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Mary Kay Place was one of a handful of stars who made television worth watching in 1976-77. As the second banana on the weeknight syndicated soap opera satire Mary Hartman Mary Hartman (Jan. 1976-May 1977) she walked away with the series in the same way Flo stole Alice out from under Linda Lavin.
Place's character, dippy aspiring country singer Loretta Haggers, was one of TV's symbiotic moments - bright script writing brought to vivid life by an actress perfectly suited to her role. Portrayed with a hesitantly sweet but staggering niavete, every scene was rich with comedy gold when Loretta was in the mix. So much so that Mary Hartman herself became irrelevant to the series; star Louise Lasser dropped out after a year and change. (It's a lot more complicated than that but let's move on.)
With the show at its peak of popularity in 1976 Mary Kay Place recorded an album, 'Tonite! At the Capri Lounge, Loretta Haggers' produced by Brian Ahern. The LP was nominated for a Grammy Award, reaching # 6 on the Country album charts; the single, "Baby Boy" written by Ms. Place, reached #3.
"Baby Boy" had quite a bit of crossover play because of the TV tie-in and because Country artists were beginning to invade the pop charts in a big way in 1976, a year that included massive hits like Glen Campbell's "Southern Nights"; "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" by Crystal Gayle; "Here You Come Again" by Dolly Parton; and "You Light Up My Life" from Debby Boone.
This was a period of transition for Country acts in general, touring and hard living seemed to be wearing out veterans like Jerry Lee Lewis and George Jones. Newer, slicker acts wanted to distance themselves from the Nashville twang so this album wasn't exactly embraced by the Country music establishment. At least that's my recollection.
While 'Tonite! At the Capri Lounge, Loretta Haggers' was marketed as a send-up of country music the songs were all solid, pristinely produced. Dolly Parton sang background on at least two cuts, "Good Ol' Country Baptizin'" (below) and “All I Can Do", a Parton original. Emmylou Harris, Anne Murray and Nicolette Larson all sang backup on various tunes as well.
You Tube, at one point, had the entire LP, it's since been deleted but it was great to hear it again. "Vitamin L", again written by Mary Kay Place, was the second single from the LP which only got limited play, limping to # 77 on the country charts. Mary Kay delivered a particularly tender vocal on track three, "Streets Of This Town (Ode To Fernwood)", a haunting echo of the hushed angst that hung in the mid-1970s atmosphere. A week after re-listening to this album this is the melody that stuck with me...
Producer Brian Ahern was most well-known at this time for his hit LPs with Anne Murray and Emmylou Harris. Mary Kay delivered a particularly tender vocal on track three, "Streets Of This Town (Ode To Fernwood)", a haunting echo of the hushed angst that hung in the mid-1970s atmosphere. A week after re-listening to this album this is the melody that stuck with me...
Overall I enjoyed this disc much more today than I did when it was released. I doubt I gave it too many listens back in the day, I'm sure others dismissed it out of hand as well, but it's quite a bit more sophisticated than most of the mainstream Country albums of the era.
It's authentic in a modern sense - slick but with an innocent edge that the actress was adept at conveying on television. And let's face it, the girl could sing.
By any reckoning this album was a triumph for Mary Kay Place. Her follow up release in 1977, "Aimin' To Please", was an obvious attempt to position the actress as a serious musical artist. The result was drenched in the syrupy slickness that defined Country LPs of the period but possessed little of that lighthearted charm the first recording radiated. "Don't Make Love" from the LP illustrates that perfectly.
The second album's “Something to Brag About,” a duet with Willie Nelson, earned the pair a minor place on the Country music charts - leading up to Mary Kay Place hosting Saturday Night Live with musical guest Willie Nelson on December 10, 1977.
(PICTURED: a European released single.)
Year three was when key members of the SNL cast were spreading their wings. And by spreading their wings I mean partying like maniacal rock stars. Belushi was barely making it through rehearsals some weeks with doctors on hand backstage to get him ready when the red light went on.
Mary Kay's was the next to last episode aired before the mid-season break, the writers and cast were teetering on exhaustion. (The next production was the notorious "Anyone Can Host" episode with Elvis Costello - and the one before this was an uncomfortable mess hosted by Buck Henry. That said, the first episode after the Christmas break might be the best SNL ever.)
Some sketches, like the opening and a long musical parody, didn't quite ignite but they were funny enough to those of us watching at home, stoned with friends. "Lord, let it be tens and not fives" became a catch phrase around our group. Comedy guest Andy Kaufman killed, Weekend Update with Dan Aycroyd was hilarious, and this was Gilda Radner & John Belushi at their height.
The duet with Mary Kay Place and Willie Nelson, "Something to Brag About", would be her next and last single. The number falls flat at the beginning, Willie appears to be completely obliterated. (Folks, ever want to know what someone looks like when they are coked up but trying to appear sober? Watch Willie Nelson in that episode.) But once Mary Kay got going the number sails, at least as high as it can with one wing. "Something to Brag About" was actually a cute little song that caught on in a minor way. Here's the album version:
Mary Kay Place recorded one more album in 1979, "Almost Grown", it was unreleased until 2011. The production sported an all-star ledger of 1970s recording artists participating, talent like Waddy Wachtel, Rick Danko, Paul Butterfield, Garth Hudson and Nicolette Larson.
Both of Mary Kay Place's earlier LPs are also now on CD with two bonus cuts included.
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Mary Kay Place Albums of the 1970s
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