It seemed as if there wasn’t anything that Charley Pride couldn’t do.
Alongside the fact that he successfully broke the race barrier that exists in American country music — becoming one of only three Black performers to be inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in the process — he scored 52 top 10 hits on the country charts, with no less than 30 of them reaching No.1.
A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and winner of multiple Grammys, Country Music Association Awards and American Music Awards, in the 70s he also earned the distinction of being RCA Record’s best-selling artist since Elvis Presley.
Those familiar with Pride’s work will easily understand why he was so successful. Here is a selective sampling of 15 of his best songs, from a broad catalogue that has stood the test of time.
Pride had a gift of making each of his analogies a lingering lesson in what can happen when the wrong choices are made and desire leads an individual astray. Here, he urges a woman blinded by the lure of wealth and prominence to reclaim the real rewards romance has to offer.
Once again, the symbolism is assured. The wandering wife addressed here is clearly intent on choosing freedom over fidelity. Pride’s pointed observation turns this assured into nothing less than a brilliant, though bittersweet, barb. A sweetly-sung serenade, the melody underscores the song’s downtrodden designs.
No single song better expresses what can happen when two people find a connection and everything else comes to a complete halt. Here again, a gentle waltz-like refrain effectively captures a moment in time when lives are changed and everything else seems to fade from view.
His first major hit, ‘Just Between You and Me’ was the first single to show Pride’s face on the picture sleeve - his label previously fearing that DJs wouldn’t play his records because he was Black. They were proved indisputably wrong - the Jack Clement-penned track going on to top the charts for 19 weeks. The 'Pride of Country Music' had made his mark.
Originally titled ‘I’m Gonna Hurt Her on the Radio’ by its writer Mac McAnally, the song showed how singer and song could work well in tandem when Pride took the mic. When the title changed, the sentiment shifted, giving the song more appeal and accessibility. Taken from the album of the same name, it quickly entered the top 20.
The title offers a little hint as to the seriousness of the subject matter, but regardless, it’s a tender tale reflecting on a relationship gone wrong. It reminiscences on what things used to be like when life consisted of sharing ‘burgers and fries and cherry pies’. Granted, it may seem a bit corny, but the sentiment is sincere.
One of Pride’s signature songs, ‘Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’’ helped him transition from exclusively country to pop and MOR as well. It was little wonder; asked the secret as to how he keeps his marriage intact, the narrator replies he gets to "kiss an angel good mornin’", and "love her like a devil" at night. It seems to say it all.
After firmly establishing himself as a traditional country singer, Pride began to subtly shift his stance in the mid-80s in order to keep up with contemporary trends. Unlike his earlier signature sound, this is surprisingly jaunty by comparison; offering a reggae-like rhythm to complement the unusually optimistic attitude.
While most of Pride’s songs tend to be sung by a man who’s the victim of a cheating spouse, here it’s the guy that’s to blame. After habitually running around, cheating and staying out all night, he finally finds that his partner has had enough. She’s not in love — at least with him — anymore.
Pride's third country No.1 in a row, this sprightly song is unusually upbeat for the time by Pride standards. The truth is, the narrator is simply hitting the road in hopes of avoiding heartbreak. "Any place is all right as long as I can forget I've ever known her".
The Searchers famously sang the song ‘Love Potion Number 9', while John and Yoko sang ‘Number 9 Dream’. In Charley's instance, the number 9 is incidental - a metaphor for a place where loneliness dwells. It's described by a classic tears-in-the-beer ballad, eloquently shared from Pride’s own perspective.
‘I Know One’ — Another classic Jack Clement composition - finds the narrator offering a self-effacing and decidedly candid confession as to why his relationship failed. While Pride takes pity on the victim, he doesn’t shy away from assigning as much responsibility on the jilted lover as he does on the woman who decided to stray.
‘My Eyes Can Only See As Far As You’ (The Happiness of Having You - 1975)
Given the fact that most of Pride’s songs focus on heartache and sadness, this is another entry that is particularly joyful in comparison. A song about desire, devotion and dedication, it suggests that the singer finally does get the girl and his commitment is clear. What's really clear here is that country music can provide happy endings after all.
This is arguably one of Pride's saddest songs, which says a lot considering the fact that heartbreak was generally a constant theme. In order to forget his lover, the singer completely cleans the house, puts everything away and even paint over the walls. Still, it’s not enough. "Everything is in its place except for her memory", he laments.
We’ll end this on a happy note. A song of devotion and dedication, this earnest entreaty provides an ode to optimism. It’s a dutiful hymn that every would-be lover ought to adopt as their own anthem of affirmation. If this doesn’t win over the object of one’s affection, nothing will.