Buck Owens – The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966 (review)

Buck Owens and the Buckaroos – The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966 (Omnivore Recordings) review

All of Owens’ trailblazing singles compiled

Buck Owens helped rewrite the rules of country music, wrestling away the monopoly that Nashville had on the genre and setting up camp in Bakersfield, California. Owens redefined what a country record could be – stripping away the studio polish and putting his signature Telecaster guitar upfront. Omnivore Recordings has just issued The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966, collecting every A and B side he recorded during that span.

This phenomenal, two-disc set marks the first time the original 45 rpm single versions have been available digitally. Owens purposely mixed his singles with an abundance of high end. This served two purposes: one, his Telecaster was even more prominent, and two, he made sure that his records sounded like nothing else on the radio.

Things start out rather innocuously with “Come Back.” His first Capitol release is full of cheesy background vocals and polish; it was the kind of thing Owens was trying to avoid. It took until his fourth single, “Second Fiddle,” before he was allowed to try things his own way. With the fiddle louder than it should’ve been, pedal steel, and a walking bassline, it was Owens’ first entry on the national country charts, and a harbinger of things to come.

Then came “Under Your Spell Again,” featuring tight harmonies, fiddle and pedal steel – this was the beginning of what would be known as the “Bakersfield Sound.” That single hit Top Five and Owens was off and running. Then, his longtime collaborator Don Rich enters the scene with his signature backing vocals, fiddle and guitar, and Owens’ sound is truly set. The stop/start of “Above and Beyond” was an early high point. Hearing the Buckaroos give their own spin on “Save the Last Dance For Me” is a surprise as well.

There’s a series of duets with Rose Maddox (a female pioneer of the Bakersfield sound), which are good fun (take “Mental Cruelty” and “Loose Talk,” for example).

Disc two is where Owens’ dominance is truly felt – a staggering 13 consecutive #1 songs in under four years (only another duet with Maddox, “We’re the Talk of the Town,” missed the top spot). “Act Naturally,” the first of his number ones, would be covered by the Beatles a few years later, while “Love’s Gonna Live Here” still stands as one of the biggest songs in the history of Country music – spending a whopping 16 weeks in the pole position.

The double-sided “My Heart Skips a Beat” backed with “Together Again,” showed off his versatility – with side A being another great uptempo number with a rock beat, while “Together” ranks as one of Owens’ finest ballads. “Before You Go” actually took both elements and placed them in the same song – with upbeat verses followed by a sad, slow chorus.

“I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail” was not only a country smash, it became Owens’ only entry on the Top 40 pop charts (listen to the LOUD kick drum on the mono mix of this song). That single’s flipside was one of Owens’ most enduring ballads, “Crying Time,” having been covered by many artists (including Ray Charles). The instrumental “Buckaroo” had a riff borrowed from the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” (mere coincidence?), while “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy” was a solid holiday offering.

Owens was one of the industry’s most business-savvy entertainers – re-negotiating his contract with Capitol in the late Seventies, giving him unprecedented full rights to all his classic recordings. That’s the reason this collection is issued on the artist-friendly Omnivore Recordings. Here’s hoping a volume two is on the horizon – there’s still lots of great Buck tunes that need compiling.

With a heaping 56 tracks spread over two discs, we get to hear the boundaries of country being stretched right before our ears. The accompanying booklet features a sessionography listing what musicians played on each track, as well as an introductory essay by one of Owens’ biggest fans, Dwight Yoakam.

The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966 is crucial listening for anyone wanting to learn about Buck Owens and classic country music. Tony Peters