Hot Country Singles of 1964

Roger Miller

Billboard dropped the W designation, as in Western, from its charts in late 1962. So it was the Hot Country Singles of 1964. These topped the charts but did not cross over to lead the pop, RB, or nascent adult contemporary charts.

Once A Day – Connie Smith, eight weeks at #1. Her name is the only one I don’t recognize from the list.

I Guess I’m Crazy – Jim Reeves, seven weeks at #1

My Heart Skips A Beat – Buck Owens, seven weeks at #1. I never owned any of his music, but I knew he was on Capitol Records because the inner sleeves of my Beatles albums featured him, Nat Cole, Al Martino, and several others.

Understand Your Man – Johnny Cash,  six weeks at #1. I didn’t own this at the time, only in the late 1990s, when I was getting his American Recordings did I purchase the greatest hits of his Columbia recordings.

“Sugar is sweet and so is maple syrple”

Dang Me – Roger Miller, six weeks at #1. When I was a member of the Capitol Record Club, c. 1966, I failed to return the negative option card in time. I received his Golden Hits on Smash Records. It included the 1965 crossover hit King of the Road, but also a bunch of other songs I grew to love. I think it was the Roger thing. BTW, the first two videos I found were versions he rerecorded for stereo; it’s not as good.

I Don’t Care (Just As Long as You Love Me) – Buck Owens, six weeks at #1. Owens was considered one of the most successful artists of the Bakersfield sound, “defined by its influences of rock and roll and honky-tonk style country, and its heavy use of electric instrumentation and backbeat. It was also a reaction against the slickly produced, orchestra-laden Nashville sound, which was becoming popular in the late 1950s.”  

Saginaw, Michigan – Lefty Frizzell, four weeks at #1

Begging To You – Marty Robbins, three weeks at #1. I got a Robbins greatest hits CD from my late FIL’s CD collection.

Together Again – Buck Owens, two weeks at #1. The only time I regularly watched the country-laden variety show Hee Haw, which he co-hosted with Roy Clark from 1969 to 1986, was in the spring of 1975 when I was shivering in my grandmother’s old house and had only one channel, WNBF, Channel 12 on the VHF dial.

B.J. the D.J. – Stonewall Jackson, one week at #1

Country Best Sellers of 1954

Wake Up, Irene

The odd nature of the Billboard charts is that, for most of the 1950s, there were three different charts each for pop, country, and rhythm and blues categories.

So there was a Country Best Sellers of 1954 roster; the category (BS) began in May  1948. But there were also ones for JukeBox (JB), starting in January 1944, and Jockeys (JY- radio play) starting in December 1949.

As it turns out, the three biggest hits for the year spent multiple weeks in each category. These are all familiar names, probably from the nights listening to WWVA in Wheeling, WV.

I Don’t Hurt Anymore – Hank Snow, the Singing Ranger, and the Rainbow Ranch Boys, b20 weeks at #1 (BS 20, JB 20, JY  18)

Slowly – Webb Pierce, 17 weeks at #1 (BS 17, JB 17, JY 15) , co-written by Pierce

More And More  – Webb Pierce, 10 weeks at #1 (BS 10, BS 9, JY 8)

The rest of the #1s topped the chart in only one metric.

Bimbo – Jim Reeves, 3 weeks at #1 (JY). In this usage, the title doesn’t mean what you might think it does.

Wake Up, Irene  – Hank Thompson and His Brazos Valley Boys, 2 weeks at #1 (JB)

(Oh Baby Mine) I Get So Lonely – Johnny & Jack, 2 weeks at #1 (JY). The duo was composed of Johnnie Wright (1914–2011) and Jack Anglin (1916–1963). “Johnny was married to Kitty Wells and the duo’s 25-year career together ended in 1963 when Jack was killed in a car wreck while going to Patsy Cline’s funeral.”

Even Tho – Webb Pierce, 2 weeks at #1 (JY). Webb was the lyricist.

A single week at #1

I Really Don’t Want To Know – Eddy Arnold, the Tennessee Plowboy and his guitar (JB)

One by One – Kitty Wells and Red Foley    (JB)

Interestingly, there is no overlaps in terms of the #1s on the pop, country and RB charts in 1954. This would prove to be untrue when we get to 1956. You can blame Elvis Presley and the wave of musicians who charted with him.

But the seeds were planted in ’54, as Elvis made his first Sun Records recording, and Johnny Cash made his move from Sun.

Al Dexter and the country hits of 1944

Pistol Packin’ Mama

Until I noticed that the country music charts started in 1944, per Joel Whitburn’s Record Research book, Al Dexter was unknown to me. This even though he was a massive star.

Per the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame page, he was born Clarence Albert Poindexter on May 4, 1905.  “Al Dexter is considered to be one of the forefathers of the honky-tonk music style. But rather than specializing in forlorn heartache laments, he emphasized the rollicking, good-time, barrelhouse side of this country barroom genre… He was proficient on guitar, banjo, harmonica, organ, and mandolin.” He died in January 1984.

So Long Pal – Al Dexter, #1 for 13 weeks

Smoke On The Water – Red Foley, #1 for 13 weeks. A WWII song, Some of these performers I do know, probably from the 50 Stars, 50 Hits album that my grandfather McKinley Green brought me when I was a kid.

I’m Wasting My Tears On You – Tex Ritter and his Texans, #1 for six weeks. I know that name too, but not just because he was the father of John Ritter of Three’s Company fame. Ritter co-wrote it.

Straighten Up And Fly Right – the King Cole Trio, #1 for six weeks. I own this on a Nat Cole CD. Cole co-wrote this.

Pistol Packin’ Mama – Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters with Vic Schoen and his Orchestra, #1 for five weeks. Dexter wrote it. I have this on a Crosby/Andrews Sisters CD compilation.

Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t (Ma Baby) – Louis Jordan, from the Universal picture Follow the Boys, #1 for five weeks. This song, written by Jordan and Billy Austin, appears on my only Jordan CD compilation. I first heard this song by Joe Jackson in the early 1980s.

Also

Soldier’s Last Letter – Ernest Tubb, #1 for four weeks. After my father-in-law died in 2020, I sorted his CDs and picked out my first two Tubb albums, though I’d known the name for decades.

Pistol Packin’ Mama – Al Dexter, #1 for three weeks.

Ration Blues – Louis Jordan, #1 for three weeks, co-written by Jordan.

Too Late To Worry – Al Dexter, #1 for two weeks

For one week each:

Rosalita – Al Dexter

They Took The Stars Out of Heaven  -Floyd Tillman and His Favorite Playboys, written by Tillman

Some notes:

Al Dexter and his Troopers hit the pop charts with Pistol Packin’ Mama in 1943. The song was used in a 1943 film of the same name.

Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, together and separately, hit the top of the pop charts in 1944 but with different songs. The same is true of Louis Jordan.

Hank Williams would have been 100 years old

I Can’t Help It

Hank Williams would have been 100 years old on September 17, 2023. He died before I was born.

When I was a tween (though the term didn’t exist then), I would listen to WWVA in Wheeling, WV, a clear channel station playing country music, late at night. Hank Williams appeared often enough that I had forgotten that he was deceased.

The first listing in the book On This Day In Music History by Jay Warner,  2004 iteration, is for January 1, 1953. “Legendary country singer Hank Williams had a career forty-two hit singles, including eleven #1s such as ‘Lovesick Blues,’ Hey Good Lookin’,’Cold, Cold Heart,’ and ‘Jambalaya.'” I LOVED Hey Good Lookin’ in particular.

“The hard-drinking Mount Olive, Alabama youth (he started drinking at age eleven) started out as a songwriter in Nashville and had his first hit with ‘Move It on Over‘ in 1947. “

I swear I saw the 2015 movie I Saw The Light, starring Tom Hiddleston as Loki, I mean Hank.  As I recall, it was rather bland, boring, and unfocused, though I apparently didn’t write about it. It got terrible reviews, 19% positive with critics and 37% with the audience. But I did learn that he wrote the title song, which I had assumed was an anonymous old tune.

“Troubled by back problems most of his life, pain killers, and booze became his crutch. He died of a heart attack in the rear seat of a Cadillac en route to a concert in Ohio today. He was only twenty-nine.”

I own his 40 Greatest Hits on two CDs from 1988, likely from a 1978 set of LPs.

He’s the composer.

Under soundtracks, the IMDb page has 242 references to Hank Williams as the composer and occasional performer, from Apache Country (1952) to Asteroid City (2023).  It includes I Can’t Help It by Ricky Nelson, which he performed on Ozzie and Harriet in 1959.

Hank is covered a lot. Long Gone Lonesome Blues by Sheryl Crow appears on a 2001 tribute album, Timeless. There are other tribute albums as well. The one I have is The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams from 2011.

The Residents recorded Kaw-Liga in 1986.  Jerry Lee Lewis took on I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive in 1995. My very favorite is Norah Jones singing Cold, Cold Heart, which appears on her debut album, Come Away With Me, which I bought in 2002.

There are three Hank Williams 100th Birthday Tribute Shows: in Leicester, England, yesterday, in Seattle today, and in Chicago tomorrow.

Country Music: Ken Burns, PBS

Can The Circle Be Unbroken?

Country Music.Ken BurnsSixteen hours of the history of country music. I watched it all. Some bits of it I knew about, but I learned a lot, especially the parts before I was born. It starts with the 1920s when the birth of radio and the growth of the phonograph record propelled country/hillbilly music as well as other musical genres.

The beginning of the Grand Ole Opry is outlined. The documentary posits that there were two early giants of country music, the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. Rodgers brought forth the yodel in recorded music, often replicated by others for decades. The second episode, “Hard Times (1933-1945),” touches on Gene Autry and Bob Wills.

Oddly, it was the story about the creation of the music licensing entity BMI that was a big revelation for me. It was “founded by a group of radio industry leaders meeting in September 1939 at the National Association of Broadcasters annual convention in Chicago. The move [was] prompted by ASCAP requesting to double license fees to the radio industry…”

“Hillbilly Shakespeare 1945-1953” certainly described Hank Williams, who dominates Episode 3. Eddy Arnold and Bill Monroe are also included. Episode 4 is called “I Can’t Stop Loving You 1953-1963”, which meant that it had to mention the seemingly unlikely crossover of Ray Charles. Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, and early Elvis are some of the others highlighted.

The parts I remember

“The Sons and Daughters Of America (1964-1968)” is the title of Episode 5. Loretta Lynn, Charlie Pride, Merle Haggard, and Roger Miller are among the stars. The Beatles even get a mention with their Buck Owens cover. This is the period of my first recollections listening to WWVA in Wheeling, WV late at night.

Episode 6, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken (1968-1972),” gets into the period I was collecting music. More than one person I know discovered Kris Kristofferson from this show. Bob Dylan and The Byrds get coverage, as well as The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

“Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way? (1973-1983)”, in Episode 7, discusses the ongoing tension between “traditional” country and countrypolitan. Olivia Newton-John beats out Loretta Lynn for the best female artist at the CMA? Highlights include Dolly Parton, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Hank Williams Jr, Roseanne Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Emmylou Harris.

Finally, Episode 8, “Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’ (1984-1996)”, shows the development of Ricky Scaggs, Reba McEntire, George Strait, Randy Travis, The Judds, Dwight Yoakum, and especially Garth Brooks.

Among the complaints were that Burns, et al. left out any number of artists from Jim Reeves to Linda Ronstadt, while spending too much time on Johnny Cash. I suppose this may have some legitimacy. Sometimes, for licensing, artistic, or other reasons, you work with what you have. On the other hand, Marty Stuart’s knowledge of the genre continues to amaze.

The music

There’s a five-CD set of the music mentioned in Country Music. I thought I’d link to just a handful. I’m ignoring any cuts I already own, such as tracks by JR Cash, Charles, Cline, Kristofferson, Lynn, and Williams.

Can the Circle Be Unbroken – The Carter Family
Blue Yodel No. 8 (Mule Skinner Blues) – Jimmie Rodgers
Fox Chase – DeFord Bailey, the first black at the Grand Ole Opry
Mountain Dew – Grandpa Jones and his Grandchildren; by the time Jones was on the TV show Hee Haw, he didn’t need the makeup anymore

I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart – Patsy Montana & The Prairie Ramblers
New San Antonio Rose – Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
Wabash Cannonball – Roy Acuff
It’s Mighty Dark to Travel – Bill Monroe & his Blue Grass Boys

New Mule Skinner Blues – Maddox Brothers and Rose
Foggy Mountain Breakdown – Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, who I first knew from The Beverly Hillbillies
It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels – Kitty Wells
Crazy Arms – Ray Price

The Long Black Veil – Lefty Frizzell; I have The Band and Mick Jagger versions of this
El Paso – Marty Robbins
Stand by Your Man – Tammy Wynette, later covered by Lyle Lovett
Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way – Waylon Jennings

Boulder to Birmingham – Emmylou Harris
Pancho and Lefty – Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson
He Stopped Loving Her Today – George Jones
Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’ – Ricky Skaggs

Somebody Should Leave – Reba McEntire
Why Not Me – The Judds
Streets of Bakersfield – Dwight Yoakam with Buck Owens
Where’ve You Been – Kathy Mattea
Go Rest High on That Mountain – Vince Gill
I Still Miss Someone – Rosanne Cash

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