One of the great record industry myths is that British consumers don’t get, or like, country music. We’ve rarely been massive consumers of the style’s rawer end, and there’s not really the loyalist core audience country finds in the States, but every now and then the record buying public has gone through a cowboy phase and country records (or odd imitations like this one) have topped the charts regularly. The mid-50s was obviously one such time – the arrival of rock and roll rightly dominates most histories, but before “Rock Around The Clock” were a string of western chart-toppers.
So? Well, for one thing the success of country and western shows that there was a demand for Americana before rock and roll hit – not surprising, given the countries’ political and economic closeness and the gut appeal of American confidence and post-war prosperity. But these records also mark a big change in musical fashion, away from the massive orchestral arrangements that were the engine of most early-50s hits and towards more spartan recordings. “The Man From Laramie” stars Jimmy Young, his guitar, and that’s about it.
The sparse arrangement is about all this song has in musical common with country or rock and roll, though. “The Man From Laramie” is entertaining quick-draw hokum, or would be if Jimmy Young wasn’t such a terrible singer, of country or anything. The song’s internal rhyme schemes (fighting/frightening/lightning, for instance) demand wit and brio and poor wooden Jimmy just can’t provide. Brits having hits with US songs had been common practise, but while ballads and novelties like “How Much Is That Doggie?” survived the Atlantic crossing, country songs had a harder time with it. The British did and do like listening to country music: performing it is another matter entirely.