Part Two: NPR #51-#80
53. Linda Ronstadt, Heart Like a Wheel
The album proved to be a catapult for Linda Ronstadt, as it spent several weeks atop of the Billboard country album chart and garnered Ronstadt her first Grammy win for “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love with You.” Heart Like a Wheel also solidified Ronstadt’s position as the most successful female artist of the time. Her powerful vocals, musicality, and stage presence were a revelation, which, in turn, opened the door for more women in the industry while illuminating country rock as a genre to be taken seriously. —Jessie Scott
Jonathan: Ronstadt, per usual, seems underrated (or under-ranked) here, and I’ll admit that my fondness for her work has always left me more than a bit confused as to why that’s so often the case with her. The number of vital women included in the NPR list who owe a clear, obvious debt to her– to say nothing of the vital women I’m sure we’ll be discussing in our “Notably Absent” post– puts her in rarefied company. Heart Like A Wheel would be my vote for Ronstadt’s strongest overall album, but I’d be hard pressed to leave it as her only entry in a list like this. And, as mentioned in prior discussion, including the first Trio album would have been an easy and deserving way to include Ronstadt, Parton, and Harris more than once on the list.
Kevin: Heart Like a Wheel is the obvious first choice, I agree. A flaw of this list is the decision to include multiple albums by a handful of women, which opens the floodgates to the question, “Why not two for this artist?” What’s New, Canciones De Mi Padre, and Cry Like a Rainstorm – Howl Like the Wind would further capture the sheer breadth of Ronstadt’s work.
62. Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces
A wide-ranging mix of bluegrass, contemporary Americana and mega-hits, Wide Open Spaces established the trio as masters of country music. The Dixie Chicks emerged after Garth Brooks transformed the sound of pop-country. These three women rejected that sound by instead distilling bluegrass aesthetics for a mainstream audience. Natalie Maines, the lead vocalist and proven firecracker, became an outspoken icon for women’s independence through the album’s title track. While most women in country music declare their independence in opposition to a man, Maines finds autonomy without even considering a man, driving away from her hometown to a place large enough “to make her big mistakes.” —Alyssa Edes
Kevin: Nope. This is their weakest and most “play by the rules” album. I’m surprised that given this list’s slant toward albums that crossed over, they picked Wide Open Spaces instead of Taking the Long Way. I would’ve been satisfied by the inclusion of Long Way, but remain steadfast in my conviction that Home is not just the best Dixie Chicks album. It’s also the best country album of the 21st century.
Jonathan: Love ya, mean it, but nope. I’m surprised that they went with Wide Open Spaces, too, but I still think it’s a mighty fine album that’s the second-best in their too-small catalogue. Which is to say that Fly was clearly the better choice, and I’m pleased that the ungodly dull Taking the Long Way was passed over. If we’re talking singles, though, I’ll say that “Long Time Gone” remains the best country single of the 21st century.
68. Rosanne Cash, King’s Record Shop
Over the course of 10 songs, she was the very embodiment of a woman owning her desires and laying out her limits, summoning a combination of rocking attitude, confessional clarity and deep self-knowledge that felt utterly new in her format, and would prove influential for years to come. —Jewly Hight
Jonathan: Let’s go full-on controversial here: I think Rosanne Cash has a stronger, more consistent catalogue of albums than her father. I think King’s Record Shop is a fine choice to represent her, but the way she wrestles with her legacy on Black Cadillac has both my head and my heart. Put Interiors and The River & The Thread into the mix, and Cash has at least four albums that are among country music’s deepest.
Kevin: And since Jonathan discussed the what are objectively her best and most important albums, I’ll go rogue here. My pick for the best album of Cash’s career is Rhythm & Romance. It features pure power pop production and showcases her songwriting talent better than any of her commercial albums from the eighties. “My Old Man,” “Second to No One,” “Closing Time,” “Halfway House,” “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me.” I never get tired of this album.
76. Tammy Wynette, Stand By Your Man
The songs on Stand By Your Man exemplified the way Wynette centered the personal heartaches that women suppress in order to care for loved ones: The burden of holding an imperfect marriage together, the strength summoned to comfort a child whose father’s walked out, the difference between a weekend fling and a commitment that lasts through the weekday routine. This album also portended Wynette’s role in shaping the lush countrypolitan style with which Nashville infiltrated the pop charts into the ’70s. —Rachel Horn
Kevin: This is the entire list’s most egregious example of choosing an album because of its legendary title track. Tammy Wynette wasn’t an albums artist in the first place, but if she must be represented on this list, it should be by D-I-V-O-R-C-E, which has an effective gender swap cover of Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey” alongside a pure country heartbreak rendition of The Beatles classic, “Yesterday.” It’s even got the better hit title track!
Jonathan: Wynette ranked highly on your list of the 100 Greatest Women feature, and rightfully so; there’s no arguing her place among the genre’s legends. But yeah. She was a singles artist– which, good poptimist that I am, I don’t mean as a pejorative in the slightest– and I honestly don’t believe this or any of her albums should have made the final cut. Which I’m sure is the second or third thing I’ve written in this post to get our more traditionalist readers’ blood boiling…