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June 25-27

Why this weekend? Forty-three years ago Sunday, Tammy Wynette was in the studio recording her first chart-topping record.

About the record: Epic 5-10211, recorded June 27, 1967, at Columbia Studios in Nashville. Released the following month, it eventually reached No. 1 on Billboard‘s country chart. First LP appearance was on Take Me To Your World/I Don’t Wanna Play House, Epic BN-26353, released Jan. 5, 1968. It reached No. 3 on Billboard‘s country album chart.

Tammy Wynette and Billy Sherrill were quite a team. As a producer, he was the first person in Nashville to give the Alabama hairdresser a chance with her songs, and he helped her become a singer to be reckoned with. As a songwriter, he created several of her big hits, some with her collaboration, some not. This one he wrote with Nashville tunesmith Glenn Sutton. It’s a great song, but Tammy’s performance sells it.

Dynamics were key to those early Wynette records; the way her quiet, lower-register delivery in the verses gave way to higher notes and a louder voice in the chorus reminds me of Big Band arrangements from 20 years earlier. That pattern is exhibited here, and it wasn’t limited to the recording studio. Steve Earle once said of seeing Tammy perform this song at the Grand Ole Opry when he was a child in the ’60s: “It was dynamic. She was so tiny and the chorus would hit and wow!”

About the artist: Revisit this 3 Chords post from January for more on Tammy Wynette, including her first single and a book passage in which Sherrill talks about the impact she made right out of the gate.

To listen, click image, then click "play."

April 5

Why today? It’s Tommy Cash’s 70th birthday, and this is his biggest hit.

About the record: Epic 5-10540, recorded Sept. 7, 1969, at Columbia Recording Studio in Nashville. Released October 1969, it reached No. 4 on Billboard‘s country chart. Also appeared on Six White Horses, Epic BN-26535, released March 1970. It reached No. 18 on Billboard‘s country chart.

The most recent of the three tragic events channeled in this Larry Murray song — the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — took place 42 years ago yesterday, one day before Cash’s 28th birthday.

About the artist: Check out a recent 3 Chords a Day post on another Tommy Cash entry in the Top 10, “Rise And Shine,” and follow the links.

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March 2: Hard-country purists cringe at most of the countrypolitan sound of the 1970s. I’m with them in spirit, but to me a great record trumps genre purity. And this is a great record, one of two cuts on the Silver Fox’s Behind Closed Doors album that made him a crossover superstar. The single won two Grammy awards 36 years ago today, one for Rich and one for writer Kenny O’Dell.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb. 18: You can hear the family resemblance in the voice of Tommy Cash, Johnny’s eight-years-younger brother who was 29 when this record was released 40 years ago today. The Carl Perkins-penned “Rise And Shine” would not rise as high as Cash’s previous single — “Six White Horses,” a No. 4 record and a favorite of mine — but it did shine enough to make to No. 9 on Billboard‘s country chart. He had one more No. 9 single left in him, and that was about it, big-hit-wise.

Check out his Allmusic.com bio to learn how he got into music and how his career tracked before he decided to ratchet it down and become a successful Realtor in Hendersonville, Tenn.

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Feb. 16: It was 41 years ago today, in Ringgold, Ga., that George Jones and Tammy Wynette told each other “I do.” Luckily for you, I passed over their mawkish 1972 number “The Ceremony,” whose setting is a wedding complete with organ and the exchange of vows, in favor of this one from four years — and one divorce — later. “Golden Ring,” a fine piece of work by songwriters Bobby Braddock and Rafe VanHoy, always seemed to me a neat summation of the Jones-Wynette saga.

By the time Jones, Wynette and the musicians laid this down in April 1976, the stars’ marriage had been over for 13 months. The heartache in the vocals, especially the Possum’s, is palpable. In his Allmusic.com review of the album that contained this song, Thom Jurek says: “Golden Ring is one of those country albums that is essential. It is a perfect document of ’70s Nashville’s most polished and tasteful records, and stands as a high point for both Jones and Wynette.”

As for “The Ceremony” … since you asked, here it is, in all its sappy glory. At least the hair-dos are a sight to behold!

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Feb. 8: For years, I considered Charlie Daniels more of a rocker than a country artist, leadimg me to look slightly askance at his invitation a couple of years ago to join the Grand Ole Opry cast. I figured it spoke more to his mellowing in his 70s, and to the Opry’s reflecting country music’s overall changes in this all-digital, every-artist-is-young-and-beautiful age, than to Daniels’ country bona fides.

But I was wrong. First, he hasn’t mellowed all THAT much. Second, he has put three times as many records on Billboard‘s country chart as on its Hot 100 pop listing. Today’s song is one example — a No. 8 country single in 1986, it debuted the year before with the release of The Charlie Daniels Band’s Me And The Boys album, and was recorded in Nashville 25 years ago today.

Now, as drinking songs go, it pales in comparison to “There Stands The Glass,” “Six Pack To Go,” “Swinging Doors,” “The Bottle Let Me Down” or “What Made Milwaukee Famous.” But it’s still a worthy country song topic, it has the feel of a country record, and Daniels sounds like a good country dude. So, who am I to judge?

Oh, and about that Opry thing. Think ol’ Charlie had a clue he was going to be invited to join back in November 2007? Watch the video below and see for yourself.

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Feb. 6: It’s the saddest song, and the most mournful voice, and the most histrionic production and the cruelest punchline in the history of country music. But what a magnificent cry America had in 1980 when the first track of George Jones’ album I Am What I Am became the brilliant, infamous superstar’s first Number One single in six years.

Those aren’t my words; they were written in 2001 by Mix Magazine‘s Barbara Schultz, for an installment of its Classic Tracks series. It’s the story of the recording of “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” generally considered the greatest country song of all time. I’ve never seen it as THE greatest, but there’s no doubt that only a few others could put up a credible challenge.

The process of turning an 8-on-a-10-scale song into an 11-on-a-10-scale record began in the Quonset Hut studio 30 years ago today. Read Schultz’s great article to learn how the Hut was set up that day, which equipment was used, and how the great producer Billy Sherrill and his engineers approached their craft.

Whether or not it’s the best of all time, there’s never a bad time to hear “He Stopped Loving Her Today” one more time. So, give it a spin and have yourself a good cry.

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