Conway Twitty was a one-man hit machine: Throughout his career, from his pop and rock beginnings in the 1950s to his pivot to country in the mid-1960s, he had more than 50 songs reach the top of the charts.
Twitty built his career on crooning love songs, both as a solo artist and as a singing partner to Loretta Lynn. Although his tunes don't seem particularly racy these days, they were frequently controversial for the time.
Below, The Boot counts down Twitty's Top 10 songs. From sweet to sultry to silly, it's all there:
“Tight Fittin’ Jeans” describes a very specific fantasy: that of an unhappy rich woman (a woman “used to wearin’ pearls”) who shows up at a bar to live out her dream of living like a cowgirl for one night. All she wants, apparently, is to wear jeans, drink beer and dance, and so the song’s narrator obliges her. Is it a strange scenario? Maybe. But it was also Twitty’s 26th No. 1 hit on the country charts.
What do you get when you mix an old Irish ballad, an eventual country singer and a song that reached No. 18 on the R&B charts? You get, surprisingly, Twitty’s version of “Danny Boy.” While Twitty opens the song in the way listeners are used to hearing it -- somber and mournful -- his version eventually transforms into a joyful, late-‘50s-rock-sounding celebration. Not everyone was a fan of Twitty’s version, though: It’s among the songs that have been banned by the BBC.
"You've Never Been This Far Before"
For all of the controversy Twitty’s lyrics caused throughout his career due to their supposedly risque subject matters, “You’ve Never Been This Far Before” might just go the furthest. Lines such as “I don’t know what I’m saying as my trembling fingers touch forbidden places” got the song banned from several radio stations, but it didn’t matter: It became his 10th No. 1 country single -- perhaps in part due to its catchy “bum bum bum” refrain.
Twitty and Lynn were a formidable team, and this song was their first No. 1 as a duo. It’s not the song to listen to if you need a pick-me-up; instead, the narrator is trying to justify his cheating by explaining how bad things are at home. The two lovers sing, “We know it’s wrong for us to meet / But the fire’s gone out at home / And there’s nothin’ cold as ashes / After the fire is gone.”
“It’s Only Make Believe” was Twitty’s first big hit … just not on the country charts. As a single, it hit No. 1 on the pop charts in the U.S., the UK and Canada. There are numerous cover versions, from Glen Campbell, Clay Aiken to Twitty himself (12 years after the original recording, with Lynn), but there’s something special about Conway’s doo-wop-tinged original.
One thing Twitty did so well throughout his career was straddling different styles and genres. In “Don’t Take It Away,” he goes full-on R&B crooner, and the result is a powerful, dynamic vocal performance from Twitty. Fans responded well, as “Don’t Take It Away” earned Twitty his 21st No. 1 single.
By the time “Linda on My Mind” came out, Twitty was used to controversy. The story of a man sadly fantasizing about his friend’s wife, Linda, while lying next to another woman was seen by some as morally dubious. But something about the song, whether it was the content or the harmonies, resonated with fans, earning Twitty his 12th No. 1 on the U.S. country singles chart.
"You're the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly"
“You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly” is, somehow, a love song -- a begrudging love song, maybe, but a love song nonetheless. You can thank the musical chemistry and the lighthearted banter between Lynn and Twitty for that. The entire song is devoted to teasing and insulting each other: “Conway, why in the devil don’t you gon’ and shave and put on a clean pair of pants?” Lynn sings, while Twitty responds, “I wish you’d take them curlers out of your hair an’ go put on a little bit of makeup.” While they both accuse the other of being “the reason our kids are ugly,” the heart of this song is sweet.
"I'd Love to Lay You Down"
This 1980 No. 1 hit got Twitty in trouble for being too risque, with Paul Harvey going so far as to categorize it as “porno country,” even though the most “vulgar” part of the song is Twitty singing that he’d “love to lay you down.” Twitty always defended this song, though, explaining in Tom Roland’s Billboard Book of No. 1 Country Hits, “It’s not an off-color song. It’s a love song about a couple who have been married for several years.” Sweet lyrics such as “When a whole lot of Decembers are showin’ in your face / Your auburn hair has faded and silver takes its place / You’ll be just as lovely, and I’ll still be around” prove Twitty's point.
Twitty wrote this song in 1950, but he didn’t release it until 1969 -- meaning he waited almost two decades to introduce the world to a song that would become a country standard. Following its commercial success, “Hello Darlin’” was named the No. 1 song of 1970. If you’re wondering where else -- besides old LPs, the radio and karaoke bars -- you might have heard this song, fans of the cartoon Family Guy may remember that an episode of the show closes with a live performance of “Hello Darlin’.”