Pop Goes The Country is an ongoing series where I explore country music’s biggest crossover hits.
While this cycle eventually has to point back to some origin, musicians have always stood as the result of their influences.
For the songwriters – the performers looming in the shadows waiting for their chance to strike – that influence constantly lingers as they chase that big break; for country musicians, specifically, waiting for that chance sometimes entails adding another horror story to 16th Avenue.
When Eddie Rabbitt moved to Nashville in 1968, he plugged his songs while he hung around with other struggling songwriters of the time, including Kris Kristofferson, Billy Swan and Larry Gatlin. When Rabbitt’s compositions scored, however, they were big names; Elvis Presley recorded Rabbitt’s “Kentucky Rain” for his 50th gold record, and Ronnie Milsap recorded his “Pure Love.”
Late in 1974, Rabbitt began recording his own songs, with 1975’s “Forgive and Forget” being his first hit. Rabbitt’s biggest two hits, though, would stem from an English fascination with rockabilly, even if that came with some justifications.
Rabbitt’s Horizon album became his first album to land at No. 1 on Billboard’s country album chart, bolstered by another huge hit of his, “Drivin’ My Life Away.” Before he and producer David Malloy launched that album, Malloy had worked on an album with British rock group Badfinger. During those sessions, band member Tom Evans told Malloy of England’s growing fascination with rockabilly; an article in Billboard magazine, published two weeks after the session, explained what Evans had mentioned. A few days before Malloy, Rabbitt and songwriter Even Stevens started working on Horizon, Malloy purchased the Sun Records collection, played it for his friends and then started writing.
Rabbitt first got the idea for the other big hit off of Horizon, “I Love A Rainy Night,” sometime in the ’60s when he was sitting in his small apartment on a rainy night. He sang, “I love a rainy night, I love a rainy night” into a tape recorder, but didn’t complete the song until 1980, when he discovered the tape in an old Army foot locker which contained tapes of old songs and fragments of ideas.
To go along with his newfound rockabilly fascination, Malloy had gotten an idea for a rhythm pattern using alternating finger snaps and handclaps, and that concept became the centerpiece for the record. The “snaps and claps,” were tough to nail down in the studio, however; the main problem stemmed from inconsistencies with trying to get the correct sound every time. The handclaps would sound different each time when they would alternate back and forth. Malloy hired percussionist Farrell Morris to fix the issue. Morris laid down two tracks of snaps and two tracks of claps, solving the problem.
Though in the end, “I Love A Rainy Night” didn’t so much catch on for its musicality as it did for its good marketing and promotion. The song received a boost when Rabbitt signed a deal with Miller Beer. He filmed a commercial with the song on Nov. 29, 1980 in Tucson, Arizona. On New Year’s Day, the advertisement premiered at halftime during the Rose Bowl telecast, and the additional exposure helped propel “I Love A Rainy Night” to the top of both the Billboard country singles chart and the Hot 100 pop chart. Join me next time on Pop Goes The Country, where we’ll talk about working 9 to 5 with Dolly Parton.