character shares the same name as lead singer Jim Ed Brown and takes place in a little country town might lead you to believe that this was a song of Nashville origin, but it actually began its life and its worldwide success in France as the story of Jean-François Nicot. Originally written in French, “Les Trois Cloches” was an international hit for Édith Piaf, the songstress that was recently immortalized in the film La Vie En Rose. The Browns, composed of siblings Jim Ed, Maxine, and Bonnie, had been performing the song since seeing it Les Campagnons de la Chanson performing an English-language version on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1952.
When they finally went into the studio to record it in 1959, The Browns thought they were at the end of their recording career. They had just told RCA that the family act was breaking up, despite having enjoyed moderate success since 1954 with eight top fifteen singles. What was intended as their swan song became their signature instead, catapulting them into nationwide fame. Not only did it spend 10 weeks at #1 on the country singles chart, it also topped the pop chart for four weeks and even reached #10 on the R&B chart.
“The Three Bells” came at a time when country music was enjoying its first major crossover success, topping the pop chart a few weeks after Johnny Horton (“The Battle of New Orleans”) and a few weeks before Marty Robbins (“El Paso.”) Robbins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and The Everly Brothers dominated both the pop and country surveys, Guy Mitchell scored a #1 pop hit with his covers of “Heartaches By the Number”, and even two of the big pop stars of the day – Conway Twitty and Brenda Lee – would ultimately find their way to country music and make it their permanent home.
Meanwhile, The Browns would fare better on the pop chart with their next two singles, but continued to be a presence on country radio until the sisters retired. The man who sang lead on the definitive three act country song would have three acts to his own career. After The Browns came to an end, Jim Ed Brown launched a successful solo career, with his 1967 hit “Pop a Top” becoming a bona fide classic later resurrected by Alan Jackson. As the solo hits began to wind down, he reinvented himself as one half of a duo with Helen Cornelius. Their 1976 debut collaboration “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You” took Brown to the top of the singles chart for the first time since “The Three Bells”, and earned them both the CMA award for Vocal Duo in 1977.
“The Three Bells” has crafted quite a legacy of its own, with versions released by everyone from Ray Charles, Alison Krauss, and Roy Orbison to Sha Na Na, Nana Mouskouri and Andy Williams. For modern country fans who haven’t encountered this classic yet, the structure will be instantly familiar.
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