Dickey Lee - Original Greatest Hits
Back in the early 1970s I was a big Dickey Lee fan. I religiously purchased his albums released by RCA and Mercury and really enjoyed them. When I dropped this newly released compilation into the CD player, I realised that it was the first time I’d played anything by him for more than 30 years. Sad to say that the passing of time hasn’t been kind to Dickey’s recordings, or just maybe, my tastes have changed enough, that I just find this music all a little too lightweight.
For those to whom Dickey Lee’s name is unfamiliar, let me elucidate. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1936 and made his first recordings for Tampa Records and Sun Records in 1957-58 without too much success. It was four years later that he came to prominence as the co-writer of She Thinks I Still Care, a chart-topping country hit for George Jones. Dickey didn’t exactly see himself as a country artist and in 1962 he was in the American pop charts with the teen ballad Patches. He continued to record prolifically as a pop singer throughout the 1960s with occasional hits. But by the early 1970s he’d become acquainted with fellow songwriters Allen Reynolds and Bob McDill and had moved to Nashville to set up Rivertown Productions. Signed to RCA, he re-launched his music career as a country singer and scored 30 country hits, with four making the top 10, including the chart-topping Rocky.
What I liked about Dickey’s country recordings was that whilst ‘bona fide’ country singers like Ray Price, Charlie Rich, Sonny James and Lynn Anderson were drowning their records in lush string arrangements, Dickey was utilising a more basic country sound with acoustic guitars, fiddles and pedal steel. This 20-track compilation covers his RCA recordings made between 1970 and 1978. Though Dickey is a skilled songwriter, often co-writing with Bob McDill—including Someone Like You (Emmylou Harris) and The Door is Always Open (Waylon Jennings, Dave and Sugar)—and more recently The Keeper Of The Stars (Tracy Byrd) plus hits for George Strait, Charley Pride and Reba McEntire, there’s only one of his own songs included here. That’s his version of She Thinks I Still Care a country classic; the type of song we speak of as being in the tradition. Other songs ‘in the tradition’ include Sparklin’ Brown Eyes, a fine bluegrass-flavoured revival of the Bill Cox 1937 song that had been revived by Webb Pierce in 1954, but for me this is the definitive one. Equally as good is a fine update of Johnnie & Jack’s Ashes Of Love, which again is smack dab in the middle of country tradition. He even tackled honky-tonk themes with a more than credible version of Geoff Morgan’s The Busiest Memory In Town, though the spoken phrases didn’t really work for me,
His main forte, though, were songs that leaned back towards his pop sounds of the 1960s. This was typified by his one country chart-topper, Jay Stevens’ Rocky, a real heart-tugging song about a fatal illness that tears a young couple apart. He offers more emotional songs that pull at the heartstrings including Sterling Whipple’s Makin’ Love Don’t Always Make Love Grow and the twee Angels, Roses And Rain. There’s little doubt that Dickey Lee is a born romantic whose consequent vulnerability is barely covered up with a dose of gentle, deflating irony. I much preferred his delightful rendition of Delaney & Bonnie’s Never Ending Song Of Love, Don Williams’ Baby, Bye Bye and Bob McDill’s Put Me Down Softly. He sings through his nose, slightly garbled, slightly flat, and conveys particular intimacy. His very lack of technique makes him sound sincere. His records have a smothering emotional flow, which I still find rather affecting.