1-CD-Album deluxe with 72-page booklet, 29 tracks; playing time: 79:57 minutes.
Nineteen-fifty-one was the year that pop discovered country music. Many of the top pop songs of the year (Cold, Cold Heart, Beautiful Brown Eyes, The Shot Gun Boogie, Slow Poke, Mockin' Bird Hill, On Top Of Old Smoky, etc.) were country in origin. More bizarrely, Patti Page's Down The Trail Of Aching Hearts was a pop song written to sound country and was covered by country singers. The record that had started pop music's infatuation with country was Patti Page's Tennessee Waltz. Country star Pee Wee King had written and recorded the song in 1947 and released it in 1948 (see our 1948 volume for the original version). King and Cowboy Copas sold roughly 380,000 copies combined, but the song was dead in the water by the time jazz band leader Erskine Hawkins unaccountably recorded it in September 1950. Jerry Wexler, then a 'Billboard' columnist, heard Hawkins' record and suggested to Patti Page's manager that she put it on the flip-side of her 1950 Christmas single. By early 1951, it had become one of those inexplicable, uncontainable smashes. By May, Page's record and other versions had sold 4.8 million copies. Sheet music sales had topped 1.1 million, and it was the highest grossing song that BMI had ever represented. "It is," said 'Billboard' magazine in May 1951, "the biggest song in the modern history of the pop song business."
The idea of covering country records for the pop market had been gathering steam since Jimmie Davis' You Are My Sunshine and Al Dexter's Pistol Packin' Mama became huge wartime hits for Bing Crosby and other pop acts. Acuff-Rose published Tennessee Waltz but the company's first taste of pop action had come several years earlier with Jealous Heart. Written by Red Foley's sister-in-law, Jenny Lou Carson, it was a hit for Tex Ritter in 1945 (see our 1945 volume for Carson's version), but languished for four years before a Chicago pianist and singer, Al 'Mister Flying Fingers' Morgan, made it a top five pop record in 1949. Later in 1949, Acuff-Rose had another pop hit when Frank Sinatra and others covered Red Foley's Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy (see our 1949 volume for that). 'Billboard' was amazed that Acuff-Rose's only office was in Nashville. "The firm has no contact men or exploitation or business representation in New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago," the journal noted incredulously.
Cold, Cold Heart followed on the heels of Tennessee Waltz. Tony Bennett's recording jumped to the top of the pop charts, and every record label had at least one cover version. The Fontane Sisters and Perry Como did it for RCA; Louis Armstrong and Eileen Wilson for Decca; Tony Fontane and Dinah Washington for Mercury; and so on. It served notice that Hank Williams' songs had a potential that was unthinkable when he sent his acetates of God, Mother, and Death songs to Acuff-Rose just five years earlier. The market had changed and Williams had astutely changed with it.