My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Crystal Gayle – ‘These Days’

41xt6655asl-_ac_us300_ql65_Released in August 1980, These Days was Crystal Gayle’s  second of three albums recorded for Columbia. Although very successful on Billboard’s Country Albums chart reaching #6 and being certified gold s also definitely NOT a country album. It is also my least favorite of her albums, although there are many redeeming moments. The album seems to run between 80’s lounge and classic pop standards.

The album opens up with “Too Many Lovers”, a #1 record written by Mark True, Ted Lindsay, Sam Hogin. This song is moderately up-tempo with a rock guitar break.  This is followed by “If You Ever Change Your Mind”, a nice ballad written by Parker McGee and Bob Gundry. The instrumentation is basically jazz piano with orchestration. This too reached #1.

“Ain’t No Love In the Heart of The City” is typical cocktail lounge pop. Crystal sings it well but the song itself leaves me cold. Written by Michael Price and Daniel Walsh, the song leans toward modern R&B, as does the next song “Same Old Story (Same Old Song)”, which I find disappointing as Will Jennings and Joe Sample have decent track records as country songsmiths. With a different arrangement, I might like “Same Old Story (Same Old Song)”, but the background vocals on the “Same Old Story (Same Old Song)” probably belong on a Patti Labelle record rather than anything recorded by Crystal Gayle, and the Kenny G style sax leaves me completely cold.

Allen Reynolds and Bob McDill usually crafted good songs, and “Help Yourselves to Each Other” is no exception. A slow ballad with flute and string accompaniment, I could see this song being released as a single to Adult Contemporary radio. Don Williams recorded the song as an album track but I think Crystal’s version is better, even exquisite.

What a time to turn your back on someone
What a day to be without a friend
What a shame when no-one seems to bother
Who will offer shelter to candles in the wind

And it follows we are only helpless children
Ever changing like sunlight through the trees
It’s a long road we must cling to one another
Help yourselves to each other, that’s the way it’s meant to be

The great Delbert McClinton wrote “Take It Easy’ which proved to be a minor hit for Crystal Gayle, reaching #17. Crystal handles it well but her version pales to the McClinton original, and I suspect grittier female country vocalists such as Gus Hardin, Lacy J Dalton, Gail Davies, Wilma Lee Cooper or Jean Shepard  could have done the song better (not that Wilma Lee or Jean could ever have been persuaded to record this song) .

“I Just Can’t Leave Your Love Alone” is another song by Sample and Jennings, this time a mid-tempo blues number , with a traditional jazz accompaniment including clarinet.

“You’ve Almost Got Me Believin'”, by Barbara Wyrick,  sounds like cocktail lounge pop. I really didn’t like this song at all, particularly after the Kenny G-styled sax kicks in. Crystal’s vocal is nice but the song is unworthy.

“Lover Man” is a pop standard classic by Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill. American listeners may recall Weill as the composer of “Mack The Knife”, but he penned many fine songs, including this one. While the song is often associated with Ella Fitzgerald, Crystal acquits herself well . The arrangement can be best describe as a very bluesy piece of piano jazz.

I don’t know why but I’m feeling so sad
I long to try something I never had
Never had no kissing
Oh, what I’ve been missing
Lover man, oh, where can you be

The night is cold and I’m so alone
I’d give my soul just to call you my own
Got a moon above me
But no one to love me
Lover man, oh, where can you be

The album reaches back to 1934 for its closing number “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”, from the pen of Tin Pan Alley writer Harry M. Woods. Harry wrote a number of pop standard classics including “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover”,  “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain”, “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye”, and “Try a Little Tenderness”.  The song is performed as an up-tempo traditional jazz number with honky-tonk piano similar to what Joanne Castle, Big Tiny Little or Joe “Fingers” Carr might have played, and a very nice clarinet solo.

Ooh, ooh, ooh
What a little moonlight can do
Ooh, ooh, ooh
What a little moonlight can do to you

You’re in love
Your heart’s fluttering
All day long
You only stutter
Cause your poor tone
Just will not utter the words
I love you

For me this is a mixed bag. I do like pop standards and traditional jazz balladry, but I don’t care for cocktail lounge jazz. There are some very nice song on this album and some songs about which I am utterly indifferent. There is nothing remotely country on this album. I think the first two and last two songs on this album, and “Help Yourselves to Each Other” are the best songs  on the album.

Grade: B

3 responses to “Album Review: Crystal Gayle – ‘These Days’

  1. Alan Jobe January 20, 2017 at 9:27 am

    This album was definitely a ‘huh’ kind of moment when listening to it – especially for the first time. While Gayle had never been traditional country by any means, this was her most ambitious album to date. As Paul states in his great and honest review, while she did manage to get two #1 hits off of this, it is definitely not country by any means.

    I think it’s also important to note that this album was released at the height of the Urban Cowboy phase. Country was very hot at this time but Crystal went another direction. I remember her performing What A Little Moonlight Can Do on the Johnny Carson show and seeing how much he and the audience seemed to really enjoy it. But I do love what Paul says about the backup singers sounding more appropriate for Patti Labelle than for a country artist.

    I never understood why Take It Easy failed as a country single since it sounds a lot like the bluesy stuff she was so popular for. I remember some girls at school – who did not usually like Crystal but knew that I did – coming up to me and telling me they loved this song. But I guess not everyone felt that way.

    If You Ever Change Your Mind, Too Many Lovers, and Help Yourself To Each Other were definitely the standout tracks. I also liked Take It Easy, You’ve Almost Got Me Believin’ and ‘Moonlight’. The other four tracks were hit and miss. I will say that Same Old Story, Same Old Song really showcased Crystal’s amazing vocals at the end, but I did not like Reynolds production choices at all.

    I loved this album when it came out because it was different – not just different from other country artists, but also different from anything Crystal had put out before. As I said, it’s a very ambitious album and it seemed like both Gayle and Reynolds were pushing themselves outside the comfort zone. But as time has gone by, I find myself rarely listening to this one anymore.

    I’m not sure if she was trying to expand her fan-base, wanting to take country music to another place, or if she was just recording the kind of music she loved to sing. Musically and vocally, it’s definitely an amazing album. It’s just not what I want to hear when I’m in the mood for some great Crystal Gayle music.

    • Ken January 23, 2017 at 10:55 am

      Columbia’s core mission for Crystal was to create crossover music that would sell to her country fans as well as the pop market. That decision was driven by the decidedly “pop” direction that country music had taken during the late 70’s & early 80’s. Releases for that label were mostly successful at radio and all three of her Columbia LP’s reflected strong sales on the country album chart. During her tenure with Columbia “Take It Easy” was her only misstep. [It stalled at #17 – “Keepin’ Power” was released in late 1983 after she had departed Columbia and peaked at #49] Some songs that are good artistically just don’t work well on the radio. “Take It Easy” is a textbook example. Clocking in at almost four minutes the bluesy non-country arrangement featured a jazzy extended saxophone solo that did not find favor with country radio listeners. I played that single on the radio back in 1981 and recall that compared to other Crystal Gayle singles it received a luke-warm reception from our listeners. I thought that it sounded like the type of song that a Saturday Night Live musical guest would play during the final half hour of that show. I was not surprised that it hit the wall and Columbia rushed out her next single. A good album track but not an effective choice for a single.

  2. Razor X January 20, 2017 at 9:59 am

    I agree with Paul’s assessment — this is probably my least favorite of her albums, although I liked the radio singles a lot. In some ways it seems more like a side project than a regular album — she wanted to do something different but they made sure they had some safe choices to keep country radio happy. In some ways it foreshadows her later and much better Hoagy Carmichael tribute album. These Days is not an album I play in its entirety very often.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: