Great Country Songs from the 1970s, Pt. 4

Paul W. Dennis | May 27th, 2009

For part four of this series, I’ll be using the same criteria as before–Just some songs I liked, one song per artist (although feel free to comment on other songs by the artist). This part stops in the middle of the letter M.

Joy To The World” – Murray Kellum (1971)
A nice country cover of a #1 pop hit for Three Dog Night, this reached #26 and was Murray’s biggest hit. He died in a plane crash in 1990 at the too-young age of 47.

Honky Tonk Wine” – Wayne Kemp (1973)
Wayne Kemp was better known as a songwriter who penned major hits for the likes of George Jones (“Love Bug”), Conway Twitty (“The Image of Me”) and countless others. This song reached #17, and was Wayne’s biggest hit.

Sweet Desire” – The Kendalls (1978)
A father and daughter duo, Jeannie took on most of the lead vocals while father Royce sang harmony. The Kendalls kept the radio airwaves safe for real country music during the middle and late 1970s. I liked everything the Kendalls ever sang, and have no idea why the new traditionalist movement of 1986 failed to re-ignite their career.

Mama’s Got The Know-How” – Doug Kershaw (1974)
For someone as famous as he is, Doug Kershaw had only seven chart hits as a solo act, to go with his five hits as part of Rusty & Doug. This one got to #77, a fairly normal placing for his solo efforts. Although I liked this song, his Warner Brothers albums of the 1970s were mostly laconic efforts.

Chip and Dale’s Place” – Claude King (1971)
Never a top-tier star, most of Claude’s real success came in the early 1960s with “Wolverton Mountain” being his biggest hit. This particular song got to #23 and was his last Top 30 record.

I’ve Got You (To Come Home To)” – Don King (1977)
Don King really wasn’t into live performing–he was a successful songwriter and publisher. His touring band kept going when Don got off the road and (eventually) became Sawyer Brown.

Why Me” – Kris Kristofferson (1973)
The only real solo hit for Kristofferson, who can’t sing a lick but whose voice was strangely appropriate for this song. Kris, of course, wrote many hits for others, including “Me and Bobbie McGee” (Roger Miller), “For The Good Times” (Ray Price) and “Jody and The Kid” (Roy Drusky).

Get On My Love Train” – La Costa (1974)
The biggest hit for Tanya Tucker’s older and prettier sister. It got to #3 nationally, but was #1 in many markets. La Costa’s next song went to #10, and a subsequent one went to #11. But within five years she was retired.

Simple Little Words” – Cristy Lane (1979)
Most people have forgotten that Cristy was a straight ahead pop-country artist before veering off into gospel music. This was one of seven Top 10 records she had.

The World Needs A Melody” – Red Lane (1971)
Red’s only Top 40 song (#32). RCA didn’t put much promotional push behind this record but it broke out in some markets (WHOO in Orlando had it at #1 for two weeks). Red had considerable success as a songwriter, with “Til I Get It Right” for Tammy Wynette being one of his better known songs.

#1 With A Heartache” – Billy Larkin (1976)
A good singer, Billy charted 10 singles, with three almost rising into the top twenty. Only one of his 10 singles was on a major label.

Always On My Mind” – Brenda Lee (1972)
Brenda had the original hit (#45), quickly covered by Elvis and then later by Willie. This remains my favorite version of the song. Brenda Lee would start a run of six straight Top 10 hits immediately after this song.

Rocky” – Dickey Lee (1975)
Dickey Lee Lipscomb’s only Billboard #1 country hit (“Angels, Roses and Rain” and “9,999,999 Tears” both made it to #1 on Cashbox), this was a cover of an Austin Roberts pop hit. Dickey Lee wrote many hits for other artists (including “She Thinks I Still Care” for George Jones). One of his later co-writing partners was Austin Roberts.

Red Sails In The Sunset” – Johnny Lee (1976)
Johnny Lee charted six songs before his Urban Cowboy-era breakthrough. This song went to #22 and was a #1 pop hit for Bing Crosby and Guy Lombardo back in 1935.

When He Walks On You (Like You Have Walked On Me)” – Jerry Lee Lewis (1971)
This song reached #11. Who else but Jerry Lee Lewis could have recorded a song with this title and made it work? From 1968-72, Jerry Lee had 11 songs reach #1 on one or more of the three major music charts.

Sundown” – Gordon Lightfoot (1974)
I never regarded Lightfoot as being a county singer, but many country artists recorded his songs. This song went to #13 country and soared to #1 on the pop charts. There is a contemporary version by Deryl Dodd that garnered significant airplay in various markets.

Pickin’ Wild Mountain Berries” – Lawanda Lindsey & Kenny Vernon (1970)
This cover of a Peggy Scott/Jo Jo Benson hit reached #27 and brought the song to the attention of other country artists such as Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty, who recorded an amusing version for one of their albums.

Please Help Me I’m Falling” – Hank Locklin with Danny Davis (1970)
Hank Locklin was a Nashville outsider. Because of that, he didn’t get Nashville’s best efforts behind him. While his records charted from 1949-71, that 22-year span represents a total of only 33 records. This was a remake of Hank’s biggest hit, with Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass along for the ride. If you can find a copy of the album they did together, it contains a very interesting version of “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

I’m Moving On” – Loggins & Messina (1975)
An album cut on their So Fine album, which was a tribute to the duo’s country and rock & roll influences, this version of the song almost tops the Hank Snow original. The fiddle work on this song really smokes. I understand that the album was reissued on CD although I have not yet found a copy.

Wake Me Up Early In The Morning” – Bobby Lord (1970)
See the Forgotten Artists article for more on this fine performer.

Lonely Women Make Good Lovers” – Bob Luman (1972)
The original hit on this song, it got to #4. Bob was at heart a rock & roll artist who recorded a number of up-tempo country songs. This was his biggest country hit, but he is best remembered for his 1960 pop hit “Let’s Think About Living.” Bob died in 1978 of complications from pneumonia at the age 41. Johnny Cash produced Bob’s last Epic album.

Honey Hungry” – Mike Lunsford (1976)
Mike Lunsford recorded for Starday, a label that did not generate many hit records (by 1997, only a total of 91 Starday singles had charted at all). This record got to #16, a very major hit by Starday’s standards. I suspect that a major label could have pushed the song up to #1. The song is still available on various anthology CDs.

I Know How” – Loretta Lynn (1970)
A little more bluesy than the standard Loretta fare, I could see Gloria Baker or Aretha Franklin singing this song. The song stalled out at #4, making it a relative failure for Loretta during the 1970s a period in which she had 15 songs reach #1 on one or more of the three major charts (plus 6 more duets with Conway that did likewise). I could list a Loretta/Conway duet here, but I always thought her best, if not most commercially successful, duet partner was Ernest Tubb.

Midnight Angel” – Barbara Mandrell (1977)
Probably my favorite Barbara Mandrell song, it only got to #16. After this single, Mandrell’s career would take off for the stratosphere.

Grand Ole Opry Song” – Jimmy Martin with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
It only got to #97, but it was on the strength of songs like this that the first Circle album reached legendary status. I would be hard-pressed to chose between Jimmy Martin, Mac Wiseman and The Osborne Brothers as my favorite bluegrass act.

Ordinary Man” – Dale McBride (1977)
This song reached #26, the biggest of 13 charting songs. Dale never landed a major label deal but had some regional success in Texas and the southwest. He was the father of Terry McBride of McBride and the Ride and lived just long enough to see his son achieve success before dying of a brain tumor in 1992, just short of his 56th birthday.

Old Home Filler-Up An’ Keep On-A Truckin’ Café” – C.W. McCall (1974).
“Convoy” and “Roses For Mama” were his two biggest hits, but this unassuming story-song remains my favorite C.W. McCall recording. There was, of course, no C.W. McCall–just an advertising executive named Bill Fries who originally did this song as a commercial for Old Home Bakeries. As an interesting piece of trivia, the core of C.W.’s band, led by bandleader Chip Davis, later called themselves Manheim Steamroller.

There’s Still A Lot of Love In San Antone” – Darrell McCall (1974)
Darrell was too country for country radio by the 1970s, so none of his records became smashes. Darrell is a terrific singer, even today some 35 years after this record was recorded. An excellent songwriter, he provided Hank Williams Jr. with his first Billboard #1 in “Eleven Roses.” His wife Mona is an excellent singer and his niece, Amber Digby, is my favorite young female singer out there today. This song was co-written by Doodle Owens and a friend of mine, Lou Rochelle.

That’s What You Do To Me” – Charly McClain (1978)
The first top ten record for the gorgeous Mrs. Wayne (One Life To Live) Massey, Charly’s career didn’t get into high gear until 1981, when “Who’s Cheatin’ Who” hit the top of the charts.

Six Pack of Trouble” – O.B. McClinton (1972)
The second significant Black country singer, this song only reached #70, but paved the way for a successful career as a live act. Though the hits were few and small, O.B. was a greatly loved performer who kept on performing until his untimely death in 1987 of a brain tumor. He was only 47.

Today I Started Loving You Again” – Charlie McCoy (1972)
The Nashville session ace’s biggest hit, this reached #16. This instrumental version of a Haggard classic kicked off a string of 16 chart records for the 2009 CMHOF inductee.

Love Lies” – Mel McDaniel (1979)
Mel had 11 charted hits during the 1970s, not one of which is available today. Of course, the bigger hits occurred in the 1980s.

Runaway Heart” – Reba McEntire (1979)
Reba had yet to find herself as an artist, but this #36 hit showed her promise.

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

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  1. Rick
    May 27, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    Paul, my favorite comment of the article is this:
    “Darrell McCall was too country for country radio by the 1970s, so none of his records became smashes.” There were a lot of great country songs released during the 70’s but overall I just didn’t find the dominant styles to be all that alluring. I guess I prefer the “too country” stuff even today.

    Also, how can you not rank “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away” the top Kendall’s song? Talk about a traditional sounding country classic signature hit! Crikey mate! (lol)

  2. Paul W Dennis
    May 28, 2009 at 5:12 am

    Rick – I’ve tended to stay away from the ‘obvious’ choices – also, as it happens, “Sweet Desire” is my favorite Kendalls song of the 1970s

  3. Brady Vercher
    May 28, 2009 at 8:42 am

    Kristofferson actually wrote “Why Me” in the back of Connie Smith’s car one afternoon because he was so moved by Larry Gatlin’s performance of “Help Me” at a Jimmy Snow service earlier that day. Gatlin was working as a janitor at that point and when it came time to release “Why Me” as a single, Kristofferson put “Help Me” on the B side to give Gatlin the mechanical royalties and it ended up becoming his biggest single ever.

  4. J.R. Journey
    May 28, 2009 at 10:50 am

    I actually didn’t know ‘Lonely Women Make Good Lovers’ was an older song – I thought Steve Wariner did the original in the 80s. I do know more of these songs than any of the other lists.

  5. JEff
    May 28, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    “Midnight Angel” was also a favorite Barbara Mandrell hit of mine but, the “Midnight oil” is the best song she did in the 70’s.

    Love those Mandrell sisters!

  6. Ruth Ann Hixson
    August 9, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    I am looking for the lyrics, title and recording artist of a song from the late 70’s. I will give the words as I remember them. They may not all be correct but 30 years is a long time to remember:

    You wanted me to change my life to fit the way you live;
    The changes that you wanted, dear, were more than I can give;
    If I can’t change the way you want, please don’t pity me;
    How can I change when what you want is something more than me.

    If we can’t live together dear it’s best we live apart;
    You go your way and I go mine, we’ll both make brandnew starts…

    If you no longer want my love then why not set me free?

    If you can’t take me like I am then I’ll go home alone.

    I hope someone can help me with this. I haven’t been able to find it yet. Please E-mail me.

  7. tee
    October 17, 2010 at 12:29 am

    does anyone have a copy or can someone share a copy of mel mcdaniel’s song “love lies”? I have been looking for it for years. thank you…

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