The new Sugarland album is a failure. Of this, I am sure. But as I wrote in my review, the problem isn’t that they made an eighties rock album. It’s that they didn’t make a good one.
Which got me thinking about others who made pop or rock albums after building a fan base as a country artist. Sometimes it works, and their pop/rock music is as good or better than what they did under the country umbrella.
So I ask this question:
What artist did the best job of transition from country to pop?
Written by Martin Cooper
In which preaching to the choir takes on an entirely different meaning.
Donna Fargo burst on to the country scene in 1972 with the gold-selling hits “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.” and “Funny Face,” which helped establish her as a burst of positivity against an increasingly dour national landscape.
The Watergate scandal challenged Fargo’s shiny outlook on the world, and influenced the material of her 1974 album Miss Donna Fargo. The lead single, “U.S. of A.”, found her speaking to the country directly, celebrating that the country’s strength comes from its plentiful natural and human resources.
That song went to #9, but it was the follow-up that became a #1 hit, one of Fargo’s first big hits to come from an outside writer. Built upon the biblical passage Matthew 5:16, it is a challenge not to those who do not have God in their life, but rather those who claim that they do:
As with the similar CMA category of Single of the Year, looking over the history of this category is the quickest way to get a snapshot of country music in a given year. There is a quite a bt of consensus among the two organizations here, and it is very rare for the winner at one show to not at least be nominated at the other. The winners list here would make a great 2-disc set of country classics, at least for those who don’t mind a little pop in their country. The ACM definitely has more of a taste for crossover than its CMA counterpart, and the organizations have only agreed on 17 singles in the past four decades and change.
As always, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back to 1968.
- Zac Brown Band, “Toes”
- Billy Currington, “People Are Crazy”
- Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
- Miranda Lambert, “White Liar”
- David Nail, “Red Light”
There’s usually a “Huh?” nominee among the ACM list in recent years. This year, it’s David Nail. Good for him! Currington hasn’t won yet for this hit, even though he got himself a Grammy nomination for it. With Lady Antebellum reaching the upper ranks of the country and pop charts with “Need You Now”, my guess is that they’re the presumptive favorites. Then again, Miranda Lambert is a nominee for the third straight year, and she’s up for her biggest radio hit.
- Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This”
- Jamey Johnson, “In Color”
- Miranda Lambert, “Gunpowder & Lead”
- Heidi Newfield, “Johnny and June”
- Brad Paisley, “Waitin’ On a Woman”
Adkins has been a fairly regular fixture on country radio since 1996, but this was his first major industry award. He also won the ACM for Top New Male Vocalist in 1997.
Former Lonestar frontman Richie McDonald caused a stir when he left the band. His former bandmates vented in the media, sharing their frustration that McDonald had insisted they move in the direction of domestic songs like “My Front Porch Looking In” and “Mr. Mom.”
To be fair, those songs were huge hits, and there’s always been a place for such records in country music, as Donna Fargo and Barbara Fairchild could easily attest.
“Six-Foot Teddy Bear” continues in the same vein as those Lonestar hits. It’s the tale of a man who leads with his chest at work, a Harley-driving tough guy who turns into a mush once he gets home. He wonders what the guys at work would think of him if they knew that he let his little girls outfit him in Mickey Mouse ears and paint his toenails red.
McDonald’s performance is a mixed bag. He’s never fully convincing as the tough guy, but he’s fully believable as the family man who puts his children’s enjoyment before his own dignity. It’s a pretty realistic portrait of modern day fatherhood, and his joy in playing the role is palpable.