Having a sound that doesn’t quite fit a regular “category” of music easily is sometimes a risky proposition – it’s easy for good music to “fall through the cracks”, such as a “too rock for easy listening, too easy listening for rock” sort of thing. Occasionally though it works very well and catches on all over. Such was the case this day in 1980, when the Pure Prairie League hit the American top 40 for the third time with what would become their biggest hit, “Let Me Love You Tonight.”
The Pure Prairie League had formed in rural southern Ohio a decade earlier, and playing music that fell somewhere between rock and country, signed to RCA in 1972, around the time they picked Cincinnati as their base. Their eponymous debut album was noteworthy mostly for having a Norman Rockwell painting on the cover, featuring a cowboy named “Luke.” Luke ended up being rather a mascot for the band, and appeared on almost every subsequent record cover they put out. However, their second album, Bustin’ Out, had a minor hit, “Amie” on it that garnered a little attention. That one took a couple of years to catch on and only rose to #27, but curiously has become a radio standard on many classic rock stations despite its very country-ish sound.
By 1980, they’d signed with Casablanca Records and no original member remained for their ninth studio album, Firin’ Up. But they’d had an important addition to the lineup – Vince Gill. Gill quickly became their main songwriter, lead singer as well as a guitarist, banjo and mandolin player for them and sang this biggie for them. It was one of the few songs of theirs from that time period which he didn’t write though, with a trio of Greer, Wilson and Woodard getting the credit. The Wilson was Jeff, a guitarist in the band at the time, while the other two are seemingly anonymous names in the music world. Anonymous, but at least ones who had a hand in a big hit.
David Sanborn added some tasteful sax to the single, which was surprisingly the third which Casablanca released from the album; the first “I Can’t Stop the Feelin’” was a flop but the second, “I’m Almost Ready” squeaked into the top 40. “Let Me Love You Tonight” though caught many people’s ear, on both sides of the country/pop divide, hitting #10 and topping Adult Contemporary charts in Canada as well as their homeland.
Allmusic compared them to the Eagles (a wee bit ironic as we’ll see) and Ambrosia and considered the album “a fine example of adult contemporary, rock, and country formats all merging in the 1980s.” Which it was, but their golden time was short. Gill left the band in 1982 and they broke up in ’88 after failing to score any follow-up hits to this one (they have been active again much of the time this century but without Gill or new material).
Gill would be no stranger to hit records though. He’d soon launch a solo career which has earned him 11 platinum albums and a remarkable 22 Grammys so far, and though none of his singles were big crossover hits, six have gone to #1 on Country charts. In 2017, he took advantage of that merging of sounds allmusic spoke of, and joined The Eagles with whom he is currently touring, essentially replacing the late Glenn Frey.