NPR “Turning the Tables” List: A Conversation, Part Two: NPR #51-#80

Part Two: NPR #51-#80

53. Linda Ronstadt, Heart Like a Wheel

NPR said:

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

NPR said:

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

NPR said:

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

NPR said:

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…

10 Comments

  1. Wide Open Spaces is definitely one of the baffling choices on this list for me. I believe the Dixie Chicks needed to be on this list, but not with that album. Like Kevin, I think Spaces is their weakest album and I would’ve been okay with Taking the Long Way, but Home is what clearly deserved to be on the list.

    I would’ve liked to have seen Cash’s Black Cadilac on the list as well.

    I agree with the Wynette assessment and it seems that they only included an album of hers in order for her name to be on the list.

  2. Glad to see the Chicks represented, but yeah, I think any one of their three follow-ups would’ve been a better pick. (‘Fly’ is my personal fave.)

    Rosanne Cash is great — it’s hard to argue with ‘King’s Record Shop,’ but I think ‘Interiors,’ ‘Black Cadillac’ or ‘The River & the Thread’ would’ve been just as strong. :)

    As for Linda, I don’t have that particular album but I have several tracks from it on her ‘Box Set.’ Good stuff.

  3. Linda Ronstandt’s Heart Like A Wheel is a classic. Linda’s legacy does get underrated these days. I love all the Dixie Chicks albums from Wide Open Spaces to Taking The Long Way, but Home is the Dixie Chicks’ masterpiece album and best mainstream country album of the last decade (Fly is my second favorite album by them). While King’s Record Shop is fantastic, I personally prefer Black Cadillac over it. Rosanne Cash does have a consistent catalog. Tammy is a legend for country music, but I have to agree she’s more a single artist than album artist. Great job, guys.

  4. With respect to Linda, I think some of the confusion surrounding her and the feeling that she is underappreciated in this day and age has to do with the fact that she essayed so many different musical styles that it drives some to distraction: rock; blues; opera; art songs; American standards; jazz; traditional folk; R&B; Mexican rancheras; Afro-Cuban; pop; and, yes, country. And if you look at Heart Like A Wheel, that too has its diversity, since who else would have the unmitigated gall to include a 1960s R&B classic like “You’re No Good” on the same album as the Hank Williams classic “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You”, which is straightforward country?

    And apart from everything else, Heart Like A Wheel properly defined Linda as arguably the first female artist whose career was defined as much by her albums as by her hit singles, perhaps even more so. Practically every female artist who has deemed themselves a fan of Linda’s, Trisha Yearwood especially, would be the first to acknowledge this, making Heart‘s inclusion on the list a very proper one indeed (IMHO).

  5. I love this series. Total agreeance on the Chicks and Cash. I’d love for the List authors to read and comment but…I’ll settle for commenting myself haha.

  6. I am a huge Tammy Wynette fan and I would rank her at #3 for all time women in country in my opinion.

    That being said, I do agree she did not have great albums and I am always amazed at the lack of quality and filler in her albums. When she had the right song, there was simply no one better but it’s a shame her producers did not give her more/better material. Her best overall quality album was from 1987 titled “Higher Ground”.

  7. Re Ronstadt, I have no problem with “Heart Like a Wheel” for her best album. However, my most frequently played song of hers on i-Tunes is “Adios”, a Jimmy Webb song with Bryan Wilson singing backup, from her “Cry Like a Rainstorm …” album. I have her Stone Poneys LP’s but haven’t played them in ages since “Different Drum” is on her Best of cd.

    For the Chicks, it’s between “Home” and “Fly”.

    Rosanne Cash – I would rather listen to Rosanne than Johnny. I’ll go with “King’s” for album. My favorite Rosanne Cash song is “The Way We Make a Broken Heart” which I didn’t remember was written by John Hiatt.

  8. Heart Like A Wheel is my favorite Ronstadt album. I, too, with that Trio had been on this list. The fact that all three women had solo albums place on the list and not have their excellent collaboration included is ridiculous.

    I’m thrilled to have King’s Record Shop included. It’s not only an excellent album, but Cash was the first country female singer to score four number one songs from a single album (Earl Thomas Conley was the first EVER to do this in any genre of music).

    I also only knew Wynette from her singles. I don’t believe I ever heard one of her albums from front to back.

  9. One more note on Rosanne Cash – Kevin, I also love Rhythm & Romance. It’s full of great songs that she wrote (as well as the great Tom Petty co-penned Never Be You).

    I actually like every album she’s ever released from Seven Year Ache and forward. Any of them is deserving to be on this list, but King’s Record Shop was a nice choice.

  10. D-I-V-O-R-C-E – and Tammy absolutely belongs on this list. And I love Wide Open Spaces – it’s between that and Home for me.

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