Ace Records has recently continued its Golden Age of American Popular Music Series with another volume dedicated to the sounds of country-and-western. More Country Hits follows The Country Hits, released in 2008, and like that volume, presents a collection of country classics that crossed over to the pop side on the Billboard Hot 100. Many familiar names from the first collection show up here, too, including Johnny Horton, Johnny Cash, Faron Young, Ray Price, George Jones, Skeeter Davis, Marty Robbins and an artist close to our hearts here at Second Disc HQ, Eddy Arnold. All 28, non-chronologically sequenced tracks on this set date from the period between 1956 and 1963, and all have been licensed from their current owners and remastered from original tapes.
The songs selected here by compiler/annotator Tony Rounce encompass a number of styles. Tracks by RCA’s polished crooners Jim Reeves (his first of 24 Hot 100 hits, the downbeat “Four Walls”) and Eddy Arnold (the jaunty “Chip Off the Old Block”) represent the early Nashville Sound which fused pop and country by jettisoning the likes of fiddles and steel guitars and welcoming vocal choruses or strings in their place. The Nashville Sound ultimately paved the way for the 1970s’ countrypolitan wave and even for the pop strain of country that dominates the charts today. For those seeking their C&W in a more “pure” vein, there are tunes from Ray Price (“My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You,” co-written and originally recorded by Bob Wills), Johnny Cash (the Leadbelly-based prison song “I Got Stripes,” so memorably reprised by Cash on his At Folsom Prison album) and Marty Robbins (“Singin’ the Blues”). The Man in Black wasn’t the only country artist to draw on folk music; Bobby Bare’s “500 Miles from Home,” based on Hedy West’s original, was his biggest-ever hit. “Southern Gentleman” Sonny James’ “Jenny Lou” (1960) was a folk-influenced story song and death disc wrapped into one. Folk and gospel melded on Stonewall Jackson’s “Mary Don’t You Weep,” an adaptation of the traditional spiritual melody.
Johnny Horton’s “North to Alaska” was written as the theme to the 20th Century Fox film of the same name, and Ace takes the Hollywood connection even further back with the ethereal “I Dreamed of a Hillbilly Heaven,” a hit from singing cowboy Tex Ritter (complete with a spoken word section) which invoked the ghosts of Hank Williams and Horton. Think of it as a precursor to The Righteous Brothers’ hit “Rock and Roll Heaven.” The Horton influence is felt on other tracks here such as Claude King’s “Big River, Big Man” and Hankshaw Hawkins’ “Soldier’s Joy.”
Both Skeeter Davis and Patti Page had voices equally suited to country and pop. Davis’ “Saving My Love” appeared in the wake of her most enduring hit, the sweetly maudlin “The End of the World.” Page is heard here with “Go on Home,” an atypical answer song to Leroy Van Dyke’s “Walk on By” (not the Burt Bacharach/Hal David hit) and Van Dyke himself makes an appearance on this set with “The Auctioneer,” a kooky tongue-twister that took him to the top 20 of the Hot 100 and No. 9 on the Country chart. Humor also abounds on Jimmy Dean’s upbeat 1962 hit “Little Black Book.” Dean was famous for his spoken-word hits like “Big Bad John,” but Ace spotlights a more serious recitation in the form of Bill Anderson’s lost-love remembrance “8 x 10.” Rock-and-roll heroes Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins appear here with “I’ll Make It All Up to You” and “Boppin’ the Blues,” respectively, but R&R wasn’t solely the province of those Sun legends. George Jones could rock with the best of them as evidenced by his blazingly uptempo “Who Shot Sam?”
Many lesser-known names provide highlights here. Bonnie Guitar (real name: Bonnie Buckingham) should have achieved greater fame. Her “Dark Moon” took her to No. 6 on the Hot 100 and No. 14 on the Country survey in 1957, but her work as a session guitarist, co-founder of Dolphin (later Dolton) Records and A&R person at Dot and ABC-Paramount proved her a pioneer. Dave Dudley’s career encompassed stints as a baseball player, a disk jockey and a singer. 1963’s “Cowboy Boots,” penned by Baker Knight, continued his country winning streak after “Six Days on the Road,” making the Top 5 of the Country chart despite only cracking the Hot 100 at No. 95.
Ace’s eclectic snapshot of The Golden Age of American Popular Music features a full-color, 24-page booklet with copious track-by-track annotations from Rounce. Duncan Cowell has splendidly remastered each song on the disc. More Country Hits is available now at the links below!
- Four Walls – Jim Reeves (RCA Victor 47-6874, 1957)
- Chip Off the Old Block – Eddy Arnold (RCA Victor 47-7435, 1959) (*)
- Send Me the Pillow You Dream On – Hank Locklin (RCA Victor 47-7127, 1958)
- North to Alaska – Johnny Horton (Columbia 41782, 1960) (*)
- I Got Stripes – Johnny Cash (Columbia 41427, 1959) (*)
- Back Track – Faron Young (Capitol 4616, 1961) (*)
- Go on Home – Patti Page (Mercury 71906, 1962) (*)
- Blue Blue Day – Don Gibson (RCA Victor 47-7010, 1958)
- Boppin’ the Blues – Carl Perkins (Sun 243, 1956)
- Who Shot Sam? – George Jones (Mercury 71464, 1959)
- The Auctioneer – Leroy Van Dyke (Dot 15503, 1957)
- Mary Don’t You Weep – Stonewall Jackson (Columbia 41533, 1960) (*)
- Dark Moon – Bonnie Guitar (Dot 15550, 1957)
- Rockin’ Rollin’ Ocean – Hank Snow (RCA Victor 47-7702, 1960) (*)
- My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You – Ray Price (Columbia 40951, 1957)
- Jenny Lou – Sonny James (NRC 050, 1960)
- Big River, Big Man – Claude King (Columbia 42043, 1961)
- I’m Saving My Love – Skeeter Davis (RCA Victor 47-8176, 1963) (*)
- Soldier’s Joy – Hankshaw Hawkins (Columbia 41419, 1959) (*)
- 500 Miles Away from Home – Bobby Bare (RCA Victor 47-8328, 1963) (*)
- I Dreamed of a Hillbilly Heaven – Tex Ritter (Capitol 4567, 1961) (*)
- Cowboy Boots – Dave Dudley (Golden Ring 3030, 1963)
- 8 x 10 – Bill Anderson (Decca 31521, 1963) (*)
- Little Black Book – Jimmy Dean (Columbia 42529, 1962) (*)
- Your Name is Beautiful – Carl Smith (Columbia 41092, 1958)
- I’ll Make It All Up to You – Jerry Lee Lewis (Sun 303, 1958)
- The Waltz You Saved for Me – Ferlin Husky (Capitol 4650, 1962) (*)
- Singing the Blues – Marty Robbins (Columbia 21545, 1956)
All tracks mono except (*) stereo.