Great Country Songs from the 1970s, Pt. 1

Paul W. Dennis | May 5th, 2009

This is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1970s, nor any sort of ranking of records; It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records

Cowboy Convention” – Buddy Alan
A silly record with some great trumpet work, “Cowboy Convention” is a cover of a Lovin’ Spoonful record from the mid 60s, about the villains of the silent movie era who were always tying Sweet Nell to the railroad track. The Buddy Alan title credit on the label is misleading as this is really a Buddy Alan/Don Rich duet with the Buckaroos. Buddy Alan, of course, is the son of Buck Owens.

Goodbye” – Rex Allen Jr.
The best record made by the son of a western movie legend (although “The Great Mail Robbery” and “Can You Hear Those Pioneers” were nearly as good). Eddy Arnold covered the song a few years later and also had a hit with it.

Where Have All Our Heroes Gone” – Bill Anderson
Whispering Bill mostly stayed away from politics, but finally spoke out with this eloquent song. Less jingoistic than “Okie From Muskogee” or “Fighting Side of Me,” it also was a lot less controversial.

I Just Started Hating Cheating Songs Today” – Moe Bandy
Just when the Nashville Sound was turning squishy, along came Moe Bandy to inject some hardcore honky-tonk back into the genre.

Unexpected Goodbye” – Glenn Barber
A tender song by a completely forgotten artist. During the late 60s Barber had a modest hit with “Don’t Worry About The Mule (Just Load The Wagon).”

That’s How I Got To Memphis” – Bobby Bare
This was recorded during Bare’s brief stay at Mercury, where he recorded a bunch of fine songs written by his pal Tom T. Hall. This was one of them; “Memphis” has been revived many times, most recently by Deryl Dodd. This, however, remains my favorite version of the song.

No Memories Hanging ‘Round” – Bobby Bare & Rosanne Cash
The first hit for Ms. Cash. Written by Rodney Crowell, the songsmith had originally planned to record it himself as a duet with Roseanne, but then decided that Bare could do it better. Rodney was correct.

If I Said you Had A Beautiful Body” – The Bellamy Brothers
“…Would you hold it against me?” This rather politically incorrect song expresses a thought every man has harbored at one time or another. Quite a bit of wordplay here (silly and otherwise) turned this into a #1 hit.

Tennessee Bird Walk” – Jack Blanchard & Misty Morgan
One of the oddest and silliest songs ever to grace the Country charts, this novelty even became a major pop hit. Jack and Misty has been around the Orlando, Florida, area for the last 30 years, basically performing as a cocktail lounge act. As strange as this song is, I can assure you it is not the oddest part of their repertoire.

Morning” – Jim Ed Brown
This was a very romantic ballad that crossed over to the pop charts and reached #1 on the Cashbox Country Chart. This was a “country cocktail” production–strings and steel guitar and Jim Ed’s warm, Reeves/Arnold-like voice.

Come Monday” – Jimmy Buffett
A bigger pop than country hit, this remains my favorite Buffett record, a song of loneliness and longing.

Whiskey River” – Johnny Bush
A lonely honky-tonk ballad written by Bush and later recorded (and completely ruined) by his old pal Willie Nelson. I’m sure Bush didn’t mind, however, given the royalties this song generates from the many Willie albums it appears on. Willie’s recordings kept Johnny Bush afloat until effective treatment for Spastic Dysphonia–which tormented the artist for years–finally became available.

I’m Gonna Love You” – Glen Campbell
Glen Campbell recorded a lot of garbage during the 70s, most of which bore financial (if not artistic) success. This is one of the few of his 70s songs I can stand; it’s a tender love ballad featuring understated production and a gentle bagpipe.

Ready Mixed Revenge” – Lance Carpenter
This is a song that was a huge hit for Johnny Chester in Australia. Recorded on a small independent label, Carpenter’s version received a little airplay here and there but not nearly what it deserved. The hero of this revenge-ballad is the driver of a cement-mixer truck. You can fill in the blanks.

What Is Truth” – Johnny Cash
In the hands of anyone else, this song would be a throwaway–in the hands of Johnny Cash, the voice of truth itself, it is a minor classic.

So This Is Love” – Tommy Cash
Tommy Cash had a modest string of hits during the late 60s and early 70s. This is my favorite of his songs, although “Young New Mexican Puppeteer” is also outstanding. His biggest hit, of course, was “Six White Horses” (which hit #1 on Cashbox).

The Lawrence Welk Hee-Haw Counter Revolution Polka” – Roy Clark
In late 1970, CBS canceled Hee Haw and other “rural-based” shows. Similarly, ABC gave long-time favorite Lawrence Welk the axe. Neither cancellation was due to poor ratings–both had huge audiences of “the wrong people” (an older and/or rural demographic). Both shows promptly went into syndication and were carried on even more stations than during their network heydays–virtually every CBS affiliate chose to carry Hee Haw (as did a number of independent stations) which ran for many years more. This song tells that story. As Clark tells it, Hee Haw may have set his music (and recording career) back, but it also set him up for life as a personality and a box office draw.

Knock Three Times” – Billy “Crash” Craddock
This was Crash Craddock’s first country hit, an energetic cover of a then-recent pop hit by Dawn (later billed as Tony Orlando & Dawn, once Tony found some singers to serve as Dawn). The fiddles and steel guitar lend a sense of urgency to this version that was lacking in the Dawn original. This song went to #1 on Cashbox’s Country Chart. More than simply a cover act, Craddock would have 19 top ten hits over the course of the next decade and a half.

Read other playlists in the Great Country Songs from the 1970s series:

  1. Brady Vercher
    May 5, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    Cool list, Paul. It was tough finding some of those songs and some of them aren’t available digitally. I’m surprised there’s not really anything from the outlaws, but then again, you only made it through C on this one. I’m looking forward to the rest.

  2. Jon
    May 5, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Interesting list, Paul. I was a big radio listener for virtually all of the decade, yet there are quite a few here – most, actually – that I don’t remember at all. Of those I do, didn’t care for the Bellamy Brothers song at all (I don’t remember ever liking anything of theirs), loved Moe Bandy (we do “Cowboys Ain’t Supposed To Cry” pretty regularly with Chris Jones & The Nightdrivers), “Tennessee Birdwalk” (maybe even more than “Humphrey The Camel”), “We Don’t Need No Memories” (wasn’t that the album that had what’s still my favorite version of “You Don’t Have Very Far To Go?”), “Whiskey River” and, of course, “Knock Three Times.”

  3. Ron
    May 5, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    Kelly Willis did an excellent version of “That’s How I Got To Memphis” on a very good Tom T. Hall tribute album called “Real: The Tom T Hall Project”. Of course, I enjoy nearly everything Kelly Willis has done.

  4. Rick
    May 5, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    As far as my interest in decades of country music the 70’s stand as a black hole I don’t much know or care about. Apart from Haggard and some of the outlaw stuff I rarely hear anything from that decade that interests me. I look at the Time Life compilations of 70’s country hits and its no sale whereas the 60’s stuff is fantastic. I like the Bellamy Brothers as some of their songs were played on pop/rock radio stations back then. I also like John Denver, but he was far more folk than country. Its stuff like Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors” that give me the willies….

  5. Razor X
    May 5, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    Apart from Haggard and some of the outlaw stuff I rarely hear anything from that decade that interests me.

    What about George Jones, Charley Pride, and Loretta Lynn? I can understand not being enamored with a lot of the countrypolitan stuff from that decade, but that wasn’t all that was going on in country in the 70s.

  6. Sam G
    May 6, 2009 at 7:39 am

    I’ll be looking forward to the rest of this report. I was born halfway through the ’70s, and my thoughts on the decade have been similar to Rick — there just wasn’t much good going on then. It took me a long time to even give Gram Parsons a chance, just because he was from the ’70s.

  7. Jon
    May 6, 2009 at 8:10 am

    Huh. I’ve given Gram Parsons’ music many, many chances since I first bought Gilded Palace Of Sin, and it’s never gotten any better to my ear.

    There was a lot of great country music made during the 70s, much of it popular, some not so much. Razor X has mentioned a few artists who made much of their best music during that decade, and there are plenty of others who did well then – Haggard, Conway Twitty, Mel Tillis, Tammy Wynette, Tom T., the Kendalls, Mel Street, Tanya Tucker, Don Williams, Emmylou Harris, Bobby Bare, Mickey Gilley, Crystal Gayle, etc., etc., etc.

  8. Paul W Dennis
    May 6, 2009 at 8:21 am

    Hey Guys – this is only Part 1 and I’ve only made it to the letter “C”

    Also, please note the introduction: “This is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1970s, nor any sort of ranking of records; It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records”

  9. J.R. Journey
    May 6, 2009 at 8:33 am

    I am not familiar with hardly any of these – only about 5 actually. ‘Come Monday’ is my favorite Buffett song too. The Bobby Bare/Rosanne Cash duet is also a gem. And I’m looking forward to reading as you work your way through the rest of the alphabet, Paul.

    This post was a learning experience for me.

  10. Razor X
    May 6, 2009 at 8:59 am

    Hey Guys – this is only Part 1 and I’ve only made it to the letter “C”

    Also, please note the introduction: “This is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1970s, nor any sort of ranking of records; It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records”

    Just to clarify, Paul, we weren’t reacting to your list, but rather Rick’s statement that there wasn’t much worthwhile country music in the 70s. Great list, BTW. I’m only familiar with 5 of them, but I’m looking forward to checking out some of the others.

  11. Rick
    May 6, 2009 at 11:21 am

    Razor X, I was commenting more about the artists who emerged in the 70’s and NOT the great artists that established themselves in preceeding decades. George Jones first hit in the late 50’s and Loretta and Charley (and Tammy and The Hag) are 60’s artists in my mind. There was a carry over of the 60’s sound into the early 70’s by 60’s artists which I really like, but I don’t consider this indicative of “70’s Country” overall. Its the smooth pop oriented countrypolitan stuff that sends shivers down my spine that came to dominate the latter part of the 70’s. I consider the 70’s to be the decade of “Schmaltzy Country”.

  12. Leeann Ward
    May 6, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Paul, What would be a good collection to purchase of Moe Bandy’s?

  13. Jon
    May 6, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    The Honky Tonk Amnesia collection is a great starting point.

  14. Mike Parker
    May 6, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    I remember growing up listening to a duet album of Moe Bandy and Joe Stampley. I need to find a copy of that thing.

  15. Paul W Dennis
    May 7, 2009 at 3:39 am

    THe Ernest Tubb Record Shop has available a CD with two of Moe’s Columbia albums on it: HANK WILLIAMS YOU WROTE MY LIFE /COWBOYS AINT SUPPOSED TO CRY. They also carry some Moe & Joe albums

  16. Leeann Ward
    May 7, 2009 at 6:17 am

    I was hoping to start with a good Greatest Hits collection first. Is there something that’s comprehensive enough?

  17. Paul W Dennis
    May 7, 2009 at 7:50 am

    Jon’s recommendation of Honky Tonk Amnesia is about it – it covers the Columbia years (and Moe’s prior indy label recordings – Columbia purchased the masters) pretty well since it has 20 tracks. Curb has a Greatest Hits CD that covers the post-Columbia years and hits such as “Too Old To Die Young” and “Americana”

    One thing to consider – Moe’s singles weren’t necessarily his best recordings – there were some gems on his albums

  18. M.C.
    May 7, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Paul–Thanks for this, there’s a few things there to discover. I’ll definitely be looking into Glenn Barber and Jack Blanchard/Misty Morgan. Ilook forward as you work your way through the alphabet.
    Here’s a few others from the ’70s from A to C that I like a lot:

    “Miles and Miles of Texas,” Asleep at the Wheel
    “You Never Even Called Me by My Name,” David Allan Coe
    “Hot Rod Lincoln,” Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airman
    “Hard, Hard Travelin’ Man,” Dick Curless
    “Ride Me Down Easy,” Bobby Bare
    “Rose Colored Glasses,” John Conlee

  19. David B
    May 9, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    “Morning” by Jim Ed Brown is one of those songs you just have to sing along to. It’s a shame that it is not played that often. I hear him do it on the Opry on occasion.

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