Oak Ridge Boys songs offer more than "Elvira" plus a bunch of Christmas songs and gospel favorites. In their commercial heyday, the core group of Duane Allen (lead), Joe Bonsall (tenor), William Lee Golden (baritone) and Richard Sterban (bass) -- plus Steve Sanders and other past members--brought four-part harmonies and American family values to the mainstream. Before crossing over to the country and pop charts, the group began as the Oak Ridge Quartet in the '40s. The name comes from the Knoxville-based group's gigs for the workers at the nuclear research plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn. In the early '60s, a name change reflecting the group's interest in sounds beyond Southern gospel became the first in a series of moves that culminated with its first country music album, 1977's Y'all Come Back Saloon, and its hit singles "I'll Be True to You" and "You're the One."
In recent years, the vocal group has gotten its due as elder statesmen of both country and gospel music. In 2011, Little Jimmy Dickens introduced them as members of the Grand Ole Opry. Four years later, Kenny Rogers presented the group its Country Music Hall of Fame medallions. Consistent touring across the United States and beyond and a string of solid gospel albums culminated with a new album in 2018 titled 17th Avenue Revival, produced by Dave Cobb.
10. "American Made"
The guys have a ball with the idea brand loyalty with this celebration of an American-born woman with an appreciation for French perfume. It's silly by design and seems to poke fun at conservative expectations.
9. "Trying to Love Two Women"
Remember that South Park episode that jokes about Christian rock songs replacing "baby" or 'darling" with religious buzzwords? The Oak Ridge Boys did the reverse, as this one is a few lyrical changes from sounding at home in God's house.
8. "Come On In"
A gospel song that swaps Jesus and Heaven with a girlfriend and her house, this song tells of a hard-working man knowing that he's headed to a better place once his shift ends.
7. "Bobbie Sue"
This rocking love song mixes contemporary powerpop and new wave vibes with the Oak Ridge Boys' brand of country. Plus, it's one of Sterban's better vocal performances.
6. "I Guess It Never Hurts to Hurt Sometimes"
Although it's a tad overproduced -- '80s style -- love songs like this one may just point us to what an Elvis backing track might've sounded like by 1983.
5. "Dream On"
This one isn't really country or gospel. It's AM gold--the sort of soft rock that used to be a showcase for some of popular music's greatest songwriters and vocalists.
Faster-driving pop-rock cuts from the Oak Ridge Boys' singles make the best of their powerful four-part harmonies and paint them as more than gospel singers in country crooners' clothing.
3. "Thank God For Kids"
The Boys packed all the sweet sentimentality you'd want from country-gospel into this song about a couple counting it littlest and most rewarding blessings. Plus, the music video is adorable.
2. "Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight"
Cajun influences, familiar to country fans because of Doug Kershaw, Eddy Raven and others, blended well with the group's sound during its pop-accessible peak.
On 1981 album Fancy Free, the Oak Ridge Boys made a solid Dallas Frazier composition from the mid-'60s immortal. Their gospel quartet styling suited a song that always bores a strange resemblance to "Searchin'" by the Coasters. They also do a fantastic job with Frazier's "The Baptism of Jesse Taylor."
This post was originally published on June 21, 2018.