Han’s Worst Hits Of The 70’s- late 1979- “Coward Of The County”- Kenny Rogers. Before he was known for one of the textbook examples of plastic surgery disasters- Kenny Rogers was for reasons that I still don’t totally get- a huge country and pop star. Off the top of my head I can’t think of a ‘country’ artist who had more pop crossover success than Rogers. He had enjoyed some success in the pop band Kenny Rogers and The First Edition in the late 60’s but he was approaching 40 when he really hit it big in 1977 with Lucille. After Lucille his career exploded. He would go on to have 20 Billboard To 40 Pop hits, countless country hits including 21 #1’s. His two #1’s on the pop chart- Lady and the duet with Dolly Parton “Islands In The Stream.” I never liked Kenny Rogers- but I must admit he had one great song- The Gambler. To me his success always baffled me. Maybe his safe- lame country-pop found a niche in the late 70’s with people who didn’t care for disco- and weren’t into rock music. He seemed to sell an old west image- with the beard and some of the songs he covered. I think he found a formula for success and rode it out- it certainly worked.
The song of his I hated the most- Coward Of The County. Who would have thought a song that mentioned gang rape would go to #3 on the pop charts and #1 on the country charts? It is a long story song -written by Roger Bowling and Billy Ed Wheeler about a young man who had a reputation of being somewhat of a wimp who never stood up for himself- it goes through how Tommy was viewed as ‘yellow’- until the Gatlin boys took turns with Becky- and there were three of them- he then hunts them down and beats the crap out of them leaving them on the barroom floor. There was some controversy over the dropping of the Gatlin boys as being the gang rapers- there was a country group the Gatlin Brothers. Rogers claimed he never thought of the connection. Hard to believe- at the time I did and I couldn’t name one Gatlin Brothers song- but I knew of them. Larry Gatlin would say that one of the writers Roger Bowling for some reason had a grudge against them and he didn’t know why. He stated they had a confrontation a couple years before the song came out at an awards show. Then he name drops them in the song. The song dreadful- at 4:20 seconds -it feels like 20 minutes. They also made a movie of the song in 1981 starring Rogers.