The latest entry in Ace Records’ long-running Chartbusters USA series arrived late in 2016. The Special Country Edition turned its spotlight on Hot 100 hits which had crossed over from the Billboard Country chart. The 24 tracks on Chartbusters USA: Special Country Edition are all from the period of 1963-1969, needless to say a time of seismic change in pop music, and many come from the greatest names in any genre of music.
The set, appropriately enough, opens with George Jones’ 1964 recording of “The Race is On,” which in George’s rendition reached No. 96 on the Hot 100 (No. 3 Country). Jack Jones (no relation) soon overtook George when his cover began to climb the chart all the way to No. 15. But “The Race” remained a staple of The Possum’s setlist for the rest of his life. He’s one of numerous bona fide C&W legends featured here. Johnny Cash is heard on “Understand Your Man,” his seventh Country chart-topper and a No. 35 hit on the Hot 100. Today it’s one of Cash’s more overlooked hits, perhaps due to the similarity of its melody to Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” (Both melodies had folk roots.)
George and Johnny are joined on Chartbusters by Merle Haggard (1969’s controversial “Okie from Muskogee,” naturally), Buck Owens (1965’s “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail”), Marty Robbins (1963’s “Begging to You”), and Eddy Arnold (1965’s “Make the World Go Away”). Arnold was a beneficiary of the lush Nashville Sound spearheaded by RCA’s producer Chet Atkins which would incorporate strings and/or choirs to the traditional C&W sound. Chet himself gets an airing with 1965’s instrumental “Yakety Axe,” while his Nashville Sound stylings can also be heard on Jim Reeves’ posthumously-released “Distant Drums.” (The Atkins track is the only selection here to have peaked outside of the Country top five; it reached No. 21.) Charley Pride also blossomed at RCA Victor as one of the first successful African-Americans in country music; 1969’s “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me)” was his first Number One and also his first Hot 100 hit (No. 91).
The countrypolitan sound continued on the pop-oriented path of The Nashville Sound, and it too is represented here by David Houston’s No. 1 Country/No. 24 Pop ballad “Almost Persuaded” as well as Tammy Wynette’s No. 1 Country/No. 75 Pop “Singing My Song.” Glen Campbell had always walked the line between pop and country, but his biggest-ever country success wasn’t one of Jimmy Webb’s classic songs like “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” or “Galveston.” Rather, it was veteran country tunesmith John D. Loudermilk’s waltz “I Wanna Live,” which made No. 1 Country and No. 36 Pop. Rock-and-roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis gets a spot on Chartbusters with “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me),” a song by producer-writer Billy Sherrill’s close associate Glenn Sutton. It peaked at No. 2 Country, but stalled at No. 944 on the Hot 100 – perhaps due to Lewis’ insistence that Billboard pull the track off the chart as the pop audience hadn’t supported him after his near-career-ending scandal of years earlier.
Showcasing the diversity of both the country and pop sounds at the time, Chartbusters also offers Roger Miller’s rollicking “Chug-a-Lug,” and Jeannie C. Riley’s attack on hypocrisy, “Harper Valley P.T.A.” Riley’s song is the only dual Country and Pop chart-topper on this set. Producer Tony Rounce has also included a sound-alike record, Billie Jo Spears’ “Mr. Walker, It’s All Over,” one of 34 hits she would score. Jimmy Dean teamed with jazz arranger-conductor Don Sebesky for the string-laden sing-along “The First Thing Ev’ry Morning (And the Last Thing Ev’ry Night),” a Country Number One from 1965. A couple of famous relatives are featured here, as well. Hank Williams, Jr. gets a slot with his fourth of nearly 100 hits with 1964’s “Long Gone Lonesome Blues.” Johnny’s brother Tommy Cash was no slouch with almost 20 hits to his own name, including 1969’s tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. and the deceased John F. and Robert F. Kennedy, “Six White Horses.”
Chartbusters USA: Special Country Edition has a full-color 20-page booklet with Rounce’s detailed track-by-track annotations, and Duncan Cowell has superbly remastered all tracks. This celebration of country crossovers is available now at the links below!
- The Race Is On – George Jones (United Artists 751, 1964)
- What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me) – Jerry Lee Lewis (Smash 2164, 1968)
- Long Gone Lonesome Blues – Hank Williams, Jr. (MGM 13208, 1964)
- Understand Your Man – Johnny Cash (Columbia 42964, 1964)
- I Wanna Live – Glen Campbell (Capitol 2146, 1968)
- Skip a Rope – Henson Cargill (Monument 1041, 1968)
- Miller’s Cave – Bobby Bare (RCA 47-8294, 1964)
- Almost Persuaded – David Houston (Epic 10025, 1966)
- Okie from Muskogee – Merle Haggard and the Strangers (Capitol 2626, 1969)
- Begging to You – Marty Robbins (Columbia 42890, 1963)
- Mr. Walker, It’s All Over – Billie Jo Spears (Capitol 2436, 1969)
- Distant Drums – Jim Reeves (RCA 47-8789, 1966)
- The Carroll County Accident – Porter Wagoner (RCA 47-9651, 1968)
- Chug-a-Lug – Roger Miller (Smash 1926, 1964)
- Singing My Song – Tammy Wynette (Epic 10462, 1969)
- Girl on the Billboard – Del Reeves (United Artists 824, 1965)
- Make the World Go Away – Eddy Arnold (RCA 47-8679, 1965)
- Six White Horses – Tommy Cash (Epic 10540, 1969)
- All I Have to Offer You (Is Me) – Charley Pride (RCA 74-0167, 1969)
- Flowers on the Wall – The Statler Brothers (Columbia 43315, 1965)
- Yakety Axe – Chet Atkins (RCA 47-8590, 1965)
- Harper Valley P.T.A. – Jeannie C. Riley (Plantation 3, 1968)
- I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail – Buck Owens (Capitol 5336, 1965)
- The First Thing Ev’ry Morning (And the Last Thing Ev’ry Night) – Jimmy Dean (Columbia 43263, 1965)