Classic Country Singles

Jeannie C. Riley, “Harper Valley P.T.A.”

September 10, 2008 // 5 Comments

Harper Valley P.T.A. Jeannie C. Riley 1968 Written by Tom T. Hall “Harper Valley P.T.A.” written by Tom T. Hall, is the ultimate in story songs. A career-changing hit single for Jeannie C. Riley in 1968, it introduced the world to a small-town environment filled with gossip and a woman not afraid to stand up to her know-it-all critics. This absorbing story was written by Hall of Famer Tom T. Hall. In an interview, Hall states that his inspiration for the song was passing by the Harpeth Valley Elementary School in Bellevue, Tennessee, and that he built the song around the school name. Jeannie C. Riley, who served as songwriter Jerry Chesnut’s secretary, heard the song and recorded it herself with the help of producer Shelby Singleton. Although the account is purely fictional, it brims with true-to-life spectacle. The song tells the story of a junior high student who is sent Read More

Merle Haggard, “Okie from Muskogee”

September 1, 2008 // 14 Comments

Okie from Muskogee Merle Haggard 1969 Written by Roy Edward Burris and Merle Haggard “Okie from Muskogee” is an ode to simple American living, a joke at the expense of the common man or a political protest geared towards angering the counterculture of its time, depending on the viewpoint of the listener. Haggard, dubbed “the poet of the common man,” provided a different outlook of both the social and political environments of the late 1960s when he, along with Ray Burris wrote “Okie from Muskogee. Despite its strong undercurrent of patriotism, the song is often viewed as a protest song. With the Vietnam War prompting many American to protest, Hag’s trademark tune became a rallying cry for those who were living in those times of conflict and was viewed as a song against the protesters of the war and their disrespect for the soldiers. It has also be considered to be a reflection Read More

Classic Country Singles: Tammy Wynette, “Stand By Your Man”

August 31, 2008 // 21 Comments

Stand By Your Man Tammy Wynette 1968 Written by Billy Sherrill and Tammy Wynette It was a seminal moment in a career filled with them, but the recording of “Stand by Your Man“ has contributed considerably to the world of country music. It caused the questioning of gender roles and stirred up dialogue about how far a woman’s heart can stretch in the face of her man’s transgressions. “Stand by Your Man” was reportedly written in 15 minutes, the creation of Wynette and her producer, Billy Sherrill. Wynette’s gorgeous performance is sympathetic yet strong.  As always, Wynette possesses a heartbreaking quality in her voice, but still remains as calm as ever. Her declaration of love for her man is powerful, despite the admission of his sinful dealings. The song is an ode to a faithful, supportive wife and the understanding that her man has faults and failing, but she will continue to stay Read More

Classic Country Singles: Kathy Mattea, “Where’ve You Been”

August 31, 2008 // 26 Comments

“Where’ve You Been” Kathy Mattea 1990 Written by Don Henry and Jon Vezner Everybody loved the song, but nobody wanted to cut it. A slow and simple tale of an aging couple that ends with them both in a hospital, as the wife is succumbing to Alzheimer’s? Not exactly the formula for a smash hit. Co-writers Jon Vezner and Don Henry pitched the song all around Nashville, and it was finally Vezner’s wife, Kathy Mattea, who committed to recording the song that was piercing her heart with every listen. The tale of Claire & Edwin starts simply enough, with Claire wondering “where’ve you been” when they fall in love, and she finds the man she always dreamed of. She asks the same question when a storm delays his coming home from work – “Her frightened tears fell to the floor, until his key turned in the door.” The gentle instrumentation Read More

Classic Country Singles: Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler”

August 26, 2008 // 3 Comments

The Gambler Kenny Rogers 1978 Written by Don Schlitz Although responsible for one of country music’s most famous lines (“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em…”), Don Schlitz’s premier story song, “The Gambler” is far deeper than what first appears. The game of poker is disguised as a metaphor for life and shows that it’s not what cards one is dealt, but how the player handles those cards, that is truly the secret of life. Kenny Rogers’ gruff and gritty vocal tells the story of two travelers, one barely living and one barely alive. It’s a strong connection between a couple of strangers, and shows that we may not be so different at all. They travel on through the darkness, passengers at a crossroads, and the old man gives his secrets to survival because he’s “made a living reading other people’s faces.” The two Read More

Webb Pierce, "There Stands the Glass"

August 24, 2008 // 7 Comments

There Stands the Glass Webb Pierce 1953 Writt en by Audrey Grisham, Russ Hull & Mary Shurtz He was the top country artist of the 1950s, spending 113 weeks at No. 1 that decade. As a cast member of the Louisiana Hayride and the Grand Ole Opry, he was heard on radio stations coast to coast. Throw in his larger-than-life persona and appearances in Hollywood films, and you’ll reach an inescapable conclusion: Webb Pierce was country music, its most visible and successful performer for the better part of a decade. Which makes his current obscurity all the more tragic. While his contemporaries like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins and Eddy Arnold have been lionized by history, Pierce has been nearly forgotten, despite the fact that his talent and contributions to the development of country music as a popular art form were immeasurable. Fans dedicated to discovering country music’s roots Read More

Classic Country Singles: Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”

August 24, 2008 // 7 Comments

Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson 1978 Written by Ed Bruce & Patsy Bruce Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson collaborated at numerous stages of their careers, and it is one of the most famous alliances between two stars in country music history. One of the pinnacles of the Waylon and Willie partnership is “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” a warning to the mothers of little boys with big dreams of the wide-open range. As they explain, “They never stay home, and they’re always alone, even with someone they love.” Surely this was no unfamiliar feeling for both men, notorious for their restless (and sometimes reckless) ways. In fact, the song is the very definition of many a man’s heart in just under three minutes. In the verse, the song tells of the dangers involved with living Read More

Glen Campbell, “Galveston”

August 23, 2008 // 5 Comments

Galveston Glen Campbell 1969 Written by Jimmy Webb Everything old becomes new again, especially in country music, which is as predictably cyclical as the rise and fall of the moon and sun. The string-drenched charm of Glen Campbell’s signature style is garnering hosannas rich with the joy of rediscovery, as it is used to interpret contemporary rock hits on his current record, Meet Glen Campbell. It’s an effective project because Campbell has always been a quintessential singles artist, and the new record is like a brand new greatest hits collection culled from the best work of other performers. Among Campbell’s own best work, there are several classic country singles, four of which were million-sellers:  “Wichita Lineman,” “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Southern Nights” and the focus of this entry: “Galveston.” Released during the height of the Vietnam War, “Galveston” is the inner monologue of a young soldier dreaming of home. The lyrics are striking in their Read More

Classic Country Singles: Martina McBride, “Independence Day”

August 22, 2008 // 23 Comments

“Independence Day” Martina McBride 1994 Written by Gretchen Peters In 1993, Martina McBride chose to include a powerful song penned by Gretchen Peters on her second collection The Way That I Am, despite resistance from her record label. Even with their hesitance to discuss such difficult subject manner, McBride was determined to shed light on the hard truths of domestic violence. When selected as the fourth single from the album, the song, titled “Independence Day,” many radio stations were uncertain whether they wished to play the controversial anthem. Its story of a woman’s struggle against spousal abuse is powerful and purposeful in content, lending a realistic view of how such treatment can torment its victims. From the narrative standpoint of the woman’s daughter, the song tells of an abusive husband and the destructive effect on his family. The daughter, eight years old and all too aware, recalls how she took Read More

Classic Country Singles: Rosanne Cash, “Seven Year Ache”

August 19, 2008 // 9 Comments

Seven Year Ache Rosanne Cash 1981 Written by Rosanne Cash In the 1980s, Rosanne Cash earned 11 #1 singles, more than any female artist other than Reba McEntire. The one that still resounds most is her take on the seven-year itch. With “Seven Year Ache”, Cash showed a skill for writing (and performing) songs in the progressive country movement, songs with smarts and the ability to appeal to diverse audiences. Throughout her career, Cash has created music that sends a distinct message, and “Seven Year Ache” is no different. The song matches a tough-girl delivery with a biting, cynical lyric about a man and his restless ways, culminating in another night out on the town. It’s a cutting indictment that is equal parts attitude and apathy, with Cash seeming both angry with her man’s transgressions and tired of scolding his behavior. Her antagonist is “face down in a memory, but Read More

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