Country music started to shift in 1966, broadening its vistas and slowly, subtly accepting the shifting tides of popular culture. Bear Family's installment in their peerless Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and Hillbilly Music: Country & Western Hit Parade suggests this slow, gradual change over the course of its 31 tracks, often splitting the difference between Nashville and the growing insurgency coming from the west coast. Buck Owens was still perhaps the towering figure in country music, pioneering not only a modern sound but a sensibility -- his hit "Waiting in Your Welfare Line" played upon how we live today -- but Merle Haggard was also ascendant, scoring two iconic hits with "The Bottle Let Me Down" and "The Fugitive." Overall, the hits of 1966 leaned toward Music City, accentuating the slick, clever professionalism of such stalwarts as Jim Reeves ("Distant Drums"), such team players as David Houston (whose "Almost Persuaded" became an instant standard), and upstarts such as Mel Tillis (whose "Stateside" is a cheerful boogie), but the most interesting moments came on the margin, such as the rise of Loretta Lynn and how Dallas Frazier turned professional songcraft into a novelty so pure, it wound up being a hit decades later ("Elvira"). Generally, the songs featured on this volume of Dim Lights are sweet, smooth, and slick, the modernism revealing itself in production, not theme, but that's fine because the hits on this volume of the Country & Western Hit Parade wind up capturing the twilight of the old guard. They'd never completely fade away, but this is the last year where they'd dominate the Californian renegades and outlaws who wound up defining the last quarter-century of country music.
Share this page