In last month’s Rhythm of the Road, I began a countdown of the Top 10 songs recorded by the Oak Ridge Boys (ORB) that, in my opinion, should have topped the country music charts — but somehow were overlooked.
And so, without further ado, let’s continue the countdown of the obscure but outstanding cuts from the soon-to-be retired Oak Ridge Boys:
- “Dancing the Night Away”
Country radio didn’t seem to care for five-minute recordings in the ’70s. A few novelty songs like “Convoy” managed to top the charts, but songwriters seemed hooked on what I call the “Rhinestone Cowboy Formula”: Verse 1, Chorus, Verse 2, Chorus, Repeat Chorus, Fade.
“Dancing the Night Away,” featuring Joe Bonsall’s elevated tenor offered a whole new ORB sound. Perhaps an intentional throwback to Bonsall’s American Bandstand days, the song abandoned pure country for a bit of rock/pop. It should have exposed the ORB to fans from other walks of life.
Now, anyone who knows me knows I am no fan of crossover country … but this tune showcased the ORB’s diversity and ability to perform gospel, classic country and pop. Little did we know the song was a precursor of things to come just a couple of years later.
- “I Would Crawl All the Way to the River”
In 1981, ORB fans snatched up copies of “Fancy Free,” the multi-platinum album that remains the group’s top seller to this day. This album, of course, is best known for the ORB’s signature song and megahit “Elvira.” In fact, “Elvira” alone likely carried the album to its success and entrenched the ORB as a major player across musical genres. The tune drove the Boys into the crossover ranks, but without the “in your face” plunge a few unnamed country artists took. (Yes, at least one of those gamblers won big-time, but was it really good for country music? But I digress.)
While “Fancy Free” took the ORB to an entirely new level in the national spotlight, the album also returned them to their gospel roots. The only thing I knew about gospel music at the time came from mouthing my “ABCs” silently as a congregation belted out seemingly unending verses from dusty church hymnals. In short, my gospel exposure was boring. No offense to any gospel aficionados who may be reading, and I am certainly not demeaning religious songs, but any kid exposed to off-key singing accompanied by an out-of-tune piano would have had the same reaction.
I’d heard the ORB was actually founded as a gospel group and that they remained so until I picked up their first country album, but I couldn’t name a single gospel song they’d recorded. The lively hidden gem from this album, “I Would Crawl All the Way to the River,” made me seek out some of those early tunes that earned the ORB multiple Dove Awards. Gospel, I realized, wasn’t necessarily painfully slow, poorly sung songs from the pews of a church with bad acoustics and an outdoor toilet. Thanks to this song — the last on Side 2 of the album — I discovered earlier ORB recordings like “Heaven Bound” and “The Baptism of Jessie Taylor.” Both have become favorites.
- “Would They Love Him Down in Shreveport”
In 1982, ORB’s “Bobby Sue” album introduced fans to a girl that I suppose must be the third lady in a string of the Boy’s hearts’ desires, after “Emmylou” and “Elvira.”
For the second straight album, the ORB included a gospel tune to offset the title cut — a song that may be the most energetic they ever recorded. This time, the gospel selection couldn’t have been more opposite from the album’s hit. “Would They Love Him Down in Shreveport,” which was also recorded by George Jones in 1990 (do I sense a pattern here?), didn’t offer the up-tempo energy of “I Would Crawl All the Way to the River,” but by this time, I was actually beginning to pay real attention to lyrics — and the words to this song quickly grew on me.
I’ve always been a bit of a geography nerd, so the featured cities of Nashville, New York City (Wall Street), Wichita, Salt Lake City, Boston and Shreveport naturally piqued my curiosity. The words, however which wrapped around a religious theme, stretch far beyond gospel and hold deep meaning in secular life as well. While several cities are called out by name, any American town could be inserted in place of any on the list. The lyrics offer no condemnation of those who live in these places; however, they do highlight stereotypes and prejudices that are simply a fact of life in all areas of the country.
Featuring all four vocalists in separate verses, “Would They Love Him Down in Shreveport” forces the listener to look inward. Duane Allen seemingly directs the song’s final word to the individual: “Would you laugh and call him crazy and send him on his way?” The question forces each to face his or her own pitfalls and accept their own prejudices. Gospel or not, the theme can’t help but resonate with anyone who pays attention.
- “My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me”
Any list of ORB favorites would be incomplete without including a song featuring contra-bass Richard Sterban.
Long before he “Oom-pop-a-mow-mowed” his way into country music history, you could find Sterban “On the radi-i-o-i-o-o.” Oddly enough, “My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me” isn’t country … and it isn’t pop. Technically, it’s a pure 1970’s funk tune (I admit I found that on Wikipedia, so it must be true). I’d forgotten all about funk music. From what I can tell, a funk group called Graham Central Station actually recorded the song a year before the ORB. So, here we have a group of four guys who can sing gospel, country, crossover-country and pop — and I can now add funk to the mix! Allow me to pause while I take some deep breaths as this sinks in. Well, at least the ORB haven’t released any heavy metal …yet.
I guess a little funk makes sense. As I recall from my vague memory of the genre, it was all about fun, and “My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me” is nothing if not a fun tune. Don’t try to find any depth in the lyrics, because they are pretty shallow. As a matter of fact, is it even possible to put the lyrics of this song in writing? Every once in a while, it’s nice to read a piece of corny poetry from Robert Frost or find some William Faulkner short story he enjoyed writing but would probably rather forget. Such is the case with “My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me.” You gotta love it. Incidentally, are you aware that the word “funk” is derived from an African word meaning “bad body odor?” It’s amazing what you can learn on Wikipedia!
- “Old Time Lovin’”
You can say I lack creativity all you want, but when I’m looking for ORB hidden gems, I just can’t get away from the year 1977. Once again a few years ahead of my age (at least at the time) in subject matter, “Old Time Lovin’” is another slice of undeniably classic country music.
This cut, like so many others in the ORB discography, features a solo for each member and teases the ear with a bluegrass-country blend. The arrangement of harmonies versus the lead, tenor, baritone and bass solos on this recording keeps every vocalist fully engaged. Richard Sterban’s bass sets a perfect lead-in to the harmonic, “How I want that old time love again with you” on two occasions, and the change of key in the oft-repeated ending chorus is the icing on the cake. Plus, the ORB performed the song on an episode of “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Can it get any more country?
With that, we’ve covered nine ORB non-hit songs you may have never heard of before. What’s No. 10? Check back next month to find out!
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.