Album ReviewsROOM SERVICE
Room Service was a nice follow up record to Saloon. While there was no mistaking that it's the same group, the Oak Ridge Boys definitely matured as a country act with this album. The gospel sound was becoming more distant, and the mainstream country vibe was beginning to blossom. The standout track on this album is 'Come On In'. The verses move along with a mid tempo rock beat, then the chorus kicks in with an upbeat, double time thing where the Boys trade off lines, utilizing the bass of Richard Sterban, and creating a very very catchy tune. This was a new a fresh idea, and had people singing along in no time.
The Oaks debuted on the country scene with "Y'all Come Back Saloon," and continued full-blown with "Room Service" (I have yet to figure out the significance of that title!!!). With this effort, the Boys tried more to distance themselves from the "hand-clappin' gospel sound" with more contemporary harmonies and styles (although one can't help compare "Lots of Matchbooks" to an old southern gospel standard). It also seems that they become a bit more risqué with their material in "Lay Down Your Sword and Shield."
The oddity of the recording, however, is the inclusion of "I'll Be True To You" (originally part of "Saloon"). ABC Records was in such a hurry to put out a second album that rather than continue pushing "Saloon," they just dumped the track onto this album, making the album 11 songs long (unusual for those days), and also giving it an extra selling point (the original album stickers had "I'll Be True To You" pasted all over it).
Marketing methods aside, the album is a stronger effort for the Boys. Key tracks include "Callin' Baton Rouge" (the same song that Garth Brooks would do 17 years later), "It Could Have Been Ten Years Ago," and "If There Were Only Time For Love." Definitely worth the money, especially for the low price it's available for today!
1977 was the biggest chart year the Oak Ridge Boys have ever had. The Oaks had three Top Five Chart Country hits, a Top 10 album, and as 1978 came, the Oaks would win several awards. The Oaks had established themselves in country music, and as 1978 was transpiring, ABC (no longer ABC-Dot) wanted another album as fast as possible in order for the Oaks to put more material in their live show. However, while the first album definitely had a country sound to it, and established the Oaks as a country music force, the group and producer Ron Chancey were ready to put a more pop sound on their second album, and push it to the crossover audience. Enter “Room Service”.
The first thing the Oaks and Chancey did to really push this as a pop crossover album was to record part of this album in Los Angeles, and get some of the pop engineers to record this album. This gave this album less of a country sound, and took a lot of the gospel quartet stylings out of the album, and made the Oaks sound more like a pop group.
In case you are wondering the significance of the title, “Room Service”, the title track is “Lots of Matchbooks”, and the girl on the cover is the “room service”. Also on this album cover, Golden has a cigarette, making this the only depiction of smoking the Oaks have done on their albums. Later on, though there was a magazine where Steve Sanders was smoking in a photo when he was part of the Oaks, the Oaks would be so concerned about their image they would turn down offers for cigarette companies to sponsor them, and they changed the lyrics of “Still Holding On” on a later album that talked about “lighting a cigarette”.
The first song on the album was called “If You Can’t Find Love”, *written by Peter McCann, who had just had a pop hit with “Do You Wanna Make Love”) which has a pure 70s pop sound to it, and was the first of the adult contemporary-friendly songs the Oaks released, with a contrapuntal section toward the end. Critics said it should have been released to adult contemporary radio, as it had great writing, a fantastic arrangement, and was an outstanding lead for Duane. This was the kind of song radio would have been all over in 1978. It was a song that I liked a little better than average. the second song was “But I Do”, which was a song I liked a lot. “But I Do” is a great ballad, and fairly unique in the catalog in arrangement and lyric structure. It has a strong lyric, and Duane does an outstanding job on it. “But I Do” could have been a major pop record, and would have boosted the Oaks’ career. It is one of their very best songs from one of their very best albums.
Their next song was a very popular live song, and a song that Garth Brooks would have a huge hit with 17 years later, “Callin’ Baton Rouge”. It was also covered by the New Grass Revival. This arrangement didn’t have a Cajun flavored arrangement like the Oaks’ live version in the 90s after Garth Brooks hit with it did. The Oaks’ version of “Callin’ Baton Rouge” was EXCELLENT, with an excellent arrangement. I liked it enough to give it a four-star rating.
Next was “It Could Have Been Ten Years Ago”, which features Golden. I liked it a little better than average. It could have been a big country hit. The metronomic rhythm on it is spellbinding. It also had the possibility of crossing over, a rare thing on a song featuring WLG. “Ten Years Ago” has excellent lyrics, and is really one of their best-written songs. The fifth song on “Room Service” was the gospel-styled song “Lots of Matchbooks”, which the Oaks did on Hee Haw, and was a song I liked. Next is a song I didn’t care for much, “If There Were Only Time for Love”. I never really could figure out what that song was about.
Next was a mega-hit for the Oaks, the second single, “Cryin’ Again”. It is one of the best-written Oaks songs ever, and James Burton played guitar on this recording. “Cryin’ Again” was a number two hit on Cashbox’s Country Charts, and it reached #3 no the Billboard Country Charts, staying in the Top Ten on those charts for an amazing eght weeks. “Cryin’ Again” also crossed over, charting on the pop charts at number 107 as well, and was nominated for a Country Grammy, their first mainstream nomination. I thought “Cryin’ Again” was about an average song, though. Next was “I’ll Be True to You”, which was also a single on “Y’all Come Back Saloon”, and sold so well they put it on the second album, “Room Service”, for those who may have just been discovering the Oaks. So “True to You” was technically the first single off this album.
Next was the third single of this album, “Come on In”. The song was originally titled “Baby Take Your Coat Off”, but Duane felt that “Come on In” sounded more memorable. “Come on In” reached #3 on both the Billboard and Cashbox Country Charts, and stayed in the Top Ten on Billboard’s Country Charts for five weeks. It sounds like a country song, but it actually sounded closer to straight-ahead pop in 1978, and was an incredible track when it came out. “Come on In” was later used as the theme to their “Live From Las Vegas” TV show. This was a song I liked.
Next was a song that was recorded with the Muscle Shoals team, and a very well done blues track (though Joe Bonsall hates it), “Lay Down You Sword and Shield”, which I liked. The last song on the album was “I Can Love You”, which was written by Oaks pianist Garland Craft. This song was originally supposed to be a ballad, but the Oaks were looking for more up-tempo songs, so Garland sped it up. I thought this song was about average.
“Room Service” is probably the most diverse, and certainly the most challenging, of all their albums, and it would have been an even bigger hit with more crossover. The Oaks could have released “True to You” to country radio, then “Cryin’ Again to all three (pop, AC, country) formats, then Come on In and Callin’ Baton Rouge to country radio, then “If You Can’t Find Love” and “But I Do”, in whichever order, to the pop formats. “Room Service” is, to my mind, their first great album since “Street Gospel”, or said another way, their first great album with Joe in the lineup.
“Room Service” reached #3 on the Billboard Country album Charts, and stayed there for two weeks. In Cashbox’s Country Album Charts, “Room Service” reached #6. Room Service also did well on the Pop Album Charts, reaching #164 in Billboard’s Top 200, and #120 on Cashbox’s Top 200. This album also went Gold, surpassing sales of 500,000 copies, on April 13, 1983.
While this album was a huge success for the Oaks, and one that I liked, it isn‘t an album I would rank in my personal Top 10 favorites, or even my Top 15 (thought close to my Top 15), since the 70s pop sound isn’t the most appealing to my personal tastes. However, as I mentioned above, there are some tracks that I like.
As I said, “Room Service” was the first of the great Oak Ridge Boys albums with Joe Bonsall in the group. It has great 70s pop sounds, and I urge all of you to give the album a listen, if you haven’t yet. However, little did they know they they would next record what many say was their best album ever the next year in 1979...
My Favorite Tracks: But I Do, Callin’ Baton Rouge (my favorite), Lots of Matchbooks, Come on In, Lay Down Your Sword and Shield
Tracks I Didn’t Care for Much: If There Were Only Time for Love
---John Vairin (firstname.lastname@example.org)