Charlie Rich - Career - Career Peak in The 1970s

Career Peak in The 1970s

Despite his lack of consistent commercial success, Epic Records signed Rich in 1967, mainly on the recommendation of producer Billy Sherrill. Sherrill helped Rich refashion himself as a Nashville Sound balladeer during an era when old rock n' rollers like Jerry Lee Lewis and Conway Twitty were finding a new musical home in the country and western format. This new "Countrypolitan" Rich sound paid off in the summer of 1972, when "I Take It on Home" went to number six in the country charts. The title track from his 1973 album, Behind Closed Doors, became a number one hit early in that year, crossing over into the Top 20 on the pop charts. This time his follow-up did not disappoint, as "The Most Beautiful Girl" spent three weeks at the top of the country charts and two weeks at the top of the pop charts. Now that he was established as a country music star, Behind Closed Doors won three awards from the Country Music Association that year: Best Male Vocalist, Album of the Year, and Single of the Year. The album was also certified gold. Rich won a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance, and he took home four ACM awards. One of RCA's several resident songwriters, Marvin Walters, co-wrote for three years with Charlie producing four recordings including a very popular "Set Me Free".

After "The Most Beautiful Girl", number one hits came quickly, as five songs topped the country charts in 1974 and crossed over to the pop charts. The songs were "There Won't Be Anymore" (Pop No. 18), "A Very Special Love Song" (Pop No. 11), "I Don't See Me In Your Eyes Anymore" (Pop No. 47), "I Love My Friend" (Pop No. 24), and "She Called Me Baby" (Pop No. 47). Both RCA and Mercury (Smash was a subsidiary of Mercury which was absorbed into the main company in 1970) re-released his previously recorded material from the mid-1960s, as well. All of this success led the CMA to name him Entertainer of the Year in 1974. In the same year he performed the Academy Award nominated theme song I feel love (Benji's Theme) from the film Benji. Rich had three more top five hits in 1975, but even though he was at the peak of his popularity, Rich began to drink heavily, causing considerable problems off-stage.

Rich's destructive personal behavior famously culminated at the CMA awards ceremony for 1975, when he presented the award for Entertainer of the Year, while visibly intoxicated. Instead of reading the name of the winner, who happened to be John Denver, he set fire to the envelope with a cigarette lighter, before announcing the award had gone to "My friend Mr. John Denver." Some considered it an act of rebellion against the Music Row-controlled Nashville Sound. But many speculated that Rich's behavior was a protest against the award going to Denver, whose music Rich had considered too "pop," and not enough "country." Others, including industry insiders, were outraged, and Rich had trouble having hits throughout 1976, and only had one top ten with "Since I Fell For You."

The slump in his career was exacerbated by the fact that his records began to sound increasingly similar: pop-inflected country ballads with overdubbed strings and little of the jazz or blues Rich had performed his entire life. He did not have a top ten hit again until "Rollin' With the Flow" in 1977 went to number one. Early in 1978, he signed with United Artists Records, and throughout that year, he had hits on both Epic and UA. His hits in 1978 included the top ten hits "Beautiful Woman," "Puttin' In Overtime At Home," and his last number one with "On My Knees," a duet with Janie Fricke.

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