Raven's 2006 compilation Hitsides! 1970-1980
is the best overview yet assembled of Mel Tillis
' reign as a country hitmaker in the '70s. Granted, it doesn't have much competition: apart from Collectors Choice's 2005 The Best of Mel Tillis: The Columbia Years
, which chronicled his '60s work, there are no compilations outside of budget-line discs and Mercury's 1995 Memory Maker
disc, a good collection of 13 basics, most of which are here. In contrast, Raven's disc runs 25 tracks and is cross-licensed, featuring sides he recorded for MGM, RCA, Elektra, and Kapp in addition to the Mercury singles, which makes it both the most generous and thorough compilation yet assembled. And it also is well-chosen; although some may gripe about the absence of particular songs like 1970's "Commercial Affection" and 1979's "Blind in Love," this does contain every Top Five Billboard country hit he had until 1980, and considering that he had 27 Top Tens during that decade, this seems like a good compromise. Listening to this cross section of his biggest hits, the most striking thing is that although country music saw many different styles and trends during the '70s, Mel Tillis
wasn't affected by any of it: he stayed to true to pure country, sometimes getting rather sentimental, but never gunning for a pop crossover or trying to swagger like an outlaw. As such, his music has aged very well: during the '70s, he was a bit of a traditionalist with an eye toward preserving the past, so his music always had a bit of a timeless feel, and this first-rate collection proves that among hard country singers of the '70s, he was one of the best.