Ultimate Hits Collection

Title: The Ultimate Hits Collection

Artist: Charley Pride
Label: Music City Records
Catalog No.: 05297
Release date:  January 20, 2009

There is no dearth of Charley Pride collections in existence.  Thus, the questions surrounding any new collection are: what is so special about this one?  And how does it measure up to the leading standard, in this case BMG Heritage’s 2003 Anthology.

The newly released Ultimate Hits Collection, a double-disc of 32 tracks of good quality reissues, but with limited notes, provides a good retrospective of Pride’s career without any major omissions, but the problems of this collection are deeper.

Music City Records, a small label (perhaps a personal project of Pride’s, though unconfirmed) is making a concentrated effort to sustain interest in the once great country music star, and this compilation includes material from his heyday, beginning in 1966, through his latest gospel effort in 2006.  During his reign as a hit maker (mid 1960s to early 1980s), Charley Pride was the only black mainstream country music star, and it’s not insignificant that after years of such isolation he has turned to gospel music in the 21st century, where blackness is the standard.  Yet this transition remains mostly ignored in this collection, including only two tracks from recent gospel works, “Jesus, It’s Me Again,” and “Amazing Grace.”

The problem with reissuing Charley Pride is twofold– there are no new perspectives presented here, and the disc fails to cast Pride in a light that makes him seem relevant.  Charley Pride was a major force to be sure. As a member of the Grand Ole Opry with 24 #1 Country hits, back to back winner of the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year (1971-1972), and Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, he doesn’t have to worry about his place in country music history.  He does, however, need to worry about his place in country music today.

Compared to other country music icons such as Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Loretta Lynn and Marty Stuart, Charley Pride (and this collection) have done very little to connect his pioneering work to contemporary audiences.  In an era where gospel music has become a major secular musical form, and at a time when Darius Rucker (of Hootie & the Blowfish) is providing the country charts their first black performer since Pride, the importance of examining Pride’s career would seem prime for deeper understanding. What we are given here are such platitudes as “As of 2008, Pride continues to tour regularly throughout the United States and Europe… he also enjoys playing golf, spending time with his family and working out with the Texas Rangers.”

Yet even if the packaging, liner notes, and general presentation fall short of something significant and new, a light shone on Charley Pride is always welcome.  This double-disc collection includes all the hits that made Pride a household name, and further proves that he deserved every accolade garnered in his career, reminding us of just how good he was.  The Ultimate Hits Collection reminds us of the huge appeal of hits like “Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger,” “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” and “I Know One.”  His powerful baritone against back-up singers, steel guitars, and string arrangements, creates a nostalgic appreciation of the trajectory of the mainstream country sound.  Though often surrounded by different country sounds, Pride is never bested by production, a claim that cannot be said of all 1970s country stars.  Pride makes the song his, whether he’s nostalgic, in love, heartbroken, or singing praise, Pride has the ability of all great country performers to make you think these songs were written on the edge of a motel room bed, or on a barroom cocktail napkin.

Pride is poised for a crossover comeback along the lines of Johnny Cash’s late American recordings with Rick Rubin, or Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose, produced by Jack White.  What would serve him best at this stage is to tap into the incredible creativity and force behind gospel music today, and highlight the long-standing connections between country music and gospel.  Yet to do this, he would first have to come in from the golf course, and really get to work.

Posted by Thomas Grant Richardson