10 Classic Country Albums Turning 40 in 2019 - Rolling Stone
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10 Classic Country Albums Turning 40 in 2019

From Dolly Parton’s ‘Great Balls of Fire’ to Merle Haggard’s ‘Serving 190 Proof,’ the best country albums of 1979

Classic Country Albums Turning 40, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard

Dolly Parton's 'Great Balls of Fire' and Merle Haggard's 'Serving 190 Proof' are two classic country albums turning 40 in 2019.

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1979 was a transitional year for country music. The Outlaw sound that had taken the genre both back to its roots and on to the pop charts was clearly in decline, but the next-big-thing, Urban Cowboy, had yet to take hold. Caught in between, people were trying all sorts of unexpected sounds and approaches. On her second album, future star Janie Fricke included a lounge version of “Got My Mojo Working.” Larry Gatlin released what amounted to a Southern gospel concept album, while George Jones duetted with everyone from Elvis Costello to Dr. Hook to Mavis and Pops Staples. There were plenty of disco beats, too, as well as trad-country standards, plus covers of old-time rock & roll and of what would now be called “classic rock,” even a bit of calypso. It was a strange, weird year, in other words. But like any year, 1979 was not without it share of country keepers. Here are 10 of the best.

Dolly Parton, 'Great Balls of Fire'

Dolly Parton, ‘Great Balls of Fire’ (RCA Victor)

Great Balls of Fire is one of Dolly Parton’s most unfairly overlooked efforts. Its hit single, the Carole Bayer Sager ballad “You’re the Only One,” topped the country charts but barely registered on the pop formats where it was presumably aimed. The title track is updated old-time rock & roll while her version of “Help” bluegrasses the Beatles not unlike the way she’d later twang up Blackfoot and Collective Soul. Top Ten hit “Sweet Summer Lovin’” bounces between banjo backing and a flute solo, and whispered closer “Sandy’s Song” finds Parton uploading her own words onto the melody for “Greensleeves.” The album’s an all-over-the-board mess, in other words, but consistently delightful and revealing. As she declares in the set’s straight-up-disco opener, she can do it all and so isn’t quite sure what she wants to do: Whatever it is, she’ll for sure be “Star of the Show.”

Dottie West, 'Special Delivery'

Dottie West, ‘Special Delivery’ (United Artists)

Coming on the heels of Dottie West’s initial duet hits with Kenny Rogers, Special Delivery features “Lesson in Leavin’,” which is the best of her solo sides, a country Number One, and one of country music’s greatest singles, period. But the entire album showcases West’s husky soul delivery — listen to her phrasing and use of texture, particularly at the high, wailing end of her range, on ballads like “It’s Too Late to Love Me Now” or the concluding cover of Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight,” and you can hear the best example going of how the country-soul style of Aretha Franklin’s early hits was absorbed into mainstream country vocalizing.

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