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Biggest Hits-Bobby Bare (1982)

In 1970s, 1978, 1979, country, family, Great Record Stores, greatest hits, record collecting, records, Rich's House of Vinyl on October 7, 2010 at 7:40 pm

Biggest Hits–Bobby Bare (1982)

It usually takes around five hours to drive the 240 miles from the Aston/Boothwyn section of Pennsylvania to Dad’s hometown of Mt. Savage, Maryland, though my grandfather could allegedly do it in three hours. He apparently did not believe in rest stops.

When I was a kid, we’d head out to Mt. Savage a couple times a year—sometimes around Easter, during the summer, and once more around New Year’s. During our trips to and from Western Maryland, Dad used to control the radio.

Since the Volare station wagon didn’t have a tape player (either cassette or 8-track), we’d usually be held captive to Dad’s radio whims. More often than not, these whims revolved around finding a decent AM country music that could be enjoyed until its fading signal could be replaced by another decent AM country music station. And so it went.

Gradually, things like FM radio and Casey Kasem’s countdown shows began to creep into the travel equation, but let’s focus for a minute on those AM country-dominated trips.

Dad would find a station and lock in on it. Lisa and I, in the back seat, would take about as many songs by Conway, Loretta, Conway & Loretta, Charlie Rich and so many others about trucks, mama and jail as we could stand, before we’d beg Dad to find a station that might be playing the latest hit from ABBA or Elton. He’d relent for a while, if he found such a pop station, but then we’d be back to country once the pop signal showed signs of disappearing.

Mom has told me about one trip, which probably would have happened in 1980, during which we couldn’t get away from George Jones’ classic, “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” which, Mom claims, sent me into fits of laughter after hearing it one too many times. This might have been the trip that inspired me to write the words to my own fake country song, “Mama Was a Truck Drivin’ Man.” Which, I should note, was not about my mother.

Memories of those car rides have led me to a more thorough appreciation of country music in the 1970s than I had when we were actually making those trips and “suffering” through those AM stations. The well of country music runs so deep that any time I play an album from those years I feel like I might hear some forgotten (at least by me) classic, a tune I may have been forced to hear four hours into one of our in the Volare journeys–somewhere between Frederick and Flintstone, probably– but haven’t heard since.

A craving for tunes from those times is probably what led me to pick up Bobby Bare’s Biggest Hits compilation from one of the cheap boxes at the Princeton Record Exchange, one of the World’s Great Record Stores. The album’s title is a bit of a misnomer though—while some of the songs on Biggest Hits were undoubtedly popular with Bare’s longtime fans, he did not enjoy as much commercial success in this period of his career (the album covers three albums and a single Bare released from 1978-1981), as he had done previously. In fact, Biggest Hits really marks the last period during which Bare (whose career began in the early ‘60s) enjoyed any real radio play at all.

Lack of commercial success (I probably didn’t hear many of these songs on the Mt. Savage trips) certainly doesn’t dim the quality of the music, which is strong throughout the album.

The subject matter for Bare’s songs—drinking, loving, fighting, cheating—is typical of country songs, at least until he gets to the cross-dressing. Incidentally, all those subjects and more can be found in Biggest Hits’ leadoff track, “Tequila Sheila,” co-written by Mac Davis and frequent Bare songwriter Shel Silverstein. Bare seems to be able to have it both ways, with heartfelt ballads like Rodney Crowell’s “Till I Gain Control Again,” and goofy novelty songs like “Big Dupree” (a humorous song about castration) that usually don’t wear out their welcome too easily.

In addition to “Tequila Sheila,” two other highlights from Biggest Hits — “Numbers” and “Goin’ Back to Texas”—are all taken from Down & Dirty, a raucous 1979 live album that sounds like it would be a good fun listen, if you should ever happen to stumble upon it.

These days, of course, we have way more than just AM country radio stations for our car trips. While I’m sure this is a relief to my kids, I think I’d like to hear some of those stations again.

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