In their commercial heyday, the core group of The Oak Ridge Boys: 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 early '60s gigs for the workers at the nuclear research plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. 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 the 2018 album titled 17th Avenue Revival, produced by Dave Cobb.
To celebrate the group's sustained relevance, we've rounded up the 10 best Oak Ridge Boys songs. Honorable mentions go to "It Takes a Little Rain," "This Crazy Love," "Sail Away," "I Wish You Could Have Turned My Head (And Left My Heart Alone)," "Gonna Take a Lot of River," "Ozark Mountain Jubilee," "No Matter How High" and "Make My Life With You."
10. "American Made"
The guys have a ball with the idea of brand loyalty with this celebration of an American-born woman with an appreciation for French perfume.
9. "Trying to Love Two Women"
Remember that South Park episode that jokes about Christian rock songs replacing "baby" or 'darling" with religious buzzwords? Well, 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 bass singer 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 most of their powerful four-part harmonies and paint them as more than gospel singers in Nashville stars' 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 bares 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.
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