I was employed as a DJ by country formatted WJLM 93.5 FM Roanoke, Virginia in 1977. In early June that year, WJLM program director Gary E. Cooper handed me text for a commercial that he wanted me to create for an upcoming Elvis Presley Roanoke concert, that was scheduled for August 24, 1977.
When I recorded the spot, I used two Elvis songs for a musical bed which I felt like our WJLM listeners would recognize: “Moody Blue” which had been a number 1 hit at my station earlier that year and Presley’s 1956 hit “Don’t be Cruel.”
Forward to August 16, 1977: I was on vacation in Northern Minnesota visiting relatives, when my grandmother Agnes Burt shared tragic news with me: “Elvis had left the building.” Obviously stunned, I couldn’t believe that Presley had died at the young age of 42.
Back in 2017, I had my friend David Hollandsworth digitize some of my old WJLM DJ airchecks from reel-to-reel tape to computer files. Thankfully, the Elvis spot that I recorded was among my saved airchecks and can be heard below; the commercial I created for Presley’s Roanoke show that never happened.
Elvis Presley was just one of many crossover artists that we played on WJLM during 1977. Country radio was evolving and our FM station was on the forefront of airing artists from a wider, more diverse musical mix, compared to existing traditional AM radio country formatted outlets.
With this music blog message, I will chronicle excellent classic country crossover hits from 1977. In this category, I will countdown what I consider to be the premier songs that I played on WJLM 45 years ago.
In laying out parameters on this topic, I must define the term “Country Crossover.” For purposes of this article, the definition has multiple meanings.
A “Country Crossover” refers to songs and/or artists from two directions. First, pop/top 40 artists recording songs that have country music elements and became hits on country radio. Second, proven hit makers within the genre of country music who have hit songs played on pop/top 40 stations and charted on the Billboard Hot 100.
I will be highlighting what I consider to be the best country crossover hits that I played on WJLM Roanoke 45 years ago.
WJLM changed formats in August 1976 from religious programming to playing country music. Our main competition in the Roanoke market was WSLC 610 AM.
WSLC AM primarily played traditional country songs of the 70s and a heavy dose of 50s/ 60s oldies, with roots within the Nashville and Bakersfield sounds of the country music genre.
Core Artists on WSLC: Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Buck Owens, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Bill Anderson, Porter Wagoner. Their format tended not to play pop, outlaw or progressive county songs.
On WJLM, we played mostly current music or songs that were less than 2 years old. Our format aired traditional Nashville/Bakersfield Sound artists but only if those artists were releasing new singles. Virtually no country oldies were featured on the regular WJLM rotation.
Differing from WSLC’s format, WJLM achieved a balanced mix of hits: 50% traditional artists, with the other half being in the “Outlaw/Progressive” genre and/or pop artists that recorded songs that had crossed over to country radio.
Besides traditional country music legends like Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, WJLM core artists included Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, David Allan Coe, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Glen Campbell, Olivia-Newton-John, John Denver, B.J. Thomas, Kenny Rogers, Anne Murray and Elvis Presley.
Since WJLM didn’t have a vast library of older hits, the station was billed as “Roanoke’s New FM Country Leader.” The biggest advantage that we held over WSLC AM: the music sounded better on WJLM as our signal was broadcasted in stereo on the FM band.
When we started playing country music in August 1976, WJLM’s playlist was 100 percent current music. Two of the biggest crossover hits we aired that summer were “One Piece at a Time” by Johnny Cash and “If You Got the Money Honey I’ve Got the Time” from Willie Nelson.
During the remainder of 1976, Gordon Lightfoot’s epic story song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” was my number 1 favorite country crossover that I played on WJLM.
At the beginning of 1977, WJLM rolled out a second slogan for our station: “Your Place in the Country.” This catchy phrase invited listeners to find a new musical home with 93.5 FM.
Before starting the best 1977 classic country crossover singles countdown, I am listing some notable songs that fell outside of my top 20 tabulation for this category.
- Sam—Olivia Newton-John
- You Light Up My Life—Debby Boone
- Margaritaville—Jimmy Buffett
- Say You’ll Stay Until Tomorrow—Tom Jones
- Torn Between Two Lovers—Mary MacGregor
- After the Loving—Engelbert Humperdinck
- How Can I Leave You—John Denver
- Home Where I Belong—B.J. Thomas
I submit to you what I consider to be the top 20 premier country crossover singles that I played on WJLM Roanoke during 1977. These are songs that I deem to be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful or relevant.
20. Right Time of the Night—Jennifer Warnes
Peaked Positions of Billboard Charts: #6 Hot 100, #17 Hot Country Singles
Written by Peter McCann. Debut Top 40 hit for Warnes. “Right Time of the Night” was the first Arista Records song to chart on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles survey.
19. It Was Almost Like a Song—Ronnie Milsap
Peak Positions of Billboard Charts: #1 Hot Country Singles, #16 Hot 100
Peaked at #7 on Billboard’s Hot Adult Contemporary chart. Was nominated for two Grammy Awards.
18. Daytime Friends—Kenny Rogers
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot Country Singles, #13 Adult Contemporary, #28 Hot 100
Title track from Kenny Rogers 1977 album. 2013 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee. Second consecutive number 1 county hit for Rogers in 1977.
17. Crazy—Linda Ronstadt
Peak Positions on Billboard Chart: #6 Hot Country Singles
“Crazy” was written by Willie Nelson and was a huge country smash for Patsy Cline in 1962. This cover version is the first of two Linda Ronstadt countdown songs.
16. Sweet Dreams—Emmylou Harris
Written by Don Gibson and is cover of his 1955 hit. Emmylou Harris won a Grammy Award for “Best Country Vocal Performance” with this song.
15. East Bound and Down—Jerry Reed
Peak Positions on Billboard Chart: #2 Hot Country Singles
Theme song for the 1977 film “Smokey and the Bandit” soundtrack. Lyrics deal with CB radios, truck driving, beer and evading law enforcement across the U.S. south.
14. What a Difference You’ve Made in My Life—Ronnie Milsap
Peak Position on Billboard Chart: #1 Hot Country Singles
Single was the ninth consecutive number 1 country hit for Ronnie Milsap. Simultaneously, Amy Grant also had a cover version of this song, which peaked at #5 on Christian music radio in 1977.
13. It’s a Heartache—Bonnie Tyler
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #3 Hot 100, #10 Hot Country Singles, #10 Adult Contemporary
First hit in America for Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler. “It’s a Heartache” sold over 6 million records world-wide.
12. We’re All Alone—Rita Coolidge
Peak Positions on Billboard: #1 Adult Contemporary, #7 Hot 100
Boz Scaggs wrote “We’re All Alone.” Rita Coolidge’s second pop top ten hit in 1977. After “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher” peaked at #2.
11. Heard It in a Love Song—Marshall Tucker Band
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #14 Hot 100, #25 Adult Contemporary, #51 Hot Country Singles
“Heard It in a Love Song” was the highest charting single in the career of Marshall Tucker Band. Came in as the 57th biggest hit for 1977.
10. Lay Down Sally—Eric Clapton
Peak Positions on Billboard: #3 Hot 100, #26 Hot Country Singles
From the Eric Clapton album, “Slowhand.” Biggest country hit single for the only 3 time member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
9. Lucille—Kenny Rogers
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot Country Singles, #5 Hot 100, #10 Adult Contemporary
Second countdown song for Rogers. It was the first solo hit for the singer after leaving band First Edition. “Lucille” came in as the 43rd biggest pop song for 1977.
8. Southern Nights—Glen Campbell
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot Country Singles, #1 Hot 100, #1 Adult Contemporary
“Southern Nights” was written by Allen Toussaint. Glen Campbell hit the trifecta as his cover hit number 1 on three Billboard charts.
7. Moody Blue—Elvis Presley
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot Country Singles, #2 Adult Contemporary, #31 Hot 100
Elvis Presley’s last number 1 song on any chart. “Moody Blue” was recorded in the Jungle Room of Presley’s Graceland home in Memphis, Tennessee.
6. Blue Bayou—Linda Ronstadt
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #2 Hot Country Singles, #3 Hot 100, #3 Adult Contemporary
Second song on countdown by Linda Ronstadt. Cover version or Roy Orbison’s 1963 international hit. “Blue Bayou” is now considered a signature song by the 2014 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee.
5. New Kid in Town—Eagles
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, #2 Adult Contemporary, #43 Hot Country Singles
New Kid in Town” was pinned by Don Henley, Glenn Frey and J.D. Souther. First single from “Hotel California” album. Song won a Grammy Award for “Best Vocal Arrangement for Two or More Voices.”
4. (You Never Can Tell ) C’est La Vie—Emmylou Harris
Peak Position on Billboard Chart: #4 Hot Country Singles
Emmylou Harris covered Chuck Barry’s 1964 hit “You Never Can Tell.” From the album “Luxury Liner.” Ricky Skaggs plays an up-tempo Cajun fiddle on the song.
3. Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue—Crystal Gayle
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot Country Singles, #2 Hot 100, #4 Adult Contemporary
Crystal Gayle had the second biggest county hit in 1977 with single. “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” won a Grammy Award for “Best Female Country Vocal Performance.” ASCAP ranks Gayle’s hit as one of the ten most-performed songs of the 20th century.
2. Here You Go Again—Dolly Parton
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot Country Singles, #2 Adult Contemporary, #3 Hot 100
Dolly Parton’s first pop crossover hit. Spent 5 weeks at #1 on county singles chart. Second biggest county record for 1978. Also won a Grammy Award the same year for “Best Female Country Vocal Performance.”
- Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)—Waylon Jennings
Peak Positions on Billboard Hot 100 charts: #1 Hot Country Singles, #16 Adult Contemporary, #25 Hot 100.
My number 1 song on the countdown is also the number 1 biggest country record for 1977. The Waylon Jennings hit features guest vocals by Willie Nelson on the final refrain of the song.
Lyrics of “Luckenbach, Texas” include country music artists Hank Williams, Mickey Newbury, Jerry Jeff Walker, Waylon, Willie and the title of Nelson’s 1975 hit “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”
Without a doubt, “Luckenbach, Texas” is the number 1 country crossover song that I played on WJLM in 1977.
Now that I have submitted my top country songs of 1977, I am curious to find out your opinions on this topic. What are your favorite songs on my countdown?
Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with my critique of country crossover songs from 1977. The songs that you might feel are the best, may be completely different from my selections.
Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts and comments below on what you consider to be the best country crossover hits from 45 years ago. I look forward reading your responses. Rock on!
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