The year was 1980, and for Christmas I received my first drum set, along with my first album that was all mine, not one I had to share with my older brother. The album was The Oak Ridge Boys Greatest Hits and as soon as my parents put the record on, without even hearing the songs, I was playing along with the songs as if I heard them before. From that day on I was a fan of the Oaks, even though my love for Country Music (especially today’s acts) has declined majorly.
I was a member of the Oaks Fan Club back then as well, which was a several page paper magazine with photos of the band which was free in the mail. I studied their records, especially the different vocal parts, although I could never sound as good as they were-at least I had the drumming to fall back on while playing in area bands.
I had the opportunity to see them live once in 1999 in Canfield, Ohio at the Canfield Fair. There were a few times when I got tickets to see them when nearby Salem, Ohio tried to restart Ponderosa Park, but the park kept cancelling the shows. I am waiting in anticipation to see them this August in Chester West Virginia, which will be my 50th concert.
Even though the band traces back to the 1940s, the band became the most popular in 1977 when the lineup of Duane Allen, William Golden, Joe Bonsall, and Richard Sterban crossed from the Gospel genre to Country (and even had a few hits on the Pop Charts with “Elvira” and “Bobby Sue.”). Bonsall has some great books out as well, which I have the Kindle Editons , especially 2015’s “On The Road With The Oak Ridge Boys,” and “From My Perspective” from 2010.
I want to list a few of some of the band’s rarer songs that people may not be familiar with, or should check out. I am also focusing on the era of Golden, Bonsall, Allen, and Sterban, not the Steve Sanders years (that may be a future post because Sanders was a great singer as well). In no particular order, here are some rarer Oak songs you should check out.
- “Hold On Til Sunday” (1980) This song was the b-side of “Trying to Love Two Women,” which went to #1. I had the 45 single and, no offense to those that love the song “Women,” I listened more to “Sunday” than the A- side. The song has a pop feel to it, but I loved how smooth Duane Allen’s voice is in the song, who is one of the most underrated musicians in music history. When I found the song on youtube, I was transferred to my youth and how much I loved the song. I miss B sides on songs, especially songs that didn’t make the albums.
- “Live In Love” (1981). While talking about B-sides on songs, this ballad was the B-side to the Pop Hit “Bobbie Sue.” This song could have been played on AC Charts on any channel during the 1980s. I like most how the pace of the song switches after the second chorus and at the end. Once again, I spent hours playing this song on my record playing trying to be as smooth as Allen’s voice.
- “Down The Hall” (1983). There are some gems on the hit album “American Made,” such as “Heart on the Line (Operator, Operator)” with Joe Bonsall’s voice, but one of my favorites is this one. “Down The Hall” was one of the songs back in the day I would record from album to cassette tape and pass around to my friends to introduce them to some of the bands other songs. The song was written by Mike Reid, who wrote songs like Ronnie Milsap’s “Stranger in My House” and had a solo career in the 1990s. The song talks about a man who have not been to the big sites of the world, but he “hasn’t missed a thing at all” because he’s in love. Great written song. If you can find it, check it out.
- “Baby When Your Heart Breaks Down” (1999). When I saw the band at the Canfield Fair, they were promoting this song off of their Voices Album. Although the rest of the album was not that great, this song was wonderful, and I was shocked how great it sounded live. The song was written by Kix Brooks before he joined Brooks and Dunn, but I like this version better, which all the vocals adding to the song. This song is great because it is a fairly recent song, which shows how the band still has their harmonies years after their heyday.
- “Dancing the Night Away” (1979). The Oaks have been known to do several remade songs and make it their own, such as ‘Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” (1979) and “Dream On” (1979), which were both on the same album. This song is one of my favorite off of the album “The Oak Ridge Boys Have Arrived,” and was a concert favorite for years, although I’m not sure why it is no longer used. The song was originally recorded by The Amazing Rhythm Aces, and Tanya Tucker at one time. Leo Sayer also had a great version of it, but I think the Oak’s version has a rocking beat to it, as opposed to the mellower versions. I couldn’t imagine anyone but Bonsall singing this one in the group.
- “Any Old Time You Choose” (1983). This was off of the “American Made” album and is a great ballad sung by Allen again. Written by J.L. Wallace, Ken Bell, and Terry Skinner, who also wrote Air Supply’s “Even The Nights Are Better, “the song has a slow start that builds with a big orchestration that reminds the listener of Air Supply. The blends of the famous Oaks harmonies compliment the arrangements. It also has a nice guitar solo that would have fit in the AC or Pop Charts of the 1980s.
- “I Would Crawl All The Way (To The River)” (1981). The Oaks have never shied away from the Gospel roots, although some fans criticized them at first for leaving the Gospel scene, but even on major labels like MCA records, the band still threw on a Gospel song or two on their albums. As a whole, I think the “Fancy Free” album is one, if not the best album they recorded track for track, and one of my favorites is the last song on the album, which is “River.” Not only is the song have a southern gospel feel to it, but it also isn’t a preaching song that may turn audiences off. This is one of my favorite Gospel songs the Oaks ever recorded.
- “When Love Calls You” (1981). I could list the whole “Fancy Free” Album to listen to, with even the rare tracks, the whole album just flows (as mentioned in a previous blog I wrote https://lancewrites.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/not-skipping-around-albums-that-must-be-heard/). This song isn’t just a sad Country ballad, but when listening to the lyrics, the listener will find that it’s a song of hope of the future in spite of a bad past. This is one of the themes I love about Barry Manilow’s music as well. With the orchestration again bringing more power to the song makes it almost a soft rock song. This was one of my favorite songs from my youth.
Everyone knows the famous songs by the Oaks but hopefully these may help you dive deeper into their catalog, especially if you are like me and are frustrated with the lack of good music being released. Feel free to comment, email me your Oak Ridge Boys stories and favorites.
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