He broke through to stardom singing love ballads in the style of Vince Gill, but it was his turn toward more adventurous topical material that cemented the musical legacy of Collin Raye.
Born Floyd Collin Wray in Arkansas, he is the son of Lois Wray, a professional musician who often opened for the big acts of the fifties, including legends like Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. Growing up, Collin and his brother Scott would often perform on stage with their mother. As the boys got older, they struck out on their own, forming the Wrays Brothers Band. They soon became popular local performers across Texas, and also had success performing in Reno, Nevada.
The band, now performing as The Wrays, signed with Mercury Records in the mid-eighties, after a few independent label releases raised their profile. But their major label releases were not successful, and the band broke up after losing that deal. At this point, Raye adopted his stage name and embarked on a solo career, signing with Epic Records in 1990.
His first single, “All I Can Be (Is a Sweet Memory)”, did reasonably well, peaking at #29. It set the stage for the big breakthrough, “Love, Me.” A heartbreaking ballad about a grieving grandfather, it was an instant classic, and began an impressive streak of hits that would make Raye one of the most dominant radio acts of the nineties.
Though he had some mid-tempo hits scattered among them, it was a string of ballads that kept him on the charts. Mostly love songs, some became wedding hall staples, like “In This Life” and “That Was a River.” Raye’s first two albums sold well and produced many hits, but he was not satisfied with them. Thinking himself capable of more meaningful music, he set out to make an album for the ages. The result was extremes, his 1994 album that found him singing up-tempo material convincingly for the first time (“That’s My Story”, “My Kind of Girl.”)
But the standout hit was “Little Rock”, a powerful monologue from a recovering alcoholic that remains one of Raye’s finest moments on record. The success of this song encouraged Raye to tackle more socially relevant material. On his fourth album, I Think About You, the title track explored the exploitation of women in the media and society at large; “Not That Different” made the case for the universality of the human experience outweighing surface differences; and “What If Jesus Comes Back Like That” put the social justice inherent in Christ’s teachings front and center.
The depth of these hits elevated Raye into the Male Vocalist races at the country award shows, and gave the fuel for his run of hits to continue throughout the nineties. Though those hits would return to being more conventional in theme, they were still quite popular. Highlights of this run include “I Can Still Feel You”, “On the Verge”, “Someone I Used to Know” and “Couldn’t Last a Moment.” Raye also scored a major Adult Contemporary hit with “The Gift”, his 1997 collaboration with Jim Brickman.
As with so many other nineties stars, the new century brought a decline in fortunes. While his first four studio albums had gone platinum, nothing beyond a hits collection would sell gold in the years to come. After his 2001 set Can’t Back Down failed to produce a hit, he left Epic Records. He’s since resurfaced on various independent labels, releasing 2005′s Twenty Years and Change to warm reviews and having a top 40 country album with 2009′s Never Going Back. He had a minor chart hit with “A Soldier’s Prayer” in 2007, and continues to record new music and tour across North America.
Earlier this year, a discussion with a colleague of mine revealed a mutual affinity for country music. It was a typical conversation that I have with fans that are around my age. We fell in love with the music about twenty years ago, don’t think it’s quite as good as it once was, but can find a lot of things to like from just about any era, including the current one.
So in the 2010 version of making a mix tape, I offered to load up her iPod with a whole bunch of country music. A week later, she took me to dinner as a thank you. We started talking about the music that I’d passed on to her, and she told me that she was listening to the iPod while mowing the lawn. Suddenly, a song came on that made her cry. Full-out cry, mind you, not just a tear or two.
So I ask if it was “Love, Me”, or maybe “Where’ve You Been”, or something similarly tragic. She was almost embarrassed as she told me that it was the old Anne Murray hit, “You Needed Me.”
Now, there are a few possible reactions to this. I suspect for many or even most, it will be either befuddlement or outright derision. But me? I totally understood why that song would have such a strong impact, and I can best describe it in one word: Sincerity.
It’s the bane of the cynic’s existence, and of many critics as well. You don’t see Anne Murray pop up on too many lists when discussing the greatest country artists of all time, or even the greatest pop-country singers of all time, even though she’s definitely both. Ditto for Kenny Rogers and my once future wife Olivia Newton-John, who also fit well into both categories.
But there are some artists who exude sincerity and still are treated with reverence, like Loretta Lynn and Alan Jackson. What makes them different? I think it’s the added perception of authenticity that differentiates them from the artists above.
Take Dolly Parton as a case study. Rare is the critic or country music historian who doesn’t speak highly of both her pre-1976 and post-1999 output, where her music was firmly grounded in her mountain roots. But her pop era – roughly 1977-1986 – is widely maligned. The sincerity is there all the way throughout her career, whether it’s delivering the brilliant working class social commentary present in both “In the Good Old Days” and “9 to 5″, or when she’s just being hopelessly maudlin, be it with “Daddy Come and Get Me” or “Me and Little Andy.”
I think that she gets less credit for that period because there’s a sense that she’s being something that she’s not, that the authenticity is lacking. When you think someone is being inauthentic in their sincerity, it’s hard for some to embrace them. I think that I’m in the minority in that I don’t care much if someone is authentic, so long as they’re sincere.
Where things fall apart for me are when I perceive authenticity without being able to sense the sincerity in the performances. This is my major issue with many of the more traditional artists today. I think Jamey Johnson, Gretchen Wilson, and Brad Paisley are completely authentic in their music. They are who they say they are, and such. But I have trouble getting into them because they don’t come off as genuinely sincere.
It’s hard to articulate this, but to use Paisley as an example, he often sounds to my ears like he’s emotionally divorced from what he’s singing. The brain is plugged in, but I don’t feel the heart. I loved, loved, loved “Letter to Me” because his voice cracked with emotion. I felt the sincerity that I don’t feel when I hear “Anything Like Me” or “Little Moments.”
Meanwhile, Carrie Underwood can rarely do wrong with me because she drips with sincerity, something that was prevalent even during her embryonic Idol days, but has really come into play with her writing so much of her material. “Change” is my favorite song she’s done so far, not just because I fully agree with the message, but that she sings it with such sincerity. Does she live out the message in her own life? I have no idea. But her performance is so powerful to my ears that it being her authentic life story is as irrelevant to me as the fact that Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon aren’t really a death row convict and a Catholic nun, respectively.
Sincerity over authenticity, if I have to choose. Both are great to have, but the former is more essential than the latter in the music that I love the most. It may be a meaningless distinction in the end, but it’s the only explanation I can come up with for me usually liking songs much better by great singers than by the original songwriters, and for Laura Bell Bundy getting so much more play on my iPod than Taylor Swift, the most genuinely authentic teen star ever. Or at least since Lesley Gore.
With that all said, how about we listen to some Anne Murray? She’s awesome.
The themes of love and loss have permeated country music for as long as it’s been in existence. This second-to-last batch of great nineties hits contains songs that are direct descendants of well-known classics like “Can the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, along with a Shania Twain hit that would have made Roba Stanley smile.
400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #50-#26
Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares) Travis Tritt
1991 | Peak: #2
From the first forceful guitar strum on, this kiss-off number somehow manages to seem unusually cool and collected in its own aggression. You get the impression that Tritt’s character has been anticipating this moment, and has already made up his mind that he’s going to relish every second of it. – Dan Milliken
I’ve Come to Expect it From You George Strait
1990 | Peak: #1
It’s hard to believe that twenty years have passed since the nineties first began. Perhaps that’s because so many of the artists who broke through during that decade remain relevant on the music scene today, whether they’re still getting major spins at radio or not.
For many of us, it was the nineties when we discovered and fell in love with country music, and it’s the music and artists from that decade that represent the pinnacle of the genre. It may be debatable whether the nineties were the most artistically significant decade in the history of country music, but there’s no debating that country music never had more commercial success or cultural impact than it did in that decade.
It was a time that when the C-list artists could sell gold or platinum on the strength of one or two hits, and that 24-hour video outlets could give wide exposure to songs and artists that radio playlists could not. When the four writers of this feature got together and combined our favorite singles from the decade, it was clear that this retrospective had to run far deeper than the one we recently completed for the first decade of the 21st century. There were simply far more good singles to choose from.
That being said, this list is a reflection of our personal tastes. While they often overlapped with what was commercially popular, with nineteen top ten hits and eleven #1 hits among the first 25 entries alone, we didn’t consider radio or retail success in our picks. So while you’ll see all of the big nineties stars represented on this list, it won’t always be with their biggest hits. There’s more than a few stars that never quite came to be as well, saved from the dustbins of history and easier to find now than they were back then, thanks to the twin marvels of YouTube and Amazon.
As always, share your thoughts in the comments!
400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #400-#376
#400 Little Good-Byes SHeDaisy
1999 | Peak: #3
Passive aggression finally got its due representation in modern country with SHeDAISY’s debut single, in which a mistreated protagonist exacts revenge on her ex by ever-so-slightly screwing up his house. Sort of like “Before He Cheats” for sane women. On the other hand – taking all the Beatles records and leaving only Billy Joel? Pretty cold, Osborn sisters. – Dan Milliken
It Wouldn’t Hurt to Have Wings Mark Chesnutt
1995 | Peak: #7
Chesnutt is getting over you – promise – but he sure wouldn’t mind being lifted above the memories of your “mind-wrecking” love in this delightfully charming sing-along. – Tara Seetharam
Fool, I’m a Woman Sara Evans
1999 | Peak: #32
The age-old stereotype that women can’t make up their minds is cleverly subverted into a threat toward an unkind man. A good combo of Loretta Lynn sass and Diana Ross sha-la-las. – DM
One More Last Chance Vince Gill
1993 | Peak: #1
“One More Last Chance” may seem like a song about a man who is begging for just one more last chance to get things right. But under the surface, it’s about a man who is hopelessly addicted to alcohol and partying. Even when his wife takes away his obvious means of transportation by hiding the keys to the car, he resorts to riding his John Deere tractor to the bar instead. It’s a fun song, but one that is inspired by an incident associated with George Jones, who, incidentally, is infamous for his destructive alcohol addiction. – Leeann Ward
The Cheap Seats Alabama
1994 | Peak: #13
“The Cheap Seats” aptly captures the spirit of America’s favorite pastime. – LW
Lonely Too Long Patty Loveless
1996 | Peak: #1
A tender plea for the morning after to be the beginning of something more, with Loveless delivering both angst and cautious optimism through her vocal. – Kevin Coyne
(If You’re Not in it For Love) I’m Outta Here! Shania Twain
1995 | Peak: #1
Look, guys, some of you are so transparent, it’s laughable. And to you I offer Twain’s deliciously audacious, merciless warning: if you’re not in it for love, we’re outta here. – TS
Jenny Come Back Helen Darling
1995 | Peak: #69
Darling recalls watching a high school friend sacrifice her intelligence and ambition to please the boy she loves, who outgrows her in the end because she has nothing of her own to offer him. She ends up a high school dropout working at a movie theater. In short, how those fantasy Taylor Swift videos would end in the real world. – KC
Dreaming With My Eyes Open Clay Walker
1994 | Peak: #1
Walker puts a clever twist on a fact of life that’s all too hard to grasp – the only thing we can control is the present. His infectious pledge to live in the moment is as effective as country’s finest inspirational ballads because it’s firmly grounded in reality: “I learned that one step forward will take you further on than a thousand back or a million that ain’t your own.” – TS
There Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong With the Radio Aaron Tippin
1992 | Peak: #1
With an addicting guitar riff, Tippin celebrates the radio. It doesn’t matter that the car is falling apart, but at least there’s nothing wrong with the most important part of the vehicle, the souped up radio. – LW
Write This Down George Strait
1999 | Peak: #1
One of the dittiest of all George Strait ditties? Sure. But there’s a subtle, maybe accidental wisdom to it, too. So much art is created in moments of unusual passion, when sensations like pain or love feel intense and everlasting. But most life isn’t lived in such moments, and any feeling is subject to fade away without some regular renewal. “Tell yourself ‘I love you and I don’t want you to go’” sounds light and cutesy on the surface, but it’s those little notes – and not grandiose gestures of unusual passion – that keep a relationship chugging along for the long haul. – DM
Still in Love With You Travis Tritt
1997 | Peak: #23
With conspicuous steel guitar work, this minor hit for Tritt is a straight up country romper by today’s standards. – LW
Walking Shoes Tanya Tucker
1990 | Peak: #3
She seems a little sad about it, but she’s had enough of being taken for granted and is gearing up to walk right on out of her underappreciating lover’s life. – LW
Big Deal LeAnn Rimes
1999 | Peak: #6
A sassy little number that finds a regretful Rimes lashing out at the girl who nabbed her old boyfriend. Brash, spunky and so much fun. – TS
That’s My Story Collin Raye
1993 | Peak: #6
What do you think – the grooviest song about a guy trying to craft an alibi out of a backyard hammock ever? – DM
I Like It, I Love It Tim McGraw
1995 | Peak: #1
A melody destined for inclusion in Applebee’s commercials. A lyric about a horny guy and his teddy bear-loving girlfriend. I thought about trying to mount a good argument for it, but whatever. I know you sang along the first eight times you heard it. – DM
You Can’t Make a Heart Love Somebody George Strait
1994 | Peak: #1
A simply sung, heartbreaking story of a woman who desperately wishes the heart could take orders – and a man who bears the brunt of the reality that it can’t. – TS
Count Me In Deana Carter
1997 | Peak: #5
Easily the most understated of the five hit singles from her debut album, “Count Me In” is beautiful because of its innocent vulnerability. – KC
Where Do I Fit in the Picture Clay Walker
1994 | Peak: #11
Sure, Walker milks this forlorn ballad for all it’s worth, but his ability to dramatically emote is the success of his trademark tear-soaked voice. – LW
Some Girls Do Sawyer Brown
1992 | Peak: #1
Set to a hooky melody: Boy meets girl. Girl acts unimpressed. Boy knows better. Girl hooks up with boy. The end. – LW
I Want to Be Your Girlfriend Mary Chapin Carpenter
1997 | Peak: #35
Even in the nineties, Carpenter was mostly known for her introspective lyrics. That’s the best part of her songwriting, but hearing the lighter side of MCC from time to time is fun, too. – LW
Little Bitty Alan Jackson
1996 | Peak: #1
Alan Jackson has a knack for dressing up inriguing social themes as fluffy radio bait. Here, he counters the societal fixation on the “big” draws of money and prestige, expressing a peaceful acceptance of the rather small role most of us will ultimately play in the universe. We can’t all be famous or widely influential, but if we can love well and carry our chosen mantles with pride, things aren’t so bad. – DM
Not a Moment Too Soon Tim McGraw
1994 | Peak: #1
Some people find the whole “you saved my life” concept melodramatic, but I think if there’s anything in life that calls for melodrama, it’s love. McGraw’s testimony is sweet and believable, and the weighty lyrics are cushioned by a simple yet moving arrangement. – TS
Here in the Real World Alan Jackson
1990 | Peak: #3
Jackson’s breakthrough hit lamented that what we see in the movies – cowboy heroes, good winning out in the end, the boy getting the girl – doesn’t always work out that way in the real world. How fitting that he’d end up a real world cowboy hero, one of the good guys making great music for twenty years and counting. – KC
Most of your friends probably found you kind of boring when you were paired off and content. Now you’ve been dumped, and everyone’s got an opinion about what the relationship meant and what you should do next. Trisha is having none of it – just chocolate, a good mag and some much-needed alone time for her. – DM
Connecticut born songwriter Gary Burr got his first break when he broke his leg in a high school soccer game. With time on his hands, he taught himself to play the guitar and began writing songs. His second break came in 1982 when, without a co-writer, he penned Juice Newton’s “Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard on Me”. That same year, he became the lead singer for Pure Prairie League after Vince Gill left the group to pursue a solo career. Gary remained with PPL until 1985 and headed to Nashville in the late 1980′s. He has since been awarded ‘Songwriter of the Year’ on three separate occasions by three different organizations: Billboard, Nashville Songwriter’s Association International, and ASCAP. He has also received over twenty of ASCAP’s recognition awards for radio play activity, and cds featuring his songs have sold more than 50 million units world-wide. He’s currently affiliated with SESAC. Most recently, he was Carole King’s guitarist on her “Living Room Tour”, performing some of his own songs as well.
If you go to Gary’s website and click on Discography you’ll see a Short List of 35 of his best known songs, in alphabetical order by recording artist. If you click on Full List, you see the names of about 170 songs. You’ll find hits and albums track (“hidden treasures” to some) by country artists such as Hal Ketchum, Patty Loveless, Randy Travis, Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Tanya Tucker, Ty Herndon, Faith Hill, Leann Rimes, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Gary Allan, Andy Griggs, Kathy Mattea, Lorrie Morgan, Terri Clark, Collin Raye, Doug Stone, Ricky Van Shelton, Diamond Rio, Conway Twitty, Chely Wright and many others plus pop artists Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, etc . The website list does not include the current Sarah Buxton hit “Outside My Window”.
Gary appears quite frequently at Nashville’s famous Bluebird Cafe, appearing in the round with singer/songwriters like Mike Reid, Georgia Middleman, J.D. Souther and others. In addition, he performs as part of the group MelDiBurPho which is composed of songwriters Vince Melamed, Bob DiPiero, Gary and Jim Photoglo.These shows are performed on the Bluebird’s small stage and, unlike the shows in the round, includes a drummer in addition to the usual guitars and a keyboard. Gary and the Guys have been doing these great shows for about 12 years. They call themselves the oldest boy band in America and the best band you can see for $12. They really seem to be having a great time together and they can be very funny, much of the humor either self-deprecating or at the expense of one of the other guys. For the February show, the guys performed in their pj’s, an annual event closely coinciding with three of their birthdays. Supposedly Faith Hill once showed up in pj’s and bunny slippers. She was discovered while singing back-up for Gary at the Bluebird.
After seeing Mr. Burr perform twice at the Bluebird, I purchased his two cd’s from the Bluebird on-line store. Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before …, released in 1997, includes 18 of his best songs performed and recorded live at the Bluebird. Mariane’s includes 11 songs and was released in 2004. The list of my favorite Gary Burr written songs that follows indicates the artist and cd it appeared on and his co-writer. Many of these favorites are from his Stop Me … cd and a few from Marianne’s. (Songs that can also be found on Gary’s cds have an asterisk next to the title.)
Should you already have or decide to purchase these cds, you may find, as I did, that you prefer Gary’s version for quite a few of them. A lot of his songs are about lost love, some because the guy was clueless, others about love that just didn’t work out and the difficulty in leaving memories behind. At his shows, Gary refers to himself as the “sensitive one” when he sings one of his ballads. Check out the songs listed on Gary’s website and let us know your favorites. Obviously, differing tastes will result in a very different list by many readers.
“I Wear Your Love” – Kathy Mattea Time Passes By, 1991
co-writer – None
An album track for Kathy Mattea from a cd chock full of great songs in addition to the three chosen for release as singles. The chorus concludes, “on the chillest night though I travel light, it is always enough for I wear your love”. Mattea is still one of the best female vocalists in country music.
“A Man Ain’t Made of Stone” – Randy Travis A Man Ain’t Made of Stone, 1999
co-writers – Frannie Golde and Robin Lerner
About this song, Leeann wrote, “I love Travis’ vulnerable, yet passionate, vocal delivery in this song. This man thought it was important to seem strong and unflappable, but realizes that she needed to see the softer side of him at times. Unfortunately, he reached this conclusion too late. Her leaving unearths his emotions and he abruptly learns that ‘a man ain’t made of stone/A man ain’t made of steel.’” The song peaked at #16.
“What’s In It For Me” – John Berry John Berry, 1993
co-writer – John Jarrard
This up tempo song is about a guy asking a girl who dumped him but has changed her mind and wants him back, ” What’s in it for me?” He’s glad she’s back and wants her but are things going to be different this time? “If it’s only more tears, then I’ll have to pass.” The song reached #5 on the charts for John Berry.
“Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard On Me” – Juice Newton Quiet Lies, 1982
co-writer – None
The young lady is a bit skittish about love after being burned in this up tempo tune. Calls to her inner romantic self can’t convince her to try again yet. “I’ll be back when I calm my fears … See you around in a thousand years.” This did better on the pop charts (# 7) than country (#30).
“A Thousand Times a Day” – Patty Loveless (1995); George Jones (1993) The Trouble With The Truth, 1995; High Tech Redneck, 1993
co-writer – Gary Nicholson
Another song about trying to forget someone. Giving up booze and smokes was difficult but “Forgetting you is not that hard to do, I’ve done it a thousand times a day”. The song reached #13 for Patty and was an album track for George. I prefer Patty’s version.
“In a Week or Two” – Diamond Rio Close To The Edge, 1992
co-writer – James House
A song of warning for procrastinators from a group known for their great harmony. “These words in my heart never had a chance to be heard”. The guy waited too long to tell her he loved her so he came out second. The song nearly reached the top of the charts but, as Trent Summar once reminded us, “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”
“I Try to Think About Elvis” – Patty Loveless When Fallen Angels Fly, 1994
co-writer – None
I recall seeing Patty sing this in a concert about 10 years ago. I would think that “list songs” like this would present a challenge remembering all the lyrics but she nailed it. A fun song that made it to #3.
“Heart Half Empty” – Ty Herndon with Stephanie Bentley What Mattered Most, 1995
co-writer – Desmond Child
“Is my heart half full of the love you gave me, or my heart half empty ’cause your love is gone?” While the half full, half empty metaphor is obviously not new and the song is a bit schmaltzy, I still love it. I add a star for true duets – equal contributions by the duet partners. Although Ty’s recent comeback attempt appears to have come up short, he still has a great voice and was well complemented here by Stephanie Bentley.
“Blue Sky” – Emily West Emily West, 2007 (EP)
co-writer – Emily West
The original version was from her EP. The current single includes background vocals by Keith Urban and online reviews have been very favorable but it hasn’t cracked the top 40 yet. The girl is saddened by her lover’s behavior but resolved not to be hurt by him again. “So you made a list of shoulders that you’d be needing, well mine aren’t yours anymore, come on show me your temper, be the man I remember, so I won’t forget what you’ve done.”
“Out of My Bones” – Randy Travis You and You Alone 1998
co-writers – Sharon Vaughn and Robin Lerner
Randy sings “I’m in need of a remedy, to cure me from loving you”. His remedy is walking in the first verse and talking in the second til she’s “out of my bones”. While his 1986 song “Diggin’ Up Bones” made it to the top, “Out of My Bones” stalled at #2. The album also included the late Patrick Swayze singing background on one of the tracks.
“Rockin’ the Rock” – Larry Stewart (Restless Heart) Heart Like a Hurricane, 1994
co-writer – None
A rollicking song about a girl who rocks his world but didn’t rock the charts peaking at #56. “I had a wonderful sense of balance, everything under control, til the day she came along and started rockin’ the rock that I’m standing on.” If you have a multiple tissues tune on your playlist, play this next. Larry Stewart’s solo career after leaving Restless Heart was not a huge success. He’s been back with them since 2004.
The relationship between a son and his father is portrayed in three vignettes. In the first, the father comforts his young son, calming his fears. Conflict and doubts occur in the second while the final scene finds the son, who makes his living with words and rhyme, trying to deal with the death of his father, asking himself how can I come up with a song to say I love you. The song made it to #6. (I remember liking “It’s Only Make Believe” as a kid but shortly after Conway disappeared from the pop charts. I didn’t know til much later that he had become a country star.)
“The One You Love” – Terri Clark with Vince Gill The Long Way Home, 2009; Pain to Kill, 2003
co-writer – Terri Clark
While Terri’s new cd did not include lyrics, they can be found with comments for each song on her website. She said that she hesitated to re-cut this song but her mother’s recent bout with cancer inspired her because it put the lyrics in a whole different light. “when someone’s slippin’ away, right before your eyes, how useless we are is a painful surprise”. Although Vince Gill singing harmony is always a plus, the original version on Pain to Kill was still excellent.
“West of Crazy” – Lisa Brokop Lisa Brokop, 1996
co-writer – Vince Melamed
An up tempo tune which reflects a woman’s state of mind after a breakup. “Just a few miles west of crazy, a stone’s throw away from tears, oh, so close to normal, but I can’t get there from here”. Love the song although it didn’t even chart in Canada. Lisa Brokop has become one of my favorite country music singers.
“One Night a Day” – Garth Brooks In Pieces, 1993
co-writer – Pete Wasner
The piano is the star in this song about a guy trying to leave a girl’s memory behind. He tells of the things he’s doing to get through the breakup, including “calling every friend I had, wake ‘em up, make ‘em mad, to let them know I’m okay”. Garth’s version, which reached #7 on the charts, also features a sax while in Gary’s, a steel guitar complements the piano.
“Time Machine” – Collin Raye I Think About You, 1995
co-writer – None
Although it was never a single, it’s one of my favorite Collin Raye songs. The songs tells of a lonely man who knows things won’t be any better tomorrow so he wants to go back in time. “To the casual eye it’s a barstool, but it’s really much more than it seems, a few drinks and then, she’ll be with him again, as he sits on the time machine”.
“Up and Flying” – Reba McEntire If You See Him, 1998
co-writer – Patty Griffin
Her ex-love is doing fine but she’s still doing time. “You make it look so easy, it doesn’t seem quite fair, baby I’m still tryin’, to get up and flying”. An album track for Reba. Should this song have been a single? Love Gary’s take on it.
“You Tell Me” – Terri Clark with Johnnie Reed The Long Way Home, 2009
co-writer – Terri Clark
As noted above, I love duets and on this album track, Terri is joined by Scotland born, Canadian country music artist, Johnny Reid. On her website, she describes it as a grown up song about a relationship in trouble that she wrote with Gary about 10 years ago. The conversational quality of the lyrics made it feel as a natural duet.
“Sure Love” – Hal Ketchum Sure Love, 1992
co-writer – Hal Ketchum
Hal sings of what he would do to find “Sure Love”. “I would chase all ghosts and watch them scatter, drop old dreams and watch them shatter, lose myself and all I own, to find sure love.” This up tempo song reached #3.
“Silence Is King” – Tanya Tucker Soon, 1993
co-writer – Jim Photoglo
This sad tune is about a couple who have reached the point where they don’t communicate any more. The chorus begins “We live in a land where silence is king, whispers have all disappeared”. In the last verse, there’s no let-up, “desperate measures come from desperate times, I don’t regret what I’ve done, if my actions made you speak your mind, angry words are better than none”. An album track for Tanya. On the live “Stop Me …” cd you hear Gary saying “so depressing” after he finishes singing. Probably too serious for country radio.
“I Will Not Be a Mistake” – Cliff Richard Something’s Goin’ On, 2004
co-writers – Helen Darling and Will Robinson
While Cliff is not a country singer, I could easily see someone like Collin Raye covering this song. It’s about a guy who assures the girl he’s about to get together with that while it may not come to anything it won’t be something she’ll regret. “I’ll be a chance you had to take, a heart you had to break, but I will not be a mistake”.
“Can’t Be Really Gone” – Tim McGraw All I Want, 1995
co-writer – None
A man tries to convince himself that his girl must be coming back when he mends his ways because “so much of her remains”. “The shoes she bought on Christmas day, she laughed and said they called her name”. “Her book is lying on the bed, the two of hearts to mark the page, now who would ever walk away at chapter twenty-one.” Just missed the top peaking at #2.
“Station on the Line” Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before …
co-writer – None
A haunting melody about a guy who falls for a girl who can’t commit. The chorus goes “and her type never does linger, she leaves all could and might-have-beens behind, she rode from New York to California, and I was just a station on that line”. As far as I can tell, no one else has covered this song.
“What Mattered Most” – Ty Herndon What Mattered Most, 1995
co-writer – Vince Melamed
A lament by a clueless guy who knew all the trivial stuff but missed what mattered most. “I never asked…she never said,and when she cried I turned my head, she dreamed her dreams behind closed doors, and that made them easy to ignore”. A #1 song for Ty in his successful stretch during the 90′s.
“In Front of the Alamo” – Hal Ketchum with LeAnn Rimes One More Midnight (no U.S. release)
co-writer – None
Allusions to one of the most famous battles in American history are combined with the story of a woman’s love gone bad because of her husband’s infidelity. The couple met as tourists in front of the Alamo. The second verse ends “she wanted trust, she wanted truth, the two things he found hard to do. So forever was shorter than she planned”. (The lives of the defenders of the Alamo were shorter than they planned.) She returns to the Alamo so that she can move on. The bridge begins “she didn’t come for inspiration or to breathe the mighty dust of heroes lost” and concludes “She just felt the time was right, at this random traffic light, to say ‘enough is enough’ and move on”. The third verse ends “maybe something in the air makes the timid braver there, to cross the line that they’ve drawn in the sand”. The tag chorus completes the analogy “they held on she lets go” (they were brave by holding on she by letting go) and concludes “in front of the Alamo, that’s a pretty good place to make a stand”.
While I do recall hearing the song on the radio, it failed to crack the top 40.
Kevin Coyne wrote here in 2007, “… a beautifully sympathetic portrait of a woman leaving a bad relationship behind. After all, what better a place to make a stand than in front of the Alamo? Before you worry that this is one of those over-the-top country numbers with a tortured metaphor, it’s actually wonderfully understated. The character is so believable that it seems just a happy accident that she makes a tough choice in front of a historical landmark.”
Also in 2007, Jim Malec of the 9513 wrote about the Ketchum song, “if you ask me, his latest, “In Front Of The Alamo,” is the best single I’ve heard so far this year. Featuring a brilliant support vocal from LeAnn Rimes, this song does everything right. Lyrically, it is a lesson in excellence, accomplishing in just over three minutes what most songs never do. On the production side it’s damn near perfect, even down to the mix (the short but fitting instrumental parts are well-played and perfectly placed).
It just doesn’t get much better than this.”
When Collin Raye first surfaced, it seemed like he was a poor man’s Vince Gill. Nice, sweet vocals but not much depth. However, he’d reveal himself as having one of country music’s stronger song senses. At his peak, he enjoyed both commercial success and regular Male Vocalist nominations.
Most of this list comes from Raye’s first four albums, all of which were certified platinum. His music started to decline in quality toward the end of the decade, but he still put out some good radio singles. He’s been mostly quiet this decade, releasing albums on independent labels.
Ten Essential Tracks
from the 1991 album All I Can Be
One of country music’s finest tearjerkers. It put Raye on the map as a balladeer to be reckoned with.
“In This Life”
from the 1992 album In This Life
One of those rare ballads that works just as well at a wedding as it does at a funeral.
“That’s My Story”
from the 1994 album Extremes
A riotous attempt at creating a plausible alibi, co-written by Lee Roy Parnell.
from the 1994 album Extremes
Raye’s masterpiece is an emotional powerhouse, as he takes on the role of a recovering alcoholic trying to reconcile with his wife.
“If I Were You”
from the 1994 album Extremes
Raye encourages the woman he loves to follow her dreams, hoping that in the end, he’ll be one of those dreams.
“Not That Different”
from the 1995 album I Think About You
Another song that works on numerous levels, working as well as a call for a couple to unite as a call for all humanity to do so.
“I Think About You”
from the 1995 album I Think About You
If all men saw women the way that Raye does in this song, we might be able to leave gender-based crime and discrimination behind.
“What If Jesus Comes Back Like That”
from the 1995 album I Think About You
A powerful moral warning to see every person as a child of God.
“I Can Still Feel You”
from the 1998 album The Walls Came Down
Raye’s final #1 single is all nervy and paranoid, as he’s haunted by a memory he can’t shake.
“Someone You Used to Know”
from the 1998 album The Walls Came Down
A man struggles with being seen as just a memory by a woman he still love.
Two Hidden Treasures
“Dreaming My Dreams With You”
From the 1994 album Extremes
A quiet and understated delivery of the Waylon Jennings classic.
“Heart Full of Rain”
From the 1996 album I Think About You
It’s hard to keep a flame alive when the woman you love keeps dousing it with water.
Collin Raye has always had a voice best suited for ballads. However, at times, he has been known to stretch his vocal boundaries with unique results that have ended up feeling like a signature vocal trademark that, ultimately, works for him. Likewise, he is most associated with his glut of sensitive love songs or overwrought message ballads with strong melodies if not saccharine lyrics.
“She’s with Me” is yet another Ballad, but it deviates from Collin Raye’s typical penchant for overdoing it. Instead, it is a slow, vocally restrained song with a message, but one that is worth exploring.
It is about a father who is charged with caring for a child with a severe disability. Instead of feeling saddled by the task, he feels blessed by the opportunity, but is willing to acknowledge the challenges as well, which is often lacking in songs such as these. While this, again, still threatens to cross over into the overwrought message camp, Raye, with his high clear tenor, manages to add an element of integrity that seems unforced and sincere.
However, although the instrumentation is merely guitar and strings, it is clearly designed for the adult contemporary format rather than country music.
With his new single, “Mid-Life Chrysler,” Collin Raye claims marriage and a motor vehicle as the ideal tonic for a middle-aged man.
Raye’s new album, Never Going Back, is due in late spring, and its first track is a step back into the spotlight after a brief hiatus from the Arkansas-born singer. His emotive tenor earned him consecutive CMA nominations for Male Vocalist of the Year, but he’s taken a back seat to his younger counterparts this decade. That voice is an old friend, though, and a welcome relief from the deeper-than-the-holler baritones that dominate the singles chart.
Raye is primarily known for his slow tempos, but he’s comfortable quickening the pace on this slice-of-life anthem. ZZ Top-like electric guitars kick “Mid-Life Chrysler” into high gear, and Raye digs deep into the groove. The story revolves around a farmer who doesn’t use fancy designer clothes or lurid love affairs to ease his self-doubt. Instead, this man’s wife and car are the only cures he needs, in sharp contrast to other males of his generation. “They’ve got lawyers and ladies lined up to take a chunk of their backside,” Raye says, cleverly recounting how many men stray at a certain stage in their lives.
The topic at hand is well-suited to the veteran performer; he turns 50 this summer. Now that Raye works for Time-Life Records, he’s unencumbered by commercial expectations and can sing about decidely un-youthful stories. His claim to fame this decade is his star turn in the infamous Fruit of the Loom commercial (“You Can’t Over-Love Your Underwear” is over-the-top genius.), and he likely wants to leave a lasting impression with more serious music this time around.
Currently, Chrysler is staying afloat due to federal loans. Will Raye’s latest single serve as an endorsement for the struggling auto industry? If shopping at Abercrombie and cheating on your unsuspecting honey are the other mid-life options, then putting payment down on a hot rod seems to be a much safer bet.
Written by Neal Thrasher, Wendell Mobley and Tony Martin
Tonight, I turn over our discussion to one of our readers. He suggested I write about this topic myself, but his suggestions were already far better than anything that I would have come up with. Thankfully, he was willing to share them with all of you!
Guest Post by Country Universe reader Jim Bagley:
About a month ago, I discovered a website http://feedback.legacyrecordings.com/ where folks can request reissues/retrospectives of artists who are part of the Sony/BMG Catalog. When you sign up, you are also given 10 votes to show which suggested product you would like to see reissued. Except for Johnny Cash, the suggested product has been decidedly uncountry and I think that the readership at Country Universe could change that for the better.
Legacy does indeed review the board and some of the suggestions – a Lou Rawls retrospective for instance – have then been subsequently released.
Here are the four listings that I have recently added:
The Essential Tammy Wynette – with only 14 tracks – was probably the worst essential set to date. Even the Tammy three disc set Tears of Fire left off many of her 40-plus top ten solo hits. Please release a two-disc set set of Tammy’s solo hits, including all top ten efforts. Many like “The Wonders You Perform,” “Reach Out Your Hand,” and “(You Make Me Want To Be) A Mother” are always left off Tammy sets. I would include the David Houston and Mark Gray hit collaborations, but please leave off the George Jones duets which have been reissued to death (and take up valuable room on other Tammy retrospectives).
Dolly Parton full career box set (4-5 discs)
Sony-BMG has control of nearly all of Dolly’s career, so why hasn’t a box set been done on her? From the mid-60s Monument singles (Dumb Blonde, Something Fishy), through her fascinating late ’60s RCA work Just Because I’m A Woman, Daddy Come and Get Me), the hit RCA years (Joshua through Think About Love), the late ’80s, early ’90s Columbia stint (Yellow Roses, Rockin’ Years), her collaboration with Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, and finally, the turn of the century bluegrass gems on Sugar Hill. It would take 100-125 tracks to get it right, but Dolly deserves this deluxe treatment.
Bobby Bare three disc career box set
Bobby Bare charted 60 singles for RCA and Columbia from 1962 through 1983. It would be nice to have a box set which captured all of these hits (the past Columbia retrospectives are particularly incomplete), plus his first hit “All-American Boy” and his six early-’70s singles for Mercury. Bobby deserves it!
Connie Smith two-disc set of all of her hits
Connie Smith charted 48 singles between 1964 and 1985. All of them were for labels that are now under the Sony-BMG umbrella (RCA, Columbia, Monument, Epic). Please put together one package of ALL of her hits that does justice to Connie’s legacy.
Anyone who recorded for Columbia, Epic, Monument, RCA, or Arista is eligible for reissue. I suggested vintage artists for whom I wanted larger repackaging. But it would also be great to see an Alan Jackson box set; 20-track best-of sets for Pam Tillis, Collin Raye, and Lorrie Morgan; 16 Biggest Hits on BlackHawk, Doug Stone, and Ty Herndon, and even 10-track Super Hits for Ricochet and Wade Hayes. Country Universe readers have a wealth of knowledge and music favorites, and it would be great to see their “wish lists” and votes represented on the site.
For a look back at the other major categories, visit our CMA Awards page.
Bentley and Shelton have never won, but they’re up against Strait, who has won five times, and Paisley and Urban, who’ve won three times each. With the balance of commercial and critical success not significantly different across the category, this race could bring the night’s biggest surprise. But whatever happens, kudos to Paisley for earning his tenth nomination, and Strait for earning his twenty-fifth!
Just like in the Entertainer category, 80% of this race for the past three years had been Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, George Strait, and Keith Urban. This year, Darius Rucker took the fifth slot that was occupied by Alan Jackson in 2008 and Josh Turner in 2007. Brad Paisley went on to win his third Male Vocalist prize.
After so many years on the sidelines, Paisley began to dominate the category, scoring his second consecutive Male Vocalist award. Meanwhile, Kenny Chesney tied Willie Nelson for most nominations without a win, though his seventh loss was accompanied by his fourth win for Entertainer.
This was the year that Brad Paisley finally won, with his seventh nomination in eight years. The stars aligned for him, with a very successful tour, a new album that is selling strongly, and a continued hot streakat radio that was nearly unmatched. He still hasn’t had a single miss the top ten since “Me Neither” in 2000, a claim that even radio favorites like George Strait, Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, Tim McGraw and Rascal Flatts can’t call their own.
Urban became the first artist to win Male Vocalist three years in a row since George Strait did it in 1996-1998, right after Vince Gill’s 1991-1995 run. His acceptance letter, read by Ronnie Dunn, was the emotional highlight of the evening’s show.
No surprises here, as another multi-platinum year full of radio hits and a high-profile appearance at Live 8 kept Urban fresh on voter’s minds. The big shock was him walking away with Entertainer of the Year later that night.
Urban hadn’t even been nominated for any CMA Awards in 2002 and 2003, after winning Horizon in 2001, but he came back with a bang, taking home Male Vocalist of the Year over the four other superstars in the category. He joined Chesney as the only other man in the running who had never won before; Chesney got the wonderful consolation prizes of Entertainer and Album of the Year the same night.
Things were getting tight in this category in 2003, with so many worthy contenders that ties resulted in six nominees, instead of the usual five. Still, voters chose to stick with last year’s winner, Alan Jackson, a sure indicator of his enduring popularity among CMA voters.
The other four men were merely placeholders, there to create a list around the obvious winner, Alan Jackson. As he swept the awards on the strength of his post-9/11 “Where Were You” and autobiographical “Drive”, the only real shock was that he was winning Male Vocalist for the first time, a result of the ridiculously slow turnover in this category during the 1990′s.
Toby Keith has been a vocal critic of the CMA because he feels they’ve overlooked him, but he’s been up against some tough competition, with his popularity peaking at the same time that Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban were making a huge impact on the charts and at the CMA’s. Thankfully, he’s at least won in this category, so he won’t go down in history with Willie Nelson and Conway Twitty as one of the best male singers to never win it.
On the same evening that his wife was crowned Female Vocalist, McGraw walked away with his second consecutive Male Vocalist award.
Early on in his career, when McGraw was selling tons of records but being excluded from this category, he humbly said that he didn’t think he was a good enough singer to be nominated. His talents grew over the years, and he finally won in 1999.
Strait matched Vince Gill’s record of five wins in this category, defeating Gill and three other nominees who had yet to win in the category.
With no turnover in the category from the previous year, Strait won for the fourth time, again defeating his fellow mega-winner Gill, and three other stars who had never won before.
Jackson was already long overdue, and Collin Raye and Bryan White broke into the category for the first time. Nobody expected Gill to win for the sixth year in a row, but many were surprised to see former two-time winner George Strait collect a Male Vocalist award for the first time in ten years.
John Michael Montgomery
Even Gill was expecting to lose, so when his name was called out for the fifth year in a row, he was gamely applauding backstage for the winner, before suddenly realizing it was him and rushing out to the stage.
Vince won for the fourth year in a row, even though fellow nominees John Anderson, Alan Jackson and Dwight Yoakam were seen as likely spoilers.
Vince not only won his third Male Vocalist award this year, he also took home four other awards: Entertainer, Album, Song and Vocal Event.
A bunch of hot young stars dominated the ballot this year, with Gill emerging triumphant for the second time. Though they would continue to score hits for many years, Joe Diffie and Travis Tritt received their only nominations to date in this category.
After Garth swept the ACM’s earlier that year, he was expected to do the same at the CMA’s, and he came close, winning Entertainer, Single and Album. But industry favorite Vince Gill took home Male Vocalist, an award that Garth Brooks would never receive, though he would win Entertainer a record four times.
Ricky Van Shelton
For the second year in a row, the previous year’s Horizon winner took home Male Vocalist. Clint Black won easily over very distinguished competition.
Ricky Van Shelton
After winning Horizon in 1988, platinum-selling Ricky Van Shelton graduated into a Male Vocalist winner only one year later. Keith Whitley received a posthumous nomination; he won Single of the Year that same evening.
Ricky Van Shelton
Hank Williams, Jr.
It’s hard not to wince at the knowledge that the peerless Vern Gosdin only received one nomination in this category, but there was no stopping Travis from collecting his second win.
Hank Williams, Jr.
In a lineup that was a traditionalist’s dream, new star Randy Travis took home the trophy. At the time, he was breaking sales records, enjoying a quadruple-platinum studio album in Always & Forever.
Hank Williams, Jr.
Strait won his second consecutive Male Vocalist award on the strength of another huge year at radio and retail.
Hank Williams, Jr.
George Strait won the first of a record-matching five Male Vocalist awards, also taking home Album of the Year that same evening.
Greenwood’s Vegas vocals won him the award for the second time.
Greenwood looks pretty shabby against these other four nominees, taking home Male Vocalist in the same year Janie Fricke won for Female Vocalist. Is there a year in the history of the CMA’s where the winners of those two categories were collectively less impressive?
Pulling off the astonishing feat of winning both Male Vocalist and Horizon award, Emmylou Harris’ former bandmate was hugely rewarded for bringing bluegrass to the masses.
It’s taken for granted that Jones is the greatest living male vocalist in country music; few would dare to argue otherwise. No surprise, then, that he won for the second year in a row.
Nominated for the first time in his career, George Jones walked away with Male Vocalist of the Year, along with Single of the Year for “He Stopped Loving Her Today”.
It’s hard to believe that the legendary showman never won Entertainer of the Year, but he did take home a much-deserved Male Vocalist award, at least. Unfortunately, fellow nominee John Conlee would never be recognized at all, losing his first of two shots at this award.
One of the most underrated artists in country music history got a well-deserved pat on the back, winning over four larger personalities in 1978.
Milsap set a record when he won for the third time in this category, which would stand until 1994, when Vince Gill won his fourth trophy.
After losing to Jennings the previous year, Milsap returned to collect his second Male Vocalist trophy in 1976. Conway Twitty lost again in his final appearance in the category.
There was no love lost between Waylon Jennings and the CMA – he loathed the organization so much, he didn’t even show up at his Hall of Fame induction. This was the first of several CMA wins for Jennings, though the only one in this category that he would receive.
Blind singer-songwriter and pianist Ronnie Milsap won for the first time; with Olivia Newton-John winning Female Vocalist the same night, pop was the flavor of the evening.
Tom T. Hall
The Silver Fox won on the strength of a great year at radio. He’s still considered one of the era’s finest and most under-appreciated vocalists.
Charley Pride became the first artist to repeat in the category, winning for the second year in a row.
The CMA had a wealth of great male vocalists to choose from in the early years of the awards, and they finally got around to acknowledging Pride, who had been nominated four times already.
Merle Haggard dominated the show in 1970, winning Entertainer, Male Vocalist, Single and Album of the Year.
Cash was a huge winner in 1969, taking home five awards: Entertainer, Male Vocalist, Single, Album and Vocal Group (with wife June Carter Cash). He wouldn’t win again until after his death in 2003, when he took home another three awards.
Crossover star Glen Campbell won in a year that is so impressive, all five nominees are now in the Hall of Fame. He also took home Male Vocalist the same evening.
Few casual country fans would recognize him today, but Jack Greene will forever go down in history as the first Male Vocalist winner at the CMA’s. He won on the strength of his signature hit “There Goes My Everything”, which also won Single of the Year and was the title track of his Album of the Year winner that same night.
Facts & Feats
(5) – Vince Gill, George Strait
(3) – Ronnie Milsap, Keith Urban
(2) – Lee Greenwood, Alan Jackson, George Jones, Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Randy Travis
Most Consecutive Wins:
(5) – Vince Gill (1991-1995)
(3) – George Strait (1996-1998), Keith Urban (2004-2006)
(3) – John Anderson, Larry Gatlin, Gary Morris, Collin Raye
(2) – Eddy Arnold, Dierks Bentley, John Conlee, Rodney Crowell, Sonny James, Bryan White
Winners in First Year of Nomination:
Clint Black (1990), Glen Campbell (1968), Vince Gill (1991), Lee Greenwood (1983), George Jones (1980), Toby Keith (2001), Ronnie Milsap (1974), Charlie Rich (1973), Ricky Skaggs (1982), Randy Travis (1987), Keith Urban (2004)
CMA Male Vocalists of the Year Who Have Never Won the ACM Award:
Johnny Cash, Jack Greene, Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride, Ricky Van Shelton, Ricky Skaggs, Randy Travis, Don Williams
ACM Male Vocalists of the Year Who Have Never Won the CMA Award:
Garth Brooks (1990 & 1991), Kenny Chesney (2003), Larry Gatlin (1980), Mickey Gilley (1977), Freddie Hart (1972)
CMA Male Vocalists Who Have Also Won the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male:
Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Vince Gill, Lee Greenwood, George Jones, Tim McGraw, Ronnie Milsap, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Charlie Rich, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, Keith Urban
Winners of the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male Who Have Never Won the CMA Male Vocalist Award:
Garth Brooks, David Houston, Lyle Lovett, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Jerry Reed, Ralph Stanley, Dwight Yoakam