Charley Pride died Saturday (Dec. 12) of COVID-19 complications, leaving behind a legacy as a groundbreaker within country music. The Mississippi native was also a baseball talent — he played with several Negro Leagues teams and tried out for some Major League Baseball squads, too — and was later signed to RCA Records by Chet Atkins himself.
That record deal accelerated Pride's career success, and he soon became a dominant force within the genre; in fact, between 1967 and 1984, only two of his singles missed the Top 10 of Billboard's country charts. Overall, he racked up 40 No. 1 hits, and won an impressive array of awards.
In 1971, Pride's album Did You Think to Pray won Best Sacred Performance (Musical) at the Grammy Awards, while his single "Let Me Live" nabbed the Grammy for Best Gospel Performance (Other Than Soul). Pride was named the CMA's Entertainer of the Year and Top Male Vocalist that year, and earned the latter honor in 1972 as well.
Pride is also one of only three Black performers to be inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, and he was ushered into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000. In November, he earned the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Country Music Association.
Pride never stopped recording, either: He was part of the 2016 all-star "Forever Country" single, and released an album, Music in My Heart, in 2017. Although it's tough to choose the best moments from his catalog, here are the Top 10 Charley Pride songs.
"Mountain of Love"From 1982's 'Everybody's Choice'
A staple of Pride's setlists to this day, the Harold Dorman-penned "Mountain of Love" — which was also popularized by Johnny Rivers — shows off the icon's range. More specifically, Pride's chart-topping version of the song, which expresses regret that a former love is marrying someone else, hews toward easygoing country-soul with a hint of gospel, and is driven by his expressive, resonant voice. Although lyrically morose, his delivery is almost jaunty and optimistic — a signal that the protagonist will survive his loneliness.
"Someone Loves You Honey"From 1978's 'Someone Loves You Honey'
A two-week chart topper, "Someone Loves You Honey" is a swooning, romantic ballad that find Pride showing off his tender vocal side. "Remember, someone loves you honey," he croons. "No matter what, I just want you to be my girl."
"It's Gonna Take a Little Bit Longer"From 1972's 'A Sunshine Day With Charley Pride'
Pride recorded dozens of songs written by Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Ben Peters — including "It's Gonna Take a Little Bit Longer," which spent three weeks at No. 1 on the country charts. Highlighted by jaunty pedal steel and twangy guitars, the wise song features a narrator who realizes he's still hung up on an ex, but is being careful with his heart and not rushing getting over things.
"(I'm So) Afraid of Losing You Again"From 1970's 'Just Plain Charley'
Pride's second No. 1 single, the vulnerable ballad "(I'm So) Afraid of Losing You Again," spent three weeks at No. 1 on the country charts. With its rich harmonies, keening pedal steel and slow-trot tempo, the song embodied the "countrypolitan" sound dominating the charts in the late '60s and early '70s.
"Crystal Chandeliers"From 1967's 'The Country Way'
Pride has bigger hits, although one of his most beloved songs in Belfast, Ireland, is "Crystal Chandeliers." According to the Belfast Telegraph, that's because the country icon performed in the city in 1976, when Belfast was roiled by political unrest, and paved the way for other musicians to come to the city. "That was a significant release for me," Pride told the paper in 2015. "I knew in my heart "Chandeliers" would be a hit."
"All I Have to Offer You (Is Me)"From 1969's 'The Best of Charley Pride'
Pride's first No. 1 single is self-deprecating and almost bashful. Before offering up a wedding ring, the song's protagonist warns a potential spouse, "There's something you should know / About the years ahead and how they'll be / You'll be living in a world / Where roses hardly ever grow / 'Cause all I have to offer you is me." "All I Have to Offer You (Is Me)" was also notable because it marked the first time a Black musician had topped the country charts since 1944, when Louis Jordan did so with "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby."
"I'm Just Me"From 1971's 'I'm Just Me'
This upbeat, brisk ode to being true to yourself spent four weeks atop the country charts. "I was just born to be exactly what you see," he sings, as a chorus of background singers bolsters his expressions of individualism. "Nothing more or less; I'm not the worst or the best / I just try to be exactly what you see / Today and every day, I'm just me."
"Is Anybody Goin' to San Antone"From 1970's 'Charley Pride's 10th Album'
Strings and pedal steel dip up and down throughout this deceptively upbeat No. 1 song, which details someone attempting to hit the open road and flee from an imploded relationship, ostensibly by hitchhiking. While the narrator isn't picky ("Is anybody goin' to San Antone / Or Phoenix, Arizona? / Anyplace is alright as long as I / Can forget I've ever known her"), he does realize, on some level, that running away won't solve his heartbreak. Doug Sahm and Nancy Sinatra have also cut versions of this song.
"Just Between You and Me"From 1967's 'The Pride of Country Music'
Pride's first big hit was this Grammy-nominated song, a gentle waltz with soft-glow backing harmonies which reached No. 9 on the charts and established his country/pop bona fides. "Just between you and me," he sings in a warm, downtrodden tone that's brimming with sadness. "You're too much to forget."
"Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'"From 1971's 'Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs'
Pride's highest-charting pop crossover song — it peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 — the playful "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'" is his most recognizable tune. The secret is in its simplicity: The lyrics reveal the secret to a happy life — that would be treating a woman right, so you have a loving relationship — and music that combines instrumentation such as jaunty piano and perky fiddle. Pride ties it all together with an understated vocal that exudes hard-earned wisdom: It's the voice of a contented man who knows exactly of which he sings.