Personnel: Gene Autry (vocals, guitar).
Though music journalists may tout Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, the fact remains that Gene Autry was one of the most popular and commercially successful country stars of the 20th century. While a large part of Autry's impact was due to his film, television, and radio careers, his music was innovative in its own right. Mixing country song structures and a healthy dose of hillbilly twang with the polished sound of Western music (characterized by a crooning vocal approach), Autry drove a rural musical form straight into the mainstream.
THE ESSENTIAL GENE AUTRY, Columbia's excellent two-disc overview of his output, brings together everything listeners need to know about the Singing Cowboy. The set kicks off with 1939's "Back in the Saddle Again," going on to encompass well-known Autry originals ("The Yellow Rose of Texas"), early radio pop ("You Are My Sunshine"), American folk classics ("Goodnight Irene"), Western anthems ("Jingle Jangle Jingle"), and traditional songs ("On Top of Old Smokey"). Some of the tunes here date back to the early '30s and continue through to the early '50s, while holiday ditties like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (which he turned into one of the top-grossing singles of all time) are also present. Autry's clear tenor, strong arrangements, and wholesome appeal shine through on this definitive set.