Friday, April 19, 2024

Texas Top 40: the greatest recordings from the music mecca

by Michael Corcoran, 2005

Which ones would you add/ subtract?

  1. “YOU’RE GONNA MISS ME” by 13 Floor Elevators (1966). Psychedelia is born as the region rocks to a new soul shouter named Roky Erickson.

The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators

  1. .“I FOUGHT THE LAW” by the Bobby Fuller Four (1966). Written by Sonny Curtis (who would later pen “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” theme) and originally recorded by the post-Buddy Holly Crickets, the definitive version was by these guitar-rockers from El Paso.
  1. . “THAT’LL BE THE DAY” by Buddy Holly (1957). Perhaps the most influential single in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, Holly’s first smash hit provided the model for the gtr-gtr-bs-drms four-piece that would rule pop music for decades.
  1. “HONKY TONK HEROES” by Waylon Jennings (1973). This revved-up version of the Billy Joe Shaver song proved Waylon to be the Elvis Presley of country music, a forceful vocalist who made every song he touched his own. The band, meanwhile, shook up the “countrypolitan” climate with a fat, sweaty groove honed in the roadhouses from Amarillo to Beaumont.
  1. “DARK WAS THE NIGHT (COLD WAS THE GROUND)” by Blind Willie Johnson (1927). The moaning instrumental Ry Cooder calls “the most soulful, transcendent piece in all American music.
  1. .“HE STOPPED LOVING HER TODAY” by George Jones (1980). An epic of emotion from the Beaumont hillbilly who became country’s best-ever singer.
  1. “MIND PLAYIN’ TRICKS ON ME” by Geto Boys (1991). Inner-city blues made these Houston rappers wanna holler. Pouring their paranoia over a slinky Isaac Hayes sample, the G.B.’s took gangsta rap to a headier space.

    Waylon by Scott Newton.
    Waylon by Scott Newton.
  1. “ONLY THE LONELY” by Roy Orbison (1960). This West Texan master of operatic pop set the stage for his brooding persona with this majestic hit. “There goes my baby/There goes my heart,” he sings, as the drums snap a cold cadence. “Maybe tomorrow a new romance/No more sorrow, that’s a chance you’ve got to take,” he finishes with a voice that knows resolve.
  1. “BLUE EYES CRYIN’ IN THE RAIN” by Willie Nelson (1975). An early look at Willie’s interpretive genius. Not only a sign of “Stardust” to come, but 2:17 that anchors “Red-Headed Stranger.”

10. “WOOLLY BULLY” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs (1965). The rollickingTex-Mex party anthem continues to fill dance floors and drivers’ hearts.

  1. “MIDNIGHT SPECIAL” by Leadbelly (1936). A traditional prison daydream ode about a train that, if its light shone on you, you’d be freed, updated when the man born Huddie Ledbetter was doing time in Sugarland.

12. “TIGHTEN UP” by Archie Bell and the Drells (1968). One of the first records to recognize that sometimes a groove is all you need.

  1. “WOMAN BE WISE” by Sippie Wallace (1925). The model for Bonnie Raitt’s sassiness came from this gutbucket blues number about keeping good love to yourself.
  1. “LA GRANGE” by ZZ Top (1973). A classic-rock eternal that never fails to bring out the air guitars.
  1. “ELLIS UNIT ONE” by Steve Earle (1995). Springsteen got the title track to “Dead Man Walking,” but Earle buried him with this dark exploration of life in a prison town.
  1. “EL PASO” by Marty Robbins (1959). Between Robbins’ sturdy vocals and Grady Martin’s exotic guitar, you can almost feel the spirit of border town love.
  1. “SHE’S ABOUT A MOVER” by the Sir Douglas Quintet (1965). Producer Huey P. Meaux posed them as Brits, but there was no mistaking where this chunk o’ fun came from: Texas (and Ray Charles).
  1. “WALKIN’ THE FLOOR OVER YOU” by Ernest Tubb (1941). The ultimate honky tonk song and the first country hit to feature electric guitar.

  1. “OKIE DOKIE STOMP” by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. Other guitarists can do T-Bone Walker, but no one besides Gatemouth could play this one the right way.
  1. “BEFORE THE NEXT TEARDROP FALLS” by Freddy Fender (1975). Born Baldemar Huerta, Fender made his pop breakthrough with this No. 1 single that sounds like doo-wop finally reaching the Rio Grande Valley.
  1. “WALK AROUND” by Soul Stirrers (1939). The blueprint for doo-wop and soul was laid out in this recording by the gospel quartet from Trinity. On the South Side of Chicago, future Stirrer Sam Cooke was listening.
  1. “LONG BLACK VEIL” by Lefty Frizzell (1959). This tragic story of loyalty and love wins the coin toss with “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time.”
  1. “MATCHBOX BLUES” by Blind Lemon Jefferson (1927). Just as he moved from Mexia to Dallas and then to Chicago (where he was found frozen to death in a snowbank in 1929), this sightless singer is credited with taking blues from the fields to the barrelhouses to the urban centers.
  1. “MAL HOMBRE” by Lydia Mendoza (1938). This single hit big with Hispanics all over the country and Mexico and helped usher in the Tejano subgenre.
  1. “DANCE FRANNY DANCE” by Floyd Dakil Combo (1964). A Texas bar band standard. Substitute “Linda Lu” by Ray Sharpe, “Treat Her Right” by Roy Head or “Thunderbird” by the Nitecaps, if you prefer. They all created a huge rumble that is still felt today in dark, smoky clubs.
  1. “NEW SAN ANTONIO ROSE” by Bob Wills (1944). A distillation of all that is pure Western Swing (though “Ida Red” was a close second in the Wills slot for providing the pattern for Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline”).
  1. “GET ON BOARD LITTLE CHILLUN” by Ella Mae Morse (1945). Not “Cow Cow Boogie,” the first-ever gold record for Capitol? What about the original version of “House of Blue Lights”? Nah, this one swings harder, making full use of this Mansfield native’s elastic vocals.
  1. “PANCHO AND LEFTY” by Townes Van Zandt (1971). Dozens of great Townes songs are represented here by his most famous.
  1. “HARPER VALLEY PTA” by Jeannie C. Riley (1968). This song of small town hypocrisy, written by Tom T. Hall, became the hit of the year by this singer from Anson, Texas.
  1. “PIECE OF MY HEART” by Janis Joplin (1968). Never before has vulnerability sounded so powerful than when this outcast from Port Arthur got her revenge.

    Janis Joplin circa 1962.
    Janis Joplin circa 1962.
  1. “YOU’LL LOSE A GOOD THING” by Barbara Lynn (1962). Another Meaux discovery, this left-handed guitarist from Beaumont straddled the border between Texas and Louisiana with this Top Tenner that shook up a stale national music scene for a while.
  1. “DRIFTIN’ BLUES” by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers (1945). This smooth blues hit, written and sung by Blazer Charles Brown, was a primary influence on Ray Charles’ early style. (Note: Guitarist Johnny Moore grew up in East Austin.)

33 “SUNDAY MORNING COMING DOWN” by Kris Kristofferson (1972). Stark, honest storytelling and a voice that seizes the details

  1. “DALLAS” by Joe Ely (1972). “Have you ever seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night” is a great opening line (by Jimmie Gilmore), and Ely keeps up the intrigue with his heel-grinding delivery.
  1. “WILD SIDE OF LIFE” by Hank Thompson (1959). A hit from the Waco-born honky tonker so massive it registered an answer song, Kitty Wells’ “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.”

    Ella Mae Morse
    Ella Mae Morse
  1. “GOING DOWN” by Freddie King (1971). King had ripped better on other tracks –“Hideaway,” “Have You Ever Loved a Woman,” “Remington Ride,” “In the Open,” etc. — but this one gets the nod for the stamina to survive so many bad barroom versions. Nice piano by Leon Russell, too.
  1. “STREETS OF LAREDO” by Gene Autry (1936). An incredibly deep song and the version that made it famous. (Note: Autry is also responsible for the best Texas Christmas song. He co-wrote “Here Comes Santa Claus.”)
  1. “TRUCK DRIVER BLUES” by Ted Daffan (1939). This steel guitarist from the Houston area had a bigger hit with “Born To Lose,” but this number, which introduced the truck drivin’ song to country radio, had greater implications.
  1. “JOLE BLON” by Harry Choates (1947). The Cajun national anthem was given itsdefinitive version by a wild-eyed fiddler from Port Arthur.
  1. “SINCE I MET YOU BABY” by Ivory Joe Hunter (1956). A blues ballad that meets rock ‘n’ roll head on and doesn’t flinch.



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