Sunday, November 29, 2015

Happy Birthday, Jody Miller!

Today I want to pay tribute to Jody Miller, an incredibly talented singer with an impressive voice, yet who in my opinion is terribly underrated. Although most longtime country fans will know Jody, I suspect that her name may not be that recognized by the general public today. 

Jody Miller arrived on the scene in the early 1960s as a singer of folk and pop songs. She hit it big early in her career when she recorded Queen Of The House, which was called an “answer song” to Roger Miller’s recently released mega-hit, King Of The Road. With Roger’s blessing, the 1965 song featured the same melody but with new lyrics written that gave the female point of view, with the premise of a weary modern housewife who still was thankful for the high points in her otherwise humdrum week. The song really put her on the map, winning Jody a Grammy in the process.

As a result of that hit song, Jody was pegged as a country singer, though she was still keen to explore more diverse types of song, whether country, folk or pop. That probably didn’t sit well with the music industry at the time, as record label execs preferred artists that fit a clearly defined music genre, and Jody wasn’t easy to categorize. She actually was one of the earlier female crossover artists, straddling both pop and country charts, and opening up the door for other similar singers who came along a few years later, such as Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Olivia Newton-John.

Though she put out her share of record albums and did regular concert tours, Jody never really was able to repeat the success of Queen Of The House. I believe the problem was due to the material she chose to record, in that many of her notable songs were those that had already been made famous earlier by other vocalists and groups, such as He’s So Fine, Baby I’m Yours, and Will You Love Me Tomorrow, the last of which had already been recently revived by Linda Ronstadt. Here's the TV appearance of Jody singing He's So Fine, which was used as the basis for my caricature of her:

Though fine songs all, what Jody really needed was a brand new original song she could lay sole claim to and establish as a “Jody Miller” hit. Alas, such a song never really came to be, and so despite her remarkable vocal chops and warm, winning smile, Jody Miller never became the household name that so many of her colleagues had achieved when country music was gaining greater mass popularity throughout the 60s and 70s.

Still, one distinction that Jody can lay claim to is being one of the pioneers in what would later become “music videos”, in that she performed a number of her songs for Scopitones on film, usually featuring a troupe of pretty back-up dancers. Here’s a sample of that, with Jody acting out her big hit, Queen Of The House. I think Jody is incredibly cute, with her all-American good looks, and holds her own among the obvious charms of the girl dancers! Enjoy!


Jennie Mc said...

Nice job on the blog entry and the cartoon! I really enjoyed what you had to say. When Jody contacted Billy Sherrill at Epic Records to work with her in the 70's, his strategy was to bridge the worlds of pop and country to highlight Jody's expertise in both arenas. "He's So Fine" was a heck of a hit for her, crossing over from #5 Country to #2 Easy Listening and even #53 on Billboard Hot 100, which is pretty good considering it was originally only targeted for Country audiences. Jody's version of "He's So Fine" did garner another Grammy nomination for her, so that's pretty good. Jody herself begged Billy Sherrill and company to write original songs for her, which resulted in her Top 10 Country hits for her such as "There's a Party Goin' On" (#2) and "Good News," (#9) as well a Foster and Rice Top 5 Country Hit "Darling, You Can Always Come Back Home." Worth noting is the fact that Jody and Johnny Paycheck were nominated for CMA Duet of the year for Jody's single "Let's All Go Down to the River," her 1972 hit which has become a country gospel standard. Jody also is the only Billboard charting artist of the 70's that I am aware of who commuted from her home in Oklahoma (rather than living in L.A. NYC or Nashville) to record and make appearances. This is a much more common practice today, but in the 70's it was almost unheard of. This proves again how Jody Miller was ahead of her time.

Thanks again for recognizing this great artist on her birthday. Your illustration of her is fabulous!

Pete Emslie said...

Thanks, Jennie! I'm happy to hear that Jody had several hits along the way after all, as I'm admittedly no expert on her career or the Billboard charts, so I wasn't aware. I think she's a terrific talent with such a warm, rich voice, and also she strikes me as being a very classy lady!

If you're a big country fan like me, you may be interested in the previous caricatures and tribute posts I've done on here for Crystal Gayle and Jerry Reed. Starting back around the mid 1970s, I pretty much listened to country music exclusively, having been less enamoured with where pop music was starting to head at that time. My intention is to caricature more of the classic country stars from that era of the 60s through 80s that I love, before everything started to go the unfortunate way of pop in the 90s with the "New Country" trend. We've lost so many of the classic stars already, so I'd really like to honour the ones who are still here!