Few in pop culture history can touch the coolness and talent of Dean Martin. Dino would've been one of the top entertainers in the world in any era, and during the time we did get him, he typically sang as well as Rat Pack pal Frank Sinatra and was just as funny as silver screen and television variety show partner Jerry Lewis.
As a recording artist, Martin added a touch of class to jazz standards and the pop hits of Bing Crosby and other contemporaries. Such tunes anchor a catalog way deeper than obvious classics "Everybody Loves Somebody," "Memories are Made of This," "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" and "That's Amore."
Beginning in 1963, Martin found himself at home while embracing the polished Nashville sound with two Reprise albums, Dean "Tex" Martin: Country Style and Dean "Tex" Martin Rides Again. Naturally, someone who could've made the phonebook sound like a Tin Pan Alley hit paired well with country music at a time when smooth-voiced crooners dominated the genre.
The two album cycle begins with an orchestral cover of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." The team of Martin, producer Chuck Sagle and arranger/composer Don Costa retooled the song to suit a crooner. Likewise, Martin and his support staff changed "Hey Good Lookin'" from a sign of rockabilly to come to a pop stroll that's ready-made for a Hollywood film. Neither song's alterations completely overshadowed the raw emotion in Williams' lyrics (the accurate definition of "keepin' it country").
Another song by a country legend, Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line," got the Tinseltown treatment on Country Style, except like Martin's "Rio Bravo," it fits classic Westerns more so than peppy musicals.
Other cuts on the first of Martin's two "Tex" albums illustrate how often established pop hits snuck into country star's catalogs. In the context of Country Style, the standard "My Heart Cries For You" points to when cowboys (Gene Autry, who sang it with Jo Stafford) and Southern-raised rock 'n' rollers (Elvis Presley) found success with a song made huge in 1950 by the team of Guy Mitchell and Mitch Miller.
Tex's second ride brought more of the same, in a good way. Listeners get another Williams cover in "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love With You)," which proves that not even the King of Cool sang it better than Linda Ronstadt. The track listing also reminds us that "Corrine, Corrina" belongs to no genre in particular, while Arnold, Morgan, Jim Reeves and others made great pop records for a slightly different target audience than Martin.
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After Martin's "Tex" persona rode off into the sunset, the singer continued cutting country songs that suited his vocal style. These include recordings of Hank Locklin's "Send Me the Pillow You Dream On," Roger Miller's "King of the Road," Glen Campbell's "Gentle on My Mind," Bobby Bare's "Detroit City," Merle Haggard's "I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am," Patsy Cline's "She's Got You" (retitled "He's Got You"), Reeves' "In the Misty Moonlight" and multiple songs from the catalogs of Arnold and Marty Robbins.
In all, the Tex albums were a case of right pop singer, right time and right selection of country songs. He wasn't trying to reinvent the light-hearted material of Little Jimmy Dickens or anyone else who's songs would, in modern terms, cause "Adele sings Luke Bryan" awkwardness.
This article was originally published in April of 2020.
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