Episode #2: Countryish Music of the 1970s
00:17 Amy recounts how Charlie Rich, the 1974 Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year, sets fire to the card announcing John Denver as the 1975 CMA Entertainer of the Year.
03:50 Country music royalty, Tammy Wynette and George Jones created the Academy of Country Entertainers after a group of more “traditional” country artists were galled that Olivia Newton-John and Ronnie Milsap were winning CMA awards. Amy also points out that George Jones’ first #1 hit on the country charts, “White Lightning,” was rockabilly, not pure country.
06:27 Country music is right where country radio wanted it to be, dating back to when Elvis first hit the airwaves and began to lure young music fans to rock and roll.
08:02 To prove the point made at 06:27, Amy reads part of a memo that Alan Tolbert’s radio consulting firm sent to modern country radio stations at the end of the 1960s. (Part of the text of the memo is below.)
09:32: Country radio stations copy the format of pop and rock music stations. This is a successful move.
10:00 Amy briefly discusses the thesis of historian and journalist John Edgerton, who published The Americanization of Dixie in 1974. In short, the South was becoming like the rest of the United States and the rest of the United States was becoming like the South.
11:28 The “Nashville Sound” dominates 70s country radio but began in the 1950s. Achieving the Nashville Sound requires eliminating fiddles and banjos and washboards, often in favor of adding in violins and keyboards. This results in a more polished and orchestral sound.
12:30 Amy analyzes Glen Campbell’s “Country Boy” and “Rhinestone Cowboy,” which are not only perfect examples of the Nashville Sound but of the identity crisis that country singers (displaced cowboys and cowgirls) faced when having to compromise to get on the radio. Amy also gives a little background on New Yorker Larry Weiss, who wrote “Rhinestone Cowboy.” She offers her opinion that Weiss’s own recording of the song is quite good and reminds her of Neil Diamond.
20:49 The August 30, 1975 Billboard Top 10 is quite diverse. The complete Top 40 for that week is below.
22:40 Was it good or bad that we lost distinctions between country and pop? Amy offers her opinion that regionalism has not always been good for the country but that there does need to be space for musicians to make the music they want to make, even if it isn’t popular. She goes on to discuss Luke Bryan’s “Whatever Makes You Country,” a modern country hit that she had never heard of until this week. Maybe Luke Bryan, who she has not only heard of and has seen perform live, is done fighting about what is and is not country. Amy thinks that this may be good approach but also suggests that country music and country radio are not the same. This will likely be explored in a future episode.
Text of the Tolbert memo, from the journal Social Research, Summer 1978:
The name “Country-Music” is confusing to some since it can connote that this music is for persons living in rural areas. Modern country music has become a multi-million dollar business, and it could only do so by appealing to urban population centers—not by limiting it to the farm.
Today the term “country” is synonymous with “nation.” Other than jazz, this is the only true “national” music of the United States—telling in lyrics the stories of people, places, experience, and feelings.
It is called by many names to connote this “national” feeling—Americana, countrypolitan, town and country, etc.,, etc. In any event, modern country music has no relationship to rural or mountain life. It is the music of this Nation, of this country, the music of the people. You will find no screech fiddles, no twangy guitars, no mournful nasal twangs in modern Nashville sound of country music. Today you will find the sweeping sound of full orchestrations, multi-voiced choruses, amplified instruments and sophisticated arrangements, and an adult lyric approach.
Consequently, the modern country-music station is a bright, urbane, sophisticated, and lively as the best contemporary middle-of-the-road or better-music station with wide adult appeal. The winning-country music stations are, first, good radio stations, regardless of the music they play.
Billboard Top 40 for the week ending August 30, 1975 (The first number is the chart placement for the current week and the second number is the chart placement for the previous week.)
1 3 GET DOWN TONIGHT –•– K.C. and the Sunshine Band (T.K.)-8 (1 week at #1)
2 1 FALLIN’ IN LOVE –•– Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds (Playboy)-11
3 5 RHINESTONE COWBOY –•– Glen Campbell (Capitol)-14
4 2 ONE OF THESE NIGHTS –•– The Eagles (Asylum)-14
5 7 HOW SWEET IT IS (To Be Loved By You) –•– James Taylor (Warner Brothers)-11
6 4 JIVE TALKIN’ –•– The Bee Gees (RSO)-14
7 9 AT SEVENTEEN –•– Janis Ian (Columbia)-12
8 8 SOMEONE SAVED MY LIFE TONIGHT –•– Elton John (MCA)-9
9 6 WHY CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS –•– War (United Aritsts)-18
10 11 FIGHT THE POWER (Part 1) –•– The Isley Brothers (T-Neck)-11
11 24 FAME –•– David Bowie (RCA)-10
12 15 COULD IT BE MAGIC –•– Barry Manilow (Arista)-10
13 16 WASTED DAYS AND WASTED NIGHTS –•– Freddy Fender (ABC / Dot)-11
14 17 FEEL LIKE MAKIN’ LOVE –•– Bad Company (Swan Song)-9
15 19 THAT’S THE WAY OF THE WORLD –•– Earth, Wind and Fire (Columbia)-9
16 20 BALLROOM BLITZ –•– Sweet (Capitol)-12
17 18 HOLDIN’ ON TO YESTERDAY –•– Ambrosia (20th Century)-12
18 21 THIRD RATE ROMANCE –•– The Amazing Rhythm Aces (ABC)-11
19 13 LOVE WILL KEEP US TOGETHER –•– The Captain and Tennille (A&M)-20
20 49 I’M SORRY / CALYPSO –•– John Denver (RCA)-3
21 25 TUSH –•– ZZ Top (London)-7
22 22 HELP ME RHONDA –•– Johnny Rivers (Epic / Soul City)-8
23 37 RUN JOEY RUN –•– David Geddes (Big Tree)-5
24 28 BLACK SUPERMAN / MUHAMMAD ALI –•– Johnny Wakelin and the Kinshasa Band (Pye)-23
25 29 I BELIEVE THERE’S NOTHING STRONGER THAN OUR LOVE –•– Paul Anka with Odia Coates (United Artists)-6
26 30 SOLITAIRE –•– The Carpenters (A&M)-5
27 31 DAISY JANE –•– America (Warner Brothers)-7
28 41 DANCE WITH ME –•– Orleans (Asylum)-7
29 35 FEELINGS –•– Morris Albert (RCA)-11
30 34 THE PROUD ONE –•– The Osmonds (Kolob)-6
31 10 PLEASE MR. PLEASE –•– Olivia Newton-John (MCA)-13
32 36 HOW LONG (Betcha’ Got a Chick On the Side) –•– The Pointer Sisters (ABC / Blue Thumb)-7
33 33 TWO FINE PEOPLE –•– Cat Stevens (A&M)-7
34 46 AIN’T NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY –•– Helen Reddy (Capitol)-4
35 40 IT ONLY TAKES A MINUTE –•– Tavares (Capitol)-6
36 38 DREAM MERCHANT –•– New Birth (Buddah)-9
37 39 GLASSHOUSE –•– The Temptations (Gordy)-8
38 47 ROCKY –•– Austin Roberts (Private Shock)-7
39 48 THEY JUST CAN’T STOP IT THE (Games People Play) –•– The Spinners (Atlantic)-4
40 42 SWEET MAXINE –•– The Doobie Brothers (Warner Brothers)-5
SOURCES USED TO CREATE THIS PODCAST
Bracket, David. “Country Music Approaches the Mainstream” in The Pop, Rock, and Soul Reader. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Egerton, John. The Americanization of Dixie: The Southernization of America. New York: Harper’s Magazine Press, 1974.
Peterson, Richard A. "The Production of Cultural Change: The Case of Contemporary Country Music." Social Research 45, no. 2 (1978): 292-314. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40970334.
Wicker, Bill. “Rhinestone Cowboy , Larry Weiss , 1974.” YouTube, YouTube, 1 Apr. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kMvv_kg4Bc.
HOW TO CITE THIS PODCAST IN MLA FORMAT:
Lively, Amy, narrator. “Countryish Music of the 1970s.” For the Record: The 70s, YOUR PODCAST APP, DATE YOU LISTENED.