As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, let’s look at the pop charts from the same years, per Playback FM, paying particular attention to the country and western songs or artists whose popularity crossed over into the wider culture.
The top few songs on this 1949 “pop” chart are songs that also showed up on country charts, and you’ll also find such iconic country names as Hank Williams, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Eddy Arnold, and Ernest Tubb. Country music was apparently quite popular “at large” in 1949.
Okay, 1959 https://playback.fm/charts/top-100-songs/1959
There’s not as much “country” at the top of this chart as the 1949 pop chart, but there’s some. At number three is Elvis Presley’s version of “(Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such As I.” This was a country hit years earlier for Hank Snow. Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans” is number four. Down the list a way are such well-known country names as The Browns,Marty Robbins, Conway Twitty, and Stonewall Jackson.
Rock and roll appears to dominate the 1969 pop list, but even then, it’s important to make the distinction that 1969-and-earlier rock and roll generally had a lot more country in its musical DNA than most of what became known as “rock” decades later. I highly recommend a visit to Memphis and its museums to understand the roots of rock and roll more fully, and to appreciate the give and take with country music.
At number four is “Honky Tonk Woman” by the Rolling Stones, who released a country version called “Country Honk” months later. Supposedly, the countrier arrangement was the original idea.
Elvis Presley came in at number five and six, and the writers of each of these songs worked more in country than not. Mac Davis, who wrote “In The Ghetto,” was even a country singer himself who won ACM Entertainer of the Year in 1974.
Tammy Wynette, Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers, Glen Campbell, and BJ Thomas all made this 1969 “pop” list, too.
Country elements appear to be few and far between, compared to the earlier lists. I do see Charlie Daniels, Kenny Rogers, and Anne Murray down the page.
There are some tangential connections,though. The Boot published an article years ago about Donna Summer’s country connections https://theboot.com/donna-summer-country-music-nashville/
The Pointer Sisters won a Grammy for country in 1974.
When I attended CMA Fest last month, I heard Caylee Hammack cover Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
There’s not a lot of country here, but several of the people down the list either also made country music or had country influences. Linda Ronstadt’s duet with Aaron Neville came in at number thirty two.
Tina Turner recorded country music earlier in her career, including a 1974 album.
Richard Marx has more songwriting credits in country than one might guess. Rolling Stone published an article about this a few years ago: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-country/songwriter-spotlight-richard-marx-244972/
Don Henley and Edie Brickell also make the list. Tom Petty is a major influence on many of today’s country and southern rock acts. I guess I should mention Aerosmith, since Steven Tyler tinkered with country. Michael Jackson sang backup vocals on a Kenny Rogers song one time, and Wide Open Country wrote an article about it last year: https://www.wideopencountry.com/michael-jackson-country-kenny-rogers/
Shania Twain checks in at number twenty eight, but otherwise, there’s not much to report.
Sixpence None The Richer has some “Americana” influences, and Leigh Nash released a country album in 2015. It received a bit of critical acclaim, but wasn’t that widely covered. Check it out !
Britney Spears’ sister Jamie Lynn Spears is a country songwriter, and Britney surprised her sister at the Grand Ole Opry in 2016: https://youtu.be/eB26bbxJnEU
Will Smith’s “Wild Wild West” is worth mentioning, in light of the recent controversy over how to classify western-themed hip hop songs.
Taylor Swift was classified as a country artist at this time, so that’s the main one. Several others have since collaborated with country stars or dabbled in country to some minor degree: Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, Kelly Clarkson, Miley Cyrus, and Beyonce.
Colbie Caillat has a new project called “Gone West,” which is operating in the country format. They were at CMA Fest, and have appeared at the Grand Ole Opry.
Country influences aren’t as strong on mainstream popular music as in 1949, but that should be expected, given the demographic shifts. Society isn’t nearly as rural as it used to be.
I’ll close with a link to the 1900 pop number ones: https://playback.fm/charts/top-100-songs/1900
“Country music,” as such, wasn’t invented yet, or at least marketed as such, but look at the song titles. This material didn’t yet sound like the country music that developed later, but there are some familiar themes, like serenading the lady, nostalgia for home, drinking songs, and so on.