Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Country Crossovers

Country Crossovers: Part 1
Alright, folks, time for something completely different! Finally, we're going to talk about that purely American music called Country. And more specifically, those country songs that crossed-over from the US Billboard country charts into the pop charts. Even if you're more of a pop/rock person yourself, you still might enjoy hearing these classics that your parents (or maybe even your grandparents) likely listened to.

Of course we must begin with American singer-songwriter Johnny Cash, one of the most influential musicians in the 20th century. With songs and sound spanning many genres including country, rockabilly, rock n roll, blues, folk, and gospel, "The Man In Black" obviously had great crossover appeal, and is known for his distinctive bass-baritone voice. Originating from Arkansas, his music represented his life, echoing themes of sorrow, moral tribulation, and redemption. Released in April of 1963, one of his many signature songs is "Ring of Fire," co-written by June Carter (Cash's future wife) and Merle Kilgore (although Cash's first wife at the time claims that Cash himself co-wrote the song and gave Carter the song-writing credit because "she needed the money"). With its mariachi-style trumpet accompaniment, this tune became the biggest hit of his career, staying at #1 on the country charts for 7 weeks and reached #17 on the pop chart. Nice to see the often somber yet humble Johnny enjoying this live performance.

Also from Arkansas, the songs of country music singer and guitarist Glen Campbell have been in the country chart over 74 times, with 27 of those singles reaching the Top-10. First establishing his career as an in-demand session guitarist in the '60s, playing on numerous hits with "the Wrecking Crew" (you know, that elite group of session musicians that played on recordings for The Beach Boys, The Byrds, The Mamas & The Papas, The 5th Dimension, Nat King Cole, etc!), Campbell became a solo artist in the late '60s and made history by winning four Grammy Awards in both country and pop categories in 1967. In the same year when he received Country Music Awards' top honor as 1968 Entertainer of the Year, he released one of his biggest hits, "Wichita Lineman," written by Jimmy Webb (who also wrote "Up, Up and Away" and "MacArthur Park"). Referred to as "the first existential country song," it topped the country chart and reached #3 on the US pop chart, becoming certified Gold by January '69, and is now among those 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Due to his current Alzheimer's diagnosis, there was a nice tribute to Campbell at the 2012 Grammy Awards last month, and I thought he sounded great singing his "farewell" (it was quite touching seeing the whole audience singing "Rhinestone Cowboy" along with him). Anyway, here's that beauty of a song, "Wichita Lineman," performed by all-American Glen Campbell in December 1968.

As an American country music singer who was successful in pop music crossovers during the early '60s era of the Nashville Sound, Patsy Cline is one of the most influential and acclaimed female vocalists of the 20th century. Known for her bold contralto voice, she was a pioneer in the country music industry, and is viewed by some as an icon similar to legends Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, often voted as one of the greatest singers of all time. A follow-up to her hit "I Fall to Pieces," her 1961 single "Crazy" reached #2 on the country chart and #9 on the pop charts by early '62, becoming one of her signature tunes. Written by then-unknown Willie Nelson, this beautiful ballad with its complex melody suited Cline's vocal talent perfectly, and is also listed among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In this clip, she is wearing a headband to cover up the scars on her forehead from a life-threatening car accident she had been involved in earlier that year. Sadly, while at the height of career, she died in a private plane crash in 1963 at the age of 30. Another beauty taken too soon.

We'll conclude this post with American singer-songwriter and actor Roger Miller, best known for his honky tonk-influenced novelty songs during the mid-1960s Nashville Sound era. After serving in the US Army, he began his music career as a popular songwriter in the late 1950s, and reached peak success as a recording artist in the late '60s. Released in January 1965, "King of the Road" was a chart-topping country hit for Miller and became a highly popular crossover record, reaching #4 on the Billboard pop chart. Selling a million copies by that May, it won him numerous awards and earned him a royalty check worth $160,000 that summer. The humorous lyrics tell a story of a hobo who enjoys his freedom as a "king of the road." (For the younger kiddos like me, you may recognize Miller's voice from Walt Disney's 1973 animated film Robin Hood as the "whistling" Rooster character). Here's fun footage of Miller playing with Johnny Cash on the latter's TV show.


  1. Hi Leah, Sorry about my lack of comments lately. My old account was deleted by Blogger because it was hacked by spammers (whatever that means) and it's been a great deal of work trying to reconstruct it again. I'll let you know when I reopen.

    Your blog is in the Top 5 that I visit regularly - I really enjoy your writing and admire your approach to the issues. Marie

    1. Marie, so sorry to hear about your blog!! I was wondering what happened to it. I loved it and was totally bummed to see it gone the next time I went to check it out! I didn't know Blogger could delete your account because of spammers, scary! Yes, please let me know when it's up and running again. I want to put your link on my blog.

      And thanks for being a faithful reader! I appreciate your comments, they mean a lot. Thanks again, and Happy Blogging!

  2. Leah, thanks for your lovely comment - I'm so glad that you enjoyed my humble blog. I think I've finally restored enough posts that I can re-open, so here I am:

    It would be an honour to have a link to "It's All In The Grooves" here on "The Sixties Beat." Thanks so much. Marie