Oklahoma-born country singer Mel McDaniel is one of the lost greats of the 1970s and '80s... He had plenty of hits, but isn't well-known to today's country fans. In part this is because of pop culture's short attention span, and also partly due to a series of misfortunes that sideline McDaniel's career: in 1996, he was seriously injured while toppling offstage into an orchestra pit, and was forced to performing. He came out of retirement a decade later, in 2006, but later suffered a heart attack which has kept him out of action ever since. Here's a quick look at his work...
Mel McDaniel "Greatest Hits" (Capitol, 1987)
A tasty best-of covering the second half of McDaniels's hitmaking years, in the 1980s, with producer Jerry Kennedy helping sculpt his sound. It'd be nice to have a retrospective that also included his pre-"Midnight Cowboy" material, but these Don Williams-meets-Waylon Jennings oldies are all still quite nice. Weighing in at a mere ten tracks, this selection is a bit sparse, but still a cut above many of his Reagan-era contemporaries, and with classics like "Big Ole Brew" and "Louisiana Saturday Night," what's to complain about? A pleasant surprise!
Mel McDaniel "The Best Of" (Intersound, 2006)
Mel McDaniel "Gentle To Your Senses" (Capitol, 1977)
This debut album is a nice 1970s time capsule, a mellow, easygoing mix of poetical "sunshine country" and a more robust honkytonk sensibility. The music itself is nice; pop country but still several years before Nashville got swamped by synthesizers, so the studio crews still have some twang. McDaniel's voice is appealing, sort of a mix of Don Williams and Waylon Jennings, and it fits the music... One interesting cultural note, wedged there between the love songs and soft-edged honkytonk tunes is a novelty number called "Roll Your Own," in open praise of smoking pot (he even uses the word "toking," in case there was any doubt...) Also, there's the classic "Plastic Girl," a mildly raunchy, mildly misogynistic, mildly disgusting novelty number about a guy who buys an inflatable sex doll, but loses her when she falls in love with his best friend. Ah, the 'Seventies! They don't make 'em like that anymore. Anyhoo, this is a pretty solid record, one of McDaniel's best, and a fine example of late-'70s country-pop. Worth a spin!
Mel McDaniel "Mello" (Capitol, 1978)
Like many Nashville stars, McDaniel followed up modest early success by firming up his sound and making it more safe and more commercial... He zeroed in on the romantic mode, crooning sweet songs about getting drunk on wine and cuddling up for the night ("Dim The Lights And Pour The Wine") and generally kept things soft and sensitive. He still reflected the times in his music, commenting on the swinging sexuality of the '70s by praising vanilla monogamy in the novelty-oriented "Every Square Has An Angle," about a guy who runs home every night to his sweetie, even though all other guys make fun of him for being such a dork. The creeping spectre of synthesizer-based country comes up on the lofty, countrypolitan "The Farm," but overall this is a solid set of romantic country-pop, suitable for Don Williams fans... The song "Oklahoma Wind" later provided the name of his backing band.
Mel McDaniel "I'm Countryfied" (Capitol, 1981)
McDaniel's career was really gathering steam here, with a solidly-produced album that opens with a cover of "Louisiana Saturday Night," a catchy, cajun-flavored tune that gave him his first Top Ten hit. The rest of the record's pretty solid as well, with an easygoing honkytonk cheatin'-song feel that's reminiscent of Moe Bandy in his mellower mode... There's a little more twang here, and a little less countrypolitan crooning. All in all, one of his best records!
Mel McDaniel "Take Me To The Country" (Capitol, 1982) (LP)
Mel McDaniel "Naturally Country" (Capitol, 1983)
Another amiable, low-key album, in many ways a real throwback to the easygoing ways of mid-'70s Nashville, with little of the synth-driven production of the '80s and plenty of mellow country-pop stylings. On "Nobody Said It Was Easy" McDaniel gets pretty Willie Nelson-ish, with a bluesy harmonica backing his philosophical lyrics, a standout track among other, more generic material. Highlights include the reflective "Just Because It Feels Good," about the perils of sexual attraction and the album's closer, "Maximum Living On A Minimum Wage," which is a pretty decent working-family economic novelty song -- again, the kind of thing you'd expect a decade or so earlier. There are a couple of negligible uptempo numbers, though mostly the album's pretty solid. Worth checking out.
Mel McDaniel "Mel McDaniel With Oklahoma Wind" (Capitol, 1984) (LP)
Mel McDaniel "Let It Roll" (Capitol, 1985)
Mel McDaniel "Stand Up" (Capitol, 1985)
Mel McDaniel "Just Can't Sit Down Music" (Capitol, 1986)
Mel McDaniel "Now You're Talkin' " (Capitol, 1988)
Mel McDaniel "Rock-A-Billy Boy" (Capitol, 1989)
Mel McDaniel "Country Pride" (DPI, 1991)
Mel McDaniel "Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On" (Branson, 1993)
Mel McDaniel "Reloaded" (Self-released, 2006)
Hick Music Index