Sunday, November 23, 2008

20 Essential "Alt" Country Albums of the 1970s, Part 1 of 2



STWOF Mix #1:
01. Jerry Jeff Walker - Sangria Wine (0:00)
02. Terry Allen - Amarillo Highway (4:12)
03. Willie Nelson – Devil In A Sleepin’ Bag (7:58)
04. Billy Joe Shaver – Old Five & Dimers Like Me (10:36)
05. Waylon Jennings – Honky Tonk Heroes (13:15)
06. The Flatlanders – Tonight I Think I'm Gonna Go Downtown (16:45)
07. Guy Clark – L.A. Freeway (19:23)
08. Joe Ely – Honky Tonk Masquerade (24:15)
09. Doug Sahm – Faded Love (27:59)
10. Butch Hancock – West Texas Waltz (31:55)

Welcome to my first podcast! I hope you like (or can tolerate) the new format. You'll notice that I am taking baby steps. No talking on this podcast, just ten great tracks in a row. Makes a heck of a mix tape.

The theme is Essential "Alt" Country Albums of the 1970s. In terms of artistic merit and musical diversity, country music really came into its own in the 1970s. The epicenter of that development was Texas. While the term "alt-country" wasn't invented until the 1990's when groups like Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown made their mark, the country music coming out of Texas in the 1970's was every bit as "alternative." Alt-country before alt-country was cool. To get a good feel for similar releases from the same era, check out Joe Sixpack's list of 1970's Hillbilly & Outlaw Albums.

The ten albums featured below are one-half of what I would consider to be the 20 essential country, or better yet "alt-country," LPs of the 1970s. (The rest will be presented in STWOF podcast #2.) These are not listed in any particular order, except that I included all Texas artists in the first installment. The only ground rule I followed in making my list was to limit inclusion to one selection per artist. I also left off the more mainstream country artists of the time, even though some are quite deserving. (Remember: Willie and Waylon were "outlaws").

If you like the music featured on this site, then you will LOVE these records, all of which come with the highest possible STWOF seal of approval. If you are looking for a way to stimulate our economy, you couldn't do any better than dropping a few bucks on these classics.

Jerry Jeff Walker – Viva Terlingua (1973)


This one is a ton of fun. Great mood.

AMG Review
Featured Song: Sangria Wine
(buy album)

Terry Allen – Lubbock (On Everything) (1979)


A lost gem from an eclectic and underrated artist.

AMG Review
Featured Song: Amarillo Highway
(buy album)

Willie Nelson – Shotgun Willie (1973)


Willie had a few other LPs in the running for this list, especially Red-Headed Stranger, but in the end something told me to go with this one.

AMG Review
Featured Song: Devil In A Sleepin’ Bag
(buy album)

Billy Joe Shaver – Old Five And Dimers Like Me (1973)


Billy Joe's debut is a Texas tour de force.

AMG Review
Featured Song: Old Five & Dimers Like Me
(buy album)

Waylon Jennings – Honky Tonk Heroes (1973)

A surprisingly close call between this landmark album and Waylon's other masterpiece, Dreaming My Dreams, but HTH just can't be denied. One of my all-time favorite records of any era or genre.

AMG Review
Featured Song: Honky Tonk Heroes
(buy album)

The Flatlanders – More A Legend Than A Band (1972)

This one's definitely a desert island disc for me, though it probably would play better on a barren plain. Legendary is no exaggeration for this collection from Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, and Butch Hancock. Recorded in 1972 and only released on 8-track for a limited run until this reissue in 1990.

AMG Review
Featured Song: Tonight I Think I'm Gonna Go Downtown
(buy album)

Guy Clark – Old No. 1 (1975)

Guy is one of the great Texas songwriters. His debut is chock full of classics.

AMG Review
Featured Song: L.A. Freeway
(buy album)

Joe Ely – Honky Tonk Masquerade (1978)

Joe Ely was born to be a country singer. Even if he had wanted to be a dentist or an accountant, his voice would have compelled him to switch careers. When you hear him, you hear country. This album is probably his best.

AMG Review
Featured Song: Honky Tonk Masquerade
(buy album for cheap!)

Doug Sahm – Doug Sahm and Band (1973)

This album, which is as much blues as it is country, just feels like Texas. (That's why I picked a Bob Wills song to feature.) For more about Doug Sahm, check out The Adios Lounge.

AMG Review
Featured Song: Faded Love
(buy album)

Butch Hancock - West Texas Waltzes & Dust-Blown Tractor Tunes (1978)

Here is the "roughest" voice of The Flatlanders accompanied only by harmonica and guitar. Very Woody Guthrie-esque. Maybe the least accessible of today's features, but definitely worth checking out.

AMG Review
Featured Song: West Texas Waltz
(buy album)

Any guesses on the other 10 albums? (Hint: The next batch is a bit folkier and not all from Texas.)

16 comments:

S.M.Vidaurri said...

Really great, I listened to it a few times.

kreutzman said...

Nicely done...I'll be hunting some of these CDs down now.

The Jacket said...

That Sir, is a mighty fine ten. Would the other ten have one by Townes in there somewhere?

Paul said...

Thanks guys!

As for Townes, all I can say is that the next batch has three more Texans. That's 13 out of 20 of my picks associated with Texas. (Not all were actually born in Texas).

Then I've a got a few stragglers from places like Kentucky, Florida and Missouri.

The Jacket said...

Methinks Ray Wylie Hubbard may make an appearance, maybe

Dave D. said...

Good start, Paul. Hopefully, Commander Cody makes the next ten.

John said...

I'm really enjoying this. So great that this started off with "Sangria Wine." Love that tune, so I imagine I'll love the rest.

Vaughn said...

FANTASTIC! So the next one features someone from Missouri; would that someone be Gene Clark?

brendan said...

going to love this podcast series. hey paul i'm going to austin tx tomorrow for the first time. with the spirit of these songs in tow.

godoggo said...

Kinda sorta almost relevant in that it's about "alt country before alt country was cool": it seems to have become standard to apply the term retroactively to the '80s L.A. scene documented in the "Town South of Bakersfield" compilation (Vols. 1&2 and Vol. 3 - hey, look! now-famous country singers!), which I really ought to buy one of these days.

Nice podcast!

Paul said...

godoggo - you have predicted one of my future podcasts: Alt-Country Before Alt Country Was Cool, 1980's edition! Stay tuned.

eric said...

Great! all of these are wonderful, Viva Terlingua! if there was one "scene" i wish i could have been a part of it would have been Austin in the early mid 70's. everybody was such good friends and you can hear that in the music. the collaboration between all the artists was really incredible.

Anonymous said...

Liked your podcast with great material as usual. A comment on the new format - as individual song files, I might have been tempted to skip over some but this way I was happy to play them all through. (Maybe I'm too lazy to click the mouse button a few times!) As for the songs that I already have in my CD collection, I'm happy enough to hear them again. Furthermore, I highly doubt you would ever post a song that I'd want to skip over so that's no problem. Cheers and thanks again,
Dave

HM said...

Paul--excellent start to your podcasting career! Thanks for listing the start times in the tracklist as well. Looking forward to future podcasts.

Nolan said...

Great podcast. Can't wait for the next one! Wonderful collection of material.

Greg said...

I was lucky to find your blog. The podcasts are first rate: I listened to both, moving through your notes and links, twice. Please keep it going. 20 songs for the ages.