What is the First Platinum lp? Unveiling “Wanted! The Outlaws”

by Patria

The concept of “going platinum” in the music industry signifies a monumental achievement. Reaching platinum status, which typically translates to selling one million units (albums or singles), indicates widespread commercial success and a significant cultural impact. Within the rich tapestry of country music, a single album holds the distinction of being the first to achieve this coveted status: Wanted! The Outlaws. This article delves into the story behind this groundbreaking album, exploring the context of the “outlaw country” movement, the artists involved, and the lasting impact of “Wanted! The Outlaws” on country music history.

I. The Rise of the Outlaws: A Rebellion Brews

The early and mid-1970s witnessed a period of significant change in the country music landscape. The genre, known for its polished production values and adherence to Nashville’s standards, began to feel formulaic to some artists and audiences. A new wave of singers and songwriters emerged, yearning for a more raw, authentic sound and a return to the rebellious spirit that once characterized country music. These artists, dubbed the “outlaws,” challenged the Nashville establishment with their unapologetically honest lyrics, unconventional musical styles, and often-controversial lifestyles.

A. The Outlaw Spirit: At the forefront of this movement stood artists like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser. These musicians shared a common thread – a desire to express themselves freely without the constraints imposed by the Nashville machine. They wrote songs about outlaws, rebels, and everyday struggles, drawing inspiration from country music’s roots while incorporating elements of rock and roll and blues. Their music resonated with audiences yearning for a more genuine and relatable sound.

B. The Nashville Machine: Nashville, Tennessee, has long been considered the heart of country music. During this period, major record labels held immense power, dictating the sound and style of commercially successful music. Nashville studios often favored a polished, “countrypolitan” sound with smooth vocals and orchestrated arrangements. The outlaws, with their rough-around-the-edges approach, clashed with this established system.

II. A Meeting of Legends: The Creation of “Wanted! The Outlaws”

A. The Collaborators: In 1976, a chance meeting between Willie Nelson and music producer Kenny Rogers sparked the idea for a collaborative album featuring outlaw country artists. Rogers, himself a successful country singer, recognized the potential of this movement and envisioned a project that would showcase the raw talent and rebellious spirit of the outlaws. He brought together Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter (Willie’s wife and a talented singer-songwriter in her own right), and Tompall Glaser (a former member of the influential outlaw country group, The Glaser Brothers) to create a one-of-a-kind musical experience.

B. Recording the Album: The recording sessions for “Wanted! The Outlaws” were a stark contrast to the typical Nashville production process. The atmosphere was relaxed and collaborative, with artists feeding off each other’s energy and creativity. There were minimal overdubs, and the focus was on capturing the raw energy of live performances. This approach resulted in an album that felt authentic and immediate, a true reflection of the outlaw spirit.

III. Breaking Barriers: The Impact of “Wanted! The Outlaws”

A. Commercial Success: “Wanted! The Outlaws” was released in 1976 and quickly captured the attention of audiences. The album resonated with fans who longed for a more authentic and rebellious sound. It defied expectations, becoming the first country music album to achieve platinum status, selling over one million copies. This commercial success sent shockwaves through the Nashville establishment, proving that there was a significant audience for outlaw country music.

B. Cultural Impact: Beyond its commercial success, “Wanted! The Outlaws” had a profound cultural impact. The album’s success emboldened other outlaw country artists, paving the way for a wave of new talent and a renewed appreciation for country music’s rebellious spirit. It challenged the Nashville establishment, demonstrating that country music could be commercially successful without sacrificing artistic integrity. The influence of the album is still felt today, with artists across various genres citing the outlaws as a source of inspiration.

C. Individual Highlights: The album featured a collection of powerful songs that showcased the unique talents of each artist. Willie Nelson’s “Whiskey River” and Waylon Jennings’ “Good Ol’ Boys” became instant classics, while Jessi Colter’s “I’m Looking for a Rainy Day” and Tompall Glaser’s “Lonesome is the Best Since Gone” added depth and diversity to the overall sound. The collaborative spirit of the album was evident, with artists contributing backing vocals and instrumentation to each other’s tracks, creating a cohesive and unified listening experience.

IV. A Legacy of Rebellion: The Enduring Influence of “Wanted! The Outlaws”

A. Paving the Way: The success of “Wanted! The Outlaws” opened doors for a new generation of country music artists. Outlaw country flourished throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, with artists like Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, David Allan Coe, and Tanya Tucker finding mainstream success with their raw and uncompromising music. The album’s influence extended beyond the outlaw movement, inspiring countless artists across various genres to embrace their individuality and challenge the conventions of mainstream music.

B. A Catalyst for Change: “Wanted! The Outlaws” also played a significant role in changing the landscape of the Nashville music industry. While the Nashville establishment initially resisted the outlaw movement, the album’s undeniable commercial success forced them to take notice. Record labels began to loosen their grip on artists, allowing for more creative freedom. This shift in power dynamics led to a wider range of sounds and styles being represented within country music.

C. A Timeless Classic: Despite its release in 1976, “Wanted! The Outlaws” remains a timeless classic. The album’s raw energy, powerful songwriting, and rebellious spirit continue to resonate with audiences today. It serves as a reminder of the importance of artistic integrity and the power of music to challenge the status quo. The album’s legacy is further cemented by its inclusion in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress, a designation reserved for recordings that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

See Also: Bluegrass, Country, and Folk Music: What Do They Have in Common?

V. Conclusion

“Wanted! The Outlaws” is more than just the first platinum-selling country music album. It is a cultural milestone that redefined the genre and paved the way for a new generation of artists. The album’s success showcased the power of authenticity and rebellion, proving that commercially successful country music didn’t have to conform to rigid industry standards. The impact of “Wanted! The Outlaws” continues to be felt today, inspiring artists to push boundaries and express themselves with honesty and integrity. So, the next time you hear the outlaw spirit come alive in a country song, take a moment to appreciate the groundbreaking legacy of “Wanted! The Outlaws” and the artists who dared to challenge the Nashville establishment and redefine country music.

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