So, while The Sex Pistols perhaps should have kicked Rod Stewart off the top, in the end he was replaced by another crazy-haired, middle-finger sticking punk rocker… Only kidding, he was replaced by Kenny Rogers.
Lucille, by Kenny Rogers (his 1st of two #1s)
1 week, from 12th – 19th June 1977
The two main sounds of the mid to early-late seventies, since glam died, have undeniably been disco and slushy soft-rock. But coming up behind, in the bronze medal position, surprisingly, is country and western. We’ve had Tammy Wynette, Billy Connolly as Tammy, J. J. Barrie, Pussycat… and now a proper legend of the genre.
Country music is often sad; and yet often ridiculous. It is a melodramatic genre. And the opening line of this record is up there with some of the very best. In a bar in Toledo, Across from the depot, On a bar stool she took off her ring… Talk about setting a scene! A tawdry tale is told, as the singer approaches this beautiful, sad woman.
She’s been living on dreams, she’s finally had enough, she needs more out of life… Kenny’s about to make his move, when in through the barroom doors strides Lucille’s ex. The big hands were calloused, He looked like a mountain, For a minute I thought I was dead… As silly as all this is, when Kenny Rogers is on form he tells a story like no other.
You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille… The story spins on its head. Four hungry children and a crop in the fields… We assumed she was the victim, finally breaking away from hardship and abuse… But is she? Kenny takes her to a hotel, but when the time comes to do the deed, all he can hear is her estranged husband’s voice… This time your hurtin’ won’t heal…
What this song really needs is a third and final verse. Who’s really to blame? Who’s telling the truth? Does she go back to her family farm? Does Kenny get his leg over? We need closure! Instead we get the chorus and a slow, slow fade. He may have set an excellent scene; but Rogers needs practice in wrapping up a story. Thankfully, come his next #1 single – yes, he has more than one – he will have mastered the art of storytelling, and produced a classic.
If it weren’t for the pretty gritty subject matter, I’d describe this as a lullaby. The guitar sways and soothes, while the bass keeps time like a metronome. Many Kenny Rogers hits I can think of do this, hide a tough subject matter behind a soothing rhythm: ‘Ruby’, ‘The Gambler’, his aforementioned 2nd chart-topper… ‘Lucille’ was his first big smash since breaking with his band The First Edition, and it set him off on an extended run of hits.
I was going to ask why on earth this record made #1, for a near forty-year-old country singer. But perhaps we’re past that. ‘Lucille’ made #1 simply because country and western music was a very popular genre at the time. It’s not an ever-present, but this is far from the last time we’ll be hearing it…