Category Archives: Retro Single Reviews

Retro Single Review: Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton, "If Teardrops Were Pennies"

1973 | Peak: #3

Released just before Dolly Parton's star would rise considerably, “If Teardrops Were Pennies” was a surprisingly big hit, becoming Porter & Dolly's highest charting single to date.

It's a simple country song, with their signature retro feel.  As I've written before, they're always most believable when they keep it country and focus on the heartache.

Originally a hit for Carl Smith in 1951, “Teardrops” sounds great on its own.   But like all of their duets at this particular point in time, it suffers in comparison to the forward-looking material that Parton was writing and recording at the same time.   They could have just as easily recorded this in 1967, and it would have sounded exactly the same.

Written by Carl Butler

Grade: B

Next: Jolene

Previous: Traveling Man

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Retro Single Review: Shania Twain, "I'm Gonna Getcha Good!"

2002 | #7

A pop-country gold nugget that defies explanation.

Honestly, who's even trying to pretend that this song is supposed to mean anything?  Who's trying to pretend that it needs to mean anything?

“I'm Gonna Getcha Good!” exists for one reason, and one reason only – to burrow itself into your brain, infect you with sudden bouts of giddiness, and cause uncontrollable smiling and singing along.  And you know what?  That's a perfectly worthwhile purpose for a pop-country song to serve.

“I'm Gonna Getcha Good!” is a prime example of classic Twain-Lange song structure at its top-notch best – one that served as a most fitting introduction to Twain's enormously successful, wildly creative Up! project.  The country audience received it in a form laced with fiddle and banjo hooks, while the pop market got a version packed with addictive rock guitar riffs.  The song shines in both settings, which led to the song being a Top 10 country hit, as well as a worldwide smash in international pop markets.

Lange's crisp, tasteful production brilliantly underscores the catchy melody, while Twain sells the cheeky lyric with sass and swagger.(The confection was completed with a music video featuring motorcycles, aliens, and flying robots) Is it basically ear candy?  Of course it is, but the fact remains that few if any purveyors of ear candy have perfected the recipe as Twain and Lange do here.

It just doesn't doesn't get any tastier than this.

Written by Shania Twain and Robert John “Mutt” Lange

Grade:  A

Next:  Up!

Previous:  I'm Holdin' On to Love (To Save My Life)

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Retro Single Review: Alan Jackson, "Summertime Blues"

1994 | Peak: #1

A blatant attempt to recreate the “Chattahoochee” phenomenon.

It doesn't work.  Jackson's too old to be singing “Summertime Blues”, and the charm of the Eddie Cochran original is lost by forcing those country line-dance beats into the backing track.

It was a big hit, but “Summertime Blues” remains an artistic low point in his career.

Written by Jerry Capeheart and Eddie Cochran

Grade: D

Next: Livin' On Love

Previous: (Who Says) You Can't Have it All

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Retro Single Review: Shania Twain, "I'm Holdin' on to Love (To Save My Life)"

2000 | Peak: #17

The twelfth and final single from Come On Over wasn't planned, but persistent unsolicited airplay earned it release.

There was no video or any other promotional effort, as Twain had sequestered herself from the public eye by that point.   So this one got by on its sheer charm, and has the added bonus of not being overplayed to death.

Despite references to the “net” and Dr. Ruth, it still sounds remarkably fresh today.  It's clever, has a great beat, and borrows liberally from eighties arena rock without being overwhelmed by it.

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Shania and Mutt made it look so easy.  Take one listen to country radio today for a reminder that it's not.

Written by Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Shania Twain

Grade: A

Next: I'm Gonna Getcha Good!

Previous: Rock This Country!

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Retro Single Review: George Strait, “All My Ex’s Live in Texas”

1987 | Peak: #1

George Strait’s not a cad, but he plays one on the radio.

You can almost hear the guy smirking as he sings this swinging hit, running down a list of jilted lovers from all over the Lone Star state.

If they ever do a Strait tribute album, reserve this one for Billy Currington.  Half of the vocal licks that make “Good Directions” and “Love Done Gone” so charming can be found here.

Written by Linda Shafer and Sanger Shafer

Grade: B+

Next: Am I Blue

Previous: Ocean Front Property

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Retro Single Review: Dolly Parton, "Traveling Man"

1973 | Peak: #20

This could only be a country song.

Long story short, daughter's running around with a traveling salesman behind her mother's back.   Little does she know that mamma's running around with the same man.

Full of more country grammar than a Nelly record, Parton's 1973 re-recording of this Coat of Many Colors album cut is lighter and even more tongue-in-cheek than the 1971 original.

Written by Dolly Parton

Grade: B+

Next: If Teardrops Were Pennies (with Porter Wagoner)

Previous: We Found It (with Porter Wagoner)

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Retro Single Review: Tim McGraw, "My Best Friend"

1999 | #1

Some songs live or die on the strength of the artist's vocal interpretation.  Tim McGraw's “My Best Friend” could be considered one such song.

The funny thing is that's not necessarily an indication of poor songwriting.  Sometimes it just takes the right vocalist to find the layers of emotion woven into a lyric that could scan as pedestrian in the hands of another performer.  In this instance, Tim McGraw indeed proves to be the right vocalist.

Lyrics like “I don't know where I'd be/ Without you here with me/ Life with you makes perfect sense”  could very easily come across as rote statements with no real emotional heft.  When Tim McGraw delivers them, you get the sense that he means it from the depths of his soul.

McGraw's heartfelt performance is bolstered by a pleasant lilting melody and a laid-back arrangement featuring generous amounts of fiddle and steel guitar.  Thanks to such fitting treatment, the song exudes such an irresistible warmth that it's easy to see why it's become a dance floor favorite in the twelve years since its release.

Written by Bill Luther and Aimee Mayo

Grade:  B+

Next:  Some Things Never Change

Previous:  Something Like That

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Retro Single Review: Alan Jackson, "(Who Says) You Can't Have it All"

1993 | Peak: #4

“(Who Says) You Can't Have It All” is not just an average song of lost love. Rather, the loss translates into a certain resolution from a man who is the lord and master of his proverbial castle that has turned into nothing more than a lonely room with “a ceiling, a floor and four walls”, full of pictures and memories of the broken past.

From the first strains of the mournful fiddle, we can almost be sure that we will be treated to a pure country song. What's more, Alan Jackson's equally forlorn voice singing the opening lyrics, “A stark naked light bulb hangs over my head/ There's one lonely pillow on my double bed”, serves as confirmation that we're in for 3 minutes and 30 seconds of a deliciously straight-up country weeper that turns out to be one of Jackson's most satisfying singles yet.

Written by Alan Jackson and Jim McBride

Grade: A

Next: Summertime Blues

Previous: Mercury Blues

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Retro Single Review: Shania Twain, "Rock This Country!"

2000 | #30

The eleventh single from Shania Twain's Come On Over was one of the least successful in the U.S., barely scraping the bottom of the Top 30.  This was due in part to a lack of promotion for the single, though it did go Top 5 in Twain's native Canada.  In some ways, “Rock This Country!” comes across as a standard Twain up-tempo – peppy, with a fun Mutt Lange-style pop-country production, but the lyrics are surprisingly flavorless.

Time and time again, the Twain-Lange writing team had displayed a strong knack for crafting lyrics that were infectious and hook-heavy, yet doing so without entirely sacrificing substance.  Behind all the singalong choruses, crossover-friendly productions, and flashy music videos, each Twain single had a simple message and a universal feeling at its core, be it an “Any Man of Mine” or an “(If You're Not In It for Love) I'm Outta Here!,” a “That Don't Impress Me Much” or a “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”

“Rock This Country!” is essentially about nothing.  Though its title was enough for it to be used as a theme song for two different presedential campaigns, the lyrics hardly warrant discussion – just a song about some “buzz” going around, and a bridge consisting of a list of random U.S. states.  It's as if the song can't get around its own title, and remainder of the lyric sheet is a blank slate.

That's not to say that Twain and Lange don't try their darndest hard to sell it.  Lange surrounds his wife's voice with an arrangement that goes from rock guitars one moment to a searing fiddle solo the next.  Similarly, Twain's performance exudes the usual energy, right down to the yell of “Let's go!” before the instrumental breakdown.

But for all its positive additions, there's no getting around the fact that “Rock This Country!” lacks the defining characteristic of a great Twain ditty:  Her best songs stick.  This doesn't.

Written by Shania Twain and Robert Johnn “Mutt” Lange

Grade:  B-

Next:  I'm Holdin' On to Love (To Save My Life)

Previous:  Come On Over

Listen:  Rock This Country!

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Retro Single Review: Tim McGraw, "Something Like That"

1999 | #1

You know what's one of the best ways for a contemporary country song to worm its way into my heart?  To display a mature and insightful perspective, or to tap into some universal truth, while dressing itself up with the catchiest of melodies and hooks.

That particular sweet spot is one that the female artists in country music tend to hit more often than the males – See “Deep Down,” “Hey Cinderella,” and “The Fear of Being Alone” for case studies.  However, Tim McGraw's 1999 chart-topper “Something Like That” hits it, and hits it dead-on.

The song recounts the narrator's youthful experience of falling in love for the very first time at age seventeen.  The verses are replete with little details – a barbecue stain, a miniskirt, a suntan line, etc.  Such details may seem to have little meaning, but in this particular context, they mean everything.  In the second verse, the narrator has a chance encounter with his old flame while traveling on a plane, where she says “I bet you don't remember me, to which he replies “Only every other memory,” thus assuring her that she is hardly forgotten.  “Like an old photograph, time can make a feeling fade,” he sings during the bridge, “but the memory of a first love never fades away.”

Through its vivid, detail-laden approach, the lyric effectively hones in on the fact that the experience of one's first love is, in itself, unforgettable.  Every little aspect of the encounter feels significant in its own way, because it's a lifetime milestone that leaves a lasting impression.  Indeed, “a heart don't forget something like that.”

The point is driven home by a sprightly piano hook, toe-tapping rhythm, and wildly catchy singalong-friendly chorus – a one-two punch that helps the record make an impression both as a great lyric and as a fun, catchy listen.

Witty, timeless, and hugely entertaining.

Written by Rick Ferrell and Keith Follesé

Grade:  A

Next:  My Best Friend

Previous:  Please Remember Me

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