Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Good Time Charlie

Back in January I picked up a used copy of Charlie Rich: The Complete Smash Sessions (Mercury) for four bucks at an antique store in Georgetown. That certainly has turned out to be a fine deal. I've been listening to it constantly when I cook.

1965’s “Mohair Sam” was Rich’s only hit single on Smash, but in listening to the seamless way he mixes country, pop, rock, and R&B, you start to realize that this is where Elvis Presley got a lot of his ideas about reinventing himself as an adult pop star. Unlike Elvis, who was primarily a vocalist (albeit a brilliant one), Rich was also a formidable songwriter, pianist, and arranger. He went from proto-countrypolitan (“Something Just Came Over Me”) to blue-eyed soul (“Dance of Love") to harrowing torch songs (“The Best Years”) to cornpone novelty (“She’s A Yum Yum”) without missing a beat. Rich’s assimilation of so many genres surely contributed to his long commercial dry patch.

Rich finally broke through in his Forties with the Billy Sherrill-produced Behind Closed Doors in 1973. A couple of years after that, he upended the Country Music Awards by setting fire to the envelope announcing John Denver as Entertainer of the Year. While it is often assumed Rich did this because Denver wasn’t “country enough" (an odd position for a genre-crosser like Rich) Charlie Rich Jr. says it had more to do with his dad’s sense of humor along with some help from booze and painkillers.

Regardless of why he did it, it was pretty cool of the Silver Fox to set that envelope on fire. Nashville is forever asking for a good shit-shaking like that.

Charlie Rich died in 1995. To date, he still hasn’t been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think the Country Hall of Fame is too limiting for a man of Rich's talents. Which is probably why he and Nashville barely got along in the first place.

Ever hear his final album Pictures & Paintings? It's essentially a jazz record. And a beautiful one, as well.

If I believed in a god, I'd ask him/her to bless the soul of Charlie Rich.