In the history of recorded music, there have been many songs that have been influential on artists through the generations. The bluegrass stylings of Bill Monroe. Pick any song by Hank Williams, Sr. When Elvis Presley recorded "Heartbreak Hotel", it introduced the world to a whole new genre of music called rock n' roll. The Byrd's and the Eagles brought about a whole new sound in the late 60's and early 70's taking country-rock to the masses. And talk about influence, the Eagles emponymous album "Hotel California" remains one of the best selling studio albums in recorded music history and it keeps on selling. However, an often overlooked fact was recently brought home to me about a month ago and it prompted me to think: if there was one song that a person could point to as the most important and historical song that has ever been recorded, what would that song be? It took me a moment to mull it over and while there can be a case made for a great many songs, I think my selection is right up there.
In the spring of 2013, I had the great fortune to attend a Charley Pride concert in Peterborough, Ontario. In the review of that show, I did not mention the opening act for that day. But I should have, because that gentleman deserved the trooper of the day award. Battling a throat infection and still graciously coming out to see the crowd scores a lot of points. But I suspect that's how Bobby Wright was raised, considering Bobby is the son of the legendary Johnny Wright and Country Music Hall of Fame member Kitty Wells. Mr. Wright toured with his parents for over 50 years as part of their family show and indeed, their family business. Bobby's stated purpose for accepting the opening slot on Mr. Pride's tour was to thank all the people who supported his parents and by extension their family, and to showcase their music.
There was one fact Bobby mentioned that really stuck with me. Well, two actually. The first, was that Johnny Wright and Kitty Wells were married 74 years until Johnny's death at age 97. Kitty re-joined her husband 18 months later at the age of 93. The second surrounded the first big hit and big break that his mother received in her career. Looking back on that break, it wasn't just a break for Ms. Wells. It was a break for female singers all over the world. And every other female singer whom has had a hit that followed her, no matter the genre, owes a part of their success to Kitty Wells.
In 1952 it was, as Mr. Wright quite rightly pointed out, a man's world in the music business. You could run the radio dial from one end of the spectrum to the other, and you would rarely hear a female voice. That all changed with one simple recording that was an answer song to Hank Thompson's "The Wild Side of Life." The recording of "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" by Kitty Wells essentially introduced the world to "girl singers." While Patsy Montana did have a 1944 hit with "I Want To Be A Cowboy's Sweetheart", her momentum did not last. This was not the case with Kitty Wells, as her second single roared in to the top ten. Another answer song, this time to Webb Pierce's "Back Street Affair", Kitty reached number 6 on the chart with "Paying For That Back Street Affair." It was an indicator of things to come for Ms. Wells, as she remained a fixture in the upper reaches of the charts in to the 1970's.
While those in the music business like to place heavy stock in one's chart success as to their influence on the future of the music business, and often times it's tough to disagree with that assessment, I was reminded at a close friends' gathering of how deep legendary influences can run. It all clicked when, at my friend's birthday celebration, her then 15 year old daughter got up on stage with the house band, and the sweet sound of "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" permeated through the summer night air. It all seemed to click as to the importance of this song. In 2013, a 15 year old girl is on stage singing a Kitty Wells tune from 1952. And she was damn good. She could have a place on anyone's radio in the future, if she so chooses that route. It felt as the torch had been passed once again listening to this young lady perform a song from more than 50 years ago. But she, along with any of the female singers in any genre, would not have the opportunity to have their voice heard on stage or radio for that matter, were it not for the monstrous hit that destroyed the wall that had kept female singers off the radio.
If you think about it, without Kitty Wells and "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels", there may not have been a Patsy Cline. No Loretta Lynn. No Dolly Parton. No Tammy Wynette. No any female from any genre that's out there today. Thank God for that song, and the lady who performed it.
By all means, if anyone disagree's or has another suggestion, please leave it in the comment section. This is one man's opinion, and this guy loves to talk music.