Album ReviewsY'ALL COME BACK SALOON
Y'all Come Back Saloon was the first mainstream country album released by The Oak Ridge Boys. In recent years prior to the switch to country, the Oaks had "shaken the boat" and ruffled feathers throughout the gospel music world with their edgy look and sound. This album left no doubt in anyone's mind that the Oak Ridge Boys had departed from traditional gospel music and had dove head first into country. The mentioning of saloons and dealing with subjects such as death by alcoholism, infidelity and promiscuousness solidified this point.
The music on this album is country with some hints of gospel arrangements and vocal styles, and generally has a "hand clappin foot stompin" type of feel to it. They say old habits die hard, and the Oaks could not just dump their roots in one release, it would prove to be a few album process. One thing the Oaks did well on this album is incorporating four part harmony into country music without sounding silly. The incredible bass singing of Richard Sterban was allowed to shine in about four spots, which was something very different in country music. This new "novelty", if you will, would greatly come into play a few years later, as fans would absolutely fall in love with his voice and catapult the group into super stardom.
The early-to-mid-70's were not nice to The Oak Ridge Boys. They'd gone from the top of the gospel world to on the verge of disbandment. They'd made several attempts at transitioning to country music with little success. That is, until they signed with ABC/Dot Records and released "Y'all Come Back Saloon" in 1977.
Prior to "Saloon," the Oaks were trying to downplay their quartet image, recording songs more like a "lead singer backed by..." With this record, producer Ron Chancey took full advantage of the classic four-part harmony, creating an album of a gospel quartet singing country music. The result became the group's first major country hit, and resulted in an album of the year award. Songs such as "You're The One," "Old Time Lovin'," and the title track take advantage of several standard gospel techniques: key changes, solos from each member, and wall-to-wall harmony.
That's not to say that the entire album has a gospel sound. The third single from this album, "I'll Be True To You," ends in an alcoholic overdose over a haunting guitar pattern, while the international hit, "Easy," talks of a promiscuous girl who, as the title suggests, is "easy to love."
As this was yet another attempt to cross over into country music, the ORB were obviously cautious in their musical approach. While songs like "Easy" and "True" are rather edgy for a former gospel group, other songs like "Freckles" and "Didn't She Really Thrill Them" sound borderline juvenile. It's almost as if they put more emphasis on gospel stylings than on lyrical content.
The proof is in the pudding, however, and the Oaks became country music hit makers with this album.
The Oak Ridge Boys were at the crossroads of their career in 1977. They attempted to make it in pop music at Columbia Records in the mid-70s, but failed miserably, as Columbia did not look at them as an act they should push very hard, despite the fact that the Oaks won two Grammys for Best Gospel Performance. On top of that, gospel music had pretty much given up on them, and their gospel audience had dried up. The Oaks found Jim Halsey as their new manager, and he promised to get them work if they became a country act. The Oaks left Columbia, and ABC-Dot President Jim Fogelsong was so impressed with the Oaks that he signed them to a contract at ABC-Dot.
It was always said that there was room for only one group in country music, the Statler Brothers. Fogelsong looked to change that. When the Oaks signed with ABC-Dot, they were paired with producer Ron Chancey, and they were ready to make their very first all-Country album. This time, there would be no spiritual themes in the lyrics, their songs’ themes would be fully secular, in order to establish themselves as country artists, with instruments that were very much country, with a lot of fiddles and banjos, in order to give the album a country sound. However, while the song’s themes would be secular, Chancey was looking for songs that had a gospel sound to them. However, it was tough to get the Oaks good material, because Richard Sterban has pointed out that the Oaks’ last two albums had not sold, and songwriters didn’t want to “waste a good song on the Oaks”, and this album was not expected to sell. The original cover of the album had a green border around it, later on , the border’s color was changed to sepia.
However, the Oaks found one great song that they would release as a single that would say everything about their intentions: “Y’all Come Back Saloon”, which was the first track on the album, as well as the first single. It was clear the Oaks were no longer a gospel group; they were now a country group. It was a great song, and a song I really enjoyed. At the end of the song, the lead changed from the lead singer, Duane, to the tenor, Joe, which was something that many gospel songs included. Also, the chorus of the song included the word “benediction”. The Oaks were a bit leery at first of singing a song that contained the word “benediction”, as they were afraid it would be perceived as sacreligious. The entire album contained some of these gospel arrangements. However, they were ready to show radio that they were serious about leaving gospel by singing a song about a “saloon”. “Y’all Come Back Saloon”, the song, turned out to be the Oaks’ first huge chart success, reaching #3 on the Billboard Country Singles Charts, and #2 on the Cashbox Country Charts. It also spent six weeks in the Billboard Country Singles Top 10.
The second song on the album was the third single on the album, “I’ll Be True to You”. As time would pass, the Oaks would seldom sing about heartbreaking topics like this song talks about. However, Chancey was trying to get them established in country music, and he was looking to pull out all the stops. This story of unrequited love ended in the death of the female in the song by alcoholism, and was the Oaks‘ first #1 Billboard Country hit, staying in the top ten for five weeks. “True to You” was also was a huge Cashbox Country hit, reaching #5 on those charts, and also marked the first time the Oaks cracked the Billboard Pop charts, peaking at #102. This song, however, did not stay in the Oaks‘ live show for very long after its release. Duane Allen once said on Facebook: “Our audiences seem to not like the fact that we "kill off" someone in the song, and that puts our show in a funk. Sometimes, it takes 5 or 6 songs to recover. “ The Oaks quit singing the song in their shows not long after the album’s release, but put it back in their shows in 1996 and 1997 to celebrate William Lee Golden’s return, as well as in 2014 and 2015 for a planned live album (in order to document their career as thoroughly as possible).
The third song on the album was a bluegrass number on the album with a gospel feel, keeping with the gospel stylings, yet country theme, of this album, titled “An Old Time Family Bluegrass Band”, which was a song I liked, since it was catchy. The next song was a song I didn’t care for much, since the melody kind of bored me, but was a very well-written story song had hit potential, and would have made for a great single, “Didn’t She Really Thrill Them (Back in 1924)”. “Didn’t She Really Thrill Them” was done live in 1977, and possibly in 1978.
Next on the album was another edgy song with a gospel feel that became a very popular live song in the Oaks’ show, “Old Time Lovin’”. The song is filled with double entendres, and showed how far Chancey was willing to push the envelope to make the Oaks stars in country music. The Oaks sang this song on the Dukes of Hazzard in 1979, and opened their show with this song in 1980 and 1981 (as well as possibly before that as well), with an opening instrumental to it. The Oaks brought “Old Time Lovin’” back to their show in the mid-2000s when they were planning a project on Spring Hill where they were going to re-record their old hits and classics (which was scrapped when new compilations came out, in order for the Oaks not to jeopardize their catalog royalties)
The sixth song on the album was my least favorite on the album, “Freckles”. The reason I didn’t like the song was because the lyrics just sounded very juvenile to me, such as “there’s a rainbow on your face”. However, many critics felt it was a good story song, typical of country radio in the early-to-mid 70s, and country have been a hit in 1978. This song was also a favorite of President George H.W. Bush, and when he first met the Oaks in the early 80s, he surprised the Oaks by requesting this song, and they could tell he was a huge fan since he was requesting such obscure album cuts.
The seventh song on the album was the second single, and was the second big hit on the Oaks’ resume, “You’re the One (in a Million)”. “You’re the One” was an old Glen Campbell song, as well as covered by Jerry Inmon, who put it on the country charts. The Oaks used many gospel stylings in this version, shifting the lead to different Oaks during the song, and shifting the lead at the end from the lead (Duane Allen) to the tenot (Joe Bonsall) at the end of the song. “You’re the One” became the Oaks’ very first #1 hit record, reaching #1 in Cashbox’s Country Charts. It also reached #2 in Billboard’s Country Charts, staying there for two weeks, and picking up where “Y’all Come Back Saloon” left off at #3, and “You’re the One” spent five weeks in the Top 10. “You’re the One” was also the Oaks’ first opening song of their country hitmaking days, opening the show in 1977. It was a song that I liked.
Next was Joe Bonsall’s only lead of the album, “Let Me Be the One”, which sounded a little less country than the other songs on the album, and was the one song that kind of got away from the album’s country sound. Billy Walker tried tihs song as a single several years later, as he was unable to get top-level material. It was a song that I liked, but it wasn’t a song that had very much hit potential. The ninth song on the album was a song that was likely the edgiest of the songs on the album, “Easy”. It was a song about a promiscuous girl who was “easy to love”. The song was released in other countries as a single because it was the closest thing to a pop song on the album, and was a #28 Pop hit in Australia. However, it was banned from radio in South Africa due to its subject matter. The Oaks were basically testing the waters by singing about edgy topics on their first country album. There was also a video for “Easy”, which was an early music video, that was shown in other countries, such as Europe, where these “clips”, as they were called, were commonplace. Sherman Halsey directed this video, and a cinematographer from the U.K. shot this video, but the video was not seen in the U.S. The last song on the album was called “Emmylou”, a novelty song about the main character's love for Emmylou Harris which had some lead switchings to other people (keeping with the gospel stylings theme of the album), which was a song I liked. There was also a song that wasn’t on this album, but was the B-Side to “Y’all Come Back Saloon”, “Morning Glory Do”, that was written by Jimbeau Hinson. However, no offense to Jimbeau, who I am good friends with, this was one of those songs that just didn’t move me, mainly due to its melody.
“Y’all Come Back Saloon”, the album, despite the lack of great material on the album, was a huge success, reaching #8 on the Billboard Country Charts and #6 on Cashbox’s Country Album Charts, as well as #120 on the Billboard Top 200 Pop Albums Charts and Cashbox’s Top 200 Pop Album Charts. The Oaks also ended up winning “Best Vocal Group” at the ACM Awards in 1978, and won the 1979 ACM for “Best Album", becoming the only Oaks album to win this honor. This album also went Gold (selling 500,000 copies) on March 21, 1980. The Oaks got to play “The World’s Biggest Country Music Show” at the Silverdome, which featured many country acts, during this album’s run on March 5, 1978, which I posted on YouTube not too long ago. However, despite this album’s successes, this album was one I only looked at as fair. There were some great songs on it, but none of the ten songs just took me, grabbed me, and didn’t let me go. There were also a couple of songs, as I mentioned above, that I just didn’t like. This album was my least favorite of the MCA years, though it was better than some of the other albums the Oaks have put out on other labels over the years.
My Favorite Tracks: Y’all Come Back Saloon, An Old Time Family Bluegrass Band, Old Time Lovin’, You’re the One (in a Million), Let Me Be the One, Emmylou
Tracks I Didn’t Care for Much: Didn’t She Really Thrill Them (Back in 1924), Freckles
---John Vairin (email@example.com)