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Reviews: Eddy Arnold, “Complete No. 1 Hits” and David Allan Coe, “Texas Moon”

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Eddy Arnold Complete Original #1 HitsWhen 1965’s “Make the World Go Away” entered the Pop Top 10, it was unusual, even for those heady days of pop diversity.  The singer, Eddy Arnold, had first signed to RCA Victor in 1943.  The Musicians’ Union’s strike prohibited the young vocalist from recording until it was settled in December, 1944, but when Arnold finally entered WSM’s radio studios to record four songs, he was making history.  His session was the first for a major label to be held in Nashville, Tennessee.  His star was soon on the ascendant.  1946’s honky-tonkin’, fiddle-adorned “What is Life Without Love” was but his first No. 1 on the Billboard country chart.  In the period of 1947-1948, Arnold held the top spot for 60 consecutive weeks (!) and in 1947-1949, he remained there for 79 out of 112 weeks (!!).  In all, it wasn’t a bad career for the sharecropper’s son from Tennessee.  Despite this great success, it hasn’t been an easy task tracking down Arnold’s original RCA recordings, as he revisited his classic catalogue later in his career for re-recordings – frequently with overdubbed strings and additional instrumentation.  Real Gone Music has remedied the situation with Complete Original No. 1 Hits (RGM-0081), containing all 28 of Arnold’s original Country chart-toppers out of 147 chart hits.

The Tennessee Plowboy was the first country star to have his own television program and led the charge to make country mainstream; 37 hits in all also made the pop chart.  The earliest recordings on this compilation reveal a smooth, direct and often romantic tenor voice, which by the 1960s had transformed into a burnished baritone.  Young Elvis Presley cited Arnold as an influence, and in another connection, “Colonel” Tom Parker was Arnold’s manager until 1953.

Though heartbreak naturally plays a role in many of the songs on Complete Original No. 1 Hits, Arnold’s genial presence was indebted to the tradition of singing cowboys like Gene Autry.  He also was a disciple of Bing Crosby, and one can hear Crosby’s easygoing charm, and intimacy, in Arnold’s recordings.  (Crosby recorded his share of country-style songs, too!)  Some compared Arnold to Perry Como, and both singers indeed boasted a similarly laconic delivery.  The compilation covers the period of 1946-1968, but 1955-1965 was a fallow period for Arnold, with no songs reaching the coveted top spot.

The very first song here, “What is Life Without Love,” is one of eight tracks co-written by Arnold, who was no slouch in the songwriting department.  But he also had good taste in recording the songs of others.  Bob Hilliard, who also collaborated with Burt Bacharach and co-wrote the score to Walt Disney’s Peter Pan, wrote lyrics to Steve Nelson’s melody for “Bouquet of Roses,” one of the many Arnold songs with a marked pop leaning.   “A Heart Full of Love (For a Handful of Kisses),” by Nelson, Ray Soehnel and Arnold, is another one of the many pure pop lyrics here.  Much of the country comes from the arrangements, usually adorned with fiddle and the distinctive steel guitar of “Little” Roy Wiggins.  There’s a yodel in Arnold’s voice on songs like “One Kiss Too Many” and Cindy Walker’s “Take Me in Your Arms and Hold Me,” again playing the role of the heartsick, lovelorn hero.  The Ed Nelson/Steve Nelson/Arnold songwriting partnership yielded the even more maudlin “I’m Throwing Rice (At the Girl I Love)” (“After she just said ‘I do’”).

Hit the jump for more on Arnold, plus David Allan Coe’s Texas Moon!

1950 brought the jaunty, conversational “There’s a Change in Me,” in which Li’l Eddy finds love for the first time, but 1953’s “I Really Don’t Want to Know” is the real stylistic turning point.  The fiddle and the steel guitar were gone, and a male chorus had joined Arnold on this stately ballad.  By the next song here, Tex Owens’ dreamy cowboy anthem “The Cattle Call,” an orchestra had joined in, too.  Arnold had begun to define RCA’s famous Nashville Sound.  “I Wanna Play House with You,” like “There’s a Change in Me” from the pen of songwriter Cy Coben, is an artifact of its era with its innocent account of young love (“You be the mama and I’ll be the papa/’Cause I wanna play house with you”).  Arnold and Coben’s “Easy on the Eyes” or “A Full Time Job” (“I want a full time job making love to you…”) would hardly pass muster today.  How times have changed!

A number of tracks are a total joy to rediscover.  Though Eddy was from Tennessee, he took Bill Monroe’s “Kentucky Waltz” to No. 1.  The novelty-esque “Eddy’s Song” quotes from the lyrics of many of his past hits, and future Broadway legend Fred Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago) is revealed to have been an early Arnold collaborator with 1955’s “That Do Make Nice.” Ebb co-wrote the song with his pre-John Kander writing partner Paul Klein and Arnold himself.

By 1965, Arnold was firmly entrenched in The Nashville Sound and was ready to conquer the pop world with that smooth, slick, strings-and-chorus style.  The comparison to Como – ironically, another RCA recording artist – was never more apt than on “What’s He Doing in My World” and the monster hit “Make the World Go Away.”  (The former actually led to an entire album of “world” songs in 1965 entitled – what else? – My World.)  There was little country at all in songs like “I Want to Go with You,” with Arnold’s resonant voice gliding over lush strings; a honky-tonk piano provides the only real throwback touch.  “Somebody Like Me,” from Wayne Thompson, is breezy, light and relaxed, and even introduces brass into the mix.

All singles are presented in their originally released versions, with the first 21 tracks in mono and the final seven in stereo.  Produced by Gordon Anderson, remastered by Maria Triana at Battery Studios and annotated by Don Cusic, Complete Original No. 1 Hits is a testament to a frequently-overlooked country crooner.

David Allan CoeDavid Allan Coe has been synonymous with the outlaw country movement in five separate decades, but the singer didn’t emerge fully-formed with his 1974 Columbia Records debut The Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy.  After a pair of albums for Shelby Singleton’s SSS label, Coe tried his hand at rock for a couple of years, and wrote a chart-topping hit (“Would You Lay with Me (In a Field of Stone)”) for the then-15 year old Tanya Tucker that put him on the map.  Texas Moon, originally released on Singleton’s Plantation label in 1977, was recorded years earlier but released in the glow of Coe’s rise to national fame.  Now, Real Gone has reissued this collection of lost recordings on CD (RGM-0143).

Only two tracks out of ten were written by Coe.  The rest were a blend of traditional country (the 1952 hit for John Greer and the Rhythm Rockers, “Got You on My Mind,” Johnny Cash’s “Give My Love to Rose”) and the modern sounds then sweeping Nashville (Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me,” Billy Joe Shaver’s “Ride Me Down Easy,” Guy Clark’s “That Old Time Feeling”)  Though an exact date can’t be pinned down, it’s believed that Coe recorded the tracks on Texas Moon in 1973, on the cusp of his Columbia signing.

Of the cover versions, Coe brings a gentle twang to Jackson Browne’s reflective and rueful would-be standard “These Days,” first recorded by Nico in 1967.  (Gregg Allman recorded his rendition of the song likely around the same time as Coe, though the new liner notes here reveal that “Coe makes the somewhat dubious boast that he taught Allman the song.”)  He’s appropriately soulful on “Got You on My Mind,” and more traditional on “A Satisfied Mind,” the 1955 chart-topper for Porter Wagoner (“The wealthiest person is a pauper at times compared to the man with a satisfied mind”).  Though musically the style is classic, complete with a fiddle solo, there certainly was something resonant in the youth culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s about spurning material desires.

Mickey Newbury (“An American Trilogy”) was tapped for the melodically-jaunty “Why You Been Gone So Long”:  “Ain’t nothin’ I wanna do, Lord/I guess I could get stoned/Let the past paint pictures in my head/Kill a fifth of Thunderbird and try to write a sad song/Tell me baby, now why you been gone so long?”  Newbury recorded the song himself on his 1973 Heaven Help the Child.  Coe is solemn and deep-voiced on Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me” (“Lord help me Jesus, I’ve wasted it go/Jesus, I know what I am…Now that I know that I’ve needed you so, help me Jesus, my soul’s in your hands”), accompanied by soaring fiddles.  Guy Clark was a figure as influential as Kristofferson in the new wave of Nashville talent, and Coe’s vocal invites a late-night, crying-in-your-beer sing-along on Clark’s melodically repetitive but lyrically vivid “That Old Time Feeling.”  Billy Joe Shaver’s “Ride Me Down Easy” is also very much in the outlaw, highwayman world, as is Johnny Cash’s “Give My Love to Rose” in which a just-released prisoner gives his last words and wishes to a stranger he meets.  The original LP release of Texas Moon made no secret of the singer’s brushes with the law, from the mooning cover to the list of “Outstanding Engagements” on the rear cover artwork reprinted in the new CD.  These “engagements” include “Age 14 – Boys’ Industrial School, Lancaster, Ohio…Age 16 – National Training School for Boys, Washington, DC…Age 17 – Lewisburg Penitentiary, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania…Age 18 – Chilicothie Reformatory, Chilicothie, Ohio,” and so on.

Coe’s two originals fit comfortably among the outside material.  His own ode to “lady of the night” “Mary Magdalene” wasn’t for the easily offended: “Some folks say she’s just some hippie chick who’s half insane…this prostitute I met last night name Mary Magdalene.”  He references Benzedrine, hepatitis and a priest whose “breath smelled just like wine” in his dark story.  “She talked to me about someone she called the Son of Man/She told me things I wasn’t quite prepared to understand,” he sings emphatically.  Coe’s other songwriting contribution s the brief, under 2-minutes long “Fuzzy Was an Outlaw.”  This portrait is of a “swamp rat” with “hair longer than the outlaws that I knew” – but he “never was the kind to turn his back upon his brothers.”  As with “Mary Magdalene,” there’s a great deal of empathy for the outsider in this song.

Chris Morris has written the new liner notes, including contributions from Coe, for the reissue produced by Real Gone’s Gordon Anderson.  As an early document of a true country hellraiser, Texas Moon is an essential piece of the outlaw’s story.

You can order both titles by clicking on the cover images!

Written by Joe Marchese

June 18, 2013 at 10:57

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