From time to time, I will be reviewing a release from my childhood or musical past that made an influence on me. Some of these will be well known, and others may have been passed by under the radar. Most will not be in the hard rock/metal genre. You can see reviews in that genre written by me in the Retro Review section on the webpage Sleazeroxx.com
If there is any album that deserves to be mentioned in my Childhood Classics it’s The Oak Ridge Boys’ Greatest Hits from 1980. This album had such a huge influence on me , that it is listed as one of my Hall of Fame albums.
I got this album on Christmas Day of 1980, along with my first drum set, a practice set which had the Sid and Marty Kroft characters Captain Kool and The Kongs on the front on the kick drum, along with my first record player. Before this, my parents would give us records that me and my brother shared, from The Village People’s Cruisin‘ release, and the Bay City Rollers’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Love Letter. So firstly, the Oaks’ album was the first one that I remember that was mine alone to own and play at any time. Secondly, I remember my parents dropping the needle on the first song, and I started playing along with the recording without knowing the songs (beat for beat) along with the record, which was the first time I guess I showed a natural ability to play drums (since I was hitting every fill and crash pretty much, call it a God thing if you’d like).
The first time I remember seeing the Oaks was on PBS (we didn’t have cable television back then). I watched it every time I could see it (it was played many times). I was a fan right away, even being a member of their fan club, which back in the day fan clubs were free and they sent you a black and white pamphlet with some pictures of the members and a small biography of each member (I unfortunately do not have that pamphlet anymore).
I was big into country music and the normal pop songs at the time, but one band I never strayed far away from was The Oaks. The blend of country/pop/and gospel music was not just entertaining, but I learned how to study vocals by listening to these records. One time in the 1990s, when playing drums in a blues/rock band, my one guitar player asked how I knew the melodies vocally being a drummer (most bands I was in discouraged drummers to sing), I told him “The Oak Ridge Boys” (not that I was a great vocalist, but I helped out on backing vocals in bands).
The Greatest Hits album details the first four albums of the singing group, starting with “You’re The One” from their first full country album. This song features the great Duane Allen, William Lee Golden, and Richard Sterban sharing lead vocals. I never heard of a bass singer being so up front in groups until I heard Sterban’s singing, although even at a young age I listened to the 1950s and 1960s acts, like the Doo-Wop singers, but a bass singer that sang lead was unknown to me until I heard the Oaks.
One of my all time favorite songs by the group is “I’ll Be True To You.” As a youngster (and still today) , Allen was my favorite member of the band, with his smooth voice, and also because my father worked with a guy at the time that looked similar to him (my young self actually asked him if he was the guy singing on the records). I would argue that The Oaks were the country music version of The Beatles, due to every fan had their favorite member. “I’ll Be True To You” is not just a classic country song, with the sad lyrics, but I would put it up there along with The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” and George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” in the list of the most beautiful songs in American recordings. During this period, the Oaks’ recording formula included the great Ron Chancey on production, which gave the Oaks a mix of country and adult contemporary sounds, with powerful orchestration adding to the flavor of the great vocals.
“Trying To Love Two Women” was a song I always skipped over at the time of I had this record (and later on the cassette). I was never a huge fan of this song, even though it went to #1 on the country charts. The song was too adult themed for me at the time, and I wasn’t as huge fan of William Lee Golden’s voice at the time (I was more scared of him seeing that long beard), but within the past several years I have had a more respect for the man and his abilities (especially seeing him live). This song has grown on me throughout the past few times I’ve seen the band live, maybe because of the power the band adds to the song. The odd thing about me not liking the song at first is that I had the 45 single, which the B-Side was the wonderful (and often overlooked “Hold On Til Sunday”). I still choose some of Golden’s other work as opposed to this one, but it is a Greatest Hits record, and this was huge for the group.
“Cryin’ Again” is another favorite song of mine, with Allen singing lead again. The adding of Sterban switching the chorus repeating at the end of the song, adds to the song, along with the great guitar work throughout the song. The song was co-written by the legendary Don Cook. The listener can hear Joe Bonsall more on the harmonies on this song as well. It wouldn’t be a few years later when I got to really appreciate Bonsall’s work singing lead on “Elvira,” but even as a young kid at age 10, I tried to hit the notes he was hitting on the song (major fail by me).
“Dream On” was , again, one the first times I heard a bass singer sing lead. It wasn’t until several years ago when I started doing my page here, that I found out the song was originally done by The Righteous Brothers. No offense to fans of that legendary group, but The Oak’s version is better; it has more power to the song with the strong backing vocals and orchestration , but the recording of records evolved too. I still like this version the best, and you’d can’t convince me otherwise.
“Leaving Louisiana In the Broad Daylight” kicks off the second side of the album (younger kids today can’t recall the time where you had to stand up and turn the side over to listen) . This Rodney Crowell penned song, is again, better done by the Oaks than the original, and the other acts who recorded it. Many fans would remember this being sung on the group’s appearance on The Dukes Of Hazard TV show. That show was a big favorite of mine, and seeing one of my favorite music acts on one of my favorite shows was a dream come true, especially since I was a huge fan of actor John Schneider’s Now Or Never album, which was also played constantly on my player. This is a song that has grown on me throughout the past few years, originally getting tired of it, but a former boss at a grocery store I worked at got me hooked on this song again, where we would sit around to pass the day trying to stump each other with music or pro wrestling trivia. At times, we would randomly ask “Have you ever seen a Cajun when he really got mad?” walking past each other, or using other song lyrics in everyday conversation (something we did to pass the time at work).
One of the underrated ballads that Duane Allen has sung on is “Heart Of Mine.” I think some Oaks fans forget how wonderful this song is when mentioning the great ballads of the group, maybe because it hit #3 on the charts and not #1? I don’t know . Some songs today fail to see the structure of a great ballad, like this song shows, by building throughout until the end. This song has an adult contemporary style to it, that would have fit on the radio right next to Barry Manilow. This was a strong pop song, and not just plain country. Right before the repeated chorus at the end, Allen hits a wonderful note that he holds that always made me love. Even though I love the 1980s glam hard rock acts , who would hold powerful notes, there is a similar emotion to this song without being overpowering, which adds to the ending of the climax of the track.
No matter how many times I heard “Come On In,” I never get tired of it, and it gets me in a up tempo mood still now. I have heard Christian acts use this song, rewording some of the lyrics, many times throughout the years of playing in churches as well. This is just a great “feel good” song that you can’t get tired of. The shared vocals of Bonsall, Sterban, and Allen on the chorus makes the song just as fun. I always wondered how the group chose which member to sing what parts, but it always to seem to work when the final product was done. I challenge anyone NOT to be in a good mood after playing this song.
“Sail Away” is another one of my all time favorite songs by the group, and not just on this album. The guitar work is great throughout with that opening riff (and throughout), and the drum fill towards the end of the song brings an extra dynamic to the song. Even hearing this song live gives me a thrill decades later after the release. Once again, Allen’s lead vocals has soul to it. The fact that this song didn’t hit #1 amazes me when reading about the history of some of the tracks.
The final song “Y’all Come Back Saloon” was one I always sang along and liked playing drums to. Listening to it now, this was the perfect ending song for the album. The placement of the songs were in their right spot. Rarely can acts deliver ending an album with a ballad or mid tempo song, but this song picks up at the end that leaves the listener wanting more, which is what a good album should do at the end in my opinion. Those that follow the band know how the song got backlash lyrically for fans of the gospel side of the group, but the lyrics by Sharon Vaughn makes this song unique when I look at it now. The fact that the characters in the song do not have names, but are just mentioned as “cowboy” and the female is just “she,” shows that at times simplicity is better in songwriting.
The Oak Ridge Boys’ Greatest Hits album not only gave me my start into a band that I have yet to be tired of, even when some left the group’s core audience when Golden left the band (I personally loved the late 1980s and 1990s group as much as the so-called heyday of the band), but it exposed me to study vocals and songwriting, as well as just liking the drum parts or the catchy sing along tracks. Listeners could use this album to study production values, and how songwriting works as well as dynamics of harmonies. The album just didn’t make me become a fan, but gave me wonderful childhood memories by constantly playing the songs with my family, and helped me discover a talent (drumming) that was a major part of my life.
The Oak Ridge Boys are : Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, Richard Sterban, and William Lee Golden.
Track List: 1. You’re The One 2. I’ll Be True To You 3.Trying To Love Two Women 4.Cryin’ Again 5. Dream On 6. Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight 7. Heart Of Mine 8. Come On In 9. Sail Away 10. Y’all Come Back Saloon