Remembering Eddy Arnold
What a voice. That is running through my mind as I put this post together, while listening to the album, “My World”, by the legendary Eddy Arnold. I’ve probably had this platter on the turntable hundreds of times (and the disc is starting to sound like it, by the way), and it still is one of my favorite albums of all time.
Eddy, in my opinion, possessed one of the truly greatest voices that ever played on country radio. One of country music’s first great crooners, Eddy, along with Red Foley, paved the way for others of that similar style to have success, such as George Morgan and Jim Reeves.
There is so much we could talk about with Eddy Arnold; his music, his business interests, among them. But in the interest of time and space, today, we’ll concentrate mainly on his music.
Eddy’s story began way back in 1918, May 15th, to be exact, near Hendersonville, Tennessee, where his father was a farmer. Both of Eddy’s parents were musically inclined, as his father was a fiddler, while his mother played guitar, an instrument that young Eddy would later take up as well. At the age of eleven, Eddy and his family’s world was turned upside down, when his father passed away. The death of his father threw his family into poverty, causing them to lose their farm, and forcing them into sharecropping. Like many of his generation, Eddy worked to help his family, as well as singing at local functions, where he could earn extra money, as well. Eddy started his career on radio in Jackson, Tennessee, and would later also work for stations in Memphis, Tennessee and St. Louis, Missouri.
It was 1940 when Eddy became the featured singer for Pee Wee King’s Golden West Cowboys, and Eddy would remain with Pee Wee King until 1943, when he left for a solo career, that included work at WSM in Nashville, where he would eventually come to the attention of RCA Records. RCA signed him in 1944 and by 1945, Eddy had his first hit, “Each Minute Seems A Million Years”. One year later, “That’s How Much I Love You” hit, the record that is generally considered his first major hit. The follow-up, “What Is Life Without Love”, would be Eddy’s first number one record.
1948 turned out to be the year that Eddy Arnold broke loose. Five of his records hit number one, and spent a total of forty weeks at number one. That record will never be broken. Those number ones included the classics “Bouquet Of Roses”, “Anytime”, “Just A Little Lovin’ (Will Go A Long Way)”, along with “Texarkana Baby”, and “A Heart Full Of Love (For A Handful Of Kisses)”.
From his debut in 1945, through the end of 1955, Eddy had an incredible 66 top ten hits, of which 21 were number one records. While one can never argue about the success and influence of the likes of Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell during this time, I would make the argument that Eddy was the hottest act during this time. Hank, remember, had nearly all of his hits between 1947 and 1953, of course, passing away on January 1, 1953. Lefty debuted in 1950, and after 1952, his hit making would be spotty. Eddy, during this time, was always at or near the top of the charts and radio playlists. Some of his hits from this time period included “I’m Throwing Rice (At The Girl I Love)”(1949), “The Lovebug Itch”(1950), “There’s Been A Change In Me”(1951), “Somebody’s Been Beatin’ My Time” (1951), and “A Full Time Job”(1952). One interesting song from this period has to be the 1953 hit “Eddy’s Song”. The entire lyrical content of the song is made up of the titles of his previous hits. Whether or not you like the song, you have to give credit to the composers (Charles Grean & Cy Coben) for thinking outside the box to come up with this idea! Needless to say, no one has done that, since. Another interesting (at least I think so) song from this period is 1953’s “Mama Come Get Your Baby Boy”. In it, the steel guitar is featured prominently, and with it’s “wah-wah” effect sounding like “mama”, may be the first record released where an instrument is used to try simulate a spoken word.
From his first release through 1953, Eddy’s records were traditional country, despite the smooth vocals, and almost always featured the steel guitar playing of Roy Wiggins. In 1954, though, a shift began away from the straight country sound and into a more smoother, pop-influenced sound, first heard on the hit, “I Really Don’t Want To Know”. I’ve always thought that Eddy’s singing with very sparse instrumentation and a few background vocals, give this record a very intimate sound. And it certainly was different than anything else in country music in 1954. While the follow-up single, a double-sided hit, “My Everything”/“Hep Cat Baby”, were back to the more traditional style, “This Is The Thanks I Get” from the Fall of 1954 was also recorded in that same style as “I Really Don’t Want To Know”. I think you can argue that this is where the very first seeds were sown that would eventually blossom into what is now known as The Nashville Sound, that softer country sound that was prevalent in the sixties and seventies.
1955 saw Eddy venture further into a pop sound, this time utilizing a full orchestra (Hugo Winterhalter’s orchestra) on two records, both double-sided hits, “The Cattle Call”/”The Kentuckian Song”, and “The Richest Man (In The World)”/”I Walked Alone Last Night”.
In 1956, Elvis Presley and rock and roll took over the music world, influencing even country music, and practically killing the careers of several country singers. Some artists, like Red Foley and Carl Smith, never recovered their hit making ways. Others, like Eddy, Faron Young, Webb Pierce, and Kitty Wells would eventually weather the storm and remain in country music’s forefront for several more years. “You Don’t Know Me”(1956), “Trouble In Mind”(1956), and “Tennessee Stud”(1959) were Eddy’s biggest hits during this time.
While hits became spotty during the late 1950’s, by the early 1960’s, Eddy was back in or near the top ten on a regular basis, with his smooth pop-country delivery. Most of his work from this time period gets ignored, which is unfortunate, as there is some great pieces of music in that group. While not a big hit, I think his 1961 version of “Before This Day Ends” is better than the top ten version of George Hamilton IV. I also think “Tears Broke Out On Me”, “One Grain Of Sand”, and “Does He Mean That Much To You” are great records, as well. Another interesting Arnold release is from 1964. That year, he released an album of folk music, with the Needmore Creek Singers in the background. While “Molly” was the hit of the album, the album is filled with some very interesting songs such as The New Cristy Minstrels’ “Green Green”, The Kingston Trio’s “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”(written by Pete Seeger), and Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind”. Yes, that’s right, Arnold sings Dylan! And does a good rendition of it, I might add.
Eddy Arnold’s second run as a country superstar began in 1965, when “What’s He Doing In My World” topped the charts, then along came “Make The World Go Away”, which topped the charts, sold tons of records, and even climbed into the pop top ten. By the time the sixties ended, Eddy had 5 more number one hits, including “I Want To Go With You”(1966), “Somebody Like Me”(1966), “Lonely Again”(1967), “Turn The World Around”(1967), and “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye”(1968).
The 1970’s saw his career slow down, again. While he was still a frequent visitor on country’s top forty, the number ones and the top tens were gone. Eddy would still be seen regularly on television, though, either performing one of his many hits, or else selling Log Cabin syrup (I admit, I can still hear him singing their jingle). “I Wished That I Had Loved You Better”(1974), “Cowboy”(1976), and “If Everyone Had Someone Like You”(1979) were his best remembered songs of that decade.
By 1980, Eddy was 62 years old, an age when many start getting ready for retirement. But what did he do? Came back with not one, but two top ten hits. “Let’s Get It While The Gettin’s Good” and “That’s What I Get For Loving You”. Eddy Arnold was sounding as good as he ever had. 1982 saw Eddy’s last top 40 country appearance, and he began curtailing his performing and recording during the rest of the decade as well as the 1990’s, until he officially retired from performing in 1999. Eddy passed away on May 8th, 2008, just a week before his 90th birthday. Shortly after his death, his longtime label, RCA, released a song titled “To Life”, which made a brief appearance on Billboard’s charts, making him the oldest artist to have a chart hit.
I think it’s safe to say that we’ll never see anyone with a career like his, again, though admittedly, George Strait is making a run. Eddy has more top tens and more weeks at number one than anyone else, and until Garth Brooks came along, Eddy was country music’s biggest selling artist of all time.
As I said at the beginning, I think Eddy Arnold is truly one of the greatest voices, ever, in country music.
Eddy Arnold tidbits…
As a young teen, Eddy used to ride to singing engagements on a mule.
Eddy is the only artist to be named CMA’s Entertainer Of The Year, after being inducted to the Country Music Hall Of Fame.
Between 1945 and 1982, there were only three years in which Eddy failed to chart any songs on country’s top forty. 1958, 1960, 1975.
Eddy was the first country singer to host his own network television show in 1952.
He was one of the searchers who found the wreckage of Jim Reeves’ plane in 1964.
According to Billboard magazine, Eddy is the only artist to appear at least once on one of their country singles/airplay charts in every decade since the forties.