In 1962, husband-and-wife country music duo Carl Butler and Pearl made “Don’t Let Me Cross Over” a famous duet.
The song only needed four weeks to be a No. 1 hit on Billboard Hot Country Singles, one of country music’s fastest ascensions ever. But what’s even more impressive is that it spent eleven non-consecutive weeks on the chart’s topmost position.
Ever since then, “Don’t Let Me Cross Over” was considered to be a country-music standard, in addition to being the longest-running No. 1 song for a performer’s debut single on the Hot Country Singles; however, that record is now held by Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” since 2013.
The Record Skyrocketed More Than They Have Imagined
“Don’t Let Me Cross Over” was written by Penny Jay, who – at that time – couldn’t get the break that would take her to the big time.
Jay made a modest living singing before small groups in little venues. One day, as she rode toward another show in a high school gym, she got an idea for a song that would send music duo Carl Butler and Pearl’s names to the top of the charts and open the door to a new style of country music recording.
While watching the yellow stripes on the highway that marked the areas where one couldn’t pass, the singer-songwriter used them for a song title idea. She began with that simple concept of not crossing these no-passing zones into crossing a line that would lead to a sinful affair.
She built a moralistic number about a person caught on the verge of cheating for the very first time and titled her new song “Don’t Let Me Cross Over.”
“Don’t let me cross over love’s cheatin’ line. I’m tempted, my darlin’, to steal you away. So help me, my darlin’, stay out of my way. You know that I love you, but I’m not the cheatin’ kind. I’m faced with a heartache at love’s cheatin’ line,” the song begins.
And since the early ’60s was a very conservative era in which female vocalists would not record cheating songs, she has to find the right man to cut it. However, when Carl Butler heard the song, he had an even better idea.
Butler insisted that “Don’t Let Me Cross Over” would make a solid duet song, and he wanted his wife to have her harmonize with him on the cheating number. Butler believed that the fact that they were happily married would get rid of any adverse reaction caused by the song’s lyrics.
And Butler proved himself right. The record skyrocketed more than they have imagined. Other labels even started seeking out duet acts and would record them. Eventually, mixed duets became a staple of most record companies’ catalogs.
Moreover, “Don’t Let Me Cross Over” made it to the Top Ten two more times. Jerry Lee Lewis and his sister, Linda Gail, recorded the first remake in 1969, and it peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart.
But six years before that happened, Jim Reeves recorded a solo version of the song for his 1963 album, Good n Country. Sadly, Reeves tragically died a year after that.
So, up-and-coming country singer Deborah Allen recorded a vocal track, and her producer added it to the existing Reeves’ track. The Reeves-Allen duet was then released as a single in 1979 and reached No. 10 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart – becoming one of Reeves’ many posthumous hits.
You can listen to “Don’t Let Me Cross Over” in the video below.
Carl Butler and Pearl