September 21 – Riley Taught The PTA A Thing Or Two

A country song, a “novel”, influenced and inspired by a novel made into a TV show… one of the more interesting songs of the ’60s hit #1 fifty years ago. And from then on, “Harper Valley PTA” would be a codeword for conservative hypocrites.

Not quite 23 years old, aspiring Nashville singer Jeannie C. Riley became the first female to have a song top the regular Billboard charts and the country ones at the same time … and it did the same in Canada and Australia too, for good measure.

The 1968 song was written by Tom T. Hall, an aspiring novelist who never quite made it as that, but had plenty of success writing country music tunes (including his own 1973 hit “I Love” and the theme for so many of us, “I Like Beer”!) but he says of “Harper Valley PTA” “this is my novel.” A novel, no, but it packs a lot of story into less than 4 mnutes. The song deals with a small town single mom who’s chastised for being a bad influence by the uptight school PTA… and her turning the tables on them.

Mrs. Johnson, you’re wearing your dresses way too high/ it’s been reported you’ve been drinking and runnin’ around with men…” the second verse begins, a letter to the mother from the school board. She in turn went to the school meeting and pointed out the hypocrisy of the members like Bobby Taylor who’d asked her out seven times and Shirley Thompson with the gin on her breath…before calling them out on it and calling it a “Peyton Place”. The latter was no coincidence as the song and the theme seem to borrow heavily from the massively-popular 1950s novel (which also deals with a single mother in a staunchly conservative town) which had been made into a TV show around the time Riley recorded this one. Surprisingly enough – or maybe not- “Harper Valley PTA” itself was later made into a film and an NBC sitcom which ran for three years with Barbara Eden starring as Mrs. Johnson. Among the cast was Fannie Flagg, who’d go on to write the book and screenplay, Fried Green Tomatoes.

As for the humble 7” single that hit #1 in 1968, it at the time set a record by jumping 74 spaces on Billboard in one week and went on to sell an incredible six million copies . Riley won a Grammy for best female country performance for it and was nominated for Record of the Year. Although she’d go on to have five more significant country hits in the ’70s, none of them had the appeal or crossed over onto pop/rock radio. In the late-’70s she became a Born Again Christian and has since kept singing but limited herself primarily to the Christian music market.

By the way, if you listen to it and say to yourself, “wait, it’s ‘Ode to Billie Joe”... but it’s not,” you’re not alone. Many figure that Hall pretty much fit his lyrics into the Bobby Gentry hit (which also eventually was made into a movie) the year before, but despite the similarities, Hall never credited her in the writing credits nor, from all reports was ever confronted by her over it.

September 15 – And The Golden Fiddle Goes To…

Four days back we looked at his rollicking, patriotic hit from 1980. Today we go back a year prior, to 1979 and an even bigger and more unusual hit. North Carolinian bluegrass fiddler/guitarist Charlie Daniels and his self-named band hit #3 on Billboard this week with “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.”

Daniels had been a fairly popular Nashville session musician through the decade being used by the likes of Bob Dylan and the Marshall Tucker Band. He’d even had some success on country radio but this romping tale about the brash young Johnny who beats the devil in a fiddling contest, was the crossover he needed to make him a household name, not to mention the holder of a 3X platinum record in his Million Mile Reflections. The song won the Grammy for Best Country Performance by a band, garnered him a top 5 in Canada as well.

Which shows always expect the unexpected in music. Otherwise in 1979, disco was still king, Donna Summer was the biggest individual artist and Rod Stewart had perhaps the biggest hit of his career by putting a disco beat to his sexy lyrics. Daniels credits the 1925 poem The Mountain Whip-poor-will for inspiration and tells people who argue the devil actually fiddled better in the record “if you listen, there’s just noise. There’s no melody to it.”

September 11 – Daniels Defiant Anthem For The Day

There’s no real need to remind people, Americans especially, what this day is the anniversary of. One of the very few slivers of a silver lining that might have come from 9/11 though was that for a little time it certainly seemed to unite Americans, regardless of color or political affiliation. Curiously, a song all about that was in its 11th and final week on the top 40 this day 21 years earlier, in 1980. With its lyrical theme, perhaps then there’s little surprise that “In America” by the Charlie Daniels Band had a renewed popularity after the 2001 attacks. Daniels even put out a new video for the song at the time. The defiant, in-yer-face approach and lines like “we’ll all stick together, and you can take that to the bank – that’s the cowboys and the hippies, the rebels and the Yanks” suddenly seemed relevant. Necessary even.

Daniels was by then a big-time country star, albeit one who flew a ways from the mainstream of country, building his music around his bluegrass fiddle skills and Southern redneck themes. He’d had a surprise, major crossover into mainstream pop/rock territory a couple of years earlier with his rollicking “Devil Went Down To Georgia.” “In America”, from his 11th album, Full Moon, likewise crossed over to conventional hit radio, eventually reaching #8 and pushing the album to platinum status.

That might not have been entirely unpredictable. Even though the six-man band came across as backwoods hicks, they had real musical talent…and backing. The album was produced by John Boylan. Boylan was not only a vice president of Epic Records, he’d worked with Linda Ronstadt and Little River Band before and co-produced Boston’s multi-million selling debut. So he knew a thing or two about making a record the masses to hear!

Daniels said he wrote the song as a sort of antidote to the country’s malaise of the time. Iran had American hostages, people were still shaken by Watergate, and unemployment and inflation were both high. Morale was low. Daniels felt “the strength of America isn’t in Washington DC, it’s in our people. It’s in our farms, in the factories, it’s the people out here that make the country work.” He picked the Pittsburgh Steelers fans as a lyrical example in the song because , even though he was from North Carolina, he figured Pittsburgh people were “the salt of the Earth. The finest, just the greatest people on Earth.” He particularly enjoyed going to watch the Steelers play in their hometown.

Daniels passed away at 83 in 2020. And whether we like his redneck stance or not, the idea “you never did think that we’d ever get together again, but we damn sure could” seems all the more relevant than ever in 2022. We can only hope it won’t take another 9/11 to get people to realize it.

September 2 – The Turntable Talk, Round 6 : Earle Crossed Road Into Rock Territory

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! As by now, regular readers know, that’s when we have several interesting guest writers sound off on one topic related to the music that we look at here daily. This is our sixth round of it, and if you’re new here, I recommend taking a look back at some of the earlier topics we’ve covered like why the Beatles are still relevant, or “did video kill the radio star?”

This time around, we’re calling it “Shock Rock.” But wait, there’s a twist – it’s not about Marilyn Manson and his contemporaries…unless our writers want it to be. Rather, its more about what some would call “guilty pleasures.” Songs or records that you like that would “shock” most people. Ones that go against the grain of most of what you listen to. I once asked a well-known radio DJ who loved new music, alternative and artsy rock if he had a musical guilty pleasure and he responded that he’d always liked “Moonlight feels Right” by Starbuck… a ’70s piece of laid back yacht rock with a xylophone solo! (Hey, we like it too!) Not his usual fare, but a song that he loves regardless. Maybe the heavy metal types have a soft spot for a bit of late night opera. Or an “all-60s rock” person loves Bruno Mars too. You get the idea.

So, leading off today we have Deke from Ontario and his site Deke’s Vinyl Reviews & More. Deke is a fan of hard rock, old and new but could it be he might be just a little bit country… he tells us

Steve Earle first came up on my radar back in 1986-87 when I read about him in an issue of a Canadian Magazine called Music Express

Earle was selling a bunch of albums in the Great White North with his current album at the time which was Guitar Town . I thought it was cool that there was an American Country act who was selling more albums in Canada than their own country (Earle is an American).

Good on him I said to myself but I was still into my major Metal Faze(well I still am in 2022, so some things don’t change) but as a country act, Steve didn’t annoy me! LOL!

Fast forward to late 1988 when I was watching TV. Now TV was way different in ’88 than what it is now. If you are an old buzzard like me you will know what I’m talking about.

We had to subscribe to what they would call Pay TV. Basically, you had your 10 channels on regular but if you wanted another 20 channels or so at the time you had to pay extra for a box set top to access those 20 channels.

Fortunately, my Mom and Dad bought into the Pay TV concept at the time so I could get MuchMusic especially the Pepsi Power Hour. So one night I was surfing as there were 30 channels and nothing on when I came across the  NashvilleNetwork channel when I saw this long-haired fella being interviewed on a country show called Crook and Chase.

That fella was Steve Earle. My first thought was what’s a dude who looks like he could be in Guns N Roses doing on this Country Talk Show? Speaking of Gunners, Steve was wearing a Guns T-shirt!

Then during the interview segment they showed a clip of Steve’s lead single from the album Copperhead Road

Whoa this was no Hee Haw country stuff! This was basically a hard rock track done with a flair of country n’ rock mixed and it was and still is brilliant!

This kind of “Country” I can handle!

So I took the plunge and purchased Copperhead Road shortly after and it’s a great album, period!

First of all, look at the packaging of this record. The cover with the Skull and Crossbones gets the message across big time! The back cover as well.  

Opener Copperhead Road “ is still played today on our local crap radio station which is impressive as it’s on a rock station. It shows you that Earle had crossover potential .

Tons of great tracks on this album. Snake Oil “ with a riff that is right out of any classic rock track. “Back To The Wall” is another of my faves off of this album. Devil’s Right Hand as well. I mean what a four track opener for any album!

While Side 1 has more of a ‘rock’ sound attached to it Side 2 starting with Even When I’m Blue has more of that traditional country vibe in the tracks “You Belong To Me/Waiting On You” and Once You Love”.

While the Rock Guy in me so to speak prefers Side 1 there are times you need to hear some great introspective lyrics and songs and that’s where Side 2 comes into play!

Copperhead Road had the distinction at the time of its release by being a different kind of rock in my collection back in 1988. It didn’t matter to me as it was a solid album with an amplified mandolin cranked through a Marshall Amp!

August 21 – Patsy Would Have Been ‘Crazy’ Not To Sing This

An all-time classic was recorded in Nashville on this day in 1961. Recorded quickly and reluctantly as it turned out. Patsy Cline sang “Crazy”, which would become not only her signature song but one of the first ever country-to-pop crossover hits, in one take at producer Owen Bradley’s studio…after much urging and cajoling from him and her husband, Charlie Dick. Which was good for everyone involved, including then unknown songwriter Willie Nelson. Cline herself was probably pretty happy it took just one take; she’d been in a serious car accident two months earlier and was still in a good deal of pain recovering from broken ribs (which made singing very arduous) among other things.

Cline was on her way to becoming a major star, but she’d paid her dues. She grew up poor, in a broken home in Virginia, was apparently sexually abused by her dad, and nearly died of Rheumatic Fever as a tween. She had a good voice however, and dreamed of being on the Grand Ole Opry stage. She became locally famous and in 1957, signed to a small division of Decca called Four Star Records, she got a break when she appeared on a national TV show, Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Search. That helped her song “Walking After Midnight” become a big hit on country radio and eventually, by 1960, get invited to the Opry she’d dreamed of for years.

She was by then married and working on a second album, Showcase. Recording had begun in late ’60, and was close to done when she had her car accident.

Meanwhile, ol’ Willie was then young, struggling Willie. Nelson had just moved to Nashville after tooling around Texas working as a DJ , singer and songwriter. He had a wife and three kids and was scrambling to make ends meet. Surprisingly, in retrospect, few singers seemed to like the song “Crazy” when they first heard it. He notes that it uses more, and different chords than most country music at the time and owed more to jazz. As well, in his original version it had a spoken word bit in it.

Bradley, and Charlie both liked the song when they heard the demo. But Patsy balked, saying she didn’t want to record more “compositions that embrace vulnerability and loss of love.” As for “Crazy”, she initially told her husband “I don’t care what you say. I don’t like it and I ain’t going to record it.” It’s unclear how she was persuaded to change her mind, but music fans are happy she did.

Bradley played the organ himself and his brother Harold played bass. Pianist Floyd Cramer was among the other session musicians brought in to play the piece which would be the second single off the album.

The first, “I Go To Pieces” was a #1 hit on country charts but “Crazy” did … well, “crazy” good. It was #2 on country charts but also made the top 10 on Billboard‘s regular singles chart, as well as in Canada. It’s popularity would endure (it made it back on the charts in Britain in 1990 for instance) and end up being her biggest hit ever. It was also reported to be the most-played song ever in American jukeboxes when that was tabulated in 1996. And it seems Willie Nelson’s done alright for himself since then too! He by the way picks Patsy’s version of “Crazy” as the best, better than even his own or Linda Rondstadt’s 1977 hit version. 

As allmusic note, it has an “ageless, wise and vulnerable” quality that gives it an ongoing appeal. Rolling Stone put it at #85 on their greatest songs of all-time list (just ahead of another country crossover from the same era, “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash)suggesting “Cline’s vocals infuse Nelson’s lyrics with slow burn of sex appeal” and adding it “set the stage for a sophisticated new phase of C&W.”

Sadly, Cline wouldn’t see much of that new phase. She died two years later, at age 30, in a small plane crash.

June 28 – The Turntable Talk, Round 4 : Gretchen Sounded Fetchin’

Welcome back to The Turntable Talk. As before, we’ve invited some other interesting music writers to share their opinions on a single topic, and we’ll be running their replies this week. Previous times we’ve looked at the influence of The Beatles, pros and cons of live albums, and the impact of MTV and music videos. This time around, we’re looking at “out of the blue”… debuts that came out of nowhere and really took listeners by surprise. Albums, or singles, that made you turn your head and say “that’s great! Who is that!?” Let’s hear about the great entrances to the musical stage and why they so impressed you… and perhaps if the act would go on to live up to that early potential or not.

Kicking it off this time, we have Keith from Nostalgic Italian. A former radio DJ, he has a lot of interesting stories to share and thoughts on music and much more. He goes a little bit country for today’s topic:

Welcome to another edition of Turntable Talk, hosted by Dave at A Sound Day. He has really been coming up with some neat topics for this series. This time around, he is calling it “Out of the Blue.” Dave described it this way: “Basically, great debuts that probably took you by surprise.  Now, I’m not talking to old debut records by artists you love that you eventually went back to and found , but rather albums or even singles that you found more or less when they came out that you really loved… a surprise great that came out of the blue. So tell us about  a record like that, and if you want, if your interest in the artist was kept alive or if they were a one-off flash in the pan.

I didn’t have to go any further in his email to know exactly what I’d be writing about. I remember this song like it was yesterday. It was 2004 and I was working at 94.5 The Moose in Saginaw.moose

 

As the station’s music director, I received new music daily. Every single song was trying to get a spot on the station’s play list. Each week I would listen to the new songs and then meet with my program director to discuss what song or songs we might consider adding. Often times, it was a difficult decision. Other times, you just went with the new song from a country superstar.

Every year in January or February the Country Radio Seminar would happen in Nashville. Radio people from all across the country would get together to hear new music, network, and attend panels about various radio and records stuff.

I remember going to one of the evening events hosted by one of the record labels that year. I recall them playing some of their new songs from new artists. The one song that had everyone talking that year was “Redneck Woman”. I can still remember the first time I heard it. I was blown away. It was like NOTHING that was on the radio at that time.

The song was by a new artist named Gretchen Wilson. She was a 30 year old single mother who was working as a bartender to earn a living while she sang and wrote songs. She was rough around the edges and didn’t necessarily have the “looks” of a female country singer. That, of course, didn’t matter because the listener was hooked as soon as she started belting out the lyrics.

The song was the lead single from Gretchen’s album Here for the Party. She had written the song with John Rich, who used to be in the group Lonestar and went on to success with Big & Rich. The Album Here for the Party earned her several Grammy-Award nominations, including for Best New Artist, Best Country Album, as well as “Redneck Woman” for Best Country Song and Best Female Country Vocal Performance. She took home the award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

I remember coming back from the Country Radio Seminar that year anxiously awaiting the single to hit my desk. There was no doubt in my mind that it would be the hit of the summer and would be a number one record!

It was a fun, fresh song that was constantly being requested by listeners. It spent five weeks at the top of the Hot Country Singles chart. That in itself was a huge accomplishment, but it also became the first number-one hit on that chart for a female solo act since Martina McBride’s “Blessed” two years earlier.

Thanks to the success of “Redneck Woman”, the album shot to platinum certification (for sales of a million copies) within just over a month after its May 11, 2004 release. By November 4 of that year, sales amounted to three million. And by late 2006, total sales had climbed to five million.

She continued to collaborate with John Rich and the toured together. I was lucky enough to have the chance to see her perform and her energy on stage was powerful. The audience was just as pumped as she was! They screamed with joy and sang along at the top of their lungs when she performed “Redneck Woman”!

I don’t believe she was a “flash in the pan,” because she certainly had other hit songs. At the same time, you don’t hear much from her today on the radio. One song which I felt should have got more attention was her simple ballad “I Don’t Feel Like Loving You Today.” Her vocal is the exact opposite of Redneck Woman and I think it is just an amazing song.

I’ve been away from country radio for some time now, and I know that most of what plays on the format today is what they call “bro country” or “country rap.” I don’t really feel the connection to the artists today like I did back then. It was a very different format at the time, and “Redneck Woman” was a country song that was loved by listeners of all formats.

The song was one that has forever stuck with me. I remember hearing it the first time. I remember playing it the first time. I remember seeing her play it live for the first time. So when someone asks me if I like the song, I respond with a big “Hell, yeah!”

Redneck Woman – Lyrics

Well, I ain’t never been the Barbie doll type
No, I can’t swig that sweet Champagne, I’d rather drink beer all night
In a tavern or in a honky tonk or on a four-wheel drive tailgate

I’ve got posters on my wall of Skynyrd, Kid and Strait
Some people look down on me, but I don’t give a rip
I’ll stand barefooted in my own front yard with a baby on my hip

‘Cause I’m a redneck woman
I ain’t no high class broad
I’m just a product of my raising
I say, “hey ya’ll” and “yee-haw”
And I keep my Christmas lights on
On my front porch all year long

And I know all the words to every Charlie Daniels song
So here’s to all my sisters
Out there keeping it country
Let me get a big “hell yeah”
From the redneck girls like me
Hell yeah (Hell yeah)

Victoria’s Secret, well their stuff’s real nice
Oh, but I can buy the same damn thing on a Wal-Mart shelf half price
And still look sexy
Just as sexy as those models on TV

No, I don’t need no designer tag
To make my man want me
You might think I’m trashy, a little too hardcore
But in my neck of the woods I’m just the girl next door

I’m a redneck woman
I ain’t no high class broad
I’m just a product of my raising
I say, “hey y’all” and “yee-haw”
And I keep my Christmas lights on
On my front porch all year long

And I know all the words to every Tanya Tucker song
So here’s to all my sisters
Out there keeping it country
Let me get a big “hell yeah”
From the redneck girls like me
Hell yeah (Hell yeah)

I’m a redneck woman
I ain’t no high class broad
I’m just a product of my raising
And I say, “hey y’all” and “yee-haw”
And I keep my Christmas lights on
On my front porch all year long

And I know all the words to every ol’ Bocephus song
So here’s to all my sisters out there keeping it country
Let me get a big “hell yeah”
From the redneck girls like me (Hell yeah)

Hell yeah (Hell yeah)
Hell yeah (Hell yeah)
I said hell yeah

June 7 – Named After A Big City, But A Country Boy At Heart

A talent that spanned a few musical genres had a day in the sun (shine, on his shoulder!) 47 years back. John Denver had the #1 song on Billboard with “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” this day in 1975. In the U.S. and Canada it was his third of four mainstream #1 hits (he’d score his last later the same year with “I’m Sorry”) .

His popularity was likely at its Rocky Mountain High peak then. He won an Emmy for best special for a TV concert performance, a Country Music Awards Album of the Year for Back Home Again, and an American Music Awards Best Pop/Rock Male performer. All of which irked some but showed the widespread appeal of his music. In fact with that and 14 platinum albums at home, Denver probably did more to bridge the gap between country and pop than any other artist of the ’70s. Denver, born Henry John Deutschendorf, studied architecture in Texas but quit college to pursue the folk music scene in California, eventually gaining fame and notice writing “Leaving On a Jet Plane” for Peter Paul and Mary in 1969. Soon he’d be a regular on AM radio himself with hits like “Sunshine on My Shoulder” and “Take Me Home, Country Roads” as well as this song. The latter has been adopted as the State Song of West Virginia, meanwhile Colorado has given a similar honor to his song “Rocky Mountain High”, making him unique in creating official songs for two different states. “Country Boy,” with more fiddles in it than any other hit this side of Charlie Daniels was written by his band-mate, fiddler/mandolinist John Sommers.

Denver, whose dad was an Air force man, was an avid pilot and died at age 53 in a small plane crash on Monterrey Bay.

June 5 – Jones Made Us Look At The Sky Differently

Yippy-aye-ay, yippy-aye-o…it’s a big day for cowboys, especially musical ones. Because it has double significance in the history of what the Western Writers of America picked as the “greatest Western song ever” – “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” The song was written by Stan Jones, who was born this day in 1914, and then first released as a record also on this day by Jones, in 1948. The following year it would be the Billboard top song of the year, hitting #1 for Vaughn Monroe but also making the charts that year alone in versions by Burl Ives, Peggy Lee and Bing Crosby! Radio-listeners must have been getting a bit tired of hearing it by 1950, me thinks. Since then, countless other artists have recorded it including Johnny Cash, Lawrence Welk and most notably, The Outlaws.

The Outlaws were a Tampa-based Southern Rock band who were among the first signed to Arista by Clive Davis, based upon the urging of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zant. They were a bit more country-oriented than some of their contemporaries. Plus they used two co-lead guitarists, which was a tad out of the ordinary. Their version of “Ghost Riders” was the title track of their sixth album, released in 1980 and peaking at #25 in the U.S.; in 1981 the supercharged single made it to #31 – their biggest success – and #15 on the mainstream rock charts, as well as in Canada.

The story behind the song apparently dates back to the 1920s. When Jones was 12 years old, living in Arizona, he met a Native (likely a Comanche) who told him of his people’s belief that when someone died, their spirit went to live in the sky and that clouds could be “ghost riders.” It gave him the idea for a song of ghost cowboy’s chasing the “Devil’s herd”, “red-eyed cows…a-plowin’ through the ragged skies”. He worked for awhile as a park ranger and he’d sing the song to movie scouts who came looking for locations to film Westerns in. Eventually he became a musician and recorded it. Little did he know that although it didn’t do a great deal in his own version, it would become an “American standard” . Sadly, he became a “ghost rider” himself when he succumbed to cancer at age 49.

May 24 – Gill’s First Merging Of Country & Rock

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.

May 17 – People Began Drink Juice Up In ’81

It was a good time to be a female singer around this time in 1981. This week 41 years back, Sheena Easton had just dropped out of the top spot on the Billboard singles chart with “Morning Train” and had been replaced by what would go on to be the biggest-seller of the year in the States, “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes. Sitting between them, at a high position of #4 was the tasty Juice Newton‘s “Angel of the Morning.” It was an auspicious entry to the main stage for the New Jersey-born, California raised singer.

Juice had grown up singing and playing guitar, and got good at it playing folk music in cafes around California while she went to college there in the ’60s. Judy Kay Newton took the nickname “Juice” when she signed to RCA with a country band in the mid-’70s,but they didn’t do a great deal commercially. Patience paid off both for her and Capitol Records, who signed her individually after that. Her first two albums went almost unnoticed, but her third, the eponymously-titled Juice, changed all that. The key was that while it sounded in a country vein, it was good enough, and pop enough to hit mainstream radio. When all was said and done, the album went platinum in the U.S., three times that in Canada and launched four hit singles.

Angel of the Morning” was the first, and internationally, biggest of them. The song was written by Chip Taylor in the ’60s. Taylor also wrote the quite different “Wild Thing”, a hit for the Troggs. He says he wrote it right after hearing “Ruby Tuesday” by the Rolling Stones. “I wanted to capture that kind of passion,” he recalls. The song was offered to Connie Francis, but she found it too risque, so it went to Merrilee Rush. She recorded it and had a top 10 hit in 1968 with it, and others have recorded it including Olivia Newton John, Nina Simone and even Tom Hanks’ wife Rita Wilson, but no one did as well with it or “owned” it like Juice.

She sang and played the acoustic guitar on it, and had some talented studio help to fill out the sound including Dan Dugmore (a member of both James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt’s backing bands) on aching slide guitar. Newton says she was vaguely aware of Rush’s version, but didn’t emulate it since “when it was popular, I was listening to folk music and R&B, and it was pop.”

Soon everyone was listening to her take on it. The song went gold in the States and in Canada where it hit #1. She’d have nearly as much success with the follow-up single, “Queen of Hearts” and then did well at home with “The Sweetest Thing” from it, and three years later, “Ride Em Cowboy”, re-released as a single from the album to promote a best of compilation. Soon after, she’d disappear from the mainstream pop and rock charts, but she remained a viable entity on country radio, having three #1 hits on their charts in the second-half of the decade.

Obviously a country girl at heart, Juice has voiced two audiobooks, both Westerns, and keeps herself busy keeping and trading horses in California these days.