Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Double the Chart-Toppin'

Country Crossover: Part 2
Today's post features four, crossover country music songs that scored both #1 on the country chart and the pop chart.

First, it's American country and gospel singer Jeannie C. Riley from Texas. Her debut single in 1968, "Harper Valley PTA," was an international smash-hit and made her the first woman to top both the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the US Country chart (a feat unrepeated until 1981 by Dolly Parton). The song is about a widowed woman named Mrs. Johnson who confronts members of the PTA after her daughter brings home a note from school that's critical of Mrs. Johnson inappropriate behavior and dress. Just four weeks after the song's release, it sold over five and a half million copies, and earned Riley the Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance, as well as nominations in major pop categories. Apparently, the phrase "sock it to me" used in the final, memorable line of the song was ad libbed at the recording studio at the suggestion of someone at the session. Written by Tom T. Hall and covered by dozens of other artists since, here's the original classic sung by the Texan beauty .

Next up, it's another fellow Texan, the country music singer, TV host, actor, and businessman known as Jimmy Dean. Although he's mostly remembered today as the creator of the Jimmy Dean sausage brand, he first rose to fame in 1961 with his country crossover hit "Big Bad John," followed by his TV series The Jimmy Dean Show (which gave puppeteer Jim Henson his first national exposure). Written by Dean and Roy Acuff, "Big Bad John" tells a story of American folklore (similar to Paul Bunyan or John Henry), and earned Dean the 1962 Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Recording. In addition to reaching the #1 position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, the country chart, and easy listening chart, this million-selling single was also a big hit in the UK at #2 on their singles chart. No live performances available, but here's a nice photo montage (and by the way, I don't know if you noticed the resemblance but Jimmy Dean actually was a distant cousin of actor James Dean!).

Next, we have American country and pop singer-songwriter Bobby Goldsboro, who first began his music career in 1962 as a guitarist for Roy Orbison. Going on to have a string of pop and country hits in the '60s and '70s, he scored his biggest hit in 1968 with "Honey," a tear-jerking single about the death of a young man's wife. Written by Bobby Russell and recorded by Goldsboro in one take, this song hit #1 the week Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Scoring the highest position on three different US Billboard charts (pop, country, and easy listening), this tune also reached #1 in Australia and #2 in the UK, selling millions of copies. As his first country hit, it marked a transition in his career, and he continued to remain a fixture in the country Top-40 into the 1980s. In the mid-'70s, he hosted a TV variety series called The Bobby Goldsboro Show, but eventually retired from full-time performing in the '80s. With lovely orchestration and tragic lyrics, here's a performance of Goldsboro's "Honey."

Finally, we'll concluded with one of the most successful country and Western singers of his era, American singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Marty Robbins. While joining the US Navy at 17 and stationed in the Solomon Islands (South Pacific) during WWII, he learned to play the guitar and became writing songs to pass the time during the war. In October of 1959, he released his best-known song "El Paso," featured in the album Gunfighter Ballads and Trails Songs (my mom had this album and I've never forgotten it; my sister really loved it as kids). Written by Robbins, this country & western ballad was huge hit for both the country and pop charts, being the first #1 song of 1960, and earned him the Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Recording in 1961. Later, Robbins was named Artist of the Decade (1960-69) by the Academy of Country Music. In addition to his love for music, Robbins was also an avid race car driver and he competed in over 35 NASCAR races with six top 10 finishes (I just thought that was great random fact!). Anyway, with its first-person narrative (told by a cowboy in El Paso, Texas), haunting vocal harmonies, and eloquent Spanish guitar accompaniment, I think you'll enjoy the distinctive Tex-Mex feel of this genre classic.


  1. Hi Leah, Another fun post! At the time these songs were released, I couldn't imagine myself ever enjoying (or admitting to enjoying) country music. How things have changed! Over the last few years I've looked back over the charts and picked up many of those songs I used to disparage with my friends at the height of the British Invasion. (I doubt I'll ever warm to Bobby Goldsboro's 'Honey', but I love Marty Robbins' voice.) Can't wait to see what you have in store for us next! Marie

    1. Thanks so much, Marie! It's funny how the older I get, the more styles of music I learn to appreciate, however, I'm totally agree with you about 'Honey;' a little too sappy for me, but I was amazed at the YouTube comments and how many people are still in love with that song.

      Anyway, as usual, thanks for sweet comments, and thanks for reading!

    2. Thanks for the link, Leah! I've found the same thing happening with me - so much more great music to discover when there are additional genres to choose from.

      As for "Honey": There must have been a million people who liked Napoleon XIV's "They're Coming To Take Me Away" in 1966 - they managed to catapult it up to the #3 spot!! Amazing!

      I've decided to change the name of my blog. Would you mind very much changing your link to this one:


      Thanks so much! All the best, Marie

  2. Oops! I make a mistake with the address, Leah - sorry! Here it is: