406. ‘Lucille’, by Kenny Rogers

So, while The Sex Pistols perhaps should have kicked Rod Stewart off the top, in the end he was replaced by another crazy-haired, middle-finger sticking punk rocker… Only kidding, he was replaced by Kenny Rogers.

Lucille, by Kenny Rogers (his 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 12th – 19th June 1977

The two main sounds of the mid to early-late seventies, since glam died, have undeniably been disco and slushy soft-rock. But coming up behind, in the bronze medal position, surprisingly, is country and western. We’ve had Tammy Wynette, Billy Connolly as Tammy, J. J. Barrie, Pussycat… and now a proper legend of the genre.

Country music is often sad; and yet often ridiculous. It is a melodramatic genre. And the opening line of this record is up there with some of the very best. In a bar in Toledo, Across from the depot, On a bar stool she took off her ring… Talk about setting a scene! A tawdry tale is told, as the singer approaches this beautiful, sad woman.

She’s been living on dreams, she’s finally had enough, she needs more out of life… Kenny’s about to make his move, when in through the barroom doors strides Lucille’s ex. The big hands were calloused, He looked like a mountain, For a minute I thought I was dead… As silly as all this is, when Kenny Rogers is on form he tells a story like no other.

You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille… The story spins on its head. Four hungry children and a crop in the fields… We assumed she was the victim, finally breaking away from hardship and abuse… But is she? Kenny takes her to a hotel, but when the time comes to do the deed, all he can hear is her estranged husband’s voice… This time your hurtin’ won’t heal…

What this song really needs is a third and final verse. Who’s really to blame? Who’s telling the truth? Does she go back to her family farm? Does Kenny get his leg over? We need closure! Instead we get the chorus and a slow, slow fade. He may have set an excellent scene; but Rogers needs practice in wrapping up a story. Thankfully, come his next #1 single – yes, he has more than one – he will have mastered the art of storytelling, and produced a classic.

If it weren’t for the pretty gritty subject matter, I’d describe this as a lullaby. The guitar sways and soothes, while the bass keeps time like a metronome. Many Kenny Rogers hits I can think of do this, hide a tough subject matter behind a soothing rhythm: ‘Ruby’, ‘The Gambler’, his aforementioned 2nd chart-topper… ‘Lucille’ was his first big smash since breaking with his band The First Edition, and it set him off on an extended run of hits.

I was going to ask why on earth this record made #1, for a near forty-year-old country singer. But perhaps we’re past that. ‘Lucille’ made #1 simply because country and western music was a very popular genre at the time. It’s not an ever-present, but this is far from the last time we’ll be hearing it…


22 thoughts on “406. ‘Lucille’, by Kenny Rogers

  1. If there’d been any justice Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town would have climbed one place higher, now that’s a great song, great record, and it stays the right side of Country – it avoids tipping over the precipice into parody or overly-sentimental mush. The 60’s and early 70’s was a great period for classic Country, the 70s’ less so as the decade moved on. Not a fan of this, on the whole. Radio One’s Noel Edmunds ran a “misheard lyrics” slot on his show back in the day, and this one was fair game for a tale of a faulty shoe:

    You picked a fine time to leave me Loose Heel
    4 hundred children and a crap in the fields


  2. I wasn’t really keen on this at the time, but four decades-plus later I must admit to a sneaking liking for it. It has worn far better than ‘No Charge’. On the subject of his other songs, check out ‘Just Dropped In’ (1968, I think), and ‘Something’s Burning’ (1970, the follow-up to ‘Ruby’). If you only know Kenny from the country material, I think you’ll be agreeably impressed.

    • I really like ‘Just Dropped In’, and will check out ‘Something’s Burning’ on your recommendation!

      ps. ‘better than ‘No Charge” is perhaps the lowest bar ever set…

  3. It’s not exactly a strong song but…at least there are no pickup trucks and tractors in this song. Yea I like Just Dropped In…. his later music is in the middle of the road. This made Rod’s two quiet songs look cool.

  4. One thing you’ll notice about the ’70s and the early ’80s was that it was one of the most fertile eras for country music crossing over into the pop mainstream at least in America and no one personifies that crossover more than Kenny Rogers. Tom Breihan makes a good point in his Number Ones column about how Rogers is easily one of the most shameless pop hitmakers in country music considering his two #1 hits in America were both written by non-country artists and were intentional in chasing a wider mainstream appeal. 1980’s “Lady” was co-written by Lionel Richie and you can definitely tell Richie’s influence in what is another one of his devotional ballads and it had an insane crossover appeal hitting #1 on the Hot 100, Country, and Soul charts. Then, Rogers collaborated with fellow country crossover star of the moment Dolly Parton for 1983’s “Islands In The Stream” written by none other than the Bee Gees and like “Lady” is only nominally a country song and more of a soulful soft rock song. On those notes, “Lucille” is definitely more country sounding than his actual big hits in America.

    • It is a strange quirk, I think, how popular American country & western music was (and in some sense still is) in the UK. In the US, the people who listen to songs about cowboys and trucks often are really cowboys with trucks. In Britain, though, despite it being completely removed from their world, something about the genre appealed to people in working class, industrial areas, especially in northern England and Scotland… tough men and faithful women etc. Western movies also were very popular, as well as cowboy action/romance novels (I remember my Grandad, from Glasgow, reading them) I guess it was escapism, but to me it seems as if you’re escaping a tough life for an equally tough fantasy life…

      • That’s interesting. I’ve found it weird that country music manage to hit big in the U.K. Not that American music genres haven’t been able to become cultural phenomenons in the U.K. with rock and roll, blues, and R&B being big examples but Country has always been viewed as a very American genre that even with foreign superstars like Olivia Newton-John, Anne Murray, and Shania Twain, I never think of it much as an international genre. Though despite the image of country music listeners being people who are cowboys and drive trucks, its popularity in America is much more than that with many listeners coming from suburban and even urban areas where you wouldn’t normally expect country to be big. I know some friends and family who don’t conform to the stereotypical country image who are big fans of the music.

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