Songs Of The Day 7/21/2016: Charlie Rich + Statler Bros. + Tammy Wynette

The Hidden '70s, Part 1 – I haven't done nearly as much country on this blog as I should, and it was mostly absent from The Hidden '60s. Reviewing the material from 1970 to 1972 though, I came up with more excellent country songs than I could use. I attribute this to the then-recent success of tunes like Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe," Jeannie C. Riley's "Harper Valley P.T.A." and about 1,001 Loretta Lynn songs that told absorbing stories that came from very dark places. There were three I found that, in their own modest means, blew me away.

One of them has single-handedly made me a fan of Charlie Rich, who drew from such a broad range of musical styles that calling him "country" feels at least partially inaccurate. "July 12, 1939" (#85, 1970) never gets above a simmer, but Rich's near-perfect singing and crisp suspense makes the song succeed, largely because of what details it doesn't reveal. I mean, it's a little more obvious than whatever Billie Joe threw off the Tallahatchie Bridge, but its holding back of what happened is way more evocative than throwing it all out there.

The Statler Brothers' "Bed of Rose's" (#58, 1971) tweaked small-town hypocrisy even more clearly than "Harper Valley P.T.A.," telling the story of an oprhaned boy ignored by sanctimonious locals, who finds more compassion and important life lessons in the company of a local professional woman. The line "She managed a late evening business/like most of the town wished they could do" tosses in scads of internal spiritual dilemmas, later exposed in fuller detail by people like Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker in the 1980's.

Tammy Wynette's "Bedtime Story" (#86, 1972) was one of her 20 singles to top the country chart, written by the architects of countrypolitan Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton. This one's pretty straightforward in concept and execution, except for one hanging issue: Is the second verse, which paints a happy ending for the bedtime story, a "real" event that Mommy is retelling, or is it something she's fantasizing about and trying to speak into existence? There are sound arguments for both. Leave them in my inbox.

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