American country music icon Kenny Rogers has died at the age of 81. A representative of the singer, Variety reported, said that Rogers “passed away peacefully at home from natural causes under the care of hospice and surrounded by his family”.
Though Rogers is best known for his series of hit country singles that he sung from the mid 1970s to the late 1980s, he began his singing career in rock and pop music with his group The First Edition. After leaving the group in 1976, Rogers embarked on a solo singing career that saw his rapid rise in the country music genre. Some of his hits from this time topped both country music and pop music charts.
Rogers is strongly associated with his 1978 Grammy award-winning hit The Gambler, which led to a series of television films featuring the singer as the eponymous character. Rogers also had successful singing partnerships with, among others, Dolly Parton and Sheena Easton, which propelled him to become a crossover icon popular with both country and pop music listeners. Here are five iconic Rogers songs.
The Gambler (1978)
Written by country music songwriter Don Schillz, the song was recorded by several singers, including Johnny Cash, before Rogers turned it into a number one country music hit as well as a hit on pop music charts. The song’s lyrics follow a gambler advising a man down on his luck about how to get by in life (video above).
Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town (1967)
Rogers recorded this when he was part of The First Edition. The sprightly but melancholic song is about a paralysed army veteran, said to have fought in a “crazy Asian war” (presumably the Vietnam war), looking helplessly from his bed at his wife getting dolled up to leave the house and spend the evening outside.
Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In) (1968)
Released right in the middle of the counterculture era, the lyrics describe the experience of being high on LSD. The song garnered a new lease in life after it was featured in the Coen brothers’ cult 1998 film The Big Lebowski.
Sweet Music Man (1977)
Although sung by Rogers, the lyrics follow a woman witnessing her lover, a “heck of a singer and powerful man”, devote himself to his career and everything else, but never her. The song’s production balances a country music sound along with a synth-based one, demonstrative of Rogers’ aim to appeal to listeners of both country and pop music.
I Don’t Need You (1981)
Rogers had famously collaborated with rhythm-and-blues legend Lionel Richie as producer on Lady (1980), which had the distinctive feat of charting on Billboard magazine’s country, Hot 100, adult contemporary, and Top Soul Singles charts all at once. This 1981 ballad, produced by Richie, features the gravelly-voiced Rogers at his most soulful.