Over the course of little more than four years — seven while he was still alive, four after his sad demise — Hank Williams had no fewer than 11 No. 1s on Billboard‘s country chart. Between them, they racked up an extraordinary total of 82 weeks at the summit, an aggregate of more than 18 months that helped to forge the legend of one of the true country greats.
Around halfway through that sequence, it was on 11 August 1951 that Williams’ latest MGM single took over at the top from Eddy Arnold’s ‘I Wanna Play House With You.’ The song in question, ‘Hey, Good Lookin,” had a non-consecutive reign of eight weeks and went on to inspire more than one hundred cover versions — including one that was soon bagging the pop chart honours for itself.
Hank’s original ‘Hey, Good Lookin” took only five weeks to rise to the country top spot, but as usual, radio and TV format restrictions (and Billboard’s chart methodology) made it almost impossible for him to cross over to a substantial pop audience. He managed just one week on the pop listing with his new country hit, at No. 29, by which time one of the biggest mainstream entertainers of the day, Frankie Laine, had secured the big cover, duetting on ‘Hey, Good Lookin” with Jo Stafford and climbing to No. 9.
Nevertheless, Williams was making inroads into a more crossover popular audience. In mid-November 1951, for example, he flew to New York to appear on star crooner Perry Como’s network TV show, in its first booking of a country act. By then, Hank was already on the country charts again with his next MGM single, ‘Crazy Heart’/’Lonesome Whistle’, both sides of which were top ten hits.
Fellow artists were impressed at Williams’ ability to create such lasting work wherever he may be. Little Jimmy Dickens, who toured the US with Hank and Minnie Pearl in 1951, said that Williams wrote both ‘Hey, Good Lookin” and ‘Howlin’ At The Moon’ while they were on a flight to Wichita Falls, Texas. Dickens quoted the star as saying: “If a song can’t be written in 20 minutes, it ain’t worth writing.”
‘Hey, Good Lookin” became one of Williams’ most-visited copyrights, also covered in 1951 in country style by Tennessee Ernie Ford and Helen O’Connell, and in a kind of hillbilly, formative rock ‘n’ roll mood by Piano Red. Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Gene Vincent all tackled it in 1958, and other notable readings have included those by George Jones (1959), Ray Charles (1962), Del Shannon (1964), Roy Orbison (1970) and Waylon Jennings (1985). A 1973 live version by Van Morrison was on the expanded 2016 reissue of his It’s Too Late To Stop Now set.
Williams’ version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001. In recent times, Tom Hiddleston sang the song as Hank Williams on the soundtrack of the biopic I Saw The Light, credited with the Saddle Spring Boys. ‘Hey, Good Lookin” is still lookin’ good more than 65 years on.
‘Hey, Good Lookin” is on Hank Williams’ 40 Greatest Hits, which can be bought here.
Follow the official Hank Williams Best Of playlist.