Archive for the ‘Retro Single Reviews’ Category

Retro Single Reviews: Shania Twain, 2004-2012

Monday, April 15th, 2013

After the enormous success of the Up! project, Shania Twain released a top-selling Greatest Hits album in 2004, which spawned three singles.  She then embarked on an extended hiatus before returning in 2011 with a new single and a reality series on The Oprah Winfrey Network.  In this set of retro single reviews, we'll take a look at Twain's six most recent single releases to date.

220px-Party_for_Two_shania_twain

“Party for Two” (with Billy Currington or Mark McGrath)
2004
Peak:  #7

The first single from Twain's Greatest Hits package was her last Top 10 country hit to date, but only the second Top 10 hit for her then-up-and-coming duet partner Billy Currington.  The premise is shamelessly silly, as are the spoken word intro and the “You'll be sexy in your socks” line, but Twain and Currington sell it with flair.  Twain delivers her verses with a flirty, playful performance, while Currington renders his with the same laid-back smolder that would become his calling card at country radio.

In the tradition of the Up! album, “Party for Two” was released in both a country and pop mix, with Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath appearing as Twain's duet partner on the latter.  Unfortunately, McGrath's performance lacks the character needed to sell a song of this ilk, and the gaudy pop arrangement has aged poorly in comparison to the country mix, demonstrating that Twain was often at her best when keeping a toe in country waters.

Written by Shania Twain and Robert John “Mutt” Lange

Grade (Currington version):  B+

Listen:  Party for Two (with Billy Currington)

Grade (McGrath version): B-

Listen:  Party for Two (with Mark McMcGrath)

220px-Don't-shania-twain

“Don't!”
2005
Peak:  #24

The soft, dobro-driven arrangement is the perfect fit for this angst-filled ballad.  Twain performs the song in an emotive almost-whisper of a delivery, while the evocative melody conveys regret and desperation with a tinge of hope.

Written by Shania Twain and Robert John “Mutt” Lange

Grade:  A-

Listen:  Don't!

Shania_Twain_I_Aint_No_Quitter

“I Ain't No Quitter”
2005
Peak:  #45

The third and final single from Twain's Greatest Hits fizzled due to lack of promotion.  Quite possibly Twain's countriest single since “No One Needs to Know,” “I Ain't No Quitter” lacks the lyrical cleverness of Twain's best work, but she elevates the song through her fun, laid-back performance.  Likewise, the bouncy, fiddle and steel drenched arrangement is a delight.

Written by Shania Twain and Robert John “Mutt” Lange

Grade:  B

Listen:  I Ain't No Quitter

Shania_Twain_Shoes

“Shoes”
2005
Peak:  #29

A rare instance in which Twain worked with a team of co-writers in addition to her then-husband, “Shoes” was written for inclusion on a Desperate Housewives companion album, but the boot-stomping fiddle-laden arrangement would have not have sounded out of place on The Woman In Me.

The lyric draws on a series of humorous double-entendres comparing men to footwear. (“Some make you feel ten feet tall, some make you feel so small, and some you want to leave out in the hall or make you feel like kickin' the wall”)  The concept is pure novelty, but Twain pulls it off brilliantly with a catchy everywoman-sing-along chorus and an in-on-the-joke vocal performance.

Written by Shania Twain, Robert Johnn “Mutt” Lange, Tammy Hyler, Joie Scott, and Kim Tribble

Grade:  B+

Listen:  Shoes

Shania Twain Today is Your Day

“Today Is Your Day”
2011
Peak:  #36

In the wake of Twain and Lange's divorce, “Today Is Your Day” was the first Twain single since the days of her debut album not to be produced by Lange.  Unfortunately, David Foster's production lacks the freshness and restraint of Lange's work, with a clutter of instruments distracting from Twain's performance instead of spotlighting it.

Twain's vocal exudes sincerity, vulnerability, and age-earned wisdom, but struggles to overcome the fact that the lyrics amount to little more than a string of inspirational clichés.  Add some unnecessary vocal processing on top of that, and Twain's comeback single falls greatly short of the event that it should have been.

Written by Shania Twain

Grade:  C+

Listen:  Today Is Your Day

220px-Lionel_Richie_&_Shania_Twain_-_Endless_Love

“Endless Love” (with Lionel Richie)
2012
Peak:  #12 (U.S. Adult Contemporary)

A remake of Richie's classic 1981 hit duet with Diana Ross, from his country duets project Tuskegee.  It starts out on a pleasant note, but gradually devolves into an overwrought shouting match that seems to go on forever as Richie and Twain attempt to force emotion into the song.

Written by Lionel Richie

Grade:  B-

Listen:  Endless Love (with Lionel Richie)

Previous:  It Only Hurts When I'm Breathing

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Retro Single Reviews: George Strait, 1992-1993

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

The comfortingly reliable George Strait mixes it up a bit during his 1992-1993 run of singles with a cover of a beloved classic, hardcore country, a surprising country rocker, and a sweet love song for good measure.

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“Lovesick Blues”
1992
Peak: #24

Strait ably tackles the Hank Williams classic. He doesn't surpass the original, but it's cool that he brought the song back in 1992. Imagine if somebody tried to do that now.

Written by Irvin Mills & Cliff Friend

Grade:  B+

Listen:  Lovesick Blues

George_Strait_-_Gone_as_A_Girl_Can_Get

“Gone as a Girl Can Get”
1992
Peak: #5

“Gone As A Girl Can Get” boasts one of the most interesting Strait productions, featuring superb, jaunty instrumentation that elevates a good composition to a great song.

Written by Jerry Max Lane

Grade:  A

Listen:  Gone as a Girl Can Get

George_Strait_So_Much_Like_My_Dad_single

“So Much Like My Dad”
1992
Peak: #3

This downbeat single finds a man searching for answers for why is lady is leaving him and he knows he'll find it from the example of his dad, because he's so much like him. In a clever twist, however, he doesn't ask his dad, but rather, asks his mom: “But if I'm so much like my dad, there must've been times you felt her way. So, tell me word for word what he said that always made you stay.”

Written by Chips Moman & Bobby Emmons

Grade:  B+

Listen:  So Much Like My Dad

George_Strait_-_I_cross_my_heart_single

“I Cross My Heart”
1992
Peak: #1

Is there another pledge of devotion that defines 90s country music more than this love song? In another's hands, this could be way too icky-sweet, but in King George's hands, it's just right.

Written by Steve Dorff & Eric Kaz

Grade:  A

Listen:  I Cross My Heart

George-Strait_-_Heartland

“Heartland”
1993
Peak: #1

It's always seemed counterintuitive for a song that begins with “When you hear twin fiddles and a steel guitar” to rock as hard as this song does, but the fact is that it's as catchy and infectious as all get-out, so almost all is forgiven.

Written by Steve Dorff & John Bettis

Grade:  A-

Listen:  Heartland

George_Strait_When_Did_You_Stop_Loving_Me

“When Did You Stop Loving Me”
1993
Peak: #6

To make up for the previous rocker, Strait goes the other direction and adeptly sinks his teeth into a pure country weeper with a deliciously heartbreaking performance.

Written by Donny Kees & Monty Holmes

Grade:  A

Listen:  When Did You Stop Loving Me

George_Strait_Easy_Come_Easy_Go

“Easy Come, Easy Go”
1993
Peak: #1

I would have liked to have been listening to country music when this song was released as a single, as I'm sure it would have surprised me to hear Strait singing something sounding quite like this. The song promoting the dissolution of a relationship with no regrets is country, with a little groove and an over all chill vibe.

Written by Aaron Barker & Dean Dillon

Grade:  A

Listen:  Easy Come, Easy Go

220px-George_Strait_-_Id_Like_to_Have_That__One_Back

“I'd Like to Have That One Back”
1993
Peak: #3

This song, however, portrays a lost relationship rife with regret. Strait's performance, supported by strains of lonely steel, fully captures the pain of losing a good love due to one's own negligence.

Written by Aaron Barker, Bill Shore & Rick West

Grade:  A

Listen:  I'd Like to Have That One Back

Next:  1994-1995

Previous:  1990-1991

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Retro Single Reviews: George Strait, 1990-1991

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

As the nineties began, George Strait was the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year, a title noted on the belt buckle he wore on the cover of Livin’ it Up.

Around this time, Billboard switched to monitoring radio stations in real time, revealing just how often songs were really being played.  So while all of his eighties #1 singles spent only a week at the top, all four of the #1 singles listed here spent multiple weeks in the penthouse, including two five-week runs at the top.

   George Strait Love Without End Amen

“Love Without End, Amen”
1990
Peak: #1

Listen

One of Strait’s most enduring hits, “Love Without End, Amen” foreshadowed the understated religiousness of future hits like “I Saw God Today.” A classic three act story song, it makes its point subtly and endearingly.

Written by Aaron Barker

Grade: A

George Strait Drinking Champagne

“Drinking Champagne”
1990
Peak: #4

Listen

A minor hit for Cal Smith in 1968, Strait continues his tradition of reviving the country songs that inspired his style. It’s easy to see how this flew over the heads of many listeners when Smith first released it, but Strait’s smooth delivery helped get it some wider exposure 22 years later.

Written by Bill Mack

Grade: B+

George Strait Livin' it Up

“I’ve Come to Expect it From You”
1990
Peak: #1

Listen

Nervy, nervous and a little unnerving, there’s a tension present here that is a bit jarring from the genre’s Sinatra. Sometimes bitter is just better, making this one of Strait’s most compelling singles to date.

Written by Buddy Cannon and Dean Dillon

Grade: A

George Strait If I Know Me

“If I Know Me”
1991
Peak: #1

Listen

Ever imagine what K.T. Oslin’s “Hold Me” would’ve sounded like if it had the same theme with a traditional song structure? Here’s your answer. It still sounds great today, though a bit more punch in the production would’ve helped a bit.

Written by Pam Belford and Dean Dillon

Grade: A-

George Strait You Know Me Better Than That

“You Know Me Better Than That”
1991
Peak: #1

Listen

Western swing and wily wit, Strait shines on this comedic number. He plays it just straight enough to keep it on the right side of the line between good humor and silliness, never losing the self-awareness necessary to make it work.

Written by Anna Lisa Graham and Tony Haselden

Grade: A

George Strait The Chill of An Early Fall

“The Chill of an Early Fall”
1991
Peak: #3

Listen

As exciting as the prospect of George Strait singing a Gretchen Peters song might seem, she was definitely still honing her craft on this single that was co-written by Green Daniel. The concept is solid, and the imagery is vivid, but the parallels between the changing of the seasons and the impending changing of lovers aren’t drawn sharply enough.

Written by Green Daniel and Gretchen Peters

Grade: B-

Next: 1992-1993

Previous: “Overnight Success”

Retro Single Review: George Strait, "Overnight Success"

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

George_Strait_-_Overnight_Success_single1989 | #1

Written by veteran songwriter Sanger D. “Whitey” Shafer (who had previously supplied Strait with hits such as “Does Forth Worth Ever Cross Your Mind” and “All My Ex’s Live In Texas”), “Overnight Success” was released in the fall of 1989 as fourth and final single from George Strait’s album Beyond the Blue Neon.  It peaked at a respectable #8, breaking a streak of eleven number-one hits, but continuing Strait’s run of Top Ten hits that stretched back seven years.

It’s a beautiful lyric, as one would expect from a songwriter such as Shafer, and Strait sings it effectively.  Where the song comes up short is in the repetitive, limited-range melody, which lacks the pull needed to match the lyrical potency.  The steel guitar imbues a fittingly mournful undertone to the song, but the composite recording has a lackadaisical feel that keeps the record from being as satisfying a listen as it could have been, or from being as memorable as Strait’s similar efforts in this vein.

Written by

Sanger D. Shafer

Grade:  B

Listen:  Overnight Success

Next:  1990-1991

Previous:  “Ace In the Hole”

Retro Single Reviews: Dolly Parton, 1975-1976

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

Today is Dolly Parton’s 67th birthday.  What better time to revisit and relaunch our ongoing feature that reviews every single that she’s released in her illustrious career?

This post will look at her four singles from late 1975 through the end of 1976.  Three were solo efforts, while the fourth was her final release of the decade that was a collaboration with Porter Wagoner.

Dolly Parton The Seeker and We Used To

“We Used To”
1975
Peak: #9

Written by Dolly Parton

It was clear by this point that Parton had designs on the pop market, but she hadn’t yet found the right way to make her style work in that format. So we get overlong pop ballads like this, which ramble on forever because Parton’s restraining her vocal trademarks that would make the record too identifiably country.

Grade: B-

Dolly Parton Hey Lucky Lady

“Hey, Lucky Lady”
1976
Peak: #19

Written by Dolly Parton

Then again, even when she was being proudly country at this period, the material still wasn’t always up to snuff. It’s a shame that “Shattered Image” wasn’t sent to radio as the lead single from All I Can Do instead of of this endlessly repetitive ditty. This probably held the record for the most times a title was repeated in one song until Little Texas released “My Love” two decades later.

Grade: C

Dolly Parton Porter Wagoner Essential

“Is Forever Longer than Always” (with Porter Wagoner)
1976
Peak: #8

Written by Frank Dycus and Porter Wagoner

There is something poetic about this being their final duet together, aside from some unreleased tracks that would surface in 1980 after a prolonged legal battle.  They went out on a high note, perhaps because of the palpable sadness that permeates the proceedings.

Grade: B+

Dolly Parton All I Can Do

“All I Can Do”
1976
Peak: #3

Written by Dolly Parton

Another ditty, which is surprising given the heaviness of the

album as a whole.   It has a nice groove, but the lyrics are so forgettable that it’s little more than a footnote, residing in the brief valley between her country glory days and her pop superstardom.

Grade: B-

Next: 1977-1978

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

Retro Single Review: George Strait, "Ace in the Hole"

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

1989 | Peak: #1

A Western Swing spin on “The Gambler.”

Not much to say about it beyond that.  It bounces along pleasantly enough, and despite

the recycled life lessons, it still packs a little punch.

It also showcases Strait’s live sound better than most of his singles do, letting the band loose for a surprisingly long time, given the remarkably short 2:34 running time.

Fun fact: the B-side of the single was “Oh Me, Oh My, Sweet Baby”, which would be a top five hit for Diamond Rio a few years later.

Written by Dennis Adkins

Grade: B+

Next: Overnight Success

Previous: What’s Going on in  Your World

 

Retro Single Review: Alan Jackson, "I'll Try"

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

1995 | Peak: #1

As promises of never-ending love go, this isn’t terribly optimistic.

It’s like Alan Jackson didn’t get the songwriters manual that mandates flowery and unrealistic promises to walk a thousand miles and rope the moon and such.

So he wrote a plaintive

promise instead.  He’ll try.  That’s it.

And somehow, that’s more romantic than the most figurative metaphor could ever be.

Written by Alan Jackson

Grade: A

Next: Home

Previous: Tall, Tall Trees

Retro Single Review: Tim McGraw, "Unbroken"

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

2002 | Peak: #1

“Unbroken” was the fourth consecutive #1 single from Set This Circus Down, a streak unmatched by any other Tim McGraw album.

It’s easy to understand why.  With its spirited production and enthusiastic vocal, it practically radiated joy.

Sure, it’s a simple “love gone right” song, but it’s done quite well.   I guess it wasn’t his most memorable single, as I didn’t remember it much at all.   But revisiting it

for this review, I felt a nice thrill of rediscovery.  Those don’t happen too often.

Written by Holly Lamar and Annie Roboff

Grade: B+

Next: Red Ragtop

Previous: The Cowboy in Me

 

Retro Single Review: Shania Twain, "It Only Hurts When I'm Breathing"

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

2004 | #18

Of all Shania Twain’s gifts as a singer-songwriter, her ability to tackle heartbreak may have been the most under-heralded.  That side of Twain was well showcased on several standout tracks from The Woman In Me,

but of all the nineteen tracks on the Up! album, there was only one sad song in the bunch.  But oh, what a beauty it was.

“It only hurts when I’m breathing
My heart only breaks when it’s beating
My dreams only die when I’m dreaming
So I hold my breath to forget”

That chorus is a straightforward, yet achingly effective portrayal of the emotional place in which one endeavors to move on after heartbreak, but the pain remains constant, never really going away - You don’t stop hurting until you stop breathing.  The melancholy melody and Twain’s evocative almost-quiver of a performance only add to the record’s emotional heft.  Such an ideal balance of emotional resonance with elegant simplicity is an example of Twain-Lange song structure at its top-notch best.

It’s a shame this single wasn’t a bigger hit.  “It Only Hurts When I’m Breathing” aptly demonstrates the fact that Twain’s talents went far beyond delivering catchy pop hooks.  Shania Twain truly was a great songwriter, and “It Only Hurts When I’m Breathing” is one of her best.

Written by Shania Twain and Robert John “Mutt” Lange

Grade:  A

Listen:  It Only Hurts When I’m Breathing

Next:  Party for Two

Previous:  When You Kiss Me

Retro Single Review: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, "Say Forever You'll Be Mine"

Monday, October 1st, 2012

Wagoner Parton Say Forever You'll Be Mine1975 | Peak: #5

 

“Forever is the love,” they sing, “that is true and undemanding.”

Which just goes to show that what makes for a great love doesn’t necessarily make for a great song.

As they were reaching the end of their professional partnership, “Say Forever You’ll Be Mine” was as true to their original sound as it could be, but the song is so undemanding of their combined talent and energy that what we’re left with is as sterile as it is yawningly predictable.

They’re just going through the

motions. The thrill is gone.

Written by Dolly Parton

Grade: C

Next: 1975-1976

Previous: The Seeker

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