Reviewer’s Note: This year marks the 36th anniversary of the release of American Made album by the Oak Ridge Boys, which featured one of the last major crossover singles on the pop charts (the title song) for the band. This album was coming off of their 1982 Christmas album, which featured the song “Thank God For Kids,” a #3 single on the country charts. Looking back on the 1983 release American Made, I decided revisit the album.
I became an Oak Ridge Boys fan around 1980, when my parents gave me several special gifts for Christmas that year: my first drum set, a record player, and the Oaks’ Greatest Hits album from 1980. Without even studying the songs on the record, my parents put on the record, and went to get their breakfast in the next room. By the time they came back into the living room after getting their tea, I was playing along beat for beat with the record, as if I heard the songs a hundred times before. Not only did that start my drumming career, but also my love for the group, getting the Fancy Free and American Made records during the years to come as a youth.
The American Made record was a vital part of my childhood; even though I listened to the Top 40 radio hits of the time, along with the hard rock music, there were still several country music acts that I never strayed from, one being the Oaks. The cover of the album was imprinted in my mind, mainly due to William Lee Golden’s huge jacket that he wore on the cover (for some reason it is one of the memorable country covers I remember to this day, along with the Fancy Free release). When CDs became more available, I was lucky to find the album, along with the band’s follow up Deliver, on a two album release. Just like my writings for a hard rock website that looks at older releases, I decided to see if the Oak’s release still holds up as I remember as a child today to celebrate the album’s anniversary.
The first track, “Love Song,” was the second single from the album. One of my early memories of the song was when I was in junior high, every Friday our music teacher would allow a student to bring in a record to play one song and discuss parts of the song, along with exposing different types of music to each other. I remember her being impressed with how I stated I liked the song due to the harmonies, especially the break towards the middle of the song, which reminded me of the old 1950s-1960s Doo -Wop singers standing on the street corner singing away. Joe Bonsall’s lead singing on the track is also fitting, with him being a Philadelphia guy (where the Doo Wop sound was relevant). The guitar solo has a nice rocking sound to it for being a country song. The group still sings this song live, which shows how great songs last, and even though it was not a hit on the pop charts (it was a #1 hit on the country charts), it had the same formula of the other songs on the radio at the time.
“She’s Not Just Another Pretty Face” features the bass vocals of Richard Sterban. The orchestration in the chorus builds the song where this could have been played on any adult contemporary radio station during this time. The song has a unique ending, where it doesn’t repeat the chorus until fade out, but just once after the second verse to end the song. The keyboard piano playing adds a nice emphasis during the chorus. The just over three minute song is a great rare cut, where there is not anything extra added to the song to make it longer to bore the listener. Sometimes the listener can realize why a certain song wasn’t released as a single, due to its extra length, but this song could have been at home on the pop charts.
“Amity” brings the band back to a traditional country sound, with the smooth vocals of Duane Allen singing about a guy who runs into a childhood friend years later. The lyrics tell a Hollywood movie style theme of a guy who falls for the girl years after she left the hometown. This track features strong steel and acoustic guitars; a stable for many country songs from the 1970s and 1980s.
Track four, “You’re The One, ” shouldn’t be confused with the hit the group had in 1977, but is a ballad with William Lee Golden singing lead. The song, like the other ballads on the album, has strong orchestration with strings playing a nice melody behind the vocals. There is a pleasant guitar solo on the track, which is similar to the late 1970s and early 1980s AC songs on the radio. The musicianship here is better than the lyrics on this track, but the song still flows well with all the others on the release.
The next track is one of my favorite all time rare songs by the group. “Down The Hall” once again features Allen singing lead. The lyrics describe a man who has never visited the big sites in the world, like Paris and Niagara Falls, but doesn’t miss anything because of his love. The extra percussion adds an island feel to the song. This song has been listed on previous blogs of mine as one of my favorite songs that most people don’t know from the band (check the archives to read). I remember putting this song on several mix tapes for friends back in the day. My one friend who was a major Oaks fan, would play the song constantly in his car when we were going places as teenagers and even would sing it in the hallways at school. This song not only brings back childhood memories, but is just as great a song as I remember it decades later without sounded dated. This is one of Allen’s rare gems that people need to check out. Why this song wasn’t released is a shame, because it could’ve been on the radio in several genre formats.
The title track, “American Made” comes in next. The song is still performed live by the group today. I remember the song being used in TV commercials, and was the first single from the album, breaking into the pop charts. The song features all the members of the group sharing vocals. The Pat McManus and Bob DiPerio written song has strong piano playing throughout. The lyrics are just as relevant today as it was back in 1983. Sometimes the hits of an artist can wear on a listener, but I love this song just as much as when it was first released, and has become a staple of the band known for their patriotism.
“Any Old Time You Choose” is another Duane Allen led classic that many may not list when naming some of the group’s best work. The power of the orchestration brings an intensity to the already great ballad. Music, especially back in the day, meant something and brought feelings to the listener. Teenagers would not just dance to songs, but ballads had the lyrics and melodies that brought the listener back to a person or place from their past. This song was one of them for me, as a young kid waiting for the school girl to notice me. This was another song that I always put on mix tapes (I was the king of mix tapes back then-it was an 80s thing). This song was one of my favorite ballads of the group in the collection that I had at the time. I remember trying my best to try and sing like Allen (to no avail, like many of us, and why I stuck to playing drums).
Sometimes I like to hear songs that have a little humor to it, or a tongue in cheek tone in the lyrics. “Heart On The Line (Operator Operator)” is one of those songs, and having Joe Bonsall , with help from Richard Sterban, sing the lead was a perfect choice. The piano (like a 1960s pop with a R&B/boogie feel to it), along with the horns playing during the song, makes it even more fun to listen to. The humorous tale of the singer calling to apologize for his actions, but gets disconnected and runs out of money (cell phone people may not know how common back in the day this was when you had to pay for calls at a phone booth) is not only fun to hear, but to sing along with. I could argue the song was a precursor to other hits similar in theme, such as “Mr. Telephone Man” (New Edition- 1984) and “Telefone (Long Distance Love Affair)” by Sheena Easton, which was released later in 1983.
Track nine, “You Made It Beautiful,” starts with Allen singing with just a piano. The lyrics seem simple, but it comes together with Allen’s great voice on ballads. This is another song under or around the three minute mark, with no repeating chorus to fade out. This song is one that I recently starting liking while re-listening the album as a whole for this review. Back in the day, I was not one to listen to the whole album -choosing the hits at the time, or a rare song here and there- but this song has my respect today studying all the work that gets put into songs. The wonderful things about revisiting albums years later is when you find newfound respect for songs that didn’t capture you the first time. This is one of those cases.
The final track on the release is “I’m So Glad To Be Standing Here Today.” Golden sings lead on this song, with its positive lyrics. The chorus has a more Gospel/R&B feel to it, as opposed to some of the songs on the album that had an adult contemporary feel to it. The drumming on the song during the chorus reminds me of the style I played at my first local church band. There is some undervalued work on this track. The saxophone solo brings power to the sound. This song will be back on my play list for a while. This song could be added to their live set list today, with their emphasis on the gospel feel that the group adds to their shows. At the time I didn’t realize it, but after seeing the band several times the past few years, I have seen how valuable William Lee Golden is to the band vocally. He was the first of the lineup to join the band, and yet he seems to not get his just due among some country music critics. It amazes me how some music critics fail to see the talent and quality of this act’s iconic status as legends vocally and picking great songs (Maybe if the radio formats would be more open to real talent instead of what’s “hot”, but I digress). Producer Ron Chancey and the group not only picked great tunes, but the production and orchestration on them are wonderful and could have been on many radio formats.
American Made may have been one of the last albums that non traditional fans purchased from the band, but the group still topped the county charts throughout the 1980s, along with the gospel charts decades later. The album was full of pop, R&B, gospel, and traditional country songs, while keeping the signature harmonies that the group perfected. There are some rare cuts on the album that I think are some of the best work the group has in its arsenal, and wonder why some of them were not released as more singles. As a whole, I say there may be one to two fillers on the album, but they are not long enough to make the listener want to get up and go to the next song (then again, with music the way it is now, I’d listen to any filler and marvel at the talent on this record any day). 36 years later, the release is as strong as it was when it first came out, with more added memories for me to enjoy this record over and over.
MCA Records (Produced by Ron Chancey)
1. Love Song
2. She’s Just Not Another Pretty Face
4. You’re The One
5.Down The Hall
6. American Made
7. Any Old Time You Choose
8. Heart On The Line (Operator, Operator)
9. You Made It Beautiful
10. I’m So Glad To Be Standing Here Today
The Oak Ridge Boys:
William Lee Golden
For information about The Oak Ridge Boys, go to http://www.oakridgeboys.com