The Quintessential Hank Thompson 1948-1979 CD
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Raven presents the only definitive, multi-label collection from the master of Honky Tonk and Western Swing Hank Thompson. The Quintessential Hank Thompson 1948-1979 is a modest title for the most comprehensive, 30-track career overview of one of the greatest Country artist of all time. Thompson began recording in 1946 and he scored his first #1 hit in 1952 ('Wild Side of Life'). His Brazos Valley Boys was Billboard's top-ranked US Country band from 1953 to 1965. A genuinely influential performer George Strait, Lyle Lovett, Asleep At The Wheel, Dwight Yoakam and Vince Gill all owe him a debt Thompson was elected into The Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1989. The Quintessential Hank Thompson comprises original recordings for Capitol, Dot and MCA. It features all his biggest Country hits 31 years of chart placements with three #1 smashes ('The Wild Side of Life', 'Rub-A-Dub-Dub', 'Wake Up Irene'), 21 in the Top 10 and four Top 20 hits, plus classic album cuts ('Cocaine Blues') and highly regarded latter-day hits 30 tracks in total. These earthy, rollicking hits sound as fresh as the day they were recorded. With superb quality audio, extensive liner notes and color booklet.
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Hank Thompson began singing on the radio as a teenager in his hometown of Waco, Texas. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he formed a band, The Brazos Valley Boys, and began singing professionally. Capitol Records signed the 22-year old to a recording contract in 1947. His first Capitol release, “Humpty Dumpty Heart” peaked at #2 in 1948, establishing him as a potential star. He scored another top-ten with “Whoa Sailor” in 1949. He relocated to Nashville in 1948 and Ernest Tubb played a major role in landing him a spot on the Grand Ole Opry. But he quickly became dissatisfied with the Opry and Nashville in general, so he and his band briefly returned to Waco before settling in Oklahoma City. He expanded his band into a Western Swing-style dance band and set about to develop a new sound of his own. The sound that emerged was a fusion of Western Swing and Honky Tonk. It took a couple of years for things to really come together, but his recording of “The Wild Side of Life” was #1 for 15 weeks in 1952, establishing him as a major star. During the '50s and '60s Thompson was the only major Country and Western Star to prominently feature a Western Swing sound in his music.
Thompson had a knack of using clever word-plays in his songs as well as creating songs derived from nursery rhymes. “Rub-a-Dub-Dub” was a #1 in 1952. His “answer” to “Goodnight Irene”, “Wake-Up Irene” was a #1 in 1953. His 1954 hit, “The New Green Light” (a re-work of an earlier release) was a prime example of one of his word-play songs. His repertoire included ballads, bar room numbers, novelty songs and swinging instrumentals by his band. Beginning in 1954, his good friend Merle Travis began recording and touring with the band, and would continue to do so off-and-on through the late '60s. Travis and The Brazos Valley Boys' recording of “The Wildwood Flower” peaked at #5 in 1955, the last Western Swing instrumental to become a significant chart hit. Thompson's recording of “Oklahoma Hills”, a top-ten in 1961, became the definitive version of that song.
Thompson's recording career hit a slump in the mid-1960s, as the “Bakersfield Sound” of Buck Owens and newcomer Merle Haggard dominated the Honky Tonk side of Country Music. This may have had a lot to do with him leaving Capitol in 1965. He recorded for Warner Brothers in 1966-67 and then moved on to Dot Records (later absorbed into the MCA label) in 1968, where he would remain for a decade. That year he returned to the top-ten with two bar room classics, “On Tap, In the Can, Or in the Bottle” and “Smoky the Bar”. The latter song peaked at #5, becoming his biggest hit of the '60s.
During the first half of the 1970s Thompson moved away from his signature sound to a sound more closely resembling the typical Country Music of the era. (It was also during this period that he grew the mustache and goatee that became his “trademark look”.) His biggest hits during this period were “I've Come Awful Close” and two top-tens in 1974, “The Older the Violin, The Sweeter the Music” (which peaked at #8, his biggest hit of the decade) and “Who Left the Door to Heaven Open”. Beginning in the mid-'70s he returned to his signature sound and would remain with it for the rest of his career. The swinging “I Hear the South Callin' Me”, a top-40 from 1979, was his next-to-last top-40 and rounds out this collection.
This is the definitive single-disk Thompson collection. Of the twenty-nine singles, three were number one, twenty-one were top-tens (with eight of those in the top-five) and four were top-fifteen. Only “I Hear the South Callin' Me”, which peaked at #29, charted lower than #13. One minor nit-pick would be that two Warner Brothers recordings, “Where is the Circus?” and “He's Got A Way With Women”, (which peaked at #15 and #16, respectively, in 1967) certainly could have been included. These were excellent recordings that should have charted higher, but they came out during the peak of the Bakersfield Sound's domination. Personally, I would have omitted a couple of the Capitol top-fifteens and included them instead, but their omission is only a minor point.
For those looking for an introduction to Hank Thompson's music, this is the place to start. If you then want to delve a bit deeper into his recorded work, beyond the hit singles, I would highly recommend the 2-CD Jasmine collection “Headin' Down the Wrong Highway”.