"Rhinestone suits and new shiny cars; It's been the same way for years"
-- "I Don't Think Hank Done It This Way" by Waylon Jennings

In the 1970’s Nashville continued to polish up country music and project a more urban image.  But a new CBS television series, “Hee Haw” flew in the face of that sophistication.  The show mirrored the successful “Laugh In” series, but rather than featuring the topical humor of “Laugh In,” “Hee Haw” was set in the fictional Kornfield Kounty , the cast routinely dressed in bib overalls and depicted stereotypical hillbilly behavior.  The show’s emcees, Buck Owens (“Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms”) and Roy Clark (“Yesterday, When I Was Young”), were country music stars.  Owens reflected the hard-edged Bakersfield sound of country music, while Clark represented the smoother Nashville sound.  The show featured country music guests such as Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, and Charlie Rich.

The Nashville sound that had become so dominant in the 1960’s (sometimes called “Classic Country”) continued to evolve.  Orchestral productions and even the use of choirs for background vocals produced many cross-over hits.  While it had always been desirable for a country record to make it to the pop chart (more money) in 1970’s Nashville it became more of a goal.  Increasingly, the record producers were crafting songs by country artists that would appeal to a pop audience, a movement called “countrypolitan.”  An early example was Lynn Anderson’s “Rose Garden.”  Originally written and recorded by Joe South, Anderson wanted to record it even though it was considered a “man’s song.”  Husband and producer Glynn Sutton didn’t want her to record it, but finally relented.  Given the full countrypolitan treatment with a lush string section, the record went to number one on the country chart for five weeks and made number three on the pop chart.  Other examples of cross-over success were Kenny Rogers (“Lucille,” #1 country / #5 pop), Dolly Parton (“Here You Come Again,” #1 country / #3 pop), John Denver (“Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” #1 country / #1 pop), Glen Campbell (“Rhinestone Cowboy,” country #1 / pop #1).

As fits the pattern of country music’s history, the lush Nashville sound eventually produced a counter movement.  For the 1970’s it was “outlaw country.”  Spearheaded by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, some country artists rejected the notion that success depended on making country sound more like pop and country stars to look like pop stars.  Both Nelson and Jennings eschewed the colorful rhinestone jackets of the country star, wearing casual clothes and letting their hair grow long. With songs like “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” Lukenback Texas,” and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” the outlaws produced #1 country records.

While the “outlaws” were rejecting the pop country influence, some pop artists were embracing a country influence.  From a musical community in Laurel Canyon, California a genre that came to be called “country rock” emerged.  Linda Ronstadt had a hit record in 1967, “Different Drum” with The Stone Poneys.  Not much happened again until 1975 when “You’re No Good” reached #1.  While the song seems most appropriate for the rock genre, it did make it to #10 on the country chart.  Two members of Ronstadt’s backing band, Don Henley and Glen Frey formed The Eagles and soon produced a pop #1 of their own, “Best of My Love.”  While The Eagles are a rock band, “Lyin’ Eyes,” number two on the pop chart, also made it to #8 on the country chart.

Another sub-genre of rock and roll that had a decided country influence, “southern rock” developed in the 1970’s.  Groups like The Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd produced records like “Ramblin’ Man” and “Sweet Home Alabama” that had a country flavor to them.

One striking development of 1970’s country music was the rise of the female vocalist.  While singers such as Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, Wanda Jackson, and Skeeter Davis had hit records in the 1950’s and 1960’s, country music was mostly a boy’s club.  In the 1970’s the female vocalists became headliners of their own instead of opening acts for the male singers.  Loretta Lynn (“Coal Miners Daughter”), Tammy Wynette (“’Til I Can Make It On My Own”), Dolly Parton (“Jolene”), Barbara Mandrell (“Sleeping Single In A Double Bed”), Chrystal Gayle (“Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”), and Tanya Tucker (“Lizzie and the Rain Man”) posted numerous number one country songs.

The decade also produced highly successful country duets.  George Jones and Tammy Wynette scored three number ones during the 1970’s: “We’re Gonna Hold On,” “Golden Ring,” and “Near You.”  “After the Fire Is Gone,” “Lead Me On,” “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” “As Soon as I Hang Up the Phone,” and “Feelins” were all number ones for Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty.  Porter Wagoner featured Dolly Parton on his syndicated television show, and they charted many songs, including a number one, “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me.”  Dolly Parton also had a number one with her farewell song when she left Wagoner’s show in 1974, “I Will Always Love You.”

The 1970’s made it clear that a variety of music was covered by the country umbrella.  There was the continued influence of rock music coming from the outside and a push from traditionalists from the inside. 

25 FAVORITES FROM THE 1970'S
listed in chronoligical order (click on column head to sort)
Title Artist Release Date Country Rank Hot 100 Rank My Rank
Behind Closed Doors Charlie Rich 1973/1/17 1 15 15
Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain Willie Nelson 1975/7/5 1 21 11
Bright Lights, Big City Sonny James 1971/5/5 1 91 20
Coal Miners Daughter Loretta Lynn 1970/10/5 1 83 13
Danny s Song Anne Murray 1972/12/23 10 7 19
Delta Dawn Tanya Tucker 1972/4/10 6 72 21
Don t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue Crystal Gayle 1977/6/5 1 2 9
Every Which Way But Loose Eddie Rabbitt 1978/12/5 1 30 12
For the Good Times Ray Price 1970/6/5 1 11 1
Good Hearted Woman Willie Nelson & Waylon Jennings 1975/12/5 1 25 7
Hello Darlin
Conway Twitty 1970/3/23 1 60 22
Help Me Make It Through The Night Sammi Smith 1970/12/5 1 8 8
If You Love Me Olivia Newton-John 1974/4/5 2 5 16
Kiss An Angel Good Morning Charley Pride 1971/10/23 1 21 24
Lucille Kenny Rogers 1977/1/24 1 5 14
Luckenbach Texas Waylon Jennings 1977/4/11 1 25 2
Mommas Don t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson 1978/1/5 1 42 10
Rhinestone Cowboy Glen Campbell 1975/5/26 1 1 4
Rose Garden Lynn Anderson 1970/10/8 1 3 18
Sunday Morning Coming Down Johnny Cash 1970/7/29 1 46 6
Take Me Home Country Roads John Denver 1971/4/12 50 2 5
The Gambler Kenny Rogers 1978/11/15 1 16 3
Tulsa Time Don Williams 1978/10/5 1
23
Wasted Days and Wasted Nights Freddy Fender 1975/6/5 1 8 17
We re Gonna Hold On George Jones & Tammy Wynette 1973/9/3 1
25

ALSO CONSIDERED:

Title Artist Release Date 2 Highest Rank Country Highest Rank Hot 100
All The Gold In California The Gatlin Brothers 1979/8/5 1
Amanda Waylon Jennings 1973/5/5 1 54
Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way Waylon Jennings 1975/8/5 1 60
Before the Next Teardrop Falls Freddy Fender 1975/1/5 1 1
Convoy C.W. McCall 1975/11/5 1 1
Daytime Friends Kenny Rogers 1977/8/1 1 28
Do You Remember These The Statler Brothers 1972/3/11 2
East Bound and Down Jerry Reed 1977/8/1 2
Golden Ring George Jones & Tammy Wynette 1976/5/5 1
I Can t Believe That You Stopped Loving Me
Charley Pride 1970/9/5 1 71
I Will Always Love You Dolly Parton 1974/3/11 1
I m Not Lisa Jessi Colter 1975/1/16 1 4
I m Sorry John Denver 1975/7/5 1 1
If I Were A Carpenter Johnny Cash & June Carter 1969/12/22 2 36
Jolene Dolly Parton 1973/10/15 1 60
Laura (What s He Got That I Can't Give You Kenny Rogers 1976/10/5 19
Lizzie and the Rain Man Tanya Tucker 1975/4/14 1 37
One s On The Way Loretta Lynn 1971/11/5 1
She Believes In Me Kenny Rogers 1979/4/16 1 5
Southern Nights Glen Campbell 1975/5/5 1 1
Take This Job and Shove It Johnny Paycheck 1977/10/5 1
Thank God I m a Country Boy John Denver 1975/3/5 1 1
The Devil Went Down To Georgia Charlie Daniels Band 1979/5/21 1 3
The Happiest Girl in The Whole U.S.A. Donna Fargo 1972/3/5 1 11
The Most Beautiful Girl Charlie Rich 1973/8/21 1 1
The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia Vicki Lawrence 1972/11/7 36 1

I hadn't heard "Coal Miner's Daughter" until the 1980 movie starring Sissy Spacek.

MY FAVORITES FROM THE 1970'S

I was hardly a country music fan in the 1970’s.  My musical taste ran to the pop side of rock with Billy Joel, Elton John, Bee Gees, Paul Simon, James Taylor, and Carole King being among my favorites.  My top rated artist of the decade was the Eagles – and this presents an issue for making a top 25 list of country music songs.  Although primarily considered a rock band, “Lyin’ Eyes” (#2) did cross over to the country chart (#8).  Even more of a problem is Linda Ronstadt. Ronstadt had many pop hits that crossed over to the country chart.  “When Will I Be Loved” was #2 on the pop chart, and reached #1 on the country chart.  “Blue Bayou” was #3 on the pop chart and reached #2 on the country chart.  “Desperado” was a song recorded by both Ronstadt and The Eagles, but not released as a single by either – it could have been #1 on my list.  But it still seems to me that the music of The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt belong primarily in the pop/rock genre.  Otherwise, they would each have multiple songs in my top 25 country.  Other country/southern rock performers that could have made a top 25 country list were America, The Band, Lynard Skynard, and Dr. Hook.

Another artist that presented a categorization problem was John Denver.  Most of Denver’s early releases were not recognized on the country chart.  His country classic, “Take Me Home Country Roads” only made #50 on the country chart while reaching #2 on the pop chart.  “Rocky Mountain High” would be in the top ten of my favorites, but it wasn’t listed as a country song.  With “Thank God, I’m a Country Boy” being an obvious country song, it did make #1 on both charts.

 Had I made this list in 1979, many of the songs would not have been mentioned.  I wasn’t aware of “Hold On” until just recently when I watched the television series, “Tammy & George.”  I was introduced to “Coal Miners Daughter” by the Loretta Lynn biopic.  I first heard my #1 song for the 1970’s when I picked up “Ray Price’s All Time Greatest Hits” album at a bargain counter in the early 1980’s.  Similarly, I hadn’t heard “Amanda” until I listened to “Waylon Jennings Greatest Hits” in the early 1980’s.  I hadn’t heard “Bright Lights, Big City” until I put together this list – at least not the Sonny James version.  It was one of the tracks on Neil Young & The Shocking Pink’s 1983 album “Everybody’s Rockin’” which I purchased on cassette.

Of the songs in my 1970’s collection, 42 / 51 were #1 on the country chart with 20 of my top 25 earning the top spot.  There are 23 in the collection that made the top 20 on the pop chart, with eight songs reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, but only one of the top 25, “Rhinestone Cowboy.”  Three songs ranked higher on the pop chart than they did on the country chart: “Danny’s Song” (10/7), “The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia” (36/1), and “Take Me Home Country Roads” (50/2).

Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kenny Rogers were artists I did listen to in the latter 1970’s and they are my favorites for the decade.  Another artist who’s a favorite doesn’t have a song listed as a performer, but Kris Kristofferson wrote three of the songs in the top ten:  “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” and “For the Good Times.”

I’m sure your list of country favorites of the 1970’s would be different, but I’d bet there would be some similarities.  Anyway, this is my list.

Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson
"Ray Price's All-Time Greatest Hits' introduced me to the #1 song of the 1970's, "For the Good Times." It might also have been the first time I heard "Sunday Morning Coming Down" -- before Johnny Cash's version which is included here.
I had never heard Sonny James' version of "Bright Lights, Big City," but in 1983 I purchased a Neil Young cassette, "Everybody's Rockin," and "Bright Lights, Big City" was a cut on that album.