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Kenny Rogers

21 Number Ones


“You got to know when to hold 'em,
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run.”

Kenny Rogers' Greatest Hits

Kenny Rogers, Country superstar, beloved icon of American entertainment and a worldwide legend, has sold in excess of 120 million records. Between 1978 and 1984, every album he released went gold or platinum. One of his Greatest Hits albums has sold more than 12 million copies, he has 26 Gold records to his credit, and he has received numerous awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award for a career spanning six decades. He has also starred in several TV movies, most famously The Gambler and its sequels. Prior to all of this overwhelming success, Rogers spent 9 years paying his dues in the folk group The New Christy Minstrels and the Country-Pop band Kenny Rogers & The First Edition. As a member of the latter, he enjoyed chart success with the hit singles Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town, Just Dropped In (To see What Condition My Condition Was In, Reuben James, and Something’s Burning. When he left the group, he was heavily in debt…but not for long.

In 1975 Rogers signed a solo deal with United Artists, where he and producer Larry Butler created a brand of immaculately crafted and lushly produced easy listening Country-Pop (sometimes with a slight R&B flavor), which proved to be a winning formula. After a few minor hits, Rogers’ big breakthrough came in 1976 with the release of Lucille (a touching tale of a father of four, who’s been left by his wife), a major hit on both country and pop charts, eventually winning the Country Music Association's Single of the Year award. Lucille and 20 other songs that reached the No. 1 spot, on either the Country or the Pop charts, make up the excellent single-disc Kenny Rogers compilation 21 Number Ones. There’s also a wonderful bonus track, the regretful Don’t Fall In Love With A Dreamer (“Just when you think / You've really changed him / He'll leave you again…/ Don't fall in love with a dreamer”), a duet with Kim Carnes, which was also a major hit on the Pop and Country charts (No. 4 & No. 3, respectively).

Between 1977 and 1980, Kenny Rogers scored nine chart-toppers, including five straight No. 1 hits: The rhythmically charged Love or Something Like It, co-written by Rogers, tells of a man looking for nothing more than just a one-night stand in a bar (“Some want a drink first / And some want to just sit and talk / Oh, it's two in the morning / I'm running and she wants to walk.”), and as it turns out, he’s in luck (“That's when I asked her / My place or your place / I hope I'm not out of line / I asked the wrong thing / But just the right woman this time”), but much to his surprise, he feels that there might be more to her than just a casual encounter (“Love or somethin’ like it's got a hold on me / Love or somethin’ damn near like it's got a hold on me”). The classic The Gambler is a skillfully constructed Country-Pop gem with philosophic lyrics that are just as much about life in general as they are about playing cards or gambling (“Every gambler knows that the secret to survive is / Knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep / 'Cos every hand's a winner and every hand's a loser / And the best that you can hope for is dyin' in your sleep”). It’s long since become Rogers’ signature song. As has Coward Of The County, another story-telling song, about a man who for years tries to live by his father’s last words (“Promise me, son, not to do the things I've done / “Walk away from trouble if you can / Now it won't mean you're weak / If you turn the other cheek / I hope you're old enough to understand / Son, you don't have to fight to be a man”), which unfairly gives him a reputation as a coward (“Ev'ryone considered him the coward of the county / He'd never stood one single time to prove the county wrong”), but when his girlfriend is raped by three brothers, he finally breaks his promise to his father (“Twenty years of crawlin' was bottled up inside him / He wasn't holdin' nothin' back; he let 'em have it all / When Tommy left the barroom not a Gatlin boy was standin' / He said, ‘This one's for Becky’, as he watched the last one fall”). Both of these story-telling songs are a testament to the high quality of Rogers underrated output in the prime of his career, and both were turned into successful movies starring Kenny Rogers himself.

The tender ballad She Believes in Me, one of my personal favorites, is a sweet and sentimental tale of a struggling musician, who, after his late night gigs, finds comfort at home in bed with his girlfriend (“And she believes in me / I'll never know just what she sees in me / I told her someday if she was my girl / I could change the world / With my little songs / I was wrong”). The regretful lyrics and Rogers’ heartfelt vocal beautifully conveys the healing powers of love, when faced by the harsh reality of failure in other aspects of life. You Decorated My Life, one of the songs most widely associated with Kenny Rogers, features lyrics that are about life-changing love (“Like a rhyme with no reason in an unfinished song / There was no harmony / Life meant nothin' to me / Until you came along”) and an uplifting chorus (“And you decorated my life / Created a world where dreams are a part / And you decorated my life / By paintin' your love all over my heart / You decorated my life”), as well as some subtle, very '70s-sounding flute that only add to the overall feeling of sweet release and tranquility.

In the late '70s, Rogers recorded two albums with his friend Country songstress Dottie West and enjoyed a series of top ten duets, three of which topped the charts and have gone on to become country classics. The smoldering Every Time Two Fools Collide is about two strong and stubborn personalities clashing in a troubled relationship (“How long can love survive / If we keep choosing sides / And who picks up the pieces / Every time two fools collide”), the bouncy All I Ever Need Is You puts into words the contentment and peace of mind found in true love (“Some men follow rainbows I am told / Some men search for silver, some for gold / But I found my treasures in my soul”), and in What Are We Doin’ In Love two opposites are trying to come to terms with feeling attracted to each other (“We're like summer and winter / We're not one bit alike…/ We're like sunup and sundown / People say we're never going to last / Like Uptown and downtown / You like it slow but I like it fast”). Other songs included are Roger’s solid cover of the Bob Seger classic We’ve Got Tonight (a duet with Sheena Easton), the Lionel Ritchie-penned and produced Lady, a lovely piano piece with a subtle string arrangement, showcasing one of Rogers’ most moving and accomplished vocal performances ever. And then there’s three late-period gems, Crazy (not the Willie Nelson song), the melodic Morning Desire, written by Dave Loggins (cousin of Kenny Loggins), and his duet with Alison Krauss, Buy Me A Rose, with which he scored his first No. 1 in more than a decade (in 2000), making him, at 61, the oldest artist in the history of Country music to reach the top of the charts. 21 Number Ones is an excellent compilation that belongs in any long-time Kenny Rogers fan’s collection, and is also the best place to start for newcomers.

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