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With the likes of Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash paving the way for peers and contemporaries alike, those heady days of the mid-seventies had a lot to give in the way of country music.
Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers took the music world by storm, reaching legendary status as they climbed the charts. There’s something wholesome about the country music of those golden years, so let’s take a look at the best the era had to offer!
Essential Album: ‘38 Special’ (1977)
You gotta play a simple song for them // That’s the only thing they want to love and understand // Won’t you play a simple song for them?
Country/southern rock band, 38 Special, kick off our list of good country music in foot-stomping style. Mixing a little of The Eagles with a dose of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the band’s debut album is jam-packed with high points. Tight musicianship, fantastic southern rock vocals from Don Barnes and Donnie Van Zant, and some tasty, bluesy guitar riffs; in short, this album is a country rock party from beginning to end.
The band went on to develop a more arena rock sound as the eighties approached, but this debut album showcases their southern rock roots. If you haven’t sampled the delights of 38 Special yet, I suggest you start with their debut!
Essential Track: ‘Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue’ (‘We Must Believe in Magic’, 1977)
I’ll be fine when you’re gone // I’ll just cry all night long, say it isn’t true // And don’t it make my brown eyes blue…
Crystal Gayle made an inroad into the music business during the early seventies but it wasn’t until her track ‘Don’t it make my brown eyes blue’ crossed over into the pop chart that people really sat up and took notice.
With her trademark long, long hair and almost bluesy tone to her country vocals, the younger sister of legendary country singer Loretta Lynn revealed she had a charm of her own. I’m a big fan of this song, I love the sweetness of Crystal’s vocals, but it’s the melancholy melody and clever lyric that make it one of my favourite seventies country songs.
Essential Track: ‘If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It against Me?’ (‘The Two and Only’, 1979)
If I were dying of thirst // Would your flowing love come quench me // If I said you had a beautiful body // Would you hold it against me…
Possibly one of the cheesiest pick-up lines known to man – and regularly used by Groucho Marx on his tv show You Bet Your Life – ‘If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It against Me?’ was a huge hit across the board for The Bellamy Brothers in 1979.
This song reminds me of ‘Spanish Harlem’, with the same Latin rhythm and just as easy on the ears. You wouldn’t usually expect to find Spanish guitar in a country song, but it works remarkably well here and The Bellamy Brothers’ wistful vocals are spot on.
Essential Album: ‘Moods’ (1978)
I’m sleeping single in a double bed // Thinking over things I wish I’d said // I should have held you but I let you go // Now I’m the one sleeping all alone…
Barbara Mandrell’s best-selling album to date, ‘Moods’ was just a taste of things to come for this popular seventies female artist. The album spawned two hit singles.
There’s more of a pop feel to Barbara’s brand of country, an easily accessible sound, and an even mixture of both ballads and up-tempo tracks. Imagine a countrified Olivia Newton John and you wouldn’t be far off.
‘Moods’ saw Barbara heading for big things in her career, although it would still be a couple more years before she reached her full potential. If you’re looking for some bouncy country pop with a grown-up feel to it, you can’t go wrong with this album. I particularly love the album track ‘I Feel the Hurt Coming On’; as sweeping country ballads go, it’s spot on.
Essential Track: ‘Honky Tonk Heroes’ (‘Wanted! The Outlaws’, 1976)
Piano rolled blues, danced holes in my shoes // There weren’t another other way to be // For lovable losers, no account boozers // And honky tonk heroes like me…
The hero of outlaw country music, Waylon Jennings was in good company with the other ‘outlaws’ of the time – Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson to name a few. The outlaw movement, a sub-genre of country, bucked the trend of more corporate-sounding music and went instead for a more raw, honky tonk style.
‘Honky Tonk Heroes’ is a perfect representation of outlaw country, with Waylon telling the tale of a hapless but lovable good for nothing. Of all Waylon’s tracks, I love his voice on this more than any. He has a southern drawl that’s hard to fault, and an almost intimate tone that works well with the storytelling involved in a good country song.
Essential Track: ‘Southern Nights’ (‘Southern Nights’, 1977)
Southern nights // Just as good even when closed your eyes // I apologize to anyone who can truly say // That he has found a better way…
For me, Glen Campbell is the face and voice of The Nashville Sound of the seventies, and his 1977 track ‘Southern Nights’ is the epitome of a feel good, singalong country and western song. I’m a little biased because I grew up on music like this, but as far as great country music artists are concerned, Glen is up there with the best.
Glen’s vocals are as rich and friendly in this jolly offering as it is on his more sombre tracks, adding a conversational tone to lyrics that pay homage to the South. This is upbeat, jangly country pop that’s sure to get your foot tapping and that quirky little guitar riff is as sweet as a Georgia peach.
Essential Album: ‘An American Dream’ (1979)
Just think Jamaican in the moonlight // Sandy beaches, drinking rum every night // We got no money, mama, but we can go // We’ll split the difference, go to Coconut Grove…
Country/folk rock band The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band paid their dues during the late sixties on the live circuit – and made an appearance in the Western movie ‘Paint Your Wagon’ – before starting to make serious music during the early seventies. The Dirt Band’s brand of traditional country and bluegrass brought them some success, and their cover of ‘Mr Bojangles’ was a highlight of their early career.
As the seventies progressed, so did the band’s sound and their 1979 album ‘An American Dream’ has a definite pop/rock feel whilst still maintaining country roots. There’s a little feel of the Eagles here, but more than anything, this is a strong country rock album with some great harmonies and easy on the ear vocals from Jeff Hanna, as always.
I mentioned them in my intro so I can’t wind this up without giving them some love. Of course, I’m talking about those darlings of country music, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. Either solo or performing together to the sheer delight of fans, no country article would be complete without mention of these two stellar performers.
Dolly Parton shared her childhood memories with ‘Applejack’ in 1978.
Kenny Rogers spun a tale of the old west with ‘The Gambler’ in 1978.
These are just a few of my favourite 70’s country music artists, but can you add more?
And did you know it’s not just the States that boast some big names in country? Check out the stars of Aussie country!
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