“Behind Closed Doors” Songwriter Kenny O’Dell Passes Away
Grammy Award winning songwriter and performer Kenny O’Dell passed away on Wednesday (3-28) at the age of 73. A prolific songwriter who was also a strong advocate for the craft, he wrote such memorable country standards as 1973’s “Behind Closed Doors” made popular by Charlie Rich, and the #1 “Mama He’s Crazy” recorded by The Judds in 1984. He also had a Top 10 hit of his own with 1978’s “Let’s Shake Hands and Come Out Lovin'”, and penned songs for Dottie West, Loretta Lynn, Mac Davis, Tom Jones, Sammi Smith, Charley Pride, Tanya Tucker, Kenny Rogers, and others.
But it was “Behind Closed Doors” that would bring Kenny O’Dell his greatest recognition. The song is an undisputed country music and American standard. It won both Single of the Year and Song of the Year at both the CMA and ACM Awards in 1973, with the Song of the Year distinctions going directly to O’Dell. It also won the Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 1973. According to BMI, “Behind Closed Doors” ranks among the Top 50 most-played songs in country music history.
Born Kenneth Guy Gist, Jr. in Antlers, Oklahoma on June 21, 1944, he later changed his name to O’Dell because it was easier to pronounce, but he would use his given name often when writing soft rock songs later in his career. O’Dell was an enterprising young man who started writing songs at the age of 13, and launched his own record label called Mar-Kay after graduating high school. He would move to Nashville in 1969 and first started working for the publishing company House of Gold and began running the company for Bobby Goldsboro.
Kenny O’Dell became well-respected in Nashville from his work with the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), serving on the Board of Directors for many years, and advocating for the rights of songwriters around the world—an issue that has come to greater prominence in the streaming era. O’Dell won NSAI Songwriter of the Year award in 1984, and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1996.
O’Dell’s wife, Corki Casey O’Dell, was a Nashville guitarist and singer who passed away in 2017.
Strait Country 81
March 29, 2018 @ 12:51 pm
Still my favorite Charlie Rich related thing along with burning John Denver’s envelope.
March 29, 2018 @ 2:04 pm
Behind Closed Doors and Mama He’s Crazy are two of my favorite country songs (post 1970) ever, they’re so good!
March 29, 2018 @ 2:31 pm
I wonder how a song like “Behind Closed Doors” would do today. I’m sure “protests” would be involved, which is lamentable beyond words.
March 29, 2018 @ 6:40 pm
I doubt it. If country radio can accept Tyler Hubbard sticking his pink umbrella in a woman’s “drink”, I see no reason why “Behind Closed Doors” wouldn’t be acceptable due to lyrical content. If anything it would flop because of the lack of ebonics in the lyrics, shout-outs to hip-hop artists or ’80s hair bands, or EDM beats. It’s played today on Adult Standards stations due to its sizable pop success in its day (it peaked at #3 on the local charts of Detroit’s AM Top 40 powerhouse CKLW) which shows how tame it is by today’s standards.
January 20, 2019 @ 1:04 pm
Go further back than that, I am sure that songs such as Buddy Knox’s classic “Party Doll” would not only be poo-pooed in today’s world, but was quite risque for it’s time as well. Although most probably liked it for its dance beat more than the lyrics. And have often wondered if even a song such as “Poetry in Motion” would be considered too sexist in the current time frame.
March 29, 2018 @ 5:08 pm
The song that I know by Kenny O’Dell, that he recorded himself is from 1967 – “Beautiful People”. It’s a great little Sunshine Pop song from that era. If you’ve never heard it, here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFFLifnbe8g. Guess I’m telling my age on this one.
March 30, 2018 @ 4:25 am
I had forgotten about that song….thanks for sharing.
March 29, 2018 @ 5:17 pm
I remember my Grandpop playing the album to death when I was a kid….the whole thing was great.
“Behind Closed Doors”…without a doubt one of the earliest examples of the “Countrypolitan” sound that would emerge from Traditional Country the following decade…
Other than Charlie’s twang and the honky-tonk piano,there’s nothing country about it…at all.
Charlie was doing his very best Ray Charles on this one.
The song was a top 15 hit on the pop charts….TABOO in this day and age.
Nonetheless…one of the greatest songs I’ve ever heard in my lifetime.
RIP Kenny O’Dell
January 20, 2019 @ 1:05 pm
Countrypolitan I believe goes back several years further, one of the early examples being Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking”. Song was covered by a few country singers of the day as well.
March 29, 2018 @ 5:48 pm
In 1974 the great Charlie Rich won Country Musician of the Year. In 1975 he had to pass that award on and do you know to who? Mr. Sunshine-on-my-god-damn-shoulders, John Denver! Yeah, can you believe it? Replaced by John fucking Denver! Well, I’ll be damned if Mr. Rich didn’t take out his lighter and light that award on fire in front of everybody right there … you get it?
So… you’re saying you’re going to light my country music award on fire?
March 29, 2018 @ 6:07 pm
Trig – could you give us a link to the BMI Top 50 most-played songs in country music history? It doesn’t come up on a Google search. Sounds interesting.
March 29, 2018 @ 6:45 pm
I could not find it myself, though it must exist somewhere. I found that info about “Behind Closed Doors” in a Songwriters Hall of Fame bio.
March 29, 2018 @ 7:47 pm
Hmm … yeah there are lots of lists of Top ?? country songs – even RollingStone has one (like they would know) but these lists are so subjective. But this elusive BMI list would be based on radio play I’m assuming so I’ll keep looking.
March 30, 2018 @ 1:56 am
Yeah, that’s a song I’ve been listening to a couple of hundred times, with Loretta Lynn. But it do sound a bit like “soft porn” 🙂
March 30, 2018 @ 4:45 pm
The song he wrote for Loretta “Trouble in paradise” is a great song (as all Loretta’s songs are IMO)..He also wrote “Easy Street” for Loretta which was on her “Weve Come A Long Way Baby” album.
I used to sing his hit song “Soulful Woman” alot.Another great one gone.
I might add,Buddy Jewell did a re-make of “Behind Closed Doors” a few years ago,which WSM played.Loretta also recorded “Behind closed Doors” on her “They Don’t Makem like my daddy” album.
Michele Wood Marotta
May 6, 2018 @ 8:44 pm
I met Kenny when I was 13 – he recorded for us on the Vegas label. He was an incredible songwriter, and I learned a lot from him. The most important thing I learned was “get in and get out” of the studio – don’t waste time. He was a huge influence my writing and is missed.