1979 saw a big shift in the direction of Crystal Gayle’s music when she switched record labels. Although she continued to work with producer Allen Reynolds, she delved even further into pop territory from the get go. Her first single for Columbia was “Half the Way”, which was her biggest hit for the label. Although it just missed the top spot on the Billboard country charts (peaking at #2), it landed at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 (her final entry in the Top 20 of that chart) and #9 on the AC chart. The song is undeniably catchy, but does not sound even remotely country, although at least one its writers had solid country credentials. Ralph Murphy, a British born Canadian songwriter, penned the tune with Bobby Wood. The duo also wrote “He Got You” which was a hit for Ronnie Milsap the following year. Murphy had also written Jeannie C. Riley’s “Good Enough to Be Your Wife” and would go on to write hits for Randy Travis, Kathy Mattea, Don Williams and others and would eventually be inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. “Half the Way” was Crystal’s biggest hit on the pop charts after “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” and set the tone for the sound of her music for the rest of her tenure with Columbia.
The second single from Miss the Mississippi was “It’s Like We Never Said Goodbye”, an uptempo number with a lush string arrangement. It reached #1 on the country chart and #17 on the AC chart but only reached #63 on the Hot 100 chart. Like “Half the Way”, it is barely country but irresistibly catchy. The more stripped-down ballad “The Blue Side” was the final single, charting at #8 country, #16 AC and #81 Hot 100.
Another tune that most people old enough to remember this era will recognize is the mid tempo pop number “Don’t Go My Love” written by James Valentini and Frank Saulino. Crystal never released it as a single but I definitely remember hearing it played on MOR radio stations, although I don’t know who the artist was. My research — admittedly very limited — shows that the song was recorded by a Greek singer named Nana Mouskouri who enjoyed quite a few international hits. Again, the song is a bit of an ear worm, but there’s nothing country about it.
Balancing out all this pop are a handful of songs that are more country in nature, at least by late 70s standards. Crystal does a capable job on “Dancing the Night Away” which had been a Top 20 country hit for Tanya Tucker in 1977. “Room for One More” is another one with appeal for country fans, and the concluding track is an exquisite reading of “Miss the Missippi and You”, which is far more polished than anything Jimmie Rodgers probably ever imagined.
Miss the Mississippi is not an album for everyone. If you’re looking for hardcore country it’s best to give it a miss. However, it provides an interesting glimpse at the direction country music was taking in the late 70s — and why there was the eventual backlash known as the New Traditionalist movement in the 1980s. Even though it’s not very country, I enjoyed listening to it.
Nice review, Razor X. You make a great point with the fact that Allen Reynolds remained her producer and yet her sound and style changed considerably with her three albums for Columbia (luckily, Jimmy Bowen would get her back on track a few years later). It’s not that I don’t like these albums, but they clearly sounded different than her albums for UA. This is also where it becomes obvious that Gayle began to change her pronunciations of certain words, such as ‘don’t’, ‘way’, and ‘can’t’.
One correction to the review – Gayle would hit the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 once more with her 1982 Eddie Rabbitt duet You And I (at #7). But Half The Way was her last solo top 20 hit on that chart. It’s always amazing to me that Half The Way missed hitting #1 on the country chart. There were just so many great songs and artists at that time. You Decorated My Life by Kenny Rogers and Come With Me by Waylon Jennings kept her out of the top spot.
It’s Like We Never Said Goodbye was significant in a somewhat historic event on the Billboard Country chart. The week it hit #1 was the first time that the top 5 positions were all by female artists. The remaining songs were A Lesson In Leavin’ by Dottie West, Are You On The Road To Lovin’ Me by Debby Boone, Beneath Still Waters by Emmylou Harris, and Two Story House by Tammy Wynette/George Jones. If I’m not mistaken, I don’t think it’s ever happened since.
It’s too bad Tanya Tucker had released Dancing The Night Away a few years earlier because Crystal’s version is one of my favorites from this album (although I do like Tucker’s version as well). I also loved A Little Bit Of The Rain, The Other Side Of Me, Danger Zone, and Room For One More. And if Crystal hadn’t proved to everyone of the incredible range of her voice, she even yodels some on Miss The Mississippi And You.
This was my favorite of her Columbia albums and we definitely wore it out playing it when it was released. But compared to When I Dream, Crystal, Somebody Loves You, and We Must Believe In Magic, this was a small step backwards in quality. But still a great album with some wonderful and very memorable songs.