Broadcasting, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio

1977 Classic Country Crossover Hits

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.

Above is Dave Woodson radio commercial for Elvis Presley concert: August, 24th, 1977. Aired on WJLM Roanoke, June & July 1977.
Photo of my vinyl record album of “Luxury Liner” by Emmylou Harris

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.

Above is audio clip of David Woodson WJLM 93.5 Roanoke July 1977 and September 1977.

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 penned 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.”

  1. 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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17 thoughts on “1977 Classic Country Crossover Hits

  1. Bernard Johnson says:

    As I will never be an aficionado of C&W music, I do enjoy a few songs of the past, glad they qualify for your list.

    Smokey and the Bandit, 1 and 2, were my all time favorite movies with Jackie Gleason who played a perfect character (Buford T Justice) to me. “East Bound and Down” Jerry Reed was the perfect song for that movie as Bert and Jerry were “East Bound”

    2. “Southern Nights” I was a big GC Fan and love all his music. His death was so sad.

    3. “New Kid in Town” Eagles – Didn’t realize it was a C&W song.

    My 1st Duty Station in the AF was Abilene TX. Couldn’t help but enjoy C&W if you like all music

    • Sharon Voltz says:

      I remember all of these songs vividly! I am “Country!” However, loved Bonnie Tyler, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt.
      Great article and selection of songs!!

  2. Larry Dowdy says:

    Country crossovers have always played well with Top 40 radio, especially in the 70s and early to mid 80s. When it comes to my favorite Country Crossovers from 1977, my Top 5:
    5. East Bound and Down – Jerry Reed (Also loved “When You’re Hot You’re Hot” “Amos Moses” and Jerry playing guitar for Elvis on “Guitar Man.”
    4. Here You Come Again – Dolly Parton
    3. Southern Nights – Glen Campbell
    2. New Kid in Town – Eagles
    1. Blue Bayou – Linda Ronstadt

    • Terrie Martin says:

      Linda Ronstadt definitely!!! Margaritaville
      New kid in town
      Jerry Reed
      Bonnie Tyler
      I would have to say these are my faves, but there are more that are pretty awesome. This was a great article as usual!!!
      Thank you David

  3. Dave Delaney says:

    Like most people, I know the odd country song here or there, and I’ve loved artists like Johnny Cash and really old school like Hank Williams, so it’s not *that* far off track for me to dig into country songs. Even the Beatles were deeply influenced by “rockabilly” – their first record “Love Me Do” was in that genre. But it’s also pretty common (especially these days of course) for the popular of country songs to come and go with me never even hearing it. So I guess I know about half of these songs on this list, but others I just have no idea! haha!

  4. Laurie Russell says:

    Another excellent read. I have always liked crossover music. Eagles have been a long time favorite of mine, and I have always loved Linda Rondstadt and Emmy Lou Harris no matter what they were singing. Hard not to like Waylon and Willie as well as, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. Thanks for you opinions and input!

  5. Sandra K says:

    Thank you Dave for another great blog. My dad was a Trucker so we heard Classic county every day in the car. I haven’t heard these songs in forever. East Bound and Down was great fun. Many favorites here and it pure joy to hear and learn about them!

  6. George Ahl says:

    Luckenbach, Texas was one of the first Country songs that I liked as a kid. Southern Nights has always been a very catchy tune with great piano rolls. Love this list! Great Job Dave!

  7. Dave Burt says:

    Out of the thousands of songs I love, I have no clue which ones came out in 77.
    I did not recognize a couple songs by name but the second they started playing I thought how could I not remember that, I love that song. Thanks for the memories!

  8. David Randall Hardie says:

    Country music and heavy metal are the same to me. I am not an avid fan of either but certainly do appreciate some artists. Ken Burn’s Documentary on Country Music was fabulous. Elvis could sing in any category and Linda Ronstadt, just about everything she sings is okay by me. Great blog David

  9. Bruce Bias says:

    A good song is a good song. A song by a pop artist sung with a country vibe is as good as a good country song done by a pop singer. Don’t remember who said it, but the quote was to the likes of ” put a steel guitar and fiddle to it and you got country. Take them away and you have pop”

  10. Derek Zboran says:

    Another awesome article! Thanks, Dave. I am currently investigating classic country and roots-based music related to Nashville, TN. Interesting to read about country music from the perspective of crossover hits. “Lay Down Sally” with Eric Clapton is one of my favorite tunes. “Southern Nights” by Glenn Campbell… WOW! That was good. Had not heard it before. Thanks for introducing me to it via your article!

  11. Alan Lee says:

    WOW, what a walk down memory lane. Teresa and I often go to YouTube at night playing the “oldies”. Trying to remember them all is the hard part. Your list brings many back, we’ll be listening to them tonight.

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