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Country Music History – Essential Recordings of 1957, Part II

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It’s time to welcome Patsy Cline to our party.

1. “That’ll Be the Day,” The Crickets. Unlike other rock ‘n’ roll acts of their era (the Sun crew, Gene Vincent, The Everly Brothers), The Crickets didn’t hit the country charts during their heyday. A four-piece rock band designed to support Buddy Holly, singles were released under the name “The Crickets” and as “Buddy Holly” as a way to deliver product on separate labels. Holly and drummer Jerry Allison wrote “That’ll Be the Day,” with the title phrase being inspired by a John Wayne movie line. The Crickets first chart outing was a #1 pop/#1 R&B classic. Almost two decades later, “That’ll Be the Day” found the country charts when the Linda Ronstadt cover from her platinum album “Hasten Down the Wind” peaked at #27.

2. “There You Go,” Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two. After Elvis left Sun for bigger marketing opportunities, Johnny Cash was producing a string of country hits for the label with much less pop crossover success. (The Man In Black only hit the pop Top Ten once, with 1969’s “A Boy Named Sue.”) He followed his #1 country hit about personal devotion, “I Walk the Line,” with a #1 country hit about a fickle hearted woman. Cash can’t keep himself from taking the lying/heartbreaking woman back, even when he knows the story will have an unhappy ending.

3. “Too Much,” Elvis Presley. “Too Much” was released as a rather unremarkable R&B record by Bernard Hardison in 1955. The songwriting trail would result in legal action. It is believed that Bill Beasley, an independent record label owner from Nashville, wrote “Too Much” with his wife Joan Norris. The Bernard Hardison release was credited to Norris and Beasley’s financial partner Bernie Weinman. After the record bombed, Weinman’s secretary, Lee Rosenberg, is believed to have given Elvis a copy of the song and the credits read “Rosenberg/Weinman” on his version. Bill Beasley later tried to sue Weinman over the authorship, but Weinman had the royalty money and could afford better attorneys. Beasley later commented, “Bernie and I were real good friends, but someone who’s your friend for a thousand dollars isn’t always your friend for ten thousand.” By the way, if you don’t think Elvis and Scotty Moore could work magic, listen to the original version and then listen to this #3 country hit.

4. “Wake Up, Little Susie,” The Everly Brothers. “Wake Up, Little Susie” was the followup single to “Bye Bye Love” and was a bigger success on the pop and country charts. Written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, “Wake Up, Little Susie” is a tale of a teenage couple falling asleep at a drive-in theater, then wondering what ensuing harm might happen to their reputations from their parents and peers. The brilliance in the song is not describing any outcomes, just focusing on the adolescent angst. Phil Everly on his brother’s guitar playing, “I hate to brag about it, but Donald’s chord inversions, fills, and rhythmic things on songs such as ‘Wake Up Little Susie,’ ‘Bird Dog,’ and ‘Bye Bye Love’ are very important, and his style is still emulated today. You have to think about the history of it. That kind of playing didn’t exist in rock music back then.” “Susie” topped the pop charts for one week, but stayed on top of the country charts for two months. That was one sleepy girl.

5. “Walkin’ After Midnight,” Patsy Cline. Patsy Cline grew up in a working class family in Winchester, Virginia. After dropping out of high school, she started performing on local radio and clubs at the age of 15. She signed with Four Star Records in 1955, recording gospel, honky tonk, and rockabilly material. “Walkin’ After Midnight” was written in 1954 by Alan Block and Dan Hecht. It was rejected by pop singer Kay Starr and Cline was initially unenthusiastic about the song as well. An appearance on “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” television program created demand for the single, which was a #12 pop hit/#2 country single. Surprisingly, it was four years later when Cline hit Top Ten on the country charts again, with 1961’s “I Fall to Pieces.”

6. “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On,” Jerry Lee Lewis. Trivia question: who produced the original version of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On?” It wasn’t Sun Studio’s Sam Phillips, but a young Quincy Jones who produced Big Maybelle’s R&B version in 1955. Originally, African American songwriter Dick “Curlee” Williams was credited as the songwriter. Eventually, boogie woogie pianist James Faye “Roy” Hall received a credit as well. Hall enjoyed a drink now and again. Here’s how he described the creative process, “We was down in Pahokee, on Lake Okeechobee.. out on a damn pond, fishin’ and milkin’ snakes .. drinkin’ wine, mostly. This guy down there had a big bell that he’s ring to get us all to come in to dinner, an’ I’d call over [and] say, ‘What’s goin’ on?’ Colored guy said, ‘We got twen’y-one drums, we got an old bass horn, an’ they even keepin’ time on a ding-dong.’ See, that was the big bell they’d ring to git us t’come in.” That must have been quite an interview. “Shakin’” was the world’s introduction to Jerry Lee Lewis, who as a young man embodied the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll perhaps more definitively than anyone else ever has, and was a #1 country single.

7. “You Win Again,” Jerry Lee Lewis. Jerry Lee, “Y’know, son, there’s only been four of us: Al Jolson, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and Jerry Lee Lewis. That’s your only goddam four stylists that ever lived. We could write, sing, yodel, dance, make love, or what. Makes no damn difference. The rest of these idiots is either ridin’ a damn horse, pickin’ a guitar, or shootin’ somebody in some stupid damn movie.” On the followup single to “Great Balls of Fire,” Lewis covered one of the only three other stylists who had ever lived and had a bigger hit than Hank Williams did, peaking at #4 on the country charts. The man who would eventually marry seven times made “You Win Again” a regular part of his setlist for decades.

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