Back in the early nineties, CMT used to run videos 24/7. It was very predictable. Three videos, commercial break. Three more videos, commercial break.
Occasionally, they’d do a “Triple Take”, where they’d play three videos in a row by the same artist. It was a good way to discover an artist’s catalog. I didn’t know “Don’t Tell Me What to Do” existed until CMT did a Triple Take for Pam Tillis, who I’d first noticed with the ridiculous video for “Put Yourself in My Place” and fell in love with when she released “Maybe it was Memphis.”
When it was an older artist like Alabama or Reba McEntire, Triple Takes could feature any number of videos stretching back several years. But even back then, George Strait loathed making videos, and he had only three of them in rotation by the summer of 1992, when I spent hours on end watching CMT.
The end result? I saw the video for “Baby’s Gotten Good at Goodbye” at least a hundred times, making it a far bigger classic in my mind than it would be if my primary exposure to country music had been through radio instead of video.
This single is so closely associated with my discovery of George Strait’s music and country music as a whole that I can’t separate the experience enough to give “Baby’s Gotten Good at Goodbye” an objective evaluation. It was my first favorite song by one of my most favorite artists, and the only one of his that I can’t listen to without picturing every frame of the video.
Seriously. The girl with the bad eighties perm is always carrying that saddle and counting her pawn shop money in my head, every single time I listen to the record. Which is something I still do quite often, because it’s awesome.
With all the righteous indignation regarding the lackluster performance of “So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore” at radio, it’s easy to forget that country radio once played the bad Alan Jackson singles just as much as the great ones.
Case in point: “I Don’t Even Know Your Name” was a #1 single.
Perhaps that’s a little unfair. The song is somewhat clever, and it was apparently memorable enough that Carrie Underwood rewrote it a decade later. I think I’d like it a lot more if it was missing the final verse, much like the waitress was missing her front tooth.
But it’s that kind of forced humor that makes me wince every time Brad Paisley tries to be funny. Jackson pulls it off better than most, but it’s just not my cup of tea. Love the instrumentation, though.
Written by Alan Jackson, Ron Jackson, and Andy Lofton
After languishing in the shadows for more than a decade, Charlie Rich suddenly rose to prominence when his soul-influenced country music achieved massive crossover success.
Rich hailed from Arkansas, but it was his air force service that jump-started his professional music career. While stationed in Oklahoma, he started a blues and jazz outfit called the Velvetones. Once out of the military, he moved to Memphis, where he expanded his repertoire to include R&B. He earned some session work with Sun Records as he honed his songwriting craft. This led to a deal with Phillips International Records, which produced a handful of minor hits and an acclaimed studio album in 1960, Lonely Weekends with Charlie Rich.
Rich would toil in obscurity throughout the sixties on Groove and then Smash Records, though some of these recordings would end up hits when re-released at the peak of Rich’s popularity in the mid-seventies. He moved toward a polished country sound as the decade wound down, and his collaborations on Epic Records with legendary producer Billy Sherrill eventually caught the attention of country radio, starting with the hit “I Take it On Home” in 1972.
Then came the album Behind Closed Doors. The sound was similar to his previous work with Sherrill, but the title track was an explosive hit, topping the country charts and hitting the top twenty of the pop chart. The next single was even bigger, with “The Most Beautiful Girl” reaching #1 on both the country and the pop chart. The combination of these two singles powered the album to sales that would eventually top four million. His former labels flooded the market to capitalize on his success, with RCA managing to send three singles to the top of the country chart while competing with his Epic releases for airplay.
Rich dominated the award show circuit from 1973-1975, winning multiple Grammy, ACM, and CMA Awards, including the 1974 CMA trophy for Entertainer of the Year. During that time, his popularity peaked, with another pair of gold albums following the multi-platinum success of his breakthrough work. The hits slowed down as the seventies drew to a close, though he received wide critical acclaim for much of his work during this period, most notably his 1976 gospel album, Silver Linings.
Rich entered semi-retirement in the eighties, and was quiet on the recording front, even as his influence became increasingly prominent among the next generation of stars. In 1992, he returned with what would ultimately become his swan song. Pictures and Paintings seamlessly blended country, soul, and jazz, and was hailed as a return to form for the singer. Sadly, he would pass away only three years later. His legacy has only grown stronger since his passing, with his forward-looking fusion of multiple styles of music making him one of the genre’s most eclectic and visionary artists of all time.
Coming to prominence during golden ages in film, radio, and television, Gene Autry was the internationally recognized singing cowboy.
Autry was the descendants of the very first settlers in Texas, and grew up in the wide open spaces he’d later immortalize on record and in films. He learned guitar at a young age, and was a performer in his spare time while he pursued more realistic goals.
While working as a telegraph operator, he was killing his boredom by singing and playing his guitar. By chance, a customer named Will Rogers heard him, and encouraged him to pursue a career in radio performance. Within a year, he was auditioning in New York, releasing demos and singles for Victor and Columbia before signing an exclusive deal with the American Record Corporation.
His first big release, “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine”, sold more than half a million copies. Throughout the thirties and forties, he would go on to release singles that sold in the millions and defined the Country & Western sound, like “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “Back in the Saddle Again.” Through his popularity on national radio programs as Oklahoma’s Yodeling Cowboy, he brought Western music to a wider audience.
His singing cowboy image was cemented by his appearances in more than ninety films, where he sang his songs and played roles consistent with his “Home on the Range” image. He is widely credited for reviving the Western film genre, and his popularity on the silver screen further fueled his record sales. His career was briefly detoured by a stint in the army during World War II, but he returned to the states as popular as ever, and the experience led to his classic hit, “At Mail Call Today.”
As popular tastes changed, Autry moved into the arena of television, starring in his own show from 1950-1956. While his Western records had decreased in popularity, Autry’s ability to handle pop material led him to record a handful of secular Christmas singles that are still played on radio more than sixty years later, along with perhaps the only successful attempt at a secular Easter single with “Peter Cottontail.”
Autry moved away from performing and toward business interests later in life, most notably an ownership share in the Anaheim Angels and a stint as Vice President of the MLB American League. By the time he passed away at age 91, he’d been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Radio Hall of Fame. He is also the only performer in history to have five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one in each of their five categories: motion pictures, radio, recording, television, and live theater.
That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine, 1932
Tumbling Tumbleweeds, 1935
Back in the Saddle Again, 1939
South of the Border (Down Mexico Way), 1939
Blueberry Hill, 1940
You are My Sunshine, 1941
At Mail Call Today, 1945
Home on the Range, 1947
(Ghost) Riders in the Sky,1949
Essential Holiday Singles:
Here Comes Santa Claus (Down Santa Claus Lane), 1947
A brilliant bluegrass musician that became the unlikeliest of superstars, Ricky Skaggs moved seamlessly into mainstream country music and popularized bluegrass among a wide and willing audience.
Many musicians can claim mastery of their instruments at an early age, but few can compete with Skaggs, who taught himself to play the mandolin at age five and was performing on stage the same year. As early as seven, he made a television appearance on Flatt & Scruggs, and he was a featured player in his family’s band throughout his childhood. As a teenager, he met up with Keith Whitley and joined Ralph Stanley’s supporting band, the Clinch Mountain Boys.
After a few more stints in other bands, he recorded a solo album for an indie label, then formed his own group, Boone Creek. This caught the attention of Emmylou Harris, who invited him to join her Hot Band several times. He finally accepted and replaced outgoing member Rodney Crowell. While influencing Harris’ sound, he also continued to release albums with Boone Creek and on his own. Finally, his Sugar Hill setSweet Temptation caught the attention of Epic Records, and they signed him to their label.
Without any concessions to the Urban Cowboy sound of the time, Skaggs was a surprisingly huge success, and throughout the eighties he dominated the charts. In 1982, he was the first artist to win both the Horizon Award and Male Vocalist of the Year at the CMA’s. His bluegrass sets received huge critical acclaim while selling gold and platinum. He recorded old classics mixed in with new material, with his musicianship front and center. He even innovated on the video front, releasing the eye-popping “Country Boy” music clip, still widely regarded as one of the best country music videos of all time.
Once the Epic hits slowed down in the nineties, Skaggs returned to the bluegrass scene. Amazingly, his work became more prolific than ever, winning him multiple Grammy awards as he collaborated with everyone from the Whites to Bruce Hornsby. He drew heavily on his southern Gospel roots, and became a mainstay at festivals around the world. The award-winning albums have continued ever since, now being released on his own Skaggs Family record label.
Today, he is the symbol of the very bluegrass traditions that he has always honored and preserved, and despite artists like Alison Krauss and Nickel Creek making waves in recent years, he remains the bluegrass star who has had the most mainstream success in country music.
They would both go on to successful solo careers, but it was the music that Ira and Charlie Louvin made together that earned them a place in the annals of history.
Born in to Appalachian poverty, the Louvin Brothers began their public singing career by performing gospel standards at church. Their distinctive harmonies and instrumental skills soon earned them a spot on AM radio in Chattanooga. After Charlie did a brief tour with the Army, the duo moved to Knoxville, where their sound reached a wider audience.
By the late forties, the labels came calling. as did a publishing deal. The Louvins released a few moderately successful singles before Charlie was sent back overseas, but when he returned, the brothers began incorporating country into their repertoire, a move largely influenced by their appearances on the Opry. Throughout the fifties and early sixties, they released many of the most significant country compositions of all-time, including standards like the #1 hit “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby” and the top ten “Cash on the Barrelhead.”
They never abandoned their gospel roots, as reflected in a series of classic albums with a spiritual focus. One of their essential works was the LP Satan is Real, which became notorious for its vivid album artwork along with its music. The increasing popularity of rock and roll slowed down their success, which sadly led to an alcohol addiction for Ira, who was encouraged to drop his signature mandolin from their sound. His deterioration was the primary reason the duo disbanded in 1963.
Both brothers pursued solo careers, with Charlie forging out on his own and Ira performing with his new wife, Anne Young. Tragically, Ira and Anne were killed in an automobile accident in 1965, preventing a reconciliation of the brothers. Charlie proudly carried on the legacy of the Louvin Brothers, recording and performing right up until his death in 2011.
As years have gone by, the songs and recordings of the Louvin Brothers have become increasingly influential, shaping the sounds of the Byrds, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, and others. In 2002, a tribute album by contemporary country, bluegrass, and pop artists was a huge success, winning the Grammy for Best Country Album. Their sound lives on in the work of every duo built around harmony, from the Everly Brothers to the Judds, their songs have been covered by artists as diverse as James Taylor and Dolly Parton, and their themed albums with powerful artwork are regarded as essential classics by both musicians and graphic designers.
://www.countryuniverse.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Taylor-Swift-We-are-Never-Ever-Getting-Back-Together-150×150.jpg” alt=”" width=”150″ height=”150″ />Building a Taylor Swift single around the vocal is like building a hamburger around the bun.
On some of her most successful recent singles, Swift had mastered the art of not getting in the way of the song. Alternating between sparse productions like on “Ours” and creative ones like “Mean”, Swift’s songwriting was showcased in the best possible light, and her limitations as a vocalist didn’t work against her.
“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is a huge step backward. It makes two critical errors. The first and most fatal is it’s far too dependent on coos and ooh-ooh-oohs, and Swift is simply terrible at singing them. Not satisfactory, not mediocre. Flat out terrible. Then there is the further error of alternating the singing with her talking like a snarky teenager, which is irritating in its juvenility.
It doesn’t help that she’s not working with a strong composition to begin with, but if she’d downplayed the sarcastic delivery and grating vocal runs, this would be a decent record. As is, it’s only listenable for its sheer audacity, a novelty that wears off quickly after a handful of listens.
Written by Taylor Swift, Max Martin & Johan Shellback
Since bringing back Recommend a Track proved so popular, I’m resurrecting another CU oldie but goodie: the iPod check.
I’ve only recently discovered the Most Played feature on iTunes, since it never had any relevance until iPods were large enough in memory to sync all of my music. So going back to early 2011, I have a lengthy list of the songs I’ve played the most.
So today’s iP0d check: List your most-played song from twenty different country artists.
You can access this info by going to your own Most Played list and adjusting the number of songs on it – I use 500 for mine – or you can just go to Music and sort by number of plays. Or you can just pick twenty artists at random and list your most played song for each. We’re easy here. (This would also work in Spotify, from what I hear.)
Here’s my top twenty:
Pam Tillis – Deep Down (89 plays)
Keith Urban – I Told You So (81)
Dixie Chicks – Long Time Gone (71)
Taylor Swift – Mean (68)
Trisha Yearwood – Where Are You Now (63)
Patty Loveless – You Can Feel Bad (59)
Emmylou Harris – Easy From Now On (55)
Carrie Underwood – Undo It (50)
Lori McKenna – Lorraine (50)
Dwight Yoakam – Ain’t That Lonely Yet (46)
Sara Evans – Rocking Horse (45)
Sawyer Brown – Cafe on the Corner (45)
Reba McEntire – The Fear of Being Alone (44)
Shania Twain – Up! (43)
Faith Hill – Stealing Kisses (41)
Alan Jackson – So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore (40)
Crystal Gayle – Why Have Your Left the One You Left Me For (39)
George Strait – Meanwhile (39)
Lee Ann Womack – I May Hate Myself in the Morning (39)
Aaron Tippin – Whole Lotta Love on the Line (38)
I’m surprised that some of my most played artists overall, like Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, and Tim McGraw, don’t have that one big song that I play excessively. Also, at least half of the songs above aren’t what I would call my favorite song by the given artist. How about you?
He spent most of the eighties struggling for recognition, but thanks to his smooth ballads and country’s suddenly expanded audience, Vince Gill emerged as one of the biggest superstars of the nineties.
Born and raised in Oklahoma, he followed in the footsteps of his musician father, but while it was a hobby for his dad, it became Vince’s life mission. His ability to play several different instruments and his talent for harmonizing earned him a place in local bands, and he moved to Kentucky and then to Los Angeles seeking out further opportunities. An audition for the Pure Prairie League in 1979 resulted in him becoming their new lead singer, and Gill had his first taste of success when their single, “Let Me Love You Tonight”, topped the adult contemporary charts and cracked the pop top ten.
He left the band to join Rodney Crowell’s backing group, Cherry Bomb, only a few years after he had played a similar backing role for Ricky Skaggs. His time with Cherry Bomb connected him to Tony Brown, the musician and record executive who signed him to RCA in 1981. For the next several years, stardom remained just out of reach for Gill, who managed to score just three top ten hits with the label. He was better known for his session work as a guitarist and as a harmony singer, with his distinctive vocals appearing on #1 hits by Rosanne Cash (“I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me”) and Patty Loveless (“Timber I’m Falling in Love.”)
When Brown left RCA for MCA records, Gill followed shortly thereafter. In 1989, he released the dramatic ballad “When I Call Your Name”, featuring harmony vocals from Loveless. The record made him one of the genre’s hottest stars, setting up a decade of dominance at radio and retail. Throughout the nineties, Gill racked up a stunning run of hits and big-selling albums, with I Still Believe in You selling more than five million copies on the strength of four #1 hits.
Gill alternated between rave-ups that featured his guitar prowess and power ballads that brought country’s traditional heartache sound into the late twentieth century. Despite his new popularity, he still did as much session work as ever, happily accepting offers to sing and play on the albums of anyone who requested him to. He became known as the genre’s leading gentleman, and his quick wit led to him hosting the CMA awards for more than a decade. Because of both his talent and his work with other artists, Gill dominated the two award shows voted on by his peers, winning more than a dozen Grammys and CMA awards. He is tied with George Strait for the most CMA Male Vocalist trophies, and holds the record for the most wins in the Song of the Year category.
As radio support slowly dwindled toward the late nineties, Gill focused on making ambitious albums, most notably the four-CD set These Days, which earned him another pair of Grammys and a platinum award. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005, and he was one of the youngest inductees in history to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007. A marriage to fellow singer Amy Grant has kept him focused more on family than music in recent years, but he still tours regularly and remains an Opry staple. His most recent set, Guitar Slinger, hit shelves in 2011 and earned him multiple songwriting nominations for the lead single, “Threaten Me with Heaven.”
As comfortable with a honky-tonk number as a pure pop melody, Faron Young was an influential performer that helped smooth country music’s trip uptown.
Born and raised in Louisiana, Young started playing country music in high school, and managed to make it on the radio show Louisiana Hayride early in his career, leaving college to tour with the program. On the show, he met Webb Pierce, and the duo became a popular touring combination in the southeast. A pair of singles for independent label Gotham caught the attention of Capitol Records, and the label bought out his contract so they could release his music to a national audience.
His career was diverted by his drafting into the Army, but it was back on track as soon as he returned to the states. He had several popular country hits in the fifties that were steeped in honky-tonk sounds, aided by a little Western swing. His photogenic looks also got the attention of Hollywood, and soon Young was known as the Hillbilly Heartthrob, appearing in several movies while continuing his dominance at radio and on stage.
Young was significant for his ability to identify new songwriters with promising talent. He was the first to score a big hit with a Don Gibson song, taking “Sweet Dreams” high up the charts several years before Patsy Cline did the same. He also brought Willie Nelson to Nashville’s attention when he turned the quirky “Hello Walls” into a massive hit in 1961. Soon after, he switched from Capitol to Mercury, and at this time his music took on a more pop-oriented sound.
His ability to adjust his style kept him relevant for a longer time than most of his fifties counterparts. He was still a consistent presence on the radio throughout the sixties and much of the seventies, even topping the charts with “It’s Four in the Morning” in 1971 and reaching the top forty as late as 1978. He switched to MCA records late in his career, but it didn’t rekindle his success at radio.
Throughout the eighties and early nineties, he remained popular on stage and on television, making frequent Opry appearances as one of the organization’s most senior performers, having joined in 1954. Sadly, illness sidelined him, and his depression over his weakened state led to his death in 1996 by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Despite the tragic end to his amazing career, his significance was immortalized in 2000, when he joined the hallowed ranks of the Country Music Hall of Fame.