Posts Tagged ‘The Browns’

100 Greatest Men: #75. Jim Ed Brown

Monday, February 20th, 2012

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

It seems only appropriate that a man whose career was launched by a three act song would himself enjoy a career with three spectacular acts.

Jim Ed Brown, born in 1934, was raised in Arkansas.  Like many aspiring country artists of his day, he first sang professionally with his family.   Alongside sisters Maxine and Bonnie, they began performing in the early fifties in various combinations.

Jim and Maxine first signed a contract as a duo, and they gained prominence through Ernest Tubb’s radio show, which played their song, “Looking Back to See.”   When Bonnie joined them, they became known as The Browns.   Soon, the trio were cast members on the Louisiana Hayride, and they appeared regularly on the television show Ozark Jubilee.

Jim had to leave the group after being drafted in 1957, but soon after he returned, the Browns had their biggest hit: “The Three Bells.”  The classic three act song topped the country and the pop charts, and the Browns carried the prominence of that hit and others into Grand Ole Opry membership in 1963.

By the mid-sixties, Jim Ed Brown was recording solo material simultaneously to the Browns’ work as a group.  When the trio officially disbanded in 1967, Jim launched a successful solo career.  From the late sixties through the first half of the seventies, he racked up hits like “Pop a Top” and “Southern Loving.”

Just as his career was cooling down, Brown had a surprising third act.  Pairing with Helen Cornelius in 1976, the duo launched a string of classic singles, including the #1 smash “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You.”   The pair scored twelve hits over the course of the next five year, with all but one reaching the top twenty. In 1977, the CMA named them the Vocal Duo of the Year, the only industry award that Brown earned during his three decade run of hits.

After the hits ended with Cornelius, Brown went back to his television and radio roots.  He hosted the TNN talent show You Can Be a Star in the eighties.  and a nationally syndicated radio host today.   He also performs regularly on the Opry as one of its veteran members.  Next year, he will celebrate his fiftieth anniversary as a cast member.

Essential Singles:

  • Looking Back to See (with Maxine Brown), 1954
  • I Take the Chance (The Browns), 1956
  • The Three Bells (The Browns), 1959
  • Pop a Top, 1967
  • Morning, 1970
  • I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You (with Helen Cornelius), 1976
  • Lying in Love with You (with Helen Cornelius), 1979

Essential Albums:

  • Alone With You, 1966
  • Gems by Jim, 1967
  • It’s that Time of Night, 1974
  • I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You (with Helen Cornelius), 1976
  • Defying Gravity, 2009

Next: #74. Sons of the Pioneers

Previous: #76. Keith Urban

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

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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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