100 Greatest Women, #82: Melba Montgomery

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition


Melba Montgomery

2008 Edition: #73 (-9)

Ask most contemporary country fans about who George Jones sang all of those classic duets with, and they’ll say Tammy Wynette. Ask a fan with a deep love for traditional country music the same question, and they’ll answer just as quickly: Melba Montgomery.

In fact, until she got her hands on a heart-wrenching Harlan Howard song in the seventies, Montgomery was known primarily as a duet singer. It was way back in 1958 when Roy Acuff caught Melba’s act at a talent show in which he served as the judge. So impressed was the Opry legend that he asked her to replace his departing female vocalist on the road. With Acuff on her side, she signed a recording contract with United Artists in 1962.

Montgomery made several attempts at solo success, even ambitiously titling her 1964 album America’s #1 Country and Western Girl Singer. But her pair of top thirty solo hits from that album paled in comparison to her string of duet hits throughout the sixties and early seventies. She was a natural fit with Jones, her traditional twang complementing his voice perfectly. Whereas he holds back his twang on those later Wynette duets, he absolutely revels in it when singing with Montgomery. Starting with the classic “We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds” in 1962, the pair had a string of hits that lasted throughout the decade.

But he wasn’t her only partner. Montgomery released a successful duet album with Gene Pitney in 1967, and then went even more hillbilly in the early seventies, pairing with legend Charlie Louvin for two fantastic duet albums in 1971, the first of which produced a top twenty hit with “Something to Brag About.”

A switch to Elektra records in 1973 would lay the groundwork for her biggest success, and it would come without a duet partner. Montgomery is quite an accomplished songwriter, but her biggest hit came from the pen of Harlan Howard. “No Charge” found a little boy reciting a list of all the chores that he had done, and the money he was owed for each. The mother replies in song with her own list, that begins with Montgomery wailing in a tear-drenched country twang: “For the nine months I carried you growin’ inside me, no charge.”

That was the peak of Montgomery’s solo success, though she continued to record for the next two decades. In 1992, she released her most recent album to date, Do You Know Where Your Man Is. It featured covers of classic country songs like “Heartaches By the Number”, but also more recent compositions like the title cut, which Pam Tillis would have a hit with the following year. She also has surfaced as a songwriter in recent years, co-writing with Leslie Satcher and scoring a cut on Reba McEntire’s 1996 album What if it’s You.  In 2010, she returned to the studio and released her first studio album in many years, Things That Keep You Going.

Essential Singles

  • We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds (with George Jones), 1963
  • Let’s Invite Them Over (with George Jones), 1963
  • Baby Ain’t That Fine (with Gene Pitney), 1965
  • Something to Brag About (with Charlie Louvin), 1970
  • No Charge, 1974

Essential Albums

  • Singing What’s in Our Heart (with George Jones), 1964
  • Bluegrass Hootenanny (with George Jones), 1964
  • Something to Brag About (with Charlie Louvin), 1971
  • No Charge, 1974

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

Next: #81. Nanci Griffith

Previous: #83. Goldie Hill

1 Comment

  1. It may be of some interest for folks to know that Melba’s duets with George Jones in the early 1960s served as something of a template for Gram Parsons’ later duets with Emmylou Harris, notably with “We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds”.

    And just for arcane chart trivia: “No Charge” did make a modest impact on the overall Billboard Hot 100 when it made (and I know this is a somewhat controversial term even in a good year) the “crossover” to pop, getting up to #39 in May 1974, when it could (if perhaps only a few times) be heard alongside Elton John’s “Bennie And The Jets” and Sir Paul McCartney’s “Band On The Run”.

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