Charley Pride is featured on the front cover of the 1967 volume of Bear Family's excellent, ongoing country music series Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and Hillbilly Music: Country & Western Music Hit Parade, and his presence suggests how things were changing. Charley was the first African-American country music superstar, a pop icon perfectly suited for the Civil Rights era, but he was positively conservative compared to other singers who charted in 1967. Some of Pride's peers tackled controversial topics -- Tammy Wynette's "I Don't Wanna Play House" addressed divorce in a clear, unsentimental fashion, while her duet with David Houston on "My Elusive Dreams" chronicled a uniquely '60s futility -- while others rode the zeitgeist coming out of California, with Waylon Jennings sharply navigating rock and soul on his "Mental Revenge" and "The Chokin' Kind." Merle Haggard was quickly eclipsing his benefactor Buck Owens via such nervy, finely etched songs as "Branded Man" and "Sing Me Back Home," while George Jones dug in his heels with "Walk Through This World With Me," about as exquisite a single as Nashville ever produced. Elsewhere, there were straightforward honky tonk hits -- none better than Jim Ed Brown's beer-drinking anthem "Pop A Top" -- and lively, winking, referential cuts like Jerry Reed's "Guitar Man," but nothing signaled the shifting tides like John Hartford's "Gentle on My Mind," Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe," and, especially, Glen Campbell's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," the latter splitting the difference between the folk narrative of Hartford and the Hollywood symphony of Gentry. This was the sound of the late '60s, and it remains vivid, cinematic, and haunting.
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