Category Archives: Retro Single Reviews

Retro Single Review: Shania Twain, "When You Kiss Me"

2003 | Peak: #21 (U.K.)

What do you do when you’ve already got so many songs that are wedding and anniversary

staples?

Release another one, of course.   Perhaps if it had come before “You’re Still the One” and “From This Moment On”, or even before “Forever and For Always” was a hit, “When You Kiss Me” might have become another signature ballad for Twain.

I love the lush production on the red “pop” version that was a moderate international hit.   The green “country” version is so sparse that the subtle melody can’t provide the necessary elevation.

As was often the case with tracks from Up!, what we lose in creativity and surprise, we make up in astounding vocals.  She’s never sounded more desperately in love than she does here.   Highly recommended for those who want Shania to serenade them at their milestone occasion, but not with the same song she sings to everybody else.

Written by Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Shania Twain

Grade: B+

Next: It Only Hurts When I’m Breathing

Previous: She’s Not Just a Pretty Face

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Retro Single Review: George Strait, "What's Going On In Your World"

1989 | #1

Has the fiddle ever sounded sweeter?

George Strait’s eleventh consecutive #1 single, and seventeenth overall, is an absolutely delicious traditional country weeper.  In a classic country music scenario, Strait’s brokenhearted narrator contacts his former lover to inquire of her welfare in the time since the dissolution of their relationship.

The line “Just tell me that you’re happy, and I’ll hang up the phone” is a perfect lyrical synopsis of the

point at which the narrator has found himself.  His life alone has become hollow and unfulfilling, and the only thing he wishes is for his love to be happy – a sentiment that conveys loneliness as well as bittersweet selflessness, fully realized in Strait’s sincere, unaffected vocal delivery.

Even if the lyrics had not been so potent, “What’s Going On In Your World” would still have legs to stand as an instrumental showcase, thanks in large part to the mourful, crying fiddle that winds through the song.  It’s a testament to the ability of a compelling melody, and a simple no-frills country production to connect with deep-seated emotions, even without a word being sung.

No unnecessary bells or whistles.  Just three minutes and twenty-nine seconds of King George doing what King George does best.

Written by David Chamberlain, Royce Porter, and Red Steagall

Grade:  A

Next:  Ace In the Hole

Previous:  Baby’s Gotten Good at Goodbye

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Retro Single Review: Alan Jackson, "Tall, Tall Trees"

1995 | Peak:#1

Leave it to Alan

Jackson to find a #1 single on a Roger Miller box set.

Miller co-wrote “Tall, Tall Trees” with George Jones.  Jones recorded it first.  Miller recorded it a few years later.

With Miller being the king of comedic country and Jones of honky-tonk drawl, Jackson managed an awesome feat with his version.  He sounds more comfortable with the rapid wordplay and hillbilly humor than either of the two guys who wrote it.

Jackson’s cover isn’t just the most commercially successful of the three.  It’s also the best.

Written by George Jones and Roger Miller

Grade: A

Next: I’ll Try

Previous: I Don’t Even Know Your Name

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Retro Single Review: Tim McGraw, "The Cowboy in Me"

2001 | Peak: #1

I don’t get it.

More importantly, I don’t get it and the song isn’t interesting enough to make me want to get it.

“The Cowboy in Me” might be an amoebic form of the country lifestyle anthems that have flooded the genre in the years since it was released.  It’s certainly subtler and more refined than what’s come out since, and McGraw’s hit doesn’t include the head-pounding loudness that sinks so many other “country” anthems.

But it’s like they wanted to write a song about having a short temper and being restless, and they couldn’t come up with a more interesting way to do it, so they use the cowboy archetype as a shorthand reference.   This despite the fact that you could replace “cowboy” with “Jersey Shore” and it would still work, so what’s so cowboy about it, anyway?

A

commenter made a strong case that “Grown Men Don’t Cry” was a defining moment in the suburbanization of the genre and its growing disconnect from the life of the working poor.   “The Cowboy in Me” came along well after the ampersand and the Western were dropped from Country Music, but it really does demonstrate that the genre has as much relevance to cowboys these days as a Marlboro ad.

Written by Al Anderson, Jeffrey Steele, and Craig Wiseman

Grade: B

Next: Unbroken

Previous: Angry all the Time

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Retro Single Review: Dolly Parton, "The Seeker"

1975 | Peak: #2

A southern gospel number that starts slowly and never quite gets where it’s trying to go.

It’s not one of my favorite Parton compositions to begin with, especially considering the depth of her spiritual catalog.  The lyrics are a bit too redundant, and the

arrangement reinforces this by relying too heavily on the monotonous groove that dominates the verses.   It doesn’t build up enough tension to justify the overwrought release that comes with the chorus.

Written by Dolly Parton

Grade: B-

Next: Say Forever You’ll Be Mine (with Porter Wagoner)

Previous: The Bargain Store

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Retro Single Review: Shania Twain, "She's Not Just a Pretty Face"

2003 | Peak: #9

Shania Twain at her girl power best.

No, wait. Scratch that.  Her woman power best, as “She’s Not Just a Pretty Face” is about the wide range of indispensable and often unexpected roles that adult women play in our society, whether it’s the astronaut or politician that all of us see from television, or

the woman pumping gas at night to make ends meet.  That woman was Twain’s mom, by the way, who is sweetly immortalized in song here.

I also particularly love the warm steel guitar and the fiddle runs that run throughout the song.  It just works better as a country song than as a pop one.

This is Twain’s most recent solo single to reach the country top ten, and also her fifth and final Grammy nomination for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

Written by Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Shania Twain

Grade: A

Next: When You Kiss Me

Previous: Thank You Baby! (For Making Someday Come So Soon)

 

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Retro Single Review: George Strait, "Baby's Gotten Good at Goodbye"

1988 | Peak: #1

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.

Written by Tony Martin and George Martin

Grade: A

Next: What’ s Going on in Your World

Previous: If You Ain’t Lovin’ (You Ain’t Livin’)

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Retro Single Review: Alan Jackson, "I Don't Even Know Your Name"

1995 | Peak: #1

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

Grade: C

Next: Tall, Tall Trees

Previous: Song for the Life

httpv:www.youtube.com/watch?v=-aNjYlgwBN0

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Retro Single Review: Tim McGraw, "Angry All the Time"

2001 | #1

I will append a “-” onto the grade as a means of acknowledging the fact that the Bruce Robison original is overall superior.  That said, Tim McGraw’s hit recording of “Angry All the

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Time” is an excellent record in its own right.

I’m sure there are relatively few artists who would have listened to Robison’s non-charting, self-written 1998 single and thought, ‘Hey, that sounds like a hit!’  But “Angry All the Time” was a classic instance of McGraw finding a hit in the most unlikely of places, and giving mass exposure to an achingly beautiful, yet underrated composition.

Though not quite a raw as Robison’s original recording, McGraw’s version is surprisingly light on bells and whistles.  Beginning with the sound of hushed acoustic strumming, the arrangement picks up force as the song progresses, but the focus of attention remains the story of a marriage gradually unraveling.  Varying emotions are conveyed, including frustration, desperation, and disillusionment, particularly in stinging lines such as “What I can’t live with is memories of the way you used to be.”

It all comes through in McGraw’s evocative performance, showcasing the layers of subtlety his voice had picked up in the years since his “Indian Outlaw” days, while wife Faith Hill’s plaintive background vocals add a further layer of pathos.  The couple injects an angst into the lines “God, it hurts me to think of you, for the light in your eyes was gone/ Sometimes I don’t know why this old world can’t leave well enough alone” that is heartrending.  It’s a top-notch performance by a pair of contemporary country music’s most vibrant talents.

In the late nineties and early 2000s, Tim McGraw was known as one of country music’s finest selectors of song material, as well as one of its finest interpreters of lyrics.  Great records like this are the reason for it.

Written by Bruce Robison

Grade:  A-

Next:  The Cowboy In Me

Previous:  Grown Men Don’t Cry

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Retro Single Review: Dolly Parton, "The Bargain Store"

1975 | Peak: #1

It’s somewhat amazing given the subject matter of many of her early RCA records, but “The Bargain Store” holds the distinction of being the first Dolly Parton record

to be banned by several radio stations.

Apparently, the vulnerability that led her to use the metaphor that she was a bargain store was taken literally by some disc jockeys, who believed that it wasn’t  just her emotions that were up for sale.

Kinda makes you want to hit your head up against a wall, doesn’t it?

Anyway, “The Bargain Store” is exquisitely beautiful, laced with the painful melancholy that usually colors Parton’s best songwriting.   I think it’s because her personality is so uplifting and positive by nature.  When she sings a sad song, it’s somehow sadder because her optimism has her clinging to find a silver lining where one doesn’t exist.

Back when I was heavily educating myself in country music history, I bought a vinyl copy of her greatest hits album from 1975, The Best of Dolly PartonIt included so many of the hits that we’ve written about lately:  “Coat of Many Colors”, “Jolene”, “I Will Always Love You”, “Touch Your Woman”, “My Tennessee Mountain Home”, and “The Bargain Store.”

As somebody more familiar with her later pop-flavored hits, I was floored by the album.  I just couldn’t believe all of these songs had been written by the same person in such a short window of time.   With all I’ve learned about country music since, and all of the legendary music that I eventually educated myself about, I think I’m more amazed now than I even was then.

“The Bargain Store” marks the end of this particular period of Dolly Parton’s brilliant career.  She’d go on to write many more great songs and make many more great records that sold far more than her work from this period did.   But her talent would never again be so prolific to produce such an embarrassment of riches in such a short time.  This is the very best at her very best.

Written by Dolly Parton

Grade: A

Next: The Seeker

Previous: Love is Like a Butterfly

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