Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Rodney Crowell

As most of my favorite artists tend to be, Rodney is talented in multiple ways. Not only does he have a charismatic voice, he’s an accomplished musician, songwriter and producer. He has used these talents for himself, but has also shared them with many other artists. In fact, high-profile artists like Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Johnny Cash, Chely Wright, among many others, have benefited from his musicianship, compositions and producing abilities.

In this feature, we will focus on some of the best Rodney Crowell songs–whether they were big hits, minor hits or unreleased album tracks—but these twenty-five songs certainly do not do enough justice to this man’s contribution to country music. As a result, look for an accompanying Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters feature on Rodney Crowell to come soon.

#25
“You’ve Been on My Mind”

from the 1989 album Keys to the Highway

The lyrics are a little ambiguous, but it’s clear that this is a lonesome song about love lost. Crowell can do a lonesome song with the best of them and he does just that here.

#24
“Telephone Road”

from the 2001 album The Houston Kid

With an infectious, driving production, “Telephone Road” depicts Crowell’s childhood with fondness (an ice cream from the ice cream truck was only 5 cents), but without the irresponsible nostalgia that seems to afflict many such songs of today (I’m looking at you Bucky Covington). To be totally shallow, this is one to blast on some good speakers.

#23
“Adam’s Song”

from the 2003 album Fate’s Right Hand

Anyone who has experienced the passing of a loved one knows the reality that Crowell sings about. As he knowingly observes, “We’ll keep learning how to live with a lifelong broken heart.”

#22
“Many A Long and Lonesome Highway”

from the 1989 album Keys to the Highway

This is the first song I’d ever heard by Rodney Crowell. At the time, I had just gotten into country music and the song was already four or five years old, but I had no idea of his history. I simply thought it was a great, melodic song. I still do.

#21
“Song for the Life”

from the 1978 album Ain’t Living Long Like This

To me, this song sounds mature and reflective, from a man who has lived and learned. However, in a 2005 20 Questions interview with CMT, Rodney reveals that he wrote this song when he was a mere twenty-one years old. And, is that Willie Nelson I hear singing background vocals? Yes, it is.

#20
“Fate’s Right Hand”

from the 2003 album Fate’s Right Hand

The title track of the critically acclaimed Fate’s Right Hand explores changing times and injustices much better than Toby Keith’s “American Ride” does.

#19
“Topsy Turvy”

from the 2001 album The Houston Kid

This song vividly paints the picture of Crowell’s parents’ abusive relationship. It’s from his perspective as the fully aware child who witnesses the turbulence. He doesn’t mince words throughout the song, but especially when he admits, “I cross my heart and tell myself ‘I hope they die’”. He also details the lack of meaningful response from neighbors and police officers.

#18
“Beautiful Despair

from the 2005 album The Outsider

It’s not a feeling that one wants to embrace often, but there are times when leaning into that feeling of despair propels one to action or at least some needed introspection. From this song, it’s likely that despair has played a beautiful function in his life.

#17
“Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight”

from the 1978 album Ain’t Living Long Like This

Emmylou Harris was one of the first people to record a Rodney Crowell song and what a gem it is. While Harris’ recording of it is the strongest and most exuberant version, Crowell’s version is great too.

#16
“This Too Will Pass”

from the 2003 album Fate’s Right Hand

What I like about a Rodney Crowell penned inspirational song is that it’s not embarrassing to listen to. It’s inspiring without sounding like a page from Chicken Soup for the Soul.

#15
“My Baby’s Gone” (with Emmylou Harris)

from the 2003 album Livin’ Lovin’ Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers

From the excellent Louvin Brothers tribute album, one of the many shining moments is this duet from Rodney and Emmylou Harris. It just cements the fact that they need to do a duets album. Stat!

#14
“The Rock of My Soul”

from the 2001 album The Houston Kid

While this song is not strictly autobiographical, it is a chilling representation of Crowell’s tumultuous experiences with his father.

#13
“Dancin’ Circles Round the Sun (Epictetus Speaks)”

from the 2005 album The Outsider

Here’s another example of Rodney Crowell inspiring without sickening.

#12
“After All This Time”

from the 1988 album Diamonds & Dirt

If you’re not listening carefully, you might think this is a pretty love song. It, however, is a wistful love song to a relationship that no longer exists.

#11
“I Walk the Line Revisited” (With Johnny Cash)

from the 2001 album The Houston Kid

This is a joyful account of the first time Crowell heard Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” on the radio as a kid. It’s an obvious full circle moment when Cash sings an altered melody of the classic on Crowell’s song about it.

#10
“We Can’t Turn Back”

from the 2005 album The Outsider

In his gentle but no nonsense way, Crowell explores the notion that we can’t change the past, which means that we can only focus on the present and what we can do to make it better.

#9
“Artemis and Orion”

from the 2003 digital release Lost Tracks

Supported by a delightfully simple production and memorable tune, Rodney sings a version of the story of Artemis and Orion from Greek Mythology. I’m not sure of the origins of the song, since it seems to have been randomly recorded by Crowell, but it is fun to listen to.

#8
“’Til I Gain Control Again”

from the 1981 album Rodney Crowell

Crowell has written several songs that have become classics for him and for others. “’Til I Gain Control Again” was first recorded by Emmylou Harris in the mid-seventies, then made famous by Crystal Gayle in the early eighties and subsequently recorded by many artists over the years. Crowell’s own version is beautifully sung with just the right air of forlornness.

#7
“Things that Go Bump in the Day”

from the 2005 album The Outsider

I hardly even know what this song means, but I still love it for its bouncy production, unshakable melody and Crowell’s energy while singing it. I dare you not to get it stuck in your head.

#6
“The Outsider”

from the 2005 album The Outsider

The effective use of horns in this bluesy soul infused song is enough to hook me, but the theme of being okay with being different is something to embrace too.

#5
“Things I Wish I Said”

from the 1989 album Keys to the Highway

Much has been written and said about Rodney Crowell’s difficult relationship with his violent father, but the end of that story is that they found a way to heal their relationship and turn it into something healthy and tender. This song is personal to Crowell as it describes the relief that he feels that he has no regrets with the passing of his father. Likewise, it is a universal sentiment that most of us can relate to as well.

#4
“She’s Crazy for Leaving”

from the 1988 album Diamonds & Dirt

I love this song because both the melody and the song’s vividly painted story are equally funky. The scene that’s created for the song is fodder for a hilarious and ridiculous comedy sketch.

#3
“Riding Out the Storm”

from the 2003 album Fate’s Right Hand

A not so beautiful picture is underscored by a beautiful melody and poetic lyrics. That’s one of Rodney Crowell’s effortless songwriting talents.

#2
“Making Memories of Us”

from the 2004 album The Notorious Cherry Bombs

Keith Urban is who made this song famous and Crowell a little richer, but Rodney Crowell, backed by Vince Gill, is who makes it a fine treasure. Written for his wife as a last minute Valentine’s Day gift, it’s a tender love song that rivals most modern songs of its ilk. It’s one of those “action” songs that I especially love. He’s not just promising to love her, but also pledging to be an active part of their relationship in order to create meaningful memories.

#1
“Shelter from the Storm” (with Emmylou Harris)

from the 2005 album The Outsider

Again, there’s no reason that Emmylou and Rodney shouldn’t make a duets album together. With sublime vocal chemistry, they turn this Bob Dylan song into something entirely different than what it once was. Instead of having to dig for the gem, they put it out there front and center for us. It’s gorgeous and it’s their interpretation that makes it so.

In “Beautiful Despair”, Crowell acknowledges the depth of Bob Dylan’s songwriting and his feelings of inadequacy when compared to Dylan’s ability. He sings: “Beautiful despair is hearing Dylan/ When you’re drunk at 3 a.m. / Knowing that the chances are/ No matter what you’ll never write like him.”

As a Dylan fan, it may be heresy to think it, but methinks Rodney Crowell is being too hard on himself. It is not a knock on Rodney Crowell’s incredible songwriting that I chose a song that he did not write as my top Crowell song, but rather, a testament to his ability to interpret a legendary song well enough to make it his own.

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27 Comments

Filed under Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists

27 Responses to Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Rodney Crowell

  1. Interesting list. I’m embarrased, as a life lone country music fan, I know very little about his music. Looking at this list, I need to get aquatinted with his catalog. I’m more familiar with the hits he’s written for other artists than I am of his own work. I need to go deeper than Diamonds and Dirt.

    But I too love his duet with Emmylou on “My Baby’s Gone.” One of the highlights from that album for sure.

  2. Paul DennisNo Gravatar

    I like Roadney, but all of my favorite tracks by him (except “I Walk the Line Revisited”) come from the DIAMONDS & DIRT or KEYS TO THE HIGHWAY albums. I have most of his albums, but those are the only two I listen to with any frequency

  3. bobNo Gravatar

    I bought “Diamonds & Dirt” a year or so ago and enjoy listening to it but never got around to checking out any of his other albums. As far as writing for others, I agree that “Making Memories of Us” was one of Urban’s best songs.

    I like your comment on “Things That Go Bump in the Day”. I’ve had that experience when I love a song because of its melody, energy, etc, but I don’t really know for sure what it means.

  4. Michael A.No Gravatar

    Nice to see this feature again and I’m looking forward to the songwriting one next! :)

  5. MikeNo Gravatar

    I Walk the Line Revisited > Old Alabama.

  6. Very true, Mike. Very true.

  7. Hoggy from OzNo Gravatar

    “She’s Crazy for Leaving” is a classic in my eyes (and ears); I grew up listening to the song. I also love the album “The Outsider”, particularly the song “The Obscenity Prayer (Give It to Me)”. I do hold Rodney Crowell in the highest regard as a song writer and I’d love to hear new music from him soon :)

  8. He mentioned new music at a show of his that I attended in March.

  9. The Houston Kid, Fate’s Right Hand, and The Outsider really go together.

  10. Hoggy from OzNo Gravatar

    New music from Vince Gill and Rodney Crowell in one year and I’ll reconsider my opinion of the current state of country music. I am excited :)

  11. The current state of country music is great; it’s the current state of country radio that’s the problem.:)

  12. Jonathan,
    Don’t be too embarrassed. I consider myself a more serious than average country music fan and I’m learning about new old stuff all the time.

  13. MikeNo Gravatar

    Leeann are you a fan at all of his duet with Rosanne Cash, It’s Such a Small World?

  14. Yes, I am, but it’s not one of my absolute faves mainly due to dated production.

  15. Andrew LeprichNo Gravatar

    Rodney is one of my all-time favorites. Personally, “The Rock of My Soul” would be my #1, and “Earthbound” and “Sex and Gasoline” would be on my list, but you’ve done an excellent job with this write-up. A great read.

  16. kathrine bocshNo Gravatar

    all artist are well known artist within them its really interesting to read this post , thanks

  17. Ooh, “Many A Long And Lonesome Highway.” Haven’t heard that song in YEARS. I was pleasantly surprised to see “Telephone Road” and the other songs from The Houston Kid here.

    I’d be interested to hear RC’s version of “Song for the Life.” The only version I’ve heard of that song is Alan Jackson’s — but it’s one of my favorite cuts from the Who I Am cd.

  18. “The current state of country music is great; it’s the current state of country radio that’s the problem.:)”
    _________________
    So true. There’s so much great country music still being made, like a stellar Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent duets album for instance. It’s just that radio is afraid to play it.

  19. Matt BNo Gravatar

    Ben, radio isn’t afraid to play Rhonda Vincent/Gene Watson, it likely doesn’t care about the album or know it even exists. Sad, I know.

  20. Matt, If they knew about it, they’d still be afraid to play it…or at least unwilling to. I can’t say enough about that album though.

  21. Pistol,
    I agree about “Song for the Life.” Great song and one of Jackson’s best performances.

  22. bobNo Gravatar

    I guess with two far from young artists, Vincent (birthday 7/13) and Watson, who’ve had minimal top 40 success in the past, it would be unrealistic to expect country radio to play their music. It’s a big loss to country radio listeners because that album is outstanding.

  23. Even if they were younger, but the music sounded the same, radio wouldn’t play anything from the album though..at least I highly doubt they would.

  24. Pingback: Miranda Lambert, Pistol Annies Albums Get Release Dates; Oak Ridge Boys to Join Opry; RIP Kenny Baker | Country California

  25. ArleneNo Gravatar

    Are you aware that Emmylou Harris has given several interviews in which she has stated that she and Rodney Crowell have booked studio time this coming November to record a duets album together?

  26. I started reading about that just days after this piece was written. Very exciting news!

  27. Joey BegNo Gravatar

    Till I Gain Control Again is my favorite RC tune, especially the Van Morrison cover. One of the best tunes every penned.