Classic Country Singles

Classic Country Singles: Randy Travis, “Three Wooden Crosses”

April 17, 2011 // 8 Comments

Three Wooden Crosses
Randy Travis
2002

Written by Doug Johnson and Kim Williams

During the first decade of the twenty-first century, the antiseptic depictions of faith that have dominated contemporary Christian music began to seep in to country music.

This perception created records both good (“Jesus, Take the Wheel”) and bad (“The Little Girl”), but most of them were bland, adding going to church on Sunday or praying as just one of the token traits of southern life, no more or less significant than the fried chicken or football game that followed the morning services.

Classic Country Singles: Rosanne Cash featuring Johnny Cash, “September When it Comes”

January 30, 2011 // 9 Comments

September When it Comes
Rosanne Cash featuring Johnny Cash
2003

Written by Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal

In her memoir Composed, Rosanne Cash describes a handful of prophetic songs that she has written as being “Postcards From the Future”, describing life events in detail before they happen. The most haunting example of this is “September When it Comes.”

She had written the lyrics in the nineties, scribbled quickly on a piece of paper while she was on the Long Island Expressway. At the time, her father Johnny was suffering through a health crisis. The lyrics describe her preparing for the impending death of her father, the time of reckoning described as September, a beautiful metaphor for the autumn years of life.

Classic Country Singles: Donna Fargo, “You Can’t Be a Beacon (If Your Light Don’t Shine)”

June 7, 2010 // 7 Comments

You Can’t Be a Beacon (If Your Light Don’t Shine)
Donna Fargo
1974

Written by Martin Cooper

In which preaching to the choir takes on an entirely different meaning.

Donna Fargo burst on to the country scene in 1972 with the gold-selling hits “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.” and “Funny Face,” which helped establish her as a burst of positivity against an increasingly dour national landscape.

The Watergate scandal challenged Fargo’s shiny outlook on the world, and influenced the material of her 1974 album Miss Donna Fargo. The lead single, “U.S. of A.”, found her speaking to the country directly, celebrating that the country’s strength comes from its plentiful natural and human resources.

That song went to #9, but it was the follow-up that became a #1 hit, one of Fargo’s first big hits to come from an outside writer. Built upon the biblical passage Matthew 5:16, it is a challenge not to those who do not have God in their life, but rather those who claim that they do:

Classic Country Singles: The Browns, "The Three Bells"

January 3, 2010 // 4 Comments

The Three Bells
The Browns
1959

Written by Dick Manning, Bert Reisfeld and Jean Villard

The structure of “The Three Bells” should be familiar to any listener of contemporary country music. A genre that prides itself on its simplicity is ambitious enough to tell an entire life story in under four minutes. It’s an approach that has created several classic singles like “Where’ve You Been” , “Time Marches On” and “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye.”

One of the most significant historical examples of this structure comes from The Browns, who had a massive crossover hit with their 1959 single “The Three Bells.” It’s a simple tale. The church bells ring three times throughout the course of Jimmy Brown’s life: on the day of his baptism, the day of his wedding, and the day of his funeral. The preacher has words of wisdom for each occasion, ones that would be familiar to any Christian churchgoer, Catholic or otherwise.

That the character shares the same name as lead singer Jim Ed Brown and takes place in a little country town might lead you to believe that this was a song of Nashville origin, but it actually began its life and its worldwide success in France as the story of Jean-François Nicot. Originally written in French, “Les Trois Cloches” was an international hit for Édith Piaf, the songstress that was recently immortalized in the film La Vie En Rose. The Browns, composed of siblings Jim Ed, Maxine, and Bonnie, had been performing the song since seeing it Les Campagnons de la Chanson performing an English-language version on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1952.

Stagecoach Festival: <em>Your Call</em>

April 22, 2009 // 15 Comments

It has finally cooled off here in Southern California, so I’m headed out to the Stagecoach Festival in Indio, California this weekend, April 25-26! The country cousin of Coachella, Stagecoach is now in its third year and will be playing host to nearly 40 acts, including Reba McEntire, Brad Paisley, Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, Kenny Chesney, Zac Brown Band and Miranda Lambert.

I’m excited for the festival, particularly because it hosts a mix of country music, from mainstream country to bluegrass, folk, roots rock and alt-country. With three different stages – appropriately named “Mane,” “Palomino” and “Mustang” – set on the beautiful Empire Polo fields in Indio, the Festival provides a fantastic opportunity to check out the entire gamut of styles and personalities in country music.

In Memoriam: Dan Seals

March 26, 2009 // 10 Comments

Successful country singer Dan Seals has passed away at the age of 61. Seals had a long run at the top of the country charts after a pop career as one half of England Dan and John Ford Coley. After the duo scored a huge hit with “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” Seals returned to his country roots.

Although he had a string of country hits, he is most remembered for his two award-winning chart-toppers. In 1986, he won two CMA awards: Single of the Year for “Bop”, and Vocal Duo of the Year for “Meet Me in Montana”, his collaboration with Marie Osmond.

Seals is survived by his wife and his four children. Share your memories and tributes to his music in the commments.

Classic Country Singles: Dolly Parton, “Coat of Many Colors”

December 7, 2008 // 16 Comments

Coat of Many Colors Dolly Parton 1971 Written by Dolly Parton When asked her favorite song among all those she has written, Dolly Parton always answers, “Coat of Many Colors.”   It’s a true story from her childhood that speaks volumes about her pride for her own heritage, much like Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” She writes in her autobiography that when she was a young girl, her family was “as poor as Job’s turkey.”  People from the area would drop off bags of clothing scraps for them to use for clothing for the children.   Parton’s mother usually tried to make the scraps match as much as possible when tailoring an outfit, but knowing Dolly’s personality, she decided to make a coat “out of the brightest, most different colors she could find.  This was going to be a colorful coat with no apologies.” As documented in the song, Parton’s mother told Read More

Discussion: Key Albums of the ’00s (So Far)

November 10, 2008 // 23 Comments

Since Dan has clearly tapped into a burning nostalgia for the first decade of this century, I’ll ask the logical follow-up question:  What are the key albums of the decade, so far? For me, the top one’s a no-brainer.  Home, the Dixie Chicks masterpiece.   Nothing else even comes close in my mind. But I’d add a few others to the short list, especially Gary Allan’s Tough All Over and Lee Ann Womack’s There’s More Where That Came From. One thing’s for sure.  You can strike this year’s CMA Album nominees from serious contention. What do you think are the key albums of the decade, so far?

Discussion: Gimme a Break!

November 8, 2008 // 7 Comments

I love my job.  I love going to school.  I love teaching religious education.   But this was one of those weeks where the teaching, the classes, and the supplementary professional development workshops became a little overwhelming.   Earlier today, one of my graduate classes ended.  I loved the class, but it’s nice to have my Saturdays back.    I need a break! Thankfully, my amazing writing staff has made my absence unnoticeable, but as I make my return, I’m thinking tonight about songs that capture that “I need a break” feeling.   Here are some of my favorites: Keith Urban, “Raining on Sunday” httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxDuckV7IAY John Conlee is always good. httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXB8yiBJrDc And just because it’s my site and I can indulge in my favorite non-country artist: httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SyFubwNa1g What are your favorite “Gimme a Break!” songs?

Patsy Cline, “I Fall to Pieces”

November 8, 2008 // 4 Comments

I Fall to Pieces Patsy Cline 1961 Written by Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard “I Fall to Pieces” is a part of country music’s culture due to its heartbreaking content and the lush musical setting that stands as Cline’s signature sound. The tale of a woman’s loss of hope after the end of a love affair connected with a mass audience upon its release in 1961 and continues to be a landmark of the genre. The song was written by legendary songwriters Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard, who met in California in the early 1960s and soon became writing partners. One night, Cochran came up with a title, and he met up with Howard at his house the next day, where they finished writing the song. The demo version was recorded by Howard’s wife and country singer, Jan Howard. Harlan Howard pitched the song to Decca producer, Owen Bradley, who Read More

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