Category Archives: Six Pack

Six Pack: Hall of Fame Candidates

hof_logoOn Wednesday, February 4, the Country Music Hall of Fame will announce its newest members. The genre’s highest honor, induction into the Hall of Fame is bestowed upon the absolute best of country music. In 1996 the CMHOF developed a set of categories to sort candidates, an effort intended to recognize the great breadth of the genre.

The Hall will admit three new members in 2009, one each from the following categories:

  • Recording and/or Touring Musician Active Prior to 1980
  • Performer, career achieved national prominence between WWII and 1975
  • Performer, career achieved national prominence between 1975-current

Below are six living Country Music Hall of Fame candidates that deserve induction in 2009.

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Six Pack: Dolly Parton, Songwriter

With more than a hundred chart hits to her name, including 25 #1 singles and 57 top tens, Dolly Parton is the most successful singles artist in country music history.     But even before she was a hit on the radio as a singer, her songs had already been in heavy rotation.  They were just sung by different artists.

Throughout the past five decades, there have been countless versions of her songs recorded, so narrowing them down to six is no easy feat.    It might be best to look at this list as an introduction, rather than a conclusion.    Either way, these six cuts are essential listening.

“The Last One to Touch Me”, Porter Wagoner
from the 1971 album Simple as I Am

Parton and Wagoner recorded quite a few of her songs together on their various duet albums, but Wagoner had a hit on his own with a Parton composition as well.    This touching ballad is a forward-looking declaration of love, with one lover wishing the other is the last one to touch them – at the end of every day, right up until the last day of their life.

“Down From Dover”, Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood
from the 1972 album Did You Ever?

This is Parton’s heartbreaking tale of a shunned daughter sent away from home for being pregnant out of wedlock.   It’s transformed into a downright creepy duet here, with Hazlewood cruelly mocking Sinatra as he repeats the promises he has no intentions of keeping.

“Kentucky Gambler”, Merle Haggard
from the 1975 album Keep Movin’ On

Haggard and Parton’s mid-seventies touring produced two #1 hits.   One is “Kentucky Gambler”, which Parton penned.   It remains the only #1 country hit that she’s written for another artist.  It’s a great song, and is included on the same album as “Always Wanting You”, a #1 hit that Haggard wrote about Parton and his unrequited love for her.

“To Daddy”, Emmylou Harris
from the 1978 album Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town

On her fourth studio album,  Harris was determined to prove that she could record a collection of all-new songs by contemporary songwriters.   Parton helped her along by giving her a masterpiece.

“I Will Always Love You”, Whitney Houston
from the 1992 album The Bodyguard

There have been so many great recordings of this song, including three hit versions by Parton herself, and solid covers by Linda Ronstadt and Melissa Etheridge.   But none of them hold a candle to the tour de force that is the Whitney Houston recording.   The a cappella opening verse, the slowly building emotional intensity, the explosive final stretch.  If there was a better vocal performance anywhere on the radio in the nineties, I didn’t hear it.

“The Grass is Blue”, Norah Jones
from the 2003 album Just Because I’m a Woman: The Songs of Dolly Parton

Putting Parton’s bluegrass arrangement to the side, Norah Jones went with her signature piano-based style instead.   The result was a great song made even better, so much so that when Parton performs the song today, she uses Jones’ arrangement instead of her own.


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Six Pack: For Grandpa

Belated though this post may be, it is richly deserved. In country music this year, Grandpa has been turning up everywhere. On the title track of Darius Rucker’s new album, he’s giving Darius sage advice that has sweetened his life considerably.  He’s also sat down with Jamey Johnson for an afternoon with the photo album on “In Color”, and he’s telling his honeymoon tales to an impatient Brad Paisley. (I know “Waitin’ on a Woman” never mentions grandkids, but since the honeymoon was worth it, don’t you figure that a family had to be a part of the old man’s life?) Anyway, Grandparent’s Day came and went on Sunday, September 14, so we are here to honor the wise ways of our elders. Here are six songs that praise the name of dear Grandpa. What’s your favorite song about grandparents (you too, Grandma!) and their infinite intelligence?

Grandpa Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days, The Judds
Album: Rockin’ With the Rhythm, (1985)

The Judds’ classic from 1985 is a young girl’s questioning of her grandfather as she wonders if the past was as sweet as she’d been promised. She looks back longingly at a world where families prayed at the supper table, daddies stayed to support their families and that progress was made without straying from the standard morals and values that she holds dear. That Grandpa never answers her questions is an interesting sidenote to the Grammy-winning song.

The Grandpa That I Know, Patty Loveless
Album: On Your Way Home (2003)

Easily one of country music’s best-ever ballads about death, Loveless takes on the character of a young girl experiencing her first funeral. She’s focused on the rain, her aching feet and uncomfortable clothes, all to avoid confronting her true feelings about her first experience with a final goodbye. With every detail, she delivers a poignant piece that shows death as a possible beginning rather than an ending.

Grandpa Told Me So, Kenny Chesney
Album: All I Need to Know (1996)

One of Kenny Chesney’s first hits (an almost-Top 20 single from 1996), “Grandpa Told Me So” tells the story of the old sage’s advice being a cornerstone of the young man’s childhood. Whether dreaming of that first car, learning valuable lessons in love or living to the limit, the words had a significant impact on the narrator. Eventually, he must say a final goodbye to his grandfather and heed the advice that “There’ll be times when you wanna hold on, but you gotta let go”.

He Walked on Water, Randy Travis
Album: No Holdin’ Back (1988)

Death comes calling for the old man in the Travis tune, but not before he’s gained the lifelong devotion of his grandson. Grandpa regales the little boy with tales of cowboy adventures, and in turn the youngster yearns to follow in his footsteps. And how about this for a retirement plan: “He wore starched white shirts buttoned at the neck/And he’d sit in the shade and watch the chickens peck”

In Color, Jamey Johnson
Album: That Lonesome Song (2008)

Jamey Johnson’s gritty tale about his grandfather and the memories that never die is full of treasure. The verses explain how the old man has lived a rich life, from his days in the Great Depression to his struggles in the war to finally settling down with the woman he loves, all visible through the pictures that he’s kept throughout the years. Seeing the boy in awe at the memories in those photographs, Grandpa simply says “You should’ve seen it in color”. It’s a captivating piece of art.

Love, Me, Collin Raye
Album: All I Can Be (1992)

One of the popular story songs from the early ’90s (a #1 song in 1992 and a finalist for CMA Song of the Year), Raye’s rendition of this Skip Ewing-Max T. Barnes song is a man’s recollection of his grandparents’ relationship, with the star-crossed lovers running away to be married. Of course, as the grandfather’s story tells, their plans are derailed and the woman resorts to writing a note telling him to wait patiently. When it’s revealed in the final verse that she’s passed away, the message in the letter takes on special meaning.


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Six Pack: Domestic Violence

While there is a long history in country music of dealing with social issues, domestic violence was a topic that was taboo for a very long time.   Indeed, when major artists started tackling the issue with pointed material, the songs remained album cuts.    It wasn’t until Martina McBride’s “Independence Day” that the issue hit the radio airwaves, where it was deemed so controversial that the song peaked outside the top ten.

Of course, when Garth Brooks had sung about a cheating wife being mowed down with a semi by her jealous husband the previous year, there wasn’t even a hint of controversy, and “Papa Loved Mama” went top five.    There still hasn’t been a top ten hit dealing with the issue, though Miranda Lambert is threatening to change that.  Here’s a look back at some significant songs dealing with domestic violence.

“The Stairs”, Reba McEntire
from the 1987 album The Last One to Know

It’s been reported that McEntire was moved to record “The Stairs” because of her younger sister being in an abusive marriage.   The song tells about a woman who makes up lies to hide the fact that her husband is beating her.    After another violent incident, “she’ll have to pretend that she fell down the stairs again.”   It’s one of those hidden gems in McEntire’s catalog that doesn’t get nearly enough attention.

“Rosie Strike Back”, Rosanne Cash
from the 1988 album King’s Record Shop

Cash kicked off her last mainstream country album with a song that has her pleading with her friend Rosie to leave her abusive partner:  “He throws punches, you bear with him. Don’t take it on you Rosie, don’t be his victim.”  In the bridge, she promises that there are people out there who can help her if she lets them.    King’s Record Shop was the first album by a female country artist to produce four #1 hits, and it’s fascinating to think about what could’ve happened if CBS had the courage to send this to radio.

“Independence Day”, Martina McBride
from the 1993 album The Way That I Am

In the fifteen years since its release, “Independence Day” has become something of an anthem, a classic country hit that is seen as empowering despite the fatalism of the storyline.   While the oft-mentioned claim that the song changed what women in country music could sing about is not entirely accurate, as evidenced by the earlier recordings on the same topic, the impact that this record had is difficult to overstate.    Even though radio didn’t fully embrace it, “Independence Day” won honors for both Song and Video of the Year at the CMA Awards.

“A Man’s Home is His Castle”, Faith Hill
from the 1995 album It Matters to Me

Faith Hill is rarely given credit for the challenging material that she regularly records.   Unlike the explosive nature of “Independence Day”, her spousal abuse song from 1995 quietly simmers, painting the picture of a woman who is nearing her personal tipping point.   “I’m saving up my money, and when I get the nerve I’ll run.  But Jim don’t give up easily, so I intend to buy a gun.”  The title is reminiscent of the Eddy Arnold classic “Don’t Rob Another Man’s Castle”, but for the character Linda, her home “is a cage.”

“Goodbye Earl”, Dixie Chicks
from the 1999 album Fly

There’s little doubt that Earl got what was coming to him.   After all, he willfully disregarded the restraining order and put Wanda in intensive care.    Songwriter Dennis Linde touched on a painful reality regarding domestic violence, as restraining orders are often counterproductive, infuriating the abuser and spurring him to further actions.

But what made this song controversial wasn’t so much what was done to Earl, but the gleeful lack of remorse on the part of Mary Ann and Wanda, who poisoned him with the black-eyed peas.    Certainly Natalie Maines’ vocal performance was infused with biting vindictiveness, with her musical partners taunting schoolyard “na na na’s” in the background.    Even though it was the first Chicks single to miss the top ten, it remains a signature hit.

“Gunpowder & Lead”, Miranda Lambert
from the 2007 album Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

The current single from the ACM Album of the Year has been steadily rising on the chart for twenty weeks, and has now climbed into the top twenty.   The publicity from that big award victory might be enough to make this Lambert’s biggest hit to date, and there couldn’t be a more worthy single.   The only song on this list sung from the first person perspective, Lambert doesn’t mince words as she prepares for the man who “slapped my face” and “shook me like a rag doll” to return home from jail, looking for round two.    She’s waiting with pistol in hand to finish what he started.


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Six Pack: Mindy McCready

Early last week, I saw the traffic for this blog skyrocket. I was puzzled when I saw that this was due to more than 10,000 views in one day of an old Kellie Pickler single review. Bewildered, I dug a little deeper and found that the visitors had come here after searching for Mindy McCready, who I had mentioned as an aside in the review.

Now, I don’t care for gossip and scandal, and I wish all those visitors were coming here because they were interested in Mindy McCready’s music. So I’m using McCready to kick off a new feature: Six Pack. In each Six Pack, six essential singles or tracks will be featured by an artist or on a particular theme.

Mindy McCready made some great music back in her day, and I look forward to hearing more from her. Quite frankly, she deserves to be known by her work, not her personal life. Check out these six solid moments from her career and you’ll see what I mean.

Guys Do it All The Time
from the 1996 album Ten Thousand Angels

McCready’s signature hit found her channeling the girl power spirit of Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine”, which had been a #1 single the previous year. She turns the double standard on its head, dismissing her annoyed partner’s anger that she’d been out too late. The cheeky record was praised by no less a great than Reba McEntire, who said that she wished she was the one who could sing that song every night.

Maybe He’ll Notice Her Now
from the 1996 album Ten Thousand Angels

Maybe it was a bad omen for the future that this was the only one of four singles from her debut album to miss the top ten. She plays against the young and perky image she’d already established with her first two singles here. Her sincere vocal makes this ballad shine, as she compares herself to a painting in the hallway that goes by unnoticed by her man, just like she feels she is. Richie McDonald from Lonestar contributes harmony vocals.

The Other Side of This Kiss
from the 1997 album If I Don’t Stay the Night

A perfectly crafted pop-country song. It builds steadily, starting with only a hint of instrumentation, gaining momentum during the bridge and exploding into a candy-sweet chorus. It’s one of her most confident and forceful vocal performances. When country radio didn’t embrace this, they missed out on a gem.

If I Don’t Stay the Night
from the 1997 album If I Don’t Stay the Night

McCready earned a strong following among young girls with her debut album, which was perfectly tailored for a youthful market. When recording her second set, she said she was thinking about her responsibilities to that audience, and she wanted to get a message out to those young girls who were listening. She did so with this track, which finds a young girl being pressured into sex before she’s ready, and wondering “will the rain wash our love away if I don’t stay the night?”

All I Want is Everything
from the 1999 album I’m Not So Tough

It’s hard to go wrong with a Matraca Berg song, especially one drenched with fiddles. A wish list of a self-proclaimed greedy girl, McCready turns in a list of demands both emotional and material. After all, she sings, “I don’t need me a big ol’ diamond, but baby I’ll take it if you insist.”

from the 2002 album Mindy McCready

McCready previewed her only Capitol album with this evocative pop-flavored ballad. She practically whispers the verses, as if singing out of the corner of her mouth, before letting out a wail on the chorus. A hit that should have been but wasn’t. Don’t be surprised if Faith Hill or Sara Evans turn it into a smash sometime in the future.


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