Lucille by Kenny Rogers (United Artists, 1977)

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Kenny Rogers had a decades-long career of success in music as well as a notable acting career in TV and movies and a well-known fried chicken franchise. None of that might have been possible if it weren’t for this single. This 45 was the catalyst for launching Kenny’s career as a solo artist and crossing him over to the Pop charts not just in this States but internationally.

As a singer, Kenny joined the New Christy Minstrels in the mid-60s but found that their vibe wasn’t as hip as Kenny was going for. So he and a few other members started their own band, mixing psychedelic rock, pop, and Country. Calling themselves The First Edition, they had some big hits in the late 60s, and early 70s, such as Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) and Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town. The band’s name was changed to Kenny Rogers & the First Edition but the hits started to dry up as they moved through the 70s. By 1975, the group was doing anything to stay afloat, including an appearance in a made-for-TV movie called The Dream Makers. But after many lineups changes and failed recordings, poor finances drove the group to split.

Now tasked with starting a new life as a solo singer, Kenny released his debut in early 1976, Love Lifted Me. It did nothing on the Pop charts but scored Kenny a Top 20 Country hit, which was enough to give him another recording shot. And that shot blew everything open for him.

The second single release from Kenny Rogers was a song written by country songwriting legend Hal Bynum and Roger Bowling, who’d go on to co-write Coward Of The County. It’s the story of a guy who finds a drunk woman at a Toledo saloon ready to have a good time and down a bottle of whiskey naked with the first taker. Just before our singer was about to get freaky deeky, the lady’s husband comes into the bar and confronts her while the singer craps his pants. But rather than a physical confrontation, he calmly stands there and tells his wife that he and their four kids got a shitload of farming to do and that her timing sucks. Taking that as a cue, she and the singer quickly leave and get a motel room because that devil on his shoulder is telling him in detail all that nasty stuff that they are about to do. But the image of a broken man and his sorrowful words pop up as an angel on his other shoulder telling him it wouldn’t be right to defile this woman, at least not until the divorce papers and/or the corn gets shucked. This makes me come to the conclusion that they should have made a cartoon video of this song with Looney Tunes characters in it. Elmer is the singer. Daffy is the spurned husband. Bugs could have dressed up as Lucille.

Lucille was the first of Kenny’s twenty-one #1 Country hits, and it would hit #5 on the Pop charts. For a kid who never listened to Country, I definitely heard this one a lot back then. It would also go to #1 in Canada and the UK as well as Top 10 in Ireland, Austria, Switzerland, Australia, and New Zealand. Kenny not only opened the door to a new wave of Country Pop cross over, but he also held it open for others such as Dolly Parton, Ronnie Milsap, and Dottie West until it closed around 1984.

Kenny passed away this weekend, but as he sang in another of his famous songs, “the best you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”

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