No matter what folks do on Sunday, they like to party on Saturday night. Back in the late seventies, if you liked to dance you did the Hustle. That’s what people did back then. Despite the enthusiastic drubbing it used to receive at the hands of rock fans back then (not to mention racists and gay bashers), disco was always at heart a populist entertainment. And though “roots” has always been a topic of fierce contention among country critics, I have to commend the artists in this anthology for casting off theirs in pursuit of contemporary popularity.
Now, I’m not saying that all the artists on the country charts in the late 70s copped licks from Van McCoy and Barry White, but plenty of them did. In general, these hits from the later half of the 70’s are marvels of glossy overproduction. The beat is leaden and loud, the guitars chip away at the rhythm while the bass pounds at the root, the piano tickles at the jazz fringes and the strings swirl invitingly. The sound has that shiny clean trebly sheen associated nowadays with excessive cocaine use. The arrangements are big and blown out, and the singing has a strong showbiz attitude. Nothing here would be out of place on “The Donny And Marie Show.” As such, these songs are indeed “a little bit country,” if only a very little bit.
As a longhaired teenager, I used to turn the dial to the country station and smugly scoff as my two least favorite music styles of the time seemed to be eating each other. Now, I troll lists of country hits from that era, looking for nuggets of cheesy eclectic pop perfection like these. Some of the songs here are unabashed cash-ins, last-gasps by worn out hit makers of the past, willing to try anything for one last shot at the top. (In this way, they aren’t so different from similar artists put out to disco pasture in the pop charts.) Some manage to pull off a relatively elegant upgrade of the Nashville Sound without sacrificing traditional country charm. Some of them just sound a lot like the theme to "Laverne And Shirley." But I love 'em all.
Taken together, the songs in this collection evoke a golden nadir for the form, a necessarily developmental step for country music, though its unlikely to be anyone's favorite period. It was an era that set the stage for the inevitable repudiation, reclamation and reinvention to come. Once having swayed this far into the realm of bubblegum, however, country could henceforth always be counted on to augment its standard purist fare with the occasional candy-coated throwaway classic.
1. Brass Buckles - Barbi Benton
2. Thanks - Bill Anderson
3. Blanket On The Ground - Billy Joe Spears
4. Lonely Men, Lonely Women - Connie Eaton
5. Western Man - La Costa
6. Country Boy (You Got Your Feet In LA) - Glen Campbell
7. That's When My Woman Begins - Tommy Overstreet
8. Silver Wings And Golden Rings - Billie Jo Spears
9. Love Is Only Love (When Shared By Two) - Johnny Carver
10. Sweet Talkin' Man - Lynn Anderson
11. (I'm A) Stand by My Woman Man - Ronnie Milsap
12. Rollin' With the Flow - Charlie Rich
13. You Don't Miss A Thing - Sylvia
14. The Days of Sand and Shovels - Nat Stuckey