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10 Classic Country Albums Turning 40 This Year

From Tanya Tucker’s decidedly Outlaw ‘T.N.T’ to Waylon Jennings’ romanticizing ‘I’ve Always Been Crazy’

Tanya Tucker, Waylon Jennings

Seminal albums by Tanya Tucker and Waylon Jennings turn 40 years old this year.

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In country music history, 1978 goes down as something like the commercial peak of the country-rockin’ Outlaw movement. I’ve Always Been Crazy, by Waylon Jennings, for example, became that year the first country album ever to ship Gold, and duet album Waylon & Willie, behind the success of crossover single “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” quickly went Platinum, as did Willie Nelson’s collection of pop standards, Stardust.

What gets downplayed, though, is that 1978 was just as big a year for the sorts of pop country typically portrayed as Outlaw’s mortal enemy. Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler launched the process of turning him into a superstar, while Dolly Parton’s Heartbreaker was the most pure-pop album she’d released to date.

This is typically how it’s always been in country music. Hardcore and softshell sounds compete, with one or the other styles dominant in any given moment, but both ever present. Forty years later, thank goodness, we can see that the main country storyline in 1978 wasn’t hard v. soft, but, rather, both please.

Rodney Crowell, ‘Ain’t Living Long Like This’ (Warner Bros)

Rodney Crowell’s debut is a roots-rocking, outlaw marvel. The musicians are first-rate, of course, including several of Crowell’s fellow bandmates in the Hot Band – including Hot Band boss Emmylou Harris, who throughout reminds why she’s country-rock’s most affecting harmony singer. Crowell’s reading of Dallas Frazier’s “Elvira,” all humid, sweaty sex, kicks things off and is still capable of making you forget the all-novelty Oak Ridge Boys’ version. A cover of “(Now and Then There’s a) Fool Such As I” honors both the rockabilly influence of Elvis Presley, dead only a year, and Nashville Sound-man Hank Snow. Crowell’s own songs, crafted to highlight his charisma, played rocking but tight, do the same. The best of those originals – “Voila (An American Dream),” “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” the in-danger-but-still-living-it-up title track – predict as well big parts of country music’s future. 

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