Tomorrow would have been Boudleaux Bryant’s 90th birthday. There are few songwriters who’ve been as important to music as Bryant. He and wife Felice are responsible for “Wake Up, Little Susie,” “Bird Dog,” “Brand New Heartache,” “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma,” and quite a few other classics. Below are some of my favorite renditions of songs that Boudleaux had a hand in writing. This very easily could have been the Friday Fifty, but there was no way I could narrow it down to only five.
This Everly Brothers tune kicked off Charles’ seminal album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. The excellent big band horn arrangement on the song is courtesy of Gerald Wilson, who’s still arranging and conducting at 91 years old. Follow-up album Modern Sounds, Vol. 2 features the song “Midnight,” written by Bryant and Chet Atkins.
Here’s another one Bryant wrote with Chet Atkins. In addition to Charlie and Ira, there are some good versions of this song from Eddy Arnold (his went to #4), Elvis Presley, and, of course, Alison Krauss and James Taylor, who teamed up for an unforgettable duet on Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: The Songs of the Louvin Brothers.
Boudleaux wrote this one all by his lonesome, and Smith topped the charts with it for eight weeks in 1953. Kitty Wells recorded a sequel from Joe’s girl’s point of view; her song, also called “Hey Joe,” is worth a listen too.
Another Bryant/Atkins classic. Kitty Wells’ 1957 version is good, but Thompson’s, released 50 years later (on underrated gem Upfront and Down Low) is beautiful. Of course, he’s got good music in his genes.
Babyfaced brothers Phil and Don are cute as a basket full of fuzzy bunnies on this 1958 tune that simultaneously topped the Billboard Pop, Country, and R&B charts. Brother duos have rarely sounded better.
You cannot go wrong with a song like “Love Hurts.” Unless you’re Nazareth, in which case, shame on you. “Love Hurts” was originally recorded by (surprise!) the Everlys, but Gram’s and Emmylou’s version kills me. Love can’t be so bad if it sounds so dang good.
Juli Thanki is the editor of Engine 145 and a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, Bluegrass Unlimited, and M Music & Musicians Magazine. In 2011 she received the International Bluegrass Music Association Print Media Person of the Year award.