‘Wanted: The Outlaws’ Didn’t Change Country Music, It Changed Pop Music
What makes an album legendary?
There is no answer to that question. After all, if there was a definitive answer, a benchmark or sound that vaults an album into legendary territory, wouldn't ever artist record that sound?
There are albums that have achieved legendary status in ever genre' of music, from rock to folk, classical to jazz, blues and all the rest. And then there are a select few that actually move the genre' they are in to another place.
For example, in my opinion the Beatles moved the rock and roll genre' from one place to another. After the Beatles, rock music sounded, well, different.
Wanted: The Outlaws, though, is on a whole different level. It didn't move country music. It moved rock and roll. That's right, it moved a different genre' than it's own.
Let me explain.
Wanted: The Outlaws was released in January, 1976. Featuring Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser, it was the first country album to sell a million copies and has gone down in history as the album that launched the country music 'Outlaw Movement'.
But make no mistake about it. Wanted: The Outlaws is a pure country music album. Songs on the album have become country music classic's and standard's. "Good Hearted Woman," "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys," "Yesterday's Wine," the Jimmie Rogers classic "T For Texas" and the others. Those are nothin' but great country songs.
But (and this is a big but), did you know "Good-Hearted Woman" was a rock and roll and adult contemporary hit? Now really, is there a more country song than "Good-Hearted Woman?"
And yet it became a rock hit, and several other songs from the album were also played by pop and rock radio stations ('My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys" nearly cracked the rock Top 40 chart).
These days many country artist's will make their songs rock to try and capture the rock audience, essentially abandoning traditional country altogether. That's exactly the opposite of what Wanted: The Outlaw did. They didn't change the great country music. What they did do was change their appearance and their attitude.
Suddenly it was OK for young people who liked rock to like country as well. These folks didn't look like my Dad's country star's. Teenagers could carry around a Waylon or Willie album and still be, well, cool.
Wanted: The Outlaws is a legendary country music album because it invited in an entirely new audience without leaving true country music fans in the cold.