Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Tennessee Plowboy

A few weeks ago we had a lively conversation on the Bus about the definitive country music song. The whole discussion was instigated by Paul over at Setting The Woods On Fire when he posted his choices for the definitive song to represent country music.

This past weekend Paul sent me a link to a few comments at Nashville Scene (scroll down to “WHAT IS COUNTRY MUSIC?:”) I didn’t read the original article that spurred these comments, but I see that the commenters echoed the comments made by riders on the Bus.

I did not set out to rekindle the discussion, but came across some interesting commercial statistics that I thought I would share. But first I must divulge a few secrets.

Aside from being an avid record collector and history buff, I am also a collector of books. My library is filled with books that are harmonious with my other interests (music, history, sociology...) I often refer to these volumes for inspiration and facts when preparing a post for the Bus.

Whenever I need to know commercial information about a song or artist, such as how long a song remained on the charts or how many records a particular artist sold in a certain year, I rely on Whitburn. Joel Whitburn founded Record Research Inc., with a staff of researchers that document, in full detail, all of Billboard’s various popular music (and now video) charts from the first issue in 1894 up to the current issue. Joel Whitburn is an avid record collector with one of the world’s largest record collections. His collection includes nearly every 78 rpm record, 45 rpm single, LP, and compact disc to appear on the Billboard charts dating back to the late 1890s.

According to Whitburn, George Jones (who’s “He Stopped Loving Her Today” was Paul’s choice as the most representative country song) has had more individual hits on the country charts than anyone else. The fact that Jones has had more hits on the charts during (most of) our lifetime would bias our opinion of what country music is.

But Whitburn uses a complex formula for ranking hits and the amount of time they spend on the charts. Whitburn’s formula gives the title of all-time leader in hits and their time on the country charts to Eddy Arnold! Whitburn lists 145 songs by Arnold that reached the charts, with 28 hitting the top at #1.

So, as the top ranking country artist (as defined by the most top hits on the charts for the longest time, per Whitburn), is the Tennessee Plowboy the most representative country artist?

Never mind, let’s not even go there again. Let’s just listen to a couple of great songs from another old 78 loaned to us by Walt’s Cousin Wes.

Eddy Arnold [The Tennessee Plowboy] - Enclosed, One Broken Heart.mp3

Eddy Arnold [The Tennessee Plowboy] - Cuddle Buggin' Baby.mp3


Anonymous Paul said...


I may be changing the topic a bit, but I suspect if there were a way to statistically measure "influence" (both on other music and on the lives and listening habbits of music fans), then Hank Williams would be the champ of the genre. But I suspect "influence" is beyond statistical measure. (I guess that's why we need critics, and blogs like yours!)

I ask this because--no offense intended to the Tennessee Plowboy--Arnold strikes me as more of a space-filler, holding the top spot on the charts until a genius like Hank comes along and makes a difference in the musical world.

I might have picked "He Stopped Loving Her Today" as the most representative song (and maybe as kind of an endpoint in the genre), but Hank gets my vote for greatest "country" artist. Anyone disagree?

January 27, 2008 11:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is off-topic, so you may want to transfer it to a previous post, but I just want to thank you for your passing reference last fall to "Chicken Cordon Bleus" by Steve Goodman. He often doesn't get his due.

You might be interested in my new 800-page biography, "Steve Goodman: Facing the Music."

Please know that the book's first printing just sold out, all 5,000 copies, and the publisher has authorized a second printing that will be out in late February. To sign up to be notified about the availability of the second printing, visit my Internet site (below) and click on the "mailing list" page. Or you can pre-order a second-printing copy at the "online store" page.

Just trying to spread word about the book. Feel free to do the same!

Clay Eals
1728 California Ave. S.W. #301
Seattle, WA 98116-1958

(206) 935-7515
(206) 484-8008

January 28, 2008 8:07 PM  
Blogger Ed said...


I would be hard pressed to find an argument against Hank as the most influential of country artists. I wouldn’t limit his influence to that of country music; he has left a mark on nearly all American musical styles.

You know, this whole discussion was started by your selecting “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Personally, I remember when the song was released and thought to myself each time I heard it on the radio that George wasn’t up to his usual high standards. I have long been an admirer of George Jones, but that song never really did much for me. I’ll admit now, that when I read your reasoning and only taking into account the heyday of country music of the ‘70s, I think that your choice was an excellent one.

Btw- I checked my email late. I had “Truck Driving Man” by the first chorus, but Ted had already supplied the answer. What a great rendition!

January 28, 2008 9:07 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

I bought a copy of Clay Eals’ incredibly detailed biography of Steve Goodman early last year (did I mention in today’s post that I collect books as well as music?)

For those riders on the Bus that are interested in the amazing story of one of the best songwriters of our day and his inspiring but all-too-short life, I highly recommend visiting to reserve a copy of Mr. Eals’ superbly researched and reverently written story of Steve Goodman.

January 28, 2008 9:07 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...


It's funny how we all hear music differently. I think its not even a matter of person to person, but the same person might have a completely different impression of a song depending on their mood and the circumstances when they first hear it. If you can believe it, I first took notice of "He Stopped Loving Her Today" playing on a jukebox at a little country bar up in Northern Michigan. Perfect conditions! I think it struck me right then that George had nailed his genre. Years later that impression bubbled to the surface of my mind when I decided to do that post. It turns out to be an incredibly boring/common pick, since I later learned that a poll of 500 country music folks (in "the business") came to the same conclusion. Oh well. While I might not have shined a light on anything new, I'm glad it inspired this discussion on your site.


I read your book (or at least I'm working on it) and I feel like Steve is a member of my family. I know more about him than I do about my own sister.

January 28, 2008 9:57 PM  

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