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Country Music History – Essential Recordings of 1958, Part I


We shift back towards traditional country music in 1958, with entries from George Jones, Ray Price, and Johnny Cash.

1. “All I Have to Do is Dream,” The Everly Brothers.  The Everly Brothers scored their third #1 country hit with “All I Have to Do is Dream,” another Boudleaux Bryant composition.  In fact, it is noted as the first song to be #1 pop, country, and R&B simultaneously.  The lyrics sound innocent enough, yet Dave Marsh once listed “All I Have to Do is Dream” as the greatest song ever written about masturbation.  That idea kind of puts the romantic loneliness theme in a new light.  Or, in the dark, depending upon preference.

2. “Alone with You,” Faron Young.  Like “All I Have to Do is Dream,” “Alone with You” is another romantic fantasy number (“How I’d love to be around you/When the lonely night surrounds you”) and it was Young’s second #1 country hit, following 1955’s “Life Fast, Love Hard, Die Young.”  The uptempo single was co-written with Georgia born recording artist Roy Drusky, who scored thirteen Top Ten country hits from 1960 to 1971.  (Drusky was a real terra firma kind of guy – his releases included “The World is Round” and “My Grass is Green”).  Lester Vanadore, the owner of Vanadore Publishing Company and a businessman who once assisted Drusky in getting a record deal, was also listed as a co-writer in Nashville’s inimitable “wouldn’t you know who won the pony” version of quid pro quo.

3. “The Ballad of Paladin,” Johnny Western.  Johnny Westerlund was raised in rural Minnesota, spending part of his time on Indian reservations, and found inspiration in Gene Autry’s cowboy films.  He started working as a disc jockey at the age of thirteen.  Changing his name to Johnny Western, he worked as a regional television performer, then moved to Hollywood in 1954.  “The Ballad of Paladin” was written after landing a small role on “Have Gun, Will Travel” and became the television program’s closing theme.  The song was never a hit for Western, but was well known due to the popularity of the weekly series.  Duane Eddy scored a #10 U.K. hit with his cover of “Paladin” in 1962.  Western was a member of Johnny Cash’s band for several decades and was a disc jockey on Wichita country radio stations from 1986 until his retirement in 2010.

4. “Ballad of a Teenage Queen,” Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two.  Jack Clement was an eccentric Memphis talent who served in the Marines, then returned home and eventually found himself working for Sun Records.  He was the first Sun producer to work with Jerry Lee Lewis and he wrote several hits for Johnny Cash.  “Ballad of a Teenage Queen,” a tale of a woman who preferred her humble boyfriend to the bright lights of Hollywood and the first single Clement penned for Cash, went #1 on the country charts and #14 on the pop charts.  Cowboy Jack collaborated with everyone from Charley Pride to Townes Van Zandt to U2 during his storied career and worked on satellite radio later in life.  One of Clement’s unmet life goals was to amass $100 million to fund a space colony.

5. “City Lights,” Ray Price.  Bill Anderson was a journalism major at the University of Georgia in the late 1950s, who worked part time as a disc jockey and recorded for a small label.  One of his first recordings was “City Lights,” which Ray Price brought into his shuffle world of loneliness and made a #1 single.  “Whisperin’ Bill” had a lengthy career as a songwriter, performer, and television host.  “City Lights” returned to #1 with Mickey Gilley’s 1975 cover version and Anderson scored his last #1 single as a writer, as of now, with George Strait’s 2006 chart topper “Give It Away.”

6. “Color of the Blues,” George Jones.  The career trajectory of George Jones was waylaid by the rock ‘n’ roll era to the point that he even released a few rockabilly singles in 1956 using the pseudonym Thumper Jones.  By 1958, the Starday label founded by Pappy Daily had been absorbed into Mercury Records, allowing better recording technology.  Jones, “When I got to Mercury I got my first halfway decent sounds.”  “Color of the Blues,” a co-write by Jones and Tennessee country artist Lawton Williams, is a country heartbreak standard that has been covered by Loretta Lynn, Elvis Costello, and Skeeter Davis, among others.  Jones liked the song so much that he cut new versions for both United Artists and Musicor during the 1960s.

7. “Devoted to You,” The Everly Brothers.  “Bird Dog” was the bigger hit (#2 pop/#1 country), but “Devoted to You,” the b-side, has a longer shelf life for your ears.  From the shimmering guitar intro to the slow paced, peerless close harmonies “Devoted to You” is a love song for the ages.  Commercially, a #7 country hit for The Everlys and a #13 pop hit for Carly Simon and James Taylor in 1978.  You can’t argue with this Phil Everly statement:  “Boudleaux Bryant’s stuff fit us like a glove.”

8. “Eskimo Pie,” George Jones.  On this non-charting b-side, Jones references two major hits penned by “Color of the Blues” collaborator Lawton Williams with the opening lyric (“You can talk about your Frauleins and your pretty Geisha girls”).  Bobby Helms spent four weeks at #1 on the country charts with the Williams composition “Fraulein” in 1957 and Hank Locklin went to #4 that year with “Geisha Girl.”  “Eskimo Pie” is a novelty number about a lifesaving, igloo romance and a reference to a cold, refreshing, tasty treat.

9. “Guess Things Happen That Way,” Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two.  Let’s hand the ball off to rock critic Mark Deming here, who described this Jack Clement composition as having “an eccentric tone all its own — largely because the vocal chorus (who sound as if they’re occupying a middle ground between doo wop and barbershop quartet) is in such stark contrast to Cash’s lead vocal.”  It’s a weird one that was Cash’s largest pop hit at that time, peaking at #11 and topping the country charts.  Also well worth 1:40 of your time is the b-side “Come in Stranger,” a Cash composition/#6 country hit about a lonely wife with a husband who makes his living on the road.

10. “I Still Miss Someone,” Johnny Cash.  “I Still Miss Someone” is a Johnny Cash composition that became a standard without ever being a hit single.  (The highest charting version was by Nebraska country artist Don King, who didn’t promote boxing with electrified hair, peaking at #38 in 1981).  A beautiful song about loss and inability to move forward, “I Still Miss Someone” has been covered by Fairport Convention, Joan Baez, and Nanci Griffith in the world of folk music and by country artists Martina McBride, Flatt/Scruggs, Robert Earl Keen, and Dolly Parton.  Definitive proof, if any is needed, that Cash was as talented as a songwriter as he was an interpreter.

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