Back to the Nineties

How Very Nineties: George Jones & Friends, and other All Star Jams

June 13, 2010 // 11 Comments

New fans of country music in the nineties were hit over the head with the assertion that country music was one big family. Nothing demonstrated this mythos better than the all star jams that cropped up during the boom years.

There were some variants of this approach. A popular one found a veteran star teaming up with one or more of the boom artists to increase their chances of radio airplay. George Jones was big on this approach, with the most high profile attempt being “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair.” Seventeen years later, it’s amazing to see how young everyone looks – even Jones himself!

How Very Nineties: Lisa Stewart, “Drive Time”

May 22, 2010 // 10 Comments

I totally bought this album and thought the video was powerful when I was, you know, 12. Now watching it makes me laugh and cringe but still kinda dig the song.

The CU staff is working on a Best of the Nineties singles list right now. This one’s not gonna be on it. But enjoy the trip back to 1992 anyway. This woman could sing!

Shania Twain Starter Kit

August 30, 2009 // 47 Comments

shania-twainThere were two solo artists who changed the course of country music history in the nineties. The first was Garth Brooks, who ushered in the boom years with his mega-selling albums No Fences and Ropin’ the Wind. The second was Shania Twain, who permanently altered the female point of view in country music with her mega-selling albums The Woman in Me and Come On Over.

Twain’s debut album was decent enough, with some charming singles like “What Made You Say That” and the Gretchen Peters-penned “Dance With the One That Brought You” being among the highlights. But it was the combination of Twain’s pen and Mutt Lange’s production that made her a superstar. Throughout her career, she’s been a champion of mutual monogamy and carefree independence. She didn’t protest for women to be treated with equality and respect so much as write from the assumption that no other option had ever existed.

In truth, all three of her self-written albums are essential listening, but if none of the 60 million albums that Twain has sold are in your personal collection, here are some tracks to help you get started:

Ten Essential Tracks

“Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?”
From the 1995 album The Woman in Me

For all the heat Twain gets for being too pop, it’s hard to imagine anything this country getting played on even country radio today, let alone pop radio.

“Any Man of Mine”
From the 1995 album The Woman in Me

There were two songs from this album that essentially powered it toward becoming the best-selling female country album up until that point. I’ve always preferred this one over “I’m Outta Here!”

Martina McBride Starter Kit

August 28, 2009 // 17 Comments

Martina McBrideShe’s one of the most successful female country artists of the past two decades, and though it was the 2000s that brought her most of her accolades, Martina McBride became a star in the nineties. She also released her strongest music during that decade, and her first three albums remain her strongest efforts to date.

For those of you who know McBride for her AC-flavored work in recent years, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the diversity of styles she explored early on in her career. Here’s where you should start:

Ten Essential Tracks

“Cheap Whiskey”
From the 1992 album The Time Has Come

It predates her breakthrough hits, but anyone who watched CMT back in the early nineties will remember the powerful video clip that accompanied McBride’s stone-countriest performance.

“My Baby Loves Me”
From the 1993 album The Way That I Am

It took this song 20 weeks to reach the #2 position, a glacial pace back in 1993. But the “Born in The U.S.A.”-borrowed power chords still sound cool today, so it’s no surprise that this was a big hit.

Clint Black Starter Kit

August 25, 2009 // 14 Comments

clint_black1Clint Black burst onto the country music landscape with the famed Class of ’89, as one of the group’s leading members. With his neo-traditionalist sound, he caught people off guard with his uncanny channeling of his hero, Merle Haggard.

As time passed, we would quickly learn that Black was his own man as he earned two triple Platinum albums, four Platinum albums and one gold album. Moreover, he would soon establish his own sound, which the country music audience was more than willing to accept.

Ten Essential Tracks

“A Better Man”
From the 1989 album Killin’ Time

It is impossible not to include Clint Black’s first single in his Starter Kit. Not only is it a great song from a seminal album, it sprung to the top of the charts and introduced people to a voice that eerily resembled that of Merle Haggard’s.

“Killin’ Time”
From the 1989 album Killin’ Time

Black was known for his clever wordplay, which showed up in “Killin’ Time” with “This Killin’ time is Killin’ me.”

Country Music Firsts

August 24, 2009 // 40 Comments

pamtillisOur readers have clearly responded well to our Back to the Nineties features this month. (Fret not, there are more on the way.) Part of the reason is that so many of you, like myself and Leeann, first discovered country music in that decade.

This isn’t too surprising, as the nineties helped establish country music as a genre with widespread appeal. The suburbanization of once-rural America reached its apex, and at the same time, CMT deeply penetrated the cable market. For you newbies, the channel was 24-hour videos back then, with remarkably democratic video rotation.

A clip in heavy rotation would only be seen two more times a day than one in light rotation. This is the reason both Mutt Lange and Sean Penn discovered Shania Twain through her “What Made You Say That” clip, which was played extensively on the channel despite the song stalling at #55 at radio.

The New York country radio station back then would do a “Country Convert” feature every morning. A radio listener would call in and say what song converted them to country music. Newbies to country music back then had a religious zeal to them, and would work very hard trying to convince others to fall in love with the music.

Chely Wright Six Pack

August 20, 2009 // 26 Comments

Chely WrightIt seemed like Chely Wright was on the cusp of stardom for her entire career, releasing several albums in the nineties that garnered enough interest to keep her signed but not quite enough to make her an established star. She finally scored a big hit when “Single White Female” went #1, and the album of the same name would eventually be certified gold.

But she wasn’t able to maintain the momentum with her follow-up project, and that #1 hit remained her only trip to the top ten. In recent years, she released an outstanding EP called Everything and a full-length album called The Metropolitan Hotel which was one of her most consistent efforts.

“The Love That We Lost”
from the 1996 album Right in the Middle Of It

Her biggest pre-MCA hit was remarkably intriguing, especially on the first listen when you’re trying to figure out what she’s looking all over the house for.

Deana Carter Six Pack

August 20, 2009 // 9 Comments

Deana CarterDeana Carter was one of the first post-Shania Twain female country stars, and she quickly proved she could sell in big numbers. Thanks to the omnipresent smash “Strawberry Wine”, she soon owned a debut album that went platinum five times over.

Radio and retail weren’t as kind to her follow-up projects, and she’d establish a pattern that would later be repeated by Gretchen Wilson – big hit, big debut, sophomore slump, third-album bomb, go indie. Her more recent albums are worth checking out, but acquaint yourself with these major-label essentials first.

“Strawberry Wine”
from the 1996 album Did I Shave My Legs For This?

In an instant, Carter became a star. She was nominated for five CMA awards on the strength of this hit. She won Single of the Year, and Matraca Berg and Gary Harrison shared Song of the Year.

BlackHawk Six Pack

August 19, 2009 // 10 Comments

BlackHawkA group of veteran industry songwriters and performers came together as BlackHawk, and were quickly signed to Arista Nashville, a label that had already had success with Exile and Diamond Rio. Their debut album was a smash, selling double-platinum and spawning five hits.

The band wasn’t able to match that success with future projects, despite scoring a handful of hits from their next three albums. Their sophomore set managed to sell gold on the strength of lead single “I’m Not Strong Enough to Say No”, but future projects would miss that mark. The act also left a bad taste in the mouth among some industry members when they publicly complained that less successful acts were winning Vocal Group over them, a blatant reference to The Mavericks.

Still, they produced some great songs that any casual fan of nineties country will be familiar with.

“Goodbye Says it All”
from the 1994 album BlackHawk

Their debut single demonstrated their ease at crafting hooks tailor-made for country radio.

The Mavericks Six Pack

August 19, 2009 // 20 Comments

The MavericksEven though they never made it into heavy rotation on country radio, The Mavericks were still one of country music’s most lauded bands in the mid-nineties. The CMAs named them Vocal Group in both 1995 and 1996, and they won similar honors from the Grammys and the ACMs.

Despite not reaching the top ten with a single, they enjoyed a platinum-selling and a gold-selling album. In Canada, their albums continued to reach the gold threshold. “Dance the Night Away”, which barely dented the country chart in America, was a sizable hit in the United Kingdom. Lead singer Raul Malo has gone on to record several solo projects, along with producing other acts, including yesterday’s Six Pack featured artist Rick Trevino.

“What a Crying Shame”
from the 1994 album What a Crying Shame

Essentially their breakthrough hit, it found them ditching the political themes of their debut album for Orbison-channeling heartbreak instead.

“O What a Thrill”
from the 1994 album What a Crying Shame

A wonderfully romantic ballad that’s remarkably sophisticated.

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