1975 was a strange year for Country music. It was the year that Tammy Wynette and George Jones divorced each other. It was the year that Hank Williams Jr. tumbled 500 feet down Ajax Mountain which caused severe facial and head injuries. It was the year that Charlie Rich burned the envelope to the ground that named John Denver as the Entertainer of the Year at the CMA Awards. It was also the year we lost Bob Wills, George Morgan, and Lefty Frizzell among others. Yeah, 1975 was a bad year.
But hey, the music was sure as hell great! The only frustrating part is that there’s no record for any year end list for Country music, so actually determining the “hits” of this year is a bit tough. Truth be told my only source beyond Wikipedia is the tracklist to some random karaoke album I found on Spotify that had eight volumes of songs from 1975. So yeah, if I missed a truly amazing song, sorry. I had to comb through a lot of songs to determine what would make it. Plus, there was also the usual stress that comes with organizing this list. It’s amazing looking back at the history though. Two of my favorite songs here weren’t even No. 1 hits, and many more beyond that are known as some of Country music’s most iconic songs despite not reaching the top! As such, call it a best hits list, call it a best songs list, or simply call it shit because I missed your favorite song.
On another note, I just want to say, this is the most fun I’ve ever had writing a post. Compiling this list from this specific year and hearing all of these classic songs again just made me remember why I’m a Country music fan. We have to get this show on the road though now. As always, let’s start with some honorable mentions …
George Jones – “The Door”
You know 1975 was a great year for Country music when I can’t even fit George freakin’ Jones into the top ten!
Emmylou Harris w/ Herb Pedersen – “If I Could Only Win Your Love”
I know, it’s a pretty lightweight song lyrically. The harmony between Emmylou Harris and Herb Pederson is exquisite though, and while I may get flack for saying that considering the Louvin Brothers recorded this song first … their version wasn’t released this year. Therefore, I’m just as happy enjoying this bit of ear candy.
Gary Stewart – “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinking Double)”
Honestly, I just might have this here because the hook is so damn great.
Dolly Parton – ‘We Used To”
Don’t worry, this won’t be the only entry Dolly Parton has on this list.
Linda Ronstadt – “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)”
Linda Ronstadt delivers a hell of a vocal performance as always here.
The Eagles – “Lyin’ Eyes”
I like the Eagles. I don’t get the polarizing nature they emit, but if anyone has a problem with me putting them on this list, kindly bite me.
Michael Martin Murphey – “Wildfire”
This is the only song that actually didn’t dent the Country charts at all this year, but it’s such a magnificent piece of storytelling that I couldn’t let it go. It’s one of my favorite songs, and it really doesn’t sound too out of place if we’re being honest.
Now, we finally move onto the list!
10. David Allan Coe – “You Never Even Called Me By My Name”
Ah yes, the perfect Country & Western song. Well alright, the tenth best song of 1975 but still. Anyway, let’s face it, that end bit is why this song made it here, and by God, it’s one of the best verses in Country music. Say what you will about Coe and his legacy, but this is too genius and fun to call it anything other than an excellent work of art.
9. Glen Campbell – “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet In L.A.)”
If you couldn’t tell by the inclusion of Linda Ronstadt and The Eagles, I don’t really give a damn if the songs here are more popular in Pop than they are in Country. A good song is a good song. Considering that I love Glen Campbell, I was excited to place him on this list. Indeed, “Country Boy” is his most introspective tune to date, with him exploring the reality of fame. Sure, the chorus is big, bright, and bouncy, but there’s just a real sadness that comes with Glen reflecting on whether or not he’s happy with the person he’s become and why he’s questioning the emptiness he’s feeling. There’s just such a raw honesty that you rarely hear from artists these days, and the result here equals out to be one of Glen’s most underrated songs.
8. Jessi Colter – “I’m Not Lisa”
Speaking of brutal honesty, we now come to a song that explores an unrequited love in a mature fashion. Enough can’t be said about Jessi Colter’s performance on this track, because she just sounds so achingly convincing in the way that she knows her lover doesn’t really feel the same way for her. She knows she just reminds him of a past lover named Lisa, and the fact that she’s able to break it to him gently showcases the next step for both of them is just to simply move on. It’s not an easy track to listen to, but by God it’s beautiful.
7. Merle Haggard – “It’s All In The Movies”
Listening back through this has me convinced that this is one of Merle Haggard’s most underrated singles ever. No, it’s not his most ambitious song lyrically, but here, simple is more effective. The slight lounge like vibe to this gives off a relaxing feeling, and considering that Haggard is simply trying to reassure his lover that their love won’t end like it does in the movies, it fits. As ever, Haggard gave off a compelling performance (relaxed can sometimes be compelling), and all in all, it’s one of those old gentle hidden gems that I’m glad I dug up.
6. Waylon Jennings – “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way”
My biggest pet peeve today with protest songs is that none of them are creative or say anything different that the other 9,000 haven’t said before. “Are You Sure…” is a leader rather than a follower though, questioning the lack of any real soul in Country music as everything becomes more commercialized. You can see it as a fight for “real country” if you want to, but I think it’s more of a rally cry for artistic freedom and getting to work without boundaries. Is it the best song Waylon Jennings released this year though? We’ll have to see …
5. Glen Campbell – “Rhinestone Cowboy”
It’s telling just how great 1975 was considering that Glen Campbell’s signature song just slid into the top five rather than the top spot. Of course, for an artist as versatile and free willed as Campbell, it’s fitting that a song about literally seeing it all and basking in its glory ultimately became his song. Ironically enough it seems to counterbalance “Country Boy” from earlier, but you just can’t help but love the joyous energy this song brings to the table each and every damn time you hear it.
4. Dolly Parton – “The Bargain Store”
You get an uneasy feeling right away from that bass line, and sure enough, “The Bargain Store” remains one of Dolly Parton’s darkest and best songs. Actually, “uneasy” is the proper word for this, because it’s not exploring the common tropes of sadness or anger that come in the aftermath of a heartache. Instead, the narrator is simply … empty. She’s broken to the point where she doesn’t know how to cope, and to just see her ultimately give up on love is an unfortunate (but still real) solution to all of it. It’s one of those tracks that manages to be achingly beautiful even if it’s got some pep to it.
3. Willie Nelson – “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain”
Speaking of achingly beautiful though, we now come to one of the best emotive interpreters in Country music. It’s simply amazing how just Willie and his guitar are able to bring out such a raw, sad emotional pull from this tune. That’s it, it’s over. His lover has died and gone to heaven and meanwhile, all he can do is wait to be with that person someday again. I don’t think this song really requires a long explanation as to what makes it great – just listen to it.
2. Loretta Lynn – “The Pill”
It’s a damn shame that female artists can’t catch a break (and that’s putting it mildly) in mainstream Country music, especially when they’re the ones who are actually singing about real topics. Hell, even though the birth control pill had been on the market for at least a decade before this was recorded, Country music still wasn’t ready for a song like this. I guess Country radio didn’t like that doctors being grateful to Lynn for introducing the availability of the pill to women living in rural areas, because this wasn’t even a No. 1 hit for her. That’s just background though, so why is the song good? Well, it’s good because it shows Loretta Lynn doing what she does best – doing whatever the f*ck she wants and not giving a damn what you or I think. For a song with such a serious message behind it, you can’t help but just love the sassy feel to this, and while country radio of the past didn’t appreciate this, I sure as heck will by putting it on this list (I’m sure Loretta cares so much).
1. Waylon Jennings – “Dreaming My Dreams With You”
Despite all of the songs present on this list being phenomenal songs that would have likely topped this list on any other year, my No. 1 pick was very easy. In fact, Waylon Jennings’ “Dreaming My Dreams With You” is one of my favorite songs of all time. Much like Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain”, calling this just “sad” feels like the understatement of the year. The dreamier production gives this sort of a tired feel, perfectly matching exactly what the narrator is feeling. We don’t even actually know what happened. Did his lover die? Or did she simply move on? The fact that we don’t give a straight answer gives this more of an alluring quality, because really, this could symbolize any sort of downfall. We need to move on from any bad break, sure, but there’s nothing wrong with holding onto a piece of the past, because sometimes that’s what will (ironically) help us keep going. In terms of the performance and emotional dynamics, this is a masterpiece of a song, and easily my pick for the best hit song of 1975.