In a change of events, I actually received a particular request for which year to look back on for this week’s “best hit songs” feature. Robert of Robert’s Country Opinion Blog chose to request 1972. Looking back, all I can say is that 1972 was a quiet year for Country music.
Now, that’s not to say it was bad. We had many big names at the time releasing multiple singles, but those singles aren’t traditionally known as their best work. Of course, there were plenty of awesome albums from Tom T. Hall, Townes Van Zandt, and Kris Kristofferson (thanks Andy), and who can forget the classic album that is Will The Circle Be Unbroken?
However, when you look at the singles charts (which is what I always do with this feature), this was a fairly tame year for Country music. Truth be told it was hard to come up with ten tracks to fill out the list, but thankfully I did, and truthfully, all ten songs are here because they deserve to be here, not because I struggled to find quality.
Now, this begs the question, “how did I choose which songs were eligible?” Remember, any year I look back on before 1985 is more difficult, namely because Billboard didn’t compile lists for those years (many lists in the ’80’s and ’90’s are still missing songs for some reason). Therefore, I took to Wikipedia, Spotify playlists, Youtube playlists and whatever else I could find to make sure I had the best representation of what the best “hit” songs of this year were. There were many songs released in December 1971 I wanted to include, but I wasn’t sure if they truly met the criteria, so sadly I had to draw an imaginary line that likely isn’t right.
The point of these features isn’t to worry about though – it’s to take a trip to the past. As always, let’s start with an honorable mention …
Merle Haggard – Carolyn
I admit, the language on this track is more than a tad dated. I mean, everyone needs a break now and then, not just men. Still, there’s a fond elegance to the production, and after all, it’s Merle freakin’ Haggard.
Onto the list!
10. Waylon Jennings – Pretend I Never Happened
This song is simple, but it’s incredibly effective in its message. It pulls no punches trying to get the narrator to simply fade away from his current situation, fading in a way that feels like the break we wish we could all have some time. It’s sad, but Jennings was always excellent at handling these types of tracks.
9. George Jones – A Picture Of Me (Without You)
On that topic though, there’s sad, and then there’s the George Jones level of sad. This song could easily be overwrought in weaker hands, however Jones goes to the absolute depths of misery to try and compare his sadness now that his lover is gone. I mean, you’re telling me to imagine a world without music? Damn, you’re good, Jones.
8. Waylon Jennings – Good Hearted Woman
I linked to the version with Willie and Waylon up above, but it was only the solo version released by Jennings that made it here, and since this was a number one in Canada, I’m counting it here, dammit. Look, I won’t deny the somewhat dated language here either, but this song really did symbolize what outlaw country was – a bunch of artists doing whatever the hell they wanted to and not caring about the consequences. That’s a damn good sentiment.
7. Tom T. Hall – Old Dogs, Children, and Watermelon Wine
Ah, a philosophical song from Tom T. Hall? Yeah, I can dig this. In all seriousness, there’s such a kind warmness to this I really enjoy. There’s something magical about an old (experienced) man sharing his wisdom on life by talking about three unusual things in life and pointing out how they bring some of the most good out in life. The line “God bless children when they’re still too young to hate” particularly resonates today.
6. Tammy Wynette – Bedtime Story
I wasn’t quite sure about this song at first. I mean, it starts off with the same gooey production that kept many songs from being here, and those first few lines didn’t seem to suggest it would go anywhere. Out of nowhere though, the song takes a darker turn, describing this mother’s former husband and how he left her all alone. It’s effective telling it to a child, mostly because at that age, they’ll listen, but thankfully they can’t fully understand that it’s not actually just a story.
5. Johnny Cash – Kate
I can see why this isn’t one of his better known songs. After all, it uses similar riffs and a similar theme from other Johnny Cash songs. However, this was the kind of upbeat, lighthearted humor that 1972 needed more of, telling a story that gets straight to the point of a man killing his lover because she cheated on him. You just have to love the irony of Cash focusing on condemning this woman for her crimes when ultimately, he committed the bigger one.
4. Loretta Lynn – Rated ‘X’
Here comes Loretta Lynn challenging gender norms in a smart, witty, and effective way. Now, she didn’t do this just once this year, however “Rated ‘X'” is the punchier, less f**ks given version of these tracks, throwing in some crunchier guitar riffs to open up into a song that challenges the concept of divorce. Basically, it’s an ode to not give a damn what anyone says about you and not feel like marriage is something that always has to work out. It’s brilliant.
3. Buck Owens – Made In Japan
My Lord, this is so smooth. I don’t know exactly how controversial this might have been back in its day, but there’s such a clear, crispness to this with those Asian guitar riffs and sweet fiddle providing something that sounds excellent. Plus, the nuanced love story of a solider and a Japanese woman is one that’s told with fondness and a hint of sadness knowing that the narrator can’t have those days back.
2. Loretta Lynn – One’s On The Way
OK, maybe we shouldn’t enjoy this as much as we do. It is a song essentially poking fun at the concept of family and how it can be a real pain in the rear sometimes. While I relate to that, I know family is everything and all that. Still, this is one of those tracks that’s incredibly witty in its execution, taking a humorous approach to holding life together as a wife and mother while the father is away. I honestly think the best part about Loretta Lynn was that she could be a real smartass at times, and while that’s why we love her, it also meant that what she had to say was well … true, even if just sometimes.
1. Tanya Tucker – Delta Dawn
Just because 1972 was a weaker year for Country doesn’t mean there wasn’t good stuff to be found. I genuinely enjoy all ten of these tracks, but Delta Dawn is definitely the one track here that was destined to be a Country music classic, framing a dark story in a way that’s sad and unforgiving. Heck, it even harkens back to the days when a song could have different meanings depending on who you asked. Personally, I see the woman in question going crazy because the man she was supposed to marry died. That’s why she’s joining him in his mansion “in the sky.” Regardless, it’s a true tale of love as “until death do us part”, only here, it goes way beyond that.