Conway Twitty songs livened up the local watering hole’s jukebox across parts of five decades and a whopping 40 number one country singles.
Born Harold Lloyd Jenkins in northern Mississippi, Twitty began in the 1950s as a Memphis-style rock ‘n’ roller. Twitty eventually ditched his pompadour to become the curly haired, sports coat wearing lover boy who, along with George Jones, proved that a genuine country image doesn’t require rhinestones and a cowboy hat.
Numerous hit records and Country Music Association awards, as a solo artist and Loretta Lynn‘s duet partner, made Twitty perhaps the defining male country singer of 1970s and ’80s Nashville. When Twitty passed in 1993, he was only 59 years old, so who knows how many more hits might’ve followed if he’d reached old age.
The following 10 songs from Twitty’s career cast him as a versatile singer, songwriter and song interpreter, capable of captivating fans with stories about more than just another lonely gal’s tight fittin’ jeans.
10. “You’re The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly” (With Loretta Lynn)
Twitty and Lynn played off each other so well when it came to tales of true love lost (“Crazy in Love”) or countrified living (“Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man“). Comedy worked for them, too, with Lynn’s ever-present wit as a vocalist providing the perfect match for Twitty’s equally unshakable way with words.
9. “That’s My Job”
Twitty adapted to changing times without abandoning his core audience, sustaining his relevance for decades. He continued defining the charts, and his own vast legacy, well into the late 1980’s with hits like this 1987 single. It suited country radio’s need for the next new thing, while maintaining key elements of Twitty’s classic sound.
8. “Linda On My Mind”
Some of the greatest country songs of the 1970’s deal with the l-u-s-t that usually fuels a d-i-v-o-r-c-e. Twitty’s cool confidence made him as good a purveyor of sinning in one’s heart as Charlie Rich, Freddie Hart or anyone else, as heard in this honky tonk-inspired hit.
7. “The Games That Daddies Play”
Twitty speaks for little boys everywhere in search of a father figure with this touching single. It proves his range when it comes to interpreting different subjects. He sang about more than just grown-up’s struggles with love, lust and loss, without shaking his image as every honky tonk angel’s dream.
6. “Don’t Cry Joni” (With Joni Lee Jenkins)
Twitty’s greatest duet outside of his work with Lynn came when he recorded this single with his daughter, Joni Lee Jenkins. Its lyrics find the older love interest of the girl next door allowing true love to slip away. By song’s end, the wayward co-narrator discovers that Joni married his best friend instead.
5. “Red Neckin’ Love Makin’ Night”
For further proof that Twitty sang more than sad, slow country songs, check out this boogie-woogie dance number. At least one mainstream country star was willing and able to embrace the same Southern rock elements as Bocephus’ rowdy friends in the early 1980s.
4. “Slow Hand”
Like many of his fellow legends, Twitty excelled as both a songwriter and an interpreter of others’ songs. Examples of Twitty adding his Midas Touch as a country hit-maker to pop songs includes his reshaping of Bette Midler standard “The Rose” and this former Pointer Sisters hit.
3. “You’ve Never Been This Far Before”
No modern day pop-country star’s raps, nor any outlaw’s controversial x-rated material, resides on the same carnal plain as Twitty’s steamiest number one hit. Success came in spite of several radio stations banning the song due to its racy lyrics.
2. “It’s Only Make Believe”
This missing link between Twitty’s rock beginnings and country legend status remains his second-greatest musical statement. The original MCA single rocked country audiences so hard that some believed “Conway Twitty” was just Elvis Presley recording under different alias.
1. “Hello Darlin'”
The most famous first words in the history of country music lyrics set the stage for one of the genre’s greatest tales of heartbreak.
This incredible song alone might’ve made Twitty a legend, without the benefit of his other number one hits. Nothing in Twitty’s daunting back catalog quite touches his defining hit. Nor do covers by such legends as Charley Pride capture the believable pain in Twitty’s voice.
Twitty’s darling inspired a Russian language version and a sequel, “Happy Birthday Darlin’.”