Archive for the ‘Back to the Nineties’ Category

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

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

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!

Jones shared the CMA Vocal Event of the Year trophy for that collaboration with Clint Black, Garth Brooks, T. Graham Brown, Mark Chesnutt, Joe Diffie, Vince Gill,  Alan Jackson, Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis, and Travis Tritt.   He’d continue with this approach by teaming up with his vocal chameleon Sammy Kershaw on “Never Bit a Bullet Like This”, and he recorded an entire album of his own songs as duets with mostly younger stars. The Bradley Barn Sessions was represented at radio with “A Good Year For the Roses”, which found him singing one of his best hits with Alan Jackson:

Among the legends, the only other one to be successful with this approach was Dolly Parton, who used collaborations with young stars to score consecutive platinum albums for the first and only time in her career.  Her 1991 set Eagle When She Flies was powered by the #1 single “Rockin’ Years”, co-written by her brother and sung with Ricky Van Shelton:

That album also included a duet with Lorrie Morgan on “Best Woman Wins.”  She upped the bandwagon ante on Slow Dancing With the Moon, bringing a whole caravan of young stars on board with her line dance cash-in “Romeo.”

That’s Mary Chapin Carpenter, Billy Ray Cyrus, Kathy Mattea, and Tanya Tucker in the video. Pam Tillis isn’t in the clip, but she sings on the record with them.  Parton also duets with Billy Dean on that album on “(You Got Me Over a) Heartache Tonight.”

Her next collaboration was with fellow legends Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, but they couldn’t resist the temptation to squeeze in several younger stars in the video for “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.”  Alongside veterans like Chet Atkins,  Bill Anderson, and Little Jimmy Dickens, you’ll catch cameos from Mark Collie, Confederate Railroad, Rodney Crowell, Diamond Rio, Sammy Kershaw, Doug Stone, and Marty Stuart.

Parton scored a CMA award when she resurrected “I Will Always Love You” as a duet with Vince Gill:

And while it didn’t burn up the charts, her version of “Just When I Needed You Most” with Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski:

Tammy Wynette made an attempt to connect with the new country audience with her own album of duets, Without Walls.  Her pairing with Wynonna on “Girl Thang” earned some unsolicited airplay:

Perhaps the most endearing project in this vein came from Roy Rogers.  How cool is it to hear him singing with Clint Black?

The new stars liked pairing up with each other, too.  A popular trend was to have other stars pop up in music videos.  There’s the classic “Women of Country” version of “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her”, for starters. Mary Chapin Carpenter sounds pretty darn good with Suzy Bogguss, Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, Pam Tillis, and Trisha Yearwood on backup:

That’s a live collaboration, so at least you hear the voices of the other stars. But Vince Gill put together an all-star band for his “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away” video without getting them to actually play.  That’s Little Jimmy Dickens, Kentucky Headhunters, Patty Loveless, Lee Roy Parnell, Carl Perkins, Pam Tillis, and Kelly Willis behind him, with Reba McEntire reprising her waitress role from her own “Is There Life Out There” clip.

My personal favorite was Tracy Lawrence’s slightly less A-list spin on the above, with “My Second Home” featuring the future superstars Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, and Shania Twain, along with John Anderson, Holly Dunn, Hank Flamingo, Johnny Rodriguez, Tanya Tucker, Clay Walker, and a few people that I just can’t identify.


Humor Videos
Tracy Lawrence – My Second Home

For pure star wattage, it took the bright lights of Hollywood to get a truly amazing group together. The Maverick Choir assembled to cover “Amazing Grace”, and it doesn’t get much better than country gospel delivered in a barn by John Anderson, Clint Black, Suzy Bogguss, Billy Dean, Radney Foster, Amy Grant, Faith Hill, Waylon Jennings, Tracy Lawrence, Kathy Mattea, Reba McEntire, John Michael Montgomery, Restless Heart, Ricky Van Shelton, Joy Lynn White, and Tammy Wynette.

What’s your favorite of the bunch? Any good ones I missed?

How Very Nineties: Lisa Stewart, “Drive Time”

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

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!

(Look closely in the background and you can see an RIAA award for her labelmate John Anderson’s Seminole Wind.)

Shania Twain Starter Kit

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

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!”

“No One Needs to Know”
From the 1995 album The Woman in Me

A charming record about falling in love but not letting anybody know about it yet. It was the fourth #1 single from the album.

“You’re Still the One”
From the 1997 album Come On Over

Her first big pop hit won her two country Grammys, and was her first of two songs to be nominated for overall Song of the Year.

“That Don’t Impress Me Much”
From the 1997 album Come On Over

Three men are summarily dismissed for putting their looks, their brains, and their car before showing love and affection to Shania Twain. Such men are unlikely to exist in the real world.

“Man! I  Feel Like a Woman!”
From the 1997 album Come On Over

Arguably the most iconic single from Come On Over, it won her another Grammy and was a worldwide hit to boot, helping the album reach international sales in excess of 35 million.

“You’ve Got a Way”
From the 1997 album Come On Over

Shania unplugs with a quiet, acoustic love song.

“Up!”
From the 2002 album Up!

The title track from her epic fourth album is best heard in its country mix, with irresistible banjo and fiddle combos accompanying her frantic performance.

“Forever and For Always”
From the 2002 album Up!

Quite possibly her most beautiful ballad showcased how much she’d grown as a vocalist in the five years between Come On Over and Up!

“Ka-Ching!”
From the 2002 album Up!

This was the biggest pop hit from this album overseas, and it features a riveting video that skewers the banality of  her own celebrity as it questions society’s focus on materialism. That it was originally intended for her Christmas album is too cool for words.

Two Hidden Treasures

“Amneris’ Letter”
From the 1999 album Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida

Of all the places to find Twain’s finest vocal performance, its home is on the concept album for Aida. Just a piano and Twain singing her heart out.

“Nah!”
From the 2002 album Up!

Sure, there are countless witty rave-ups and quite a few heartbreaking ballads that never made it to radio and remained album cuts. But I don’t think there’s a more enjoyable track among her lesser-known songs than this kiss-off anthem that has some “na na na’s” thrown in to boot.


Martina McBride Starter Kit

Friday, August 28th, 2009

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.

“Independence Day”
From the 1993 album The Way That I Am

Well, obviously.

“Safe in the Arms of Love”
From the 1995 album Wild Angels

There’s an indescribably unique sound to this record, and it’s still the coolest thing she’s ever done.

“Wild Angels”
From the 1995 album Wild Angels

Her first #1 hit came courtesy of Matraca Berg, who originally intended this to be the title track of her second country album.

“A Broken Wing”
From the 1997 album Evolution

She’d eventually go down the abuse song road too many times, but this is a remarkably powerful record.

“Whatever You Say”
From the 1997 album Evolution

This song was the blueprint for future hits “Where Would You Be” and “How Far”, but “Whatever You Say” is the strongest of her “scream ’til my lungs bleed” trilogy.

“Love’s the Only House”
From the 1999 album Emotion

Everything that Toby Keith’s vocal defenders have been saying he accomplished with “American Ride” was actually pulled off by Martina on this hit, which captures the contradictions of all the excess of wealth and underbelly of poverty that you can find in a diverse urban society.

“Blessed”
From the 2001 album Greatest Hits

A love letter to the life that God has given her, done with understatement and subtlety.

“Anyway”
From the 2007 album Waking Up Laughing

A pretty darn good code to live by. Heck, it was good enough for Mother Teresa.

Two Hidden Treasures

“Goin’ to Work”
From the 1993 album The Way That I Am

Pam Tillis co-wrote this working woman’s anthem, where a broken heart takes a back seat during the work day. “I’m good at my work,” she sings, declaring that her identity is defined by more than just the man who left her.

“All the Things We’ve Never Done”
From the 1995 album Wild Angels

The most beautiful anniversary song I’ve ever heard. Ever.


Clint Black Starter Kit

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

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.”

“Put Yourself in My Shoes”
From the 1990 album Put Yourself in My Shoes

This bluesy song pleads for understanding and forgiveness in a failed relationship. He boldly proclaims: “Put yourself in my shoes/Walk a mile for me/I’ll put myself in your shoes/Maybe then we’d see/That if you put yourself in my shoes/You’d have some sympathy/And if I could only put myself in your shoes/I’d walk right back to me.”

“Burn One Down”
From the 1992 album The Hard Way

This is just a cleverly written song all around. It demonstrates Black’s intriguing poetic ability.

“A Bad Goodbye” (with Wynonna Judd)
From the 1993 album No Time to Kill

As Clint seems to do very well on his duets, he leans into this emotional song with full force. Of course, Wynonna Judd is always a force to be reckoned with, but both of them aptly capture the complicated emotion of loving someone but no longer being in love.

“No Time to Kill”
From the 1993 album No Time to Kill

In this dobro and fiddle laden tune, Clint revisits the theme of killing time. This time, he determines that there’s no time to kill.

“State of Mind”
From the 1993 album No Time to Kill

Clint’s harmonica chops are displayed on this catchy song, especially on the album version. The song is built around the simple, yet factual, observation: “Ain’t it funny how a melody can bring back a memory/Take you to another place in time/Completely change your state of mind?”

“Untanglin’ My Mind”
From the 1994 album One Emotion

Can you imagine a song like this being played on today’s country radio? What’s more, can you imagine a Merle Haggard co-write reaching the top five on today’s country charts? Apparently, both were possible in the mid nineties. Those were the days, weren’t they?

“Still Holding On” (with Martina McBride)
From the 1997 album Nothin’ But the Taillights

Clint Black isn’t immune from veering away from the neo-traditional sound, especially toward the latter half of his career. This is a straight pop country ballad done well, particularly thanks to killer vocal performances by both Black and Martina McBride.

“Something that We Do”
From the 1997 album Nothin’ But the Taillights

Clint extols the simple truth that love is a verb: “It’s not just something that we have; it’s something that we do.” At the time of this song’s release, I was pretty bored by its simple melody. It wasn’t until my adulthood that I truly understood the sentiment.

Two Hidden Treasures

“Our Kind of Love”
From the 1997 album Nothin’ but the Taillights

Clint has a version of this gorgeous song with Carolyn Dawn Johnson, but this rootsy version featuring Alison Krauss is superior.

“Hand in the Fire”
From the 1999 album D’Lectrified

This whole album is a gem that was somewhat overlooked, though it still reached gold status. As the album title cleverly indicates, this is his version of an unplugged project. He reworks some of his old hits and adds some originals as well. This is one of the standout originals, which is a fun, matter-of-fact, declaration of love.

Country Music Firsts

Monday, August 24th, 2009

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.

In the spirit of that “Country Convert” feature, I’d like to ask all of you about your country music firsts. I imagine many of us will have answers concentrated in the nineties, but if yours are from another decade, share them anyway!

Here are the questions:

  • What was the first country song that you remember loving?
  • What was the first country album that you bought with your own money?
  • What was your first country concert?

My Answers:

What was the first country song that you remember loving?

I liked a lot of the older stuff that my parents listened to, like Johnny Horton and Conway Twitty, but it was always my parents’ music.  One night, we were watching a TV variety show called Hot Country Nights. I think we had it on because my mom’s favorite, Ricky Van Shelton, was performing that night. Out came Pam Tillis, singing “Maybe It Was Memphis.” I just had never heard anything like it before, and I was instantly smitten.  

What was the first country album that you bought with your own money?

I remember buying Pam Tillis’ Put Yourself in My Place and Lorrie Morgan’s Something in Red on the same day.  I bought both on cassette. If I recall correctly, I listened only to Side 1 of each tape for a very long time.

What was your first country concert?

Somewhere in New Jersey in 1992: Clint Black, Billy Dean and Aaron Tippin. It was Black’s tour to support The Hard Way. I remember that there was a complicated set for Black’s performance, something with falling rocks.

Chely Wright Six Pack

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

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.

“Shut Up and Drive”
from the 1997 album Let Me In

One of the best records to hit the radio in 1997.

“I Already Do”
from the 1997 album Let Me In

Perhaps it was too quiet a declaration of love for country radio, but it’s a beautiful performance.

“Single White Female”
from the 1999 album Single White Female

Her biggest hit also made a name for its co-writer Carolyn Dawn Johnson, who’d go on to have a hit album of her own.

“Jezebel”
from the 2001 album Never Love You Enough

She has a lot of quirky songs in her catalog. If you like this one, make sure you check out “Alligator Purse.”

“Back of the Bottom Drawer”
from the 2004 EP Everything

A clear-eyed look back at good and bad decisions that shape who you become in the end.

Deana Carter Six Pack

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

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.

“We Danced Anyway”
from the 1996 album Did I Shave My Legs For This?

Another Berg song, another #1 single for Carter, though this one was quite a bit more carefree, right down to the “la la la” chorus.

“Count Me In”
from the 1996 album Did I Shave My Legs For This?

A beautiful, sensitive performance that slowly builds confidence as it reaches its conclusion.

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

After four straight top five hits, including three #1 singles, radio responded with chilliness to the hilarious title cut of Carter’s quintuple platinum debut.

“Absence of the Heart”
from the 1998 album Everything’s Gonna Be Alright

She received a standing ovation when she debuted this song on the 1998 ACM awards.
“Angels Working Overtime”
from the 1998 album Everything’s Gonna Be Alright

A sentimental tale about a girl named Indiana finally finding where she belongs, thanks to angels working overtime.


BlackHawk Six Pack

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

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.

“Every Once in a While”
from the 1994 album BlackHawk

One of their best sounding records, featuring a particularly effective mandolin-laced intro.

“I Sure Can Smell the Rain”
from the 1994 album BlackHawk

An interesting record that foreshadows the impending doom of a relationship that’s about to end.

“That’s Just About Right”
from the 1994 album BlackHawk

There wasn’t a more quirky or more philosophical song on the radio in the spring of 1995.

“I’m Not Strong Enough To Say No”
from the 1995 album Strong Enough

Robert John “Mutt” Lange co-wrote this catchy plea for temptation not to call.

“Postmarked Birmingham”
from the 1997 album Love & Gravity

Their first stab at a pure story song was a successful one, crafting a mystery that pays off well in the end.

The Mavericks Six Pack

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

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.

“Here Comes the Rain”
from the 1995 album Music For All Occasions

They won a Grammy for this melancholy performance that perfected the formula introduced by “What a Crying Shame.”

“All You Ever Do is Bring Me Down”
from the 1995 album Music For All Occasions

Their first hit single to draw on the Latin influences that the band had in spades.

“Dance the Night Away”
from the 1998 album Trampoline

A big hit in Canada and an even bigger one in the United Kingdom, it’s one of those songs that too many Americans didn’t have a chance to hear.

“Hot Burrito #1”
from the 1999 album Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons

The band absolutely nails their entry in the multi-artist tribute to Gram Parsons.


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