Probably the best capture of the hobo lifestyle ever recorded - a lifestyle that's largely gone away. Uploaded by avclub.com.
Roger Miller wrote and recorded a series of lighthearted songs in the 1960s that might be called “novelty songs” except for one thing. They were really good. You might remember songs like “England Swings,” “Dang Me,” and “Chug-a-Lug.” But it’s “King of the Road” that featured Miller’s smart lyrics and breezy country vocal style.
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I’m not sure if there’s another popular song written about hobos. In fact, I’m not sure if what we think of as hobos – train riding, nomadic, freeloading folks – are still around. But Miller’s song romanticized the lifestyle, and gave it to us as a time capsule.
I smoke old stogies I have found
Short, but not too big around
I’m a Man of means by no means
King of the road
The song won five Grammy Awards: Best Country Song, Best Vocal Performance – Male, Best Country and Western Recording – Single, Best Contemporary Vocal Performance – Male, and Best Contemporary (Rock and Roll) Single. The song was selected for the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.
Hank Williams recorded this song during what was to be his last recording session in Sept. 1952. It was released in 1953 following his death, and stayed at number 1 on the country chart for six weeks. Uploaded by wax.fm.
In the early 1950s, country music had just begun to make its presence felt outside of the Deep South. Perhaps no one did more to advance the genre than Hank Williams (Great American Things, February 11, 2010) whose hits “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” (1950), “Cold Cold Heart” (1951), and “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” (1952) all were among the top ten hits of the year.
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Williams recorded “Your Cheatin’ Heart” in his final recording session in September, 1952. He died on January 1, 1953 at the age of 29, and this song was released later in the year. It went to number one on the country chart, where it stayed for six weeks. It was the number two song of 1953.
Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time considered “Your Cheatin’ Heart” number 213, one of the worst judgments on that entire list. A better ranking comes from CMT’s 100 Greatest Songs in Country Music, which named this Hank Williams classic number five. (As a side note, Your Cheatin’ Heart is also the title of a biographical film about Williams that starred George Hamilton. George Hamilton?)
She's had 11 number one hits, every major award a country singer can win, and a place in the Country Music and Grammy Awards halls of fame. Not bad for a coal miner's daughter. Uploaded by billboard.com.
Imagine growing up in a place called Butcher Holler, being married at age 13, having four children by the age of 19, and then deciding to pursue a music career. That’s an unusual background for success, but it gave Loretta Lynn, the coal miner’s daughter, an authenticity and an ambition that being born to money could never have provided.
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Lynn looked to Patsy Cline (Great American Things, November 16, 2009) as a mentor, and indeed named one of her children Patsy in the legend’s honor. Ironically, Lynn assumed Cline’s place as the leading lady of country music after Cline’s untimely death. Most of Lynn’s early successes were honky-tonk songs, and she had a string of hits in the 60s. In her career, she’s had 47 songs make the top 20 on the Country chart, with an amazing 11 make it all the way to number 1. She also had a dozen top 10 duets with Conway Twitty, the first five of which were also number one hits.
She’s won so many awards it’s not possible to list them here. Among the highlights: CMA Vocalist of the Year (3x), CMA Entertainer of the Year (1972), Academy of Country Music Awards Top Female Vocalist (4x) and its Entertainer of the Year (1975), the Grammy Awards Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, CMT’s 40 Greatest Women of Country Music (no. 3), and Kennedy Center Honors (2003).
Crazy was named the number 85 song in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest songs of All Time. Uploaded by blogs.rtve.es.
Hugh Nelson wrote this song in 1961 for a country singer named Billy Walker. Two good things then happened. Hugh decided he’d prefer to be known as “Willie,” and Billy Walker turned down this song. He faded into obscurity, and up-and-comer Patsy Cline (Great American Things, November 26, 2009) released it as her single to follow “I Go to Pieces.” It became a top 10 hit on both the country and pop charts.
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The story is that Nelson did a demo of the song with a faster tempo, and some of the lyrics spoken. Patsy Cline hated it. Fortunately for music posterity, her producer did a new arrangement of the song as a ballad. Cline: Good. America: Awesome.
Cline had a serious car wreck just before she sang “Crazy,” and she used to introduce it to audiences this way: “I had a hit out called ‘I Fall to Pieces’ and I was in a car wreck. Now I’m really worried because I have a new hit single out and it’s called ‘Crazy.'”
“Crazy” was chosen the number 85 song in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
No one, in any genre, on any chart, has more number one songs than George Strait. Uploaded by umgnashville.com.
He didn’t seek a crossover to rock, as Garth Brooks did. And he didn’t get caught up in his own persona, as Hank Williams, Jr. did. All George Strait has done is continue making pure country records that sell, sell, sell. He is one of the most-beloved of all country music artists.
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Look at these accomplishments: Strait had his first top 10 hit in 1981 (“Unwound”) and has had at least one top 10 hit every year since. He’s had 33 Gold albums, more than any other country singer. And he holds the record for most number one songs in any genre and on any chart – an amazing 57 chart toppers.
Though he’s in his fourth decade in music, his popularity isn’t waning. He had the CMA Album of the Year and Single of the Year in 2008. And he’s nominated for Male Artist of the Year in 2010 and album of the year for Twang.
He’s genuine, and authentic. If you want to know the essence of true country music, get his CD 50 Number Ones. It’s there. It’s all there.
Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by VeganMoonray
In its infancy, rock and roll quickly crowned its king. At the same time, another member of R&R royalty was making his name: The Man in Black.
Johnny Cash first gained fame on the Sun Records label. You might remember it best for producing a kid named Presley. In fact, along with Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins, Johnny made up what the Sun marketing people called “The Million Dollar Quartet.”
His first single to make the Billboard chart, Cry, Cry, Cry, reached number 14. But it was 1956, a year in which he released two epic songs, that Johnny Cash became a household name. Seldom does an artist have back-t0-back hits with the power of Folsom Prison Blues and I Walk the Line. The latter became his first number one song.
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Of course, if you know Johnny’s story, you know that his life spiraled out of control during the sixties due to drug use. God chose to bring him around as He often does – with a woman. June Carter not only sang some impressive duets with Johnny, but she and her family shared their strong faith with him, and patiently saw him through to a personal redemption.
Johnny Cash was the youngest person elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame conferred its membership in 1992. And in 1999 the Grammys honored him with a lifetime achievement award. He was honest, sometimes raw, and always electric. Which was obvious every time he stood on stage and said:
You don’t have to like country music to appreciate the legacy of the Grand Ole Opry. Growing from a live radio broadcast (The WSM Barn Dance) in 1925, the Opry moved around Nashville before finding a home at legendary Ryman Auditorium in 1943. It moved to the Grand Old Opry House at Opryland in 1974.
When the move was made, a six-foot circle of dark oak was cut from the Ryman stage and moved to the new theater. Now today’s Opry stars can stand on the same boards that supported the likes of Patsy Cline and Hank Williams.
Of course, you just don’t perform at the Opry; you’re invited to join the Opry. And though I’m not a big fan of country, I’m proud to invite the Opry to become a member of the distinguished company known as Great American Things.
Copyright 2009-2011, Robin G. Chalkley. All material on these pages, and the listing of items as Great American Things, is copyrighted. The exceptions are the photographs and videos, which remain the property of their respective owners.
Header photo used courtesy of Flickr photographer too melo.