12 forgotten country music gems from 1971
Even country skeptics can't help but fall in love with songs by Faron, Skeeter, Ferlin, Del and Jim Ed.
Don't trust people who proclaim, "I don't like country music." That's like saying, "I don't like pop music." With decades of history and dozens of styles, there's a country song for everyone. They just perhaps haven't heard it yet.
The country music of the early 1970s is a particularly crowd-pleasing era. You had traces of traditional honky tonk and rockabilly, reflections of the new outlaw realism, touches of lush contemporary pop music and, of course, brilliant lyrics. It was an organic, emotional sound — sort of the soul moment of Nashville.
Massive names like Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard dominated the Billboard Country charts in 1971. But there were also handfuls of artists who are more obscure to the outsider.
Here are a dozen golden country tunes from '71. See if you've ever heard 'em.
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Skeeter Davis - "Bus Fare to Kentucky"
Skeeter had been in the record business for twenty years, having signed a contract with her group the Davis Sisters (they were unrelated) just out of her teens. That duo ended in tragedy after her singing partner died in a car crash. Davis was indeed a Kentucky girl, which gives this Dolly-like shuffle true heart. Plus, we adore that album cover — she matches her umbrella!
Best line: "That old Grey Dog won't let me ride for free."
Susan Raye - "L.A. International Airport"
A protege of Buck Owens from Oregon, Raye scored an unlikely smash in Oceania with this tearful travel tune — it was No. 1 in New Zealand, No. 2 in Australia. Upbeat in tempo but downbeat in mood, this ditty is a little Bobbie Gentry meets "Leaving on Jet Plane." No wonder it was a crossover smash.
Best line: "Wish that I had flown at night / So I could take that champagne flight / Rid myself of every tear I own"
Image: Capitol Records
Sammi Smith - "Then You Walk In"
One of the great women in outlaw country, Smith scored a smash in '71 with "Help Me Make It Through the Night," which overshadowed this follow-up gem. This sweeping symphonic ballad — how many country songs can you name with marimba? — brings to mind Dusty Springfield. She would have recorded a far better James Bond theme than Sam Smith.
Best line: "And when I hear those big jets whinin' / The urge for leavin' comes to me"
Dick Curless - "Loser's Cocktail"
Sporting an eye patch and the name Dick Curless, this "Baron of Country Music" could have walked right off the set of Gunsmoke. Actually, he was from New England. Hey, country comes from all over the country. Best known for songs about trucking and drinking, this clever bar pick-me-up firmly falls into the latter.
Best line: "I mix gin… sin… and a little bit a' 'Where ya been?'"
Ferlin Husky - "Sweet Misery"
Like Skeeter, Ferlin Husky had a couple decades under his belt. The deep, smooth crooner brought to mind the romantic balladeers of the 1950s, and this tune, with its "Bop-bop-baa" back-ups, had a sheen of nostalgia about it.
Best line: "To my sorrow each new tomorrow proves there ain't never been a bigger fool than me"
Del Reeves - "Philadelphia Fillies"
When Del Reeves has women on his mind, he thinks about baseball. Or so it seems in this charming extended metaphor that references numerous MLB teams.
Best line: "There's some nice looking twins up in Minnesota… and I cuddled a cubby back in old Chicago"
Image: United Artists
Faron Young - "It's Four in the Morning"
Known as both "the Hillbilly Heartthrob" and "the Singing Sheriff" — sorry, Andy Taylor — Faron Young scored countless hits over the course of 30 years. This was one of three Top 10 country chart hits of his in 1971, and the biggest. When a man has so many smashes, it's easy to overlook one gem.
Best line: "Last night we broke up, this morning I woke up / And for the tenth time I'm changing my mind"
Jerry Reed - "Ko-Ko Joe"
Reed cut a classic in 1971 with "When You're Hot, You're Hot," which overshadows this swampy, funky rocker. Where did Ko-Ko Joe get those monkeys? Don't ask.
Best line: "He'd eat monkey meat and mashed potatoes / He drunk a brew called Mo-jo Claw"
Nat Stuckey - "I'm Gonna Act Right"
What does it take to turn a cowboy straight? Well, a threatening letter from a lawyer, sometimes. At least according to the subtle punchline in this tune from the Texas troubadour.
Best line: "They even had a bunch of pictures of me on a dance hall floor / Then it went on to say if I didn't act right they could dig up a little bit more"
Hank Thompson - "The Next Time I Fall in Love (I Won't)"
When you have a title as good as this, you hardly need little more than some wailing honky tonk guitar and a good swing shuffle. By 1971, the forty-something singer-songwriter had racked up a few dozen hit singles. He still had it late in his career.
Best line: "The next time I fall in love… I won't"
Image: Dot Records
Jim Ed Brown - "Angel's Sunday"
Formerly singing with his sisters as part of the Browns, Jim Ed went solo, painting himself as the sort of anti–Don Draper with this matrimonial love song.
Best line: "Sure, I could still be lying in bed or reading that paper in the den / Hooking and slicing that little white ball with my golfing buddies losing ten / But I love Angel and the kids too much to start the week that way"
Lynn Anderson - "How Can I Unlove You"
With production as big and lush as that fabulous blonde mane, Lynn Anderson scored her third consecutive No. 1 hit (following "(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden" and "You're My Man) with this bouncy, bittersweet song.
Best line: "I can't unremember every memory"
SEE ALSO: 10 FUNKY, FOLKY ONE-HIT WONDERS FROM 1971
Now let's dig into the mainstream pop charts for these flashes in the pan. READ MORE