In retrospect, the ‘uptown’ country music created during the mid-‘60s to the early-‘70s by folks like Tony Booth, Margie Singleton, Buck Owens, Jeannie C. Riley, and many others is among my favourite. Yes, it was slick. Yes, it wasn’t always connected to the rootsy, rural environs we romanticize. It didn’t have the ‘country’ connections that the music of Dolly, Loretta, Grandpa, and the rest had, but it was still mighty appealing. A bit loud, mighty vibrant, and it had that sound—almost always, lots of pedal steel.
Susan Raye comes from that era, but search the country music histories and you are more likely than not going to miss her. She didn’t have chartbusters, nor has she been identified by the country singers of the ‘80s to ‘00s as being of influence. However, the music she made: stellar.
From the ‘Bakersfield’ scene, Raye was folded into the Buck Owens camp. She was nominated as the Academy of Country Music’s Female Vocalist of the Year three times in the early ‘70s—losing to Loretta twice and Donna Fargo- and was a regular on Hee Haw. Her classic duet with Owens “Looking Back to See” (#13, 1972) revealed her confident sass, as did “Willy Jones,” included on the new vinyl reissue from Craft Recordings, Susan Raye’s 16 Greatest Hits, a career-spanning set originally compiled in 1999. Also released are The Very Best of Buck Owens & Susan Raye and Roy Clark’s Greatest Hits.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t provided the vinyl issues to review, so instead am basing my impressions on the digital versions provided: each sounds great.
Presenting her sixteen chart hits from 1970 to 1974 in chronological order, Raye’s 16 Greatest Hits includes her biggest solo numbers including the #3 “(I’ve Got A) Happy Heart,” #6 “Pitty Pitty Patter,”(both 1971) and her three other country top tens, the enduring “LA International Airport” (#9, 1971), “Whatcha Gonna Do With A Dog Like That” (her final hit, #9 in 1974), and the aforementioned “Willy Jones” (#10, 1970). I just love her voice, equally adept at country and pop, with a smooth, yet unvarnished timbre that is timeless.
Without notes being available, one is guessing that most of these recording sessions featured The Buckaroos—it certainly sounds as if they do. While a couple numbers may not have aged as well, performances including “Cheating Game” (#18, 1973), “When You Get Back From Nashville” (#57, 1973), “Your Sure Can See It From Here” (#49, 1974) and “One Night Stand” (#35, 1970) deserve a chance to capture new ears. I’ve had the digital download of this album for years, and may have to take a look at adding the vinyl edition to the collection.
The Very Best of Buck Owens & Susan Raye contains several familiar numbers culled from three albums the duo released. Included are their chart successes from 1970’s “We’re Gonna Get Together” (#13) through 1975’s “Love Is Strange (#20, 1975, but recorded—I believe—in 1970)—yes, that “Love Is Strange.” Remakes of “Together Again” (1970), “Today I Started Loving You Again” (1970), and “Just As Long As You Love Me” (1972) are quite welcome, as is their biggest hit together, “The Great White Horse” from the same year. Still, the peak is “Looking Back to See,” a 1973 #13 that remains a terrific singalong favourite, at least to me, although “Your Tender Loving Care” (1970) comes close. Again, the sound is very typical of the Owens and Buckaroos’ numbers of the day—another time and another place, and likely very unfriendly to ears weaned on bro’ country and the like—but for some of us, a more than enjoyable way to spend thirty-five minutes.
Both these sets inspire me to keep my eyes open for the original albums from which these songs are culled.
While the country charts of the day were not necessarily representative of their influence, in the early- to mid- ‘70s, one was hard pressed to find more influential country music stars than Owens and Roy Clark. Hosts of Hee Haw, the pair were familiar figures in most households via the weekly television program. Like the Susan Raye set discussed above, Roy Clark’s Greatest Hits is a vinyl reissue of a Varese Sarabande Records issue, this from 1995.
As far as my ears can tell, these tracks come from the original Capitol (“Tip of My Fingers,” #10, 1963) and Dot sessions. Highlights include “I Never Picked Cotton” (#5, 1970), “Thank God and Greyhound” (#6, 1970), and “Come Live With Me” (#1, 1973). Hard to imagine a song like “The Lawrence Welk-Hee Haw Counter Revolution Polka” getting airplay let alone being written and recorded, but it was, it hit #9, and the proof is included on this non-essential, but welcome set which also includes the #27 instrumental version of “Riders in the Sky” (1973); imagine an instrumental hitting today’s country Top 40.
Also included are Clark’s final country Top 20 appearance, “If I Had To Do It All Over Again” (#2, 1976), as well as “Honeymoon Feelin’” (#4, 1974) and “Somewhere Between Love and Tomorrow” (#2, 1973). Roy Clark will never be a favourite of this writer, but I can see some appreciating Greatest Hits a bit more than I did.
I’m looking forward to additional releases of this variety from Craft Recordings. Fingers crossed.
Not included in these sets, but…