The Oak Ridge Boys (ORB) have announced their retirement and farewell tour. It’s been a long, 50+ year career for the current quartet — and they have a boatload of hits and awards to show for all those decades. They also have a basket full of songs that, with a little luck, should have charted in country music’s Top 10.
You can find classic country jewels right between the wide lines on your old ORB vinyl LPs — the tracks you never ran your needle through like you did with “Elvira,” “I’ll Be True to You” or “You’re the One.” On the other hand, if you’re a collector of old 45 RPMs, take a look at the flip side you’ve ignored for the past 30 years. There they are … the precious gems of classic country music. Most never made it to the radio and haven’t been played at a live ORB concert in years, but give them a listen. You’ll find some of the ORB’s finest work.
A fan since the tender age of 10, when the “Y’all Come Back Saloon” album first charted, I’ve carefully selected my favorite nine ORB songs that would (or should) be gold. So, in no particular order:
As far as I’m concerned, the body of work of “Y’all Come Back Saloon” remains ORB’s greatest masterpiece to this day. Other albums offered bigger hits, but as a collection, it’s hard to top the 10 tracks on this record. Give me one album to listen to on a cross-country ride, and it’s no contest.
“Y’all Come Back Saloon” put country music on notice that gospel didn’t have the ORB under lock and key. No song better exemplifies the group’s transformation than “Easy.” Keep in mind that this was back in the days when Dallas’s WBAP still used that annoying “BLEEEEP” to censor Faron Young’s “Here I am in Dallas, Where the Hell are You?” Nearly five decades later, the risqué lyrics of promiscuity and teen pregnancy featured in “Easy” are mild at best, but I’m not even sure “outlaw” country artists would have been so bold in 1977.
Duane Allen’s vocals on “Easy” are, to at least my ears, the best he ever recorded. Changing his voice inflection from a matter-of-fact mood to one of sympathy with a touch of anger and then to understanding and tenderness in the span of three minutes must have been a hard chore. At the age of 10, I had nary a clue what “Easy” really meant. When I reached high school, though, the raw honesty, emotion and depth of the lyrics became clear.
Never released as a U.S. single, “Easy” became an overseas hit and the subject of a very early music video. Had conservative country radio been ready to openly discuss the matter at hand, “Easy” would have surely been a chart-topper. Thinking back on it, I may remember “Easy” so well from the infamous episode when my mother heard me singing along and asked me if I even knew what the words meant. Without thinking, I responded with a short, “No, but it’s a hell of a tune, ain’t it?” She bleeped me all the way to my bedroom.
- “Didn’t She Really Thrill Them (Back in 1924)”
Even though I was wet behind the ears when this one was recorded, I connected with the song immediately. I may have been a legal resident of Maine, having moved there at the age of 3 months, but Mainers only accept someone as a native if they are born inside the state lines. As far as they were concerned, I was “From Away.” Summers spent in Texas did little to hide the Scarlet “FA” on my sleeve. I may have been considered an outsider in New England and a Yankee in Texas, but those summers in the South allowed me to experience rural life. Northeast Texas’ Lamar County, my summer home (and the roots of the modern Rutherford family), is still 99.7% rural. For a kid, that statistic translated to “99.7% old folks.”
The lyrics of “Didn’t She Really Thrill Them” still stirs my senses today. The story of an old maid and a schoolgirl takes me back to the many hours I spent around those Texas ladies who, at the time, seemed ancient.
Duane Allen’s trademark smooth delivery brings memories of sipping iced tea on a Texas porch. I can picture myself in the shoes of the schoolgirl (well, make it schoolboy, in my case) who made daily visits to the old maid’s house. Rather than trying on dresses and looking at old dance cards, I could be found sucking on three or four lemon drops that had melted together in a cut-glass bowl because old people hadn’t yet discovered the convenience of air conditioning.
In the end, “Didn’t She Really Thrill Them” isn’t really a song about an old maid and a teenage girl. It’s about choices — making choices that may be unpopular with some and living with the choices that can’t be undone. The ORB’s lawyers should have sued George Jones’ songwriter for stealing their idea 20 years later.
- “An Old Time Family Bluegrass Band”
My dad was a bluegrass fan when I was a kid, but I didn’t get it. Sure, I loved “The Beverly Hillbillies” theme, but bluegrass was way too primitive for me. How about using some electricity when you cut an album?
“An Old-Time Family Bluegrass Band” changed my attitude. I became downright addicted to the sweet cocktail of fiddles, mandolins, guitars and banjos featured in the song. Despite his Philadelphia upbringing, Joe Bonsall puts on a pretty good impersonation of having been reared in the deep woods of Eastern Kentucky. The song is the story of bluegrass itself and depicts the genre in no uncertain terms.
No one can walk away from “An Old-Time Family Bluegrass Band” without understanding that bluegrass music is all about preserving the rural lifestyle, simpler times, and the sense of family among those who may have been separated by miles of
- “Dig a Little Deeper in the Well”
As hard as it is, I’m breaking away from 1977 and skipping ahead two years to the ORB’s third album, “The Oak Ridge Boys Have Arrived.” For anyone who inexplicably missed out on the debut album, the hit songs “Sail Away” and “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” and Richard Sterban’s masterpiece “Dream On” undoubtedly caught their attention.
For my money, though, there isn’t a better song in the bunch than “Dig a Little Deeper in the Well.” The upbeat tune features each vocalist’s distinct tone, the perfect harmonies pulling the listener into the recording studio. The song is even better live and has been a favorite at every ORB concert I’ve attended, playing second fiddle only to “Elvira.” “Dig a Little Deeper in the Well” is classic country at its finest, its lyrical euphemisms and energy carrying through until the band hits the tune’s last abrupt note.
That’s all for this time. Tune in next month for the last five ORB songs I believe should be gold. Merry Christmas to all!
Since retiring from a career as an outdoor recreation professional from the State of Arkansas, Kris Rutherford has worked as a freelance writer and, with his wife, owns and publishes a small Northeast Texas newspaper, The Roxton Progress. Kris has worked as a ghostwriter and editor and has authored seven books of his own. He became interested in the trucking industry as a child in the 1970s when his family traveled the interstates twice a year between their home in Maine and their native Texas. He has been a classic country music enthusiast since the age of nine when he developed a special interest in trucking songs.