COUNTRY ALBUMS OF THE SIXTIES
I've read odd articles about how good country albums were in the sixties. Allow me to disabuse you of that notion. I was in my teens, newly enamored with country music thanks to my new best friend, who was a country singer in a family band. I'd abandoned all the pop ditties I'd been listening to on AM radio and immersed myself in learning about country. A lot of it I didn't care for. Country was straddling the line between corny and shiny-new, and the old artists just didn't cut it for me. I was probably twelve or thirteen, kneeling on the floor in my friend's living room, in front of her parents' console stereo as she pulled albums from her mom and dad's collection. I pretended to like somebody called Carl Butler and Pearl. I tried to hide my distaste for Webb Pierce, who was pretty awful, although his songs were great. I'd later learn that most of them had been written by Mel Tillis (who I was completely unfamiliar with at the time).
After a couple of years had passed, however, the music got better. I don't credit my friend Alice with introducing me to Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings ~ I found them on my own. Together, the two of us did discover Charley Pride, though. And one day after school Alice mentioned a new girl singer. "She's on the Porter Wagoner Show," she said. And that's where I met Dolly Parton.
But overall, country albums in the sixties were not good and certainly not innovative. Here's how they were packaged: one (or two) hit songs and eight or nine covers. So, unless one bought a greatest hits or a "best of", albums were little better than singles. Check out Tammy Wynette's or Loretta Lynn's or Lynn Anderson's albums. They all pilfered from one other. Still I bought a lot of LP's, because I was crazy for music, and what else would I spend my summer job money on? Unfortunately, one of the very few places in my small town that carried albums was JC Penney, so I perused their sparsely-stocked basement every couple of weeks to find something new.
This is the very first country album I bought (click on each photo to sample the albums):
This was obviously pre-Outlaw period, when Waylon was essentially told what songs to record, but I'm sorry, the album still holds up, regardless.
This album was my second:
But my THIRD album was the one that convinced me this new country music thing was truly going to stick. (Of course, of all the Merle Haggard albums, this one isn't featured on Spotify, but you can click on the photo anyway, to get a taste.)
(actually written by Liz Anderson)
I don't remember how I first became aware of Merle Haggard; probably by hearing one of his hits on the radio. But, man! This guy! This is the guy!
"The Best Of Merle Haggard" was one of those tri-fold LP's, which you'd open up and slide the record out from the middle slot. Everything about it, from the design, to most especially the songs, was perfect. An added bonus was that I was just learning to play guitar, and I could actually play along to every one of the tracks. Merle liked the key of A a lot, luckily for me.
Oh, that new girl singer? Her very first album was pretty good.
Speaking of Dolly, there was no bigger duo in the sixties (and probably since) than Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton. I bought every one of their duet albums, but this one is my favorite:
Granted, perhaps Porter Wagoner wasn't the world's best singer, but I dare you to try those harmony parts like he did. Singing low harmony is hard and takes an intrinsic talent. I sure know I couldn't do it.
Now let's talk about Buck Owens. Owens was never my favorite singer. He could certainly carry a tune, but his voice wasn't that of a natural talent. In the end, none of that even matters. For the first half of the decade, there was nobody bigger, and for good reason. The songs were quintessentially country, with the added bonus of featuring The Bakersfield Sound (of which Buck was one of the originators), and the extra-added bonus of having Don Rich play on them. Face it, Bakersfield music was always more exciting than Nashville music, maybe because its purveyors paid their dues in actual honky tonks, not recording studios. Merle, of course, arose from that milieu, as did Dwight Yoakam.
Buck had two great albums in the sixties. The first was one of the (two!) albums my parents owned (by the by, they didn't even own a stereo at the time).
The second is on Hitsvilly's list of the greatest country albums of all time.
Naturally, no videos exist of that concert, but here's one of the songs:
I have more favorite albums from the decade, but many are almost impossible to find now. This is a sentimental favorite (Lynn Anderson was at her best during her Chart years):
I couldn't find any performance videos of any of the tracks from this album (because all anyone wants to talk about is the Columbia years), but here is a representation of Lynn Anderson's sweet vocals:
For sentimental reasons, yes ~ this was the second of the two albums my parents owned ~ but also for the powerful singer, the wistful songs, and the country that manages to fight its way through the Nashville strings, I cherish this album:
Of course, there are no performance videos to be found of tracks from this album, because nothing existed, you see, before "For The Good Times"...
But here's a sampling from this master:
Other notable sixties albums:
- Johnny Bush ~ 14 Greatest Hits
- Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton ~ Always, Always
- The Strangers ~ The Instrumental Sounds of Merle Haggard's Strangers (out of print)
- LaWanda Lindsey and Kenny Vernon ~ Pickin' Wild Mountain Berries
While this isn't a truckload of great albums (in the course of ten years), how much cream ever rises to the top, really? This is a nice selection of the best of the decade. Your mileage may vary. I'm fine with that, and in fact, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a comment!