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Feb. 23: Eddy Arnold, the tuxedo-clad, orchestra-accompanied international crooner, began a two-week run at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel’s Empire Room 40 years ago today. RCA Records took that occasion to award him a gold plaque to mark the sales of 60 million records since his first single in February 1945 — an amazing average of 2.4 million records per year over a quarter-century. This one, from his checked-shirt Tennessee Plowboy days, generated a fair number of those sales. “Just A Little Lovin’ (Will Go A Long Way)” was one of the five Arnold records that reached No. 1 on Billboard‘s country chart in 1948 and, collectively, held the top spot for 40 weeks that year.

Don’t you just love this sound? Arnold’s smooth voice and solid acoustic guitar rhythm, a tight band featuring Little Roy Wiggins’ “ting-a-ling” steel guitar — no wonder he was such a smash in the first few years of his career. He later made some great (and great-selling) Nashville Sound and countrypolitan records, becoming one of Nashville’s top musical ambassadors. I can appreciate his changing styles to keep up with the times, but I’ll never understand why he didn’t heartily embrace his earliest records. Remakes from the late ’50s and early ’60s, with strings and background vocals, are pleasant enough, but they lack the charm of the originals. I wish Arnold had been more willing to celebrate his inner hillbilly.

That night at the Waldorf was far from the end of Eddy Arnold. Over the next 22 years, he sold 25 million additional records. His last single was released in May 2008, three weeks after his death at age 89. It debuted at No. 49 country, giving him at least one chart hit in seven decades. A remarkable career, a remarkable life.

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