Tag Archives: Dolly Parton

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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Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists: Shania Twain

It’s about time somebody did a Favorite Songs feature on Shania, isn’t it?  I was going to save this article for after we finished covering Shania in our Retro Single Review series, but I decided I just couldn’t wait that long.

Her astounding commercial success speaks for itself, as does her heavy impact on popular music, but I remain of the opinion that Shania Twain doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the artist she was – as a songwriter, or as a vocalist.  Her songs were clever, sassy, fun, and often tapped into deep wells of substance underneath all the catchiness.  Her distinct perspective was revolutionary for her time.  As an interpretive singer, she had a strong knack for finishing off her lyrical creations through her nuanced, dynamically layered performances.  Twain's remarkable talent combined with Mutt Lange's musical vision made her one of the biggest record sellers in history.  Ever since her heyday, countless young female stars have attempted to emulate her, but the magic Twain herself created with her delicious pop-country confections remains unreplicated.

I tend to become obsessed with one favorite Shania Twain song, and then move rapidly to another, so it’s not easy to assess which songs are my all-time favorites.  I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll be doing a lot of second-guessing after this article runs (though I’m fairly confident that my top three selections are set in stone).  At any rate, it will still be a fun look back on all the memorable tunes Shania gave us over the years, while also shining a spotlight on a few lesser-known tracks that we might have forgotten about.  As always, feel free to share your own favorites in the comments section.

#25

“Party for Two” (with Billy Currington)

Greatest Hits – 2004

I have at times referred to this song as a “guilty pleasure,” but then I realized that it’s such a great fun record that I don’t really feel guilty at all about loving it.  Silly “sexy in your socks” line aside, “Party for Two” is fun flirty tune that Twain and Currington sell with charm and enthusiasm.  Though more of a pop song than a country song, “Party for Two” is best heard in its country mix, as the pop version with Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath tries a little too hard to sound pop, demonstrating that Shania often sounded best when still keeping a toe in country territory.  “Party for Two” served as Twain’s last Top 10 country hit to date.

#24

“Blues Eyes Crying In the Rain” (with Willie Nelson)

Willie Nelson & Friends – Live and Kickin’ – 2003

Twain’s pop sensibilities certainly have no ill effect on her ability to tackle a traditional country classic with grace and ease, as evidenced by her beautiful cover of this beloved Willie Nelson hit, accompanied by the man himself.

 

#23

“Ka-Ching!”

Up! – 2002

Though largely known for her lighthearted frivolous side, “Ka-Ching!” – a deft takedown of commercial materialism – shows that Twain was still perfectly capable of addressing relevant social themes.

#22

“It Only Hurts When I’m Breathing”

Up! – 2002

Though known for her positivity, Twain could still be surprisingly effective at conveying heartbreak.  Such is demonstrated by this Top 20 hit in which the protagonist strives to maintain optimism as she moves on after a breakup.  Still, the title hook shows that her heavy emotional pain remains constant.

#21

“Love Gets Me Every Time”

Come On Over – 1997

Hey, if you’re going to write a silly, cheesy song, you might as well do it thoroughly and shamelessly.  “Love Gets Me Every Time” combines a hillbilly catchphrase with an unshakable two-step-friendly musical hook to make a delightful ditty that just never seems to get old.

 

#20

“Coat of Many Colors” (with Alison Krauss & Union Station)

Just Because I’m a Woman:  Songs of Dolly Parton – 2003

It’s easy to see how Twain’s own impoverished upbringing might give her a special connection to this classic song, and to its timeless theme of love and family being worth far more than material possessions.  Indeed, “One is only poor only if they choose to be.”  Twain delivers the revered Dolly Parton lyric with authenticity and deep sincerity, while the unique touch of Alison Krauss’s backing vocal elevates the record further.

#19

“You Win My Love”

The Woman In Me – 1995

Written by Twain’s then-husband/producer Mutt Lange, this is the only song on Twain’s last three studio albums that she didn’t have a hand in writing.  The lyric is full of clever automobile-related metaphors, while the driving arrangement and the “Rev it up, rev it up ‘til your engine blows” hook practically beg to be blasted out one’s car windows.

#18

“That Don’t Impress Me Much”

Come On Over – 1997

The sentiment is clear:  Shania Twain is not impressed by guys who are overly impressed with themselves.  One part sing-along, one part spoken word, with some steel guitar and cowbell hooks thrown in, it all adds up to one heck of a fun record.

#17

“Shoes”

Desperate Housewives soundtrack – 2005

It may have been recorded for a soundtrack, but make no mistake about it:  A song that compares finding the right man to finding the ideal footwear, noting that “Some you can’t afford, some are real cheap, some are good for bummin’ around on the beach” is classic Shania.  A clever song loaded with humorous double entendres, “Shoes” is good for a chuckle any day.

#16

“(If You’re Not In It for Love) I’m Outta Here!”

The Woman In Me 1995

The dance-friendly beat is hooky and infectious, but the content runs deeper.  At the heart of the song is a confident female protagonist who refuses to be taken advantage of.  If the guy’s not in it for love… she’s outta here.  This chart-topping hit established Twain’s distinct songwriting point of view, while helping to power her The Woman In Me album to 12x platinum sales.

#15

“I’m Gonna Getcha Good!”

Up! – 2002

Not really much to say about this one except that, as far as great pop-country hooks go, they don’t come much catchier than this.

#14

“Nah!”

Up! – 2002

A kiss-off tune that’s not nearly as bitter as such songs usually are, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious.  Twain almost seems to casually enjoy the moment of letting her no-good ex know that she’s done being mistreated by him.  She admits “I miss you now and then, but would I do it all again?”  The band abruptly stops playing as if to await her answer:  “Nah!”  Ouch.

#13

“Home Ain’t Where His Heart Is (Anymore)”

The Woman In Me – 1995

It’s a shame this song didn’t make a bigger dent in history.  I’ve always considered it one of Twain’s most subtly moving performance as the female narrator mourns the deteriorating state of her marriage; while the song offers no full resolution of the story, save for Twain hoping “If we could only find that feeling once again… If we could only change the way the story ends.”

#12

“Don’t Be Stupid (You Know I Love You)”

Come On Over – 1997

Because it makes me happy.  So there.

#11

“Leaving Is the Only Way Out”

The Woman In Me – 1995

The only song on any of Twain’s albums on which she takes sole writer’s credit, this is one of her best songs, as well as one of her countriest.  The refrain “If cryin’ is the only way into your arms, then leavin’ is the only way out” is nothing short of heartbreaking.

#10

“You’ve Got a Way”

Come On Over – 1997

Though I would recommend steering clear of the hokey Notting Hill pop remix, “You’ve Got a Way” remains one of Twain’s most beautifully understated, sincere performances on record, with the acoustic arrangement allowing her to positively shine.

#9

“Forever and For Always”

Up! – 2002

A gem of a love song with an effortlessly endearing melody and a deeply heartfelt performance on Twain’s part.  Though the song was remixed into an international pop smash, it remains best heard in its country form, in which Twain’s sentiments are driven home by subtle, beautiful strains of banjo and steel.

#8

“Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under”

The Woman In Me – 1995

Right out of the starting gate, Shania’s first major hit, and first Lange-produced single release, delivers a powerful punch of her priceless personality.  With a bouncy fiddle-driven production, silly rhyme schemes involving the names of the cheating lover’s mistresses, and the delightfully cheesy bridge (“So next time you’re lonely/ Don’t call on me/ Try the operator/ Maybe she’ll be free”), “Whose Bed” is both shamelessly campy and tons of fun as a result.

#7

“Is There Life After Love”

The Woman In Me – 1995

A rare thematic venture on Twain’s part to the wrong side of cheating.  She regrets her tryst, but regrets coming forward and confessing it even more, bemoaning “You gave me forgiveness, but you could not forget/ I should never have told you what I’ll live to regret.”

#6

“Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”

Come On Over – 1997

Well of course!  Who could leave out one of Shania’s most energetic, free-spirited, entertaining performances of her career?

#5

“Dance with the One That Brought You”

Shania Twain – 1993

An early Twain record from the days before she was singing her own self-written material, “Dance with the One That Brought You” marries twain’s beautifully nuanced vocal performance to a charming Gretchen Peters lyric and a gorgeous piano and steel-driven waltz of an arrangement.  It just might be one of Twain’s best moments on record, and yet Mutt Lange had absolutely nothing to do with it.  Who’da guessed?

#4

“You’re Still the One”

Come On Over – 1997

I love this song so, so much.  An unabashedly sincere vocal, shimmering production, and a lyric that encapsulates the firm commitment, pride in having overcome obstacles, and deep, genuine love of a couple that has remained together against all odds and expectations.  While I’ve long believed that commercial success does not equate to quality, I still say that this song was a massive hit because it deserved to be a massive hit.  A timeless, universal sentiment that touched pop fans and country fans alike, “You're Still the One” is pure pop-country perfection.

#3

“No One Needs to Know”

The Woman In Me – 1995

The best country songs are those that rely, not on words themselves, but on the feelings that the words and melodies tap into.  “No One Needs to Know” absolutely radiates with the giddiness and joy of a newfound love that only the narrator herself is to know of (which suggests that Taylor Swift is not kidding when she cites Twain as a major influence).  The infectious, stripped down acoustic arrangement, complete with dobro and steel chords, is a pure and simple delight.

#2

“Up!”

Up! – 2002

Twain has long been known for her incessant positivity – a consistent thread that ran throughout the Come On Over and Up! albums in particular, but was nowhere more concentrated than on the title track of Up!  It comes as a fist-pumping pop-anthem on the red disc; a sprightly banjo rocker on the green disc.  “Up!” is a hugely lovable ball of energy either way.  The production pulses with urgency as it underscores Twain’s spirited performance.  No matter what it is that’s got you down, Twain shouts “Up!  Up!  Up!  There’s no way but up from here!” until she has you believing it too.

#1

“Any Man of Mine”

The Woman In Me – 1995

Is there any other song in her catalog that so thoroughly sums up everything one could love about Shania Twain?  The energy of this performance leaps out your speakers, along with boot-stomping rhythm, the awesome fiddling, and all the signature Twain wit in the humorous lyrics.  I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit that the line dance breakdown just might be my favorite part.

It was a bold artistic move and a substantial risk at the time of its release, yet it helped blaze a trail that female country artists are still following today.  But even when bringing it down to a personal, individual level, there are simply few other Shania Twain songs, hits or not, that put a skip in my step like this one does.  Shania's cheeky delivery makes me smile.  The lyrics make me laugh.  The beat makes me want to dance.  Any way you look at it, this song hits me just right.

The critic in me respects it.  The fan in me adores it.  Now if you'll excuse me, I think it's time for some kicking, turning, and stomp-stomping…

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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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Donna Summer: The Country Connection

Donna Summer, disco legend, passed away today at the age of 63.

Much like my earlier post on Whitney Houston's untimely passing, writing about Summer's death isn't completely foreign to our topic of country music.

Whereas Dolly Parton wrote a #1 pop hit by Whitney Houston, Donna Summer wrote a #1 country hit for Dolly Parton.

“Starting Over Again” is anything but a disco number.  It's a tender tale of a middle-aged couple divorcing after their children are grown:

Reba McEntire also covered the song in 1995, taking it back to the top twenty:

Summer co-wrote many of her classic hits, including “Love to Love You Baby”, “Dim All the Lights”, “I Feel Love”, “Bad Girls”, and “She Works Hard for the Money.” But my favorite of her compositions is “On the Radio”, which I actually heard first by Emmylou Harris as a straight-up heartbreaking ballad:

Needless to say, I was taken aback by the disco beat when I finally heard Summer's original version.

I haven't been writing much lately, but I couldn't let the passing of this timeless talent go by without comment.  Like Houston before her, she was a great singer who went too soon, and country music's legacy was just a little bit richer for her passing through.

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Album Review: Marty Stuart, <i>Nashville, Vol. 1: Tear the Woodpile Down</i>

Marty Stuart
Nashville, Vol. 1:  Tear the Woodpile Down

The casual listener may remember Marty Stuart for the string of country radio hits he enjoyed in the late eighties and early nineties.  However, Stuart’s legacy was cemented by groundbreaking projects released after his commercial heyday had drawn to a close, particularly 1999's landmark The Pilgrim as well as 2010's career-best effort Ghost Train:  The Studio B Sessions.  Through such critically lauded work Stuart has built up a reputation as an elder statesman of country music, acting to preserve country music's heritage and traditions, while simultaneously working to move the genre forward.

One important reason why Stuart has been such a fine advocate of traditional country music is that he does not treat it as a musical museum piece, but rather treats it as it is – as real and relevant now as it has ever been.  This is continually evident on Stuart’s new Sugar Hill release Nashville, Vol. 1:  Tear the Woodpile Down.  The project finds Stuart graciously and sincerely paying tribute to country music’s storied past, at times through well-chosen cover songs.  He offers his own rendition of the Jerry Chestnutt composition “Holding On to Nothin,” which was a Top 10 hit for Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton in 1968.  The song’s brilliantly constructed lyric finds a couple’s desire to rekindle their romance colliding with the sad realization that there is little left to save.  “I feel guilty when they envy me and you” is arguably one of the best lines a country song has ever come up with.

But while the album respectfully nods to the past, the loose infectious energy of up-tempo tracks like “Tear the Woodpile Down” and “Truck Driver Blues” is hardly derivative, adding to the project’s contemporary edge.  The latter finds Stuart both shredding the mandolin, and name-dropping wife Connie Smith.  The album also offers a more restrained reinterpretation of one song that previously appeared on Stuart’s 2003 effort Country Music, and “Sundown In Nashville” is a song that is most definitely worthy of a repeat release.  The lyric highlights the sad truth that for every performer who achieves the dream of becoming a country music star, countless others see their dreams “shattered and swept to the outskirts of town” – a sentiment that has remained of continued relevance on down through country music history.

On Tear the Woodpile Down, Stuart continues to indulge his penchant for collaborating with his like-minded friends.  Sadly, the list of collaborators does not include Connie Smith this time around, but the harmony vocals of The Carter Family descendant Lorrie Carter Bennett add a bittersweet touch to the beautiful steel weeper “A Song of Sadness,” while veteran guitarist and Jerry Lee Lewis-collaborator Kenny Lovelace appears on “A Matter of Time.”  The album closes on a high note with the Hank Williams III duet “Picture from Life’s Other Side” – a song originally written and recorded by Hank Williams, Sr., and one that Stuart and Hank III have performed together live.  Stuart’s smooth vocal delivery contrasts nicely with Hank III’s gritty drawl.  The two are backed by a bare-boned acoustic arrangement, allowing the song itself to pull the full weight with its brilliantly dark take on human mortality.  While backed by his seasoned cohorts The Fabulous Superlatives – who get to twang it out on the rousing instrumental track “Hollywood Boogie” – the project also includes appearances by veteran steel player Robbie Turner, as well as multi-instrumentalist Buck Trent, who lends his banjo work to the comedic title track and to “Holding On to Nothin’.”  Such contributions aid in making Tear the Woodpile Down an endlessly cool-sounding record.

In classic Marty Stuart fashion, Nashville, Vol. 1:  Tear the Woodpile Down shines with stellar, classic-worthy songwriting, bolstered by top-notch musicianship and restlessly creative arrangements.  It ranks as one of 2012’s best album’s yet – a thoughtful homage to country music's past that remains fully connected to the present, and one that will thoroughly satisfy any passionate devotee of pure, simple, non-hyphenated country music.

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Retro Single Review: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, “We Found It”

1973 | Peak: #30

Though it was their only A-side to miss the top twenty, “We Found It” is one of Porter & Dolly’s most entertaining romps.

What makes it work is the chorus, which lets loose in a southern gospel kinda way.  There’s more energy and enthusiasm than usual, making it a good title track for that eye-popping album cover.

Written by Porter Wagoner

Grade: B

Next: Traveling Man

Previous: My Tennessee Mountain Home

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Whitney Houston: 1963-2012

On the eve of the Grammy Awards, music lost one of its greatest voices, as Whitney Houston died at age 48.

Her only tangential connection to country was a big one.  Her cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”  is one of the most successful singles in history, spending 14 weeks at #1 and pushing its parent album, The Bodyguard soundtrack, to sales of 44 million worldwide.

When Michael Jackson died in 2009, it was the first time it felt like we lost an icon of our generation.  But Jackson hit the charts with his brothers in 1969.

Whitney Houston was all eighties.  Everyone my age can remember the first time they heard her sing, back when “Greatest Love of All” and “How Will I Know” dominated the airwaves.  There was no matching that voice.

In the years that followed, many superstars would surface who could hit the big notes like Whitney, but not one of them came even close to doing it with her soul and her style.   She’s best known for her eighties pop classics and soundtrack hits from the nineties, but her best work was her underrated studio albums from the latter decade.

For those of you ready to delve into her catalog, don’t overlook 1990’s I’m Your Baby Tonight, which featured the stunning “All The Man That I Need”, the funky title track, and the should’ve been smash “My Name is Not Susan.”   Her best studio album, 1998’s My Love is Your Love, includes the classic title track, the Grammy-winning “It’s Not Right but it’s Okay”, and the tabloid-countering “In My Business.”

Watching the Super Bowl Half Time Show this year, I was again struck by how the eighties icons are surviving the test of time.   Madonna’s still at the top of her game, as are U2 and Bon Jovi.   Prince and Bruce Springsteen aren’t getting a lot of love for their new music, but are still amazing live and are still making excellent music.

But Michael Jackson’s gone, and now Whitney Houston is, too.  There was something so unique about the eighties that produced these larger than life stars.  I don’t know that the various mediums will ever be aligned well enough to create stars that big again.   We’re always going to have ladies with big, booming voices, but there will never be another who makes our collective jaws drop like Whitney Houston did.

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Retro Single Review: Dolly Parton, “My Tennessee Mountain Home”

1973 | #15

These days country radio is peppered with songs about where the singer supposedly grew up.  Though often commercially successful, they tend to fail on an artistic level.  Why?  They very often lack some vital ingredients:  DetailAuthenticity.  Sincerity.  That’s why Dolly Parton’s classic “My Tennessee Mountain Home” outclasses nearly all of them.

The single “My Tennessee Mountain Home” served as the centerpiece to Parton’s 1973 concept album of the same name, in which Dolly sang of her childhood memories of growing up in rural Tennessee, as well as her journey toward country music stardom in Nashville.  Contrasting with the mood of “In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad),” which is much bleaker, “My Tennessee Mountain Home” plays like a simple laid-back celebration of Parton’s roots.  The song is ripe with vivid imagery of Parton’s childhood home, where “Life is as peaceful as a baby’s sigh,” which quite fittingly imbues an authentic lived-in quality to Parton’s performance.  And while it’s become common in modern times for backwoods-origin songs to adopt an attitude that is exclusive or confrontational, Parton’s “Tennessee Mountain Home,” with its warm accessible melody, practically grabs you by the hand and invites you to stroll through the countryside along with Dolly.

Though the single didn’t distinguish itself in Parton’s catalog from a chart perspective, topping out at #15, it has gone on to become one of Parton’s best-loved career hits, as well as a theme song for Parton’s successful theme park.  An unabashedly charming, sincere performance that, nearly four decades after its release, still sounds just as endearing as ever.

Written by Dolly Parton

Grade:  A

Next:  We Found It (with Porter Wagoner)

Previous:  Together Always (with Porter Wagoner)

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Retro Single Review: Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton, “Together Always”

1972 | #14

It’s another Porter and Dolly love song, and such do tend to be less memorable then their heartbreak songs and bickering-couple songs.  The chorus of “Together Always” is rather blank lyrically, but it’s lifted to a higher level by Parton’s spirited performance.  The lilting melody and light piano-driven arrangement lend a subtly infectious, joyful sound to the record.

It’s not one of the biggest or best hits by the Parton-Wagoner duo, but the tasteful sonic packaging make “Together Always” enjoyable, if nonessential.

Written by Dolly Parton

Grade:  B

Next:  My Tennessee Mountain Home

Previous:  Washday Blues

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Retro Single Review: Dolly Parton, “Washday Blues”

1972 | Peak: #20

This is just plum terrible.

Loretta Lynn might’ve been able to make something useful out of it, a dime store take-off of “One’s On the Way” or something.

But there’s nothing domesticated about Dolly Parton.  Amazing how she’s much more believable as a lady of ill repute or a runaway teen than she is as a housewife.

It just doesn’t fit.

Written by Porter Wagoner

Grade: D

Next: Together Always (with Porter Wagoner)

Previous: Lost Forever in Your Kiss (with Porter Wagoner)

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