Since bringing back Recommend a Track proved so popular, I’m resurrecting another CU oldie but goodie: the iPod check.
I’ve only recently discovered the Most Played feature on iTunes, since it never had any relevance until iPods were large enough in memory to sync all of my music. So going back to early 2011, I have a lengthy list of the songs I’ve played the most.
So today’s iP0d check: List your most-played song from twenty different country artists.
You can access this info by going to your own Most Played list and adjusting the number of songs on it – I use 500 for mine – or you can just go to Music and sort by number of plays. Or you can just pick twenty artists at random and list your most played song for each. We’re easy here. (This would also work in Spotify, from what I hear.)
Here’s my top twenty:
Pam Tillis – Deep Down (89 plays)
Keith Urban – I Told You So (81)
Dixie Chicks – Long Time Gone (71)
Taylor Swift – Mean (68)
Trisha Yearwood – Where Are You Now (63)
Patty Loveless – You Can Feel Bad (59)
Emmylou Harris – Easy From Now On (55)
Carrie Underwood – Undo It (50)
Lori McKenna – Lorraine (50)
Dwight Yoakam – Ain’t That Lonely Yet (46)
Sara Evans – Rocking Horse (45)
Sawyer Brown – Cafe on the Corner (45)
Reba McEntire – The Fear of Being Alone (44)
Shania Twain – Up! (43)
Faith Hill – Stealing Kisses (41)
Alan Jackson – So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore (40)
Crystal Gayle – Why Have Your Left the One You Left Me For (39)
George Strait – Meanwhile (39)
Lee Ann Womack – I May Hate Myself in the Morning (39)
Aaron Tippin – Whole Lotta Love on the Line (38)
I’m surprised that some of my most played artists overall, like Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, and Tim McGraw, don’t have that one big song that I play excessively. Also, at least half of the songs above aren’t what I would call my favorite song by the given artist. How about you?
I will append a “-” onto the grade as a means of acknowledging the fact that the Bruce Robison original is overall superior. That said, Tim McGraw’s hit recording of “Angry All the Time” is an excellent record in its own right.
I’m sure there are relatively few artists who would have listened to Robison’s non-charting, self-written 1998 single and thought, ‘Hey, that sounds like a hit!’ But “Angry All the Time” was a classic instance of McGraw finding a hit in the most unlikely of places, and giving mass exposure to an achingly beautiful, yet underrated composition.
Though not quite a raw as Robison’s original recording, McGraw’s version is surprisingly light on bells and whistles. Beginning with the sound of hushed acoustic strumming, the arrangement picks up force as the song progresses, but the focus of attention remains the story of a marriage gradually unraveling. Varying emotions are conveyed, including frustration, desperation, and disillusionment, particularly in stinging lines such as “What I can’t live with is memories of the way you used to be.”
It all comes through in McGraw’s evocative performance, showcasing the layers of subtlety his voice had picked up in the years since his “Indian Outlaw” days, while wife Faith Hill’s plaintive background vocals add a further layer of pathos. The couple injects an angst into the lines “God, it hurts me to think of you, for the light in your eyes was gone/ Sometimes I don’t know why this old world can’t leave well enough alone” that is heartrending. It’s a top-notch performance by a pair of contemporary country music’s most vibrant talents.
In the late nineties and early 2000s, Tim McGraw was known as one of country music’s finest selectors of song material, as well as one of its finest interpreters of lyrics. Great records like this are the reason for it.
Awkward in the sense that the melody doesn’t have quite the same pull, and in the sense that, well…it’s a song called “Let’s Make Love,” performed in earnest by a real-life married couple. And as fantastic as Hill and McGraw sound together, it’s hard not to feel a little voyeuristic when they sigh, “I want to feel you in my soul!” It’s just hard.
Still, the record is not without its – ahem - adult-contemporary charms. Really, it’s worth it just for the weirdly engrossing “Look how hot we are!” music video. But it’s the kind of thing you probably wouldn’t want to listen to/watch with anyone else in the room. Unless maybe, I guess, if they were in the room with you because, like…y’know.
Written by Marv Green, Aimee Mayo, Chris Lindsey & Bill Luther
He started out as one of the lesser-ran hat acts of the nineties boom, catapulted to fame on the strength of a novelty song. But skillful song selection and deepening commitment to artistry helped Tim McGraw emerge as one of the genre’s strongest talents.
Born and raised in Louisiana, Tim McGraw was the son of baseball legend Tug McGraw, though he didn’t know this until he was an older boy. He was an aspiring baseball player himself, and attended college on a sports scholarship. While there, he learned to play guitar and grew more interested in pursuing music as his full-time career.
McGraw was inspired by the music of Keith Whitley, and by chance, he moved to Nashville on the same day that Whitley passed away. He played the clubs around town for four years, eventually garnering the interest of Curb Records. His self-titled debut album was released in 1993 to little fanfare, so it was a big surprise the following year when his second album, Not a Moment Too Soon, spent nearly thirty weeks at #1. It was the controversial novelty hit “Indian Outlaw” that got it there, but four more hits from the same set kept it at the top.
McGraw’s sudden move to multi-platinum sales gave him access to far better material, and over the next decade, a string of hit albums would establish him as one of Nashville’s best pickers of material. In 1996, he married fellow superstar Faith Hill, and they spent six weeks at #1 with “It’s Your Love”, their award-winning duet that was only one of many hit collaborations between the two. In the late nineties, he dominated radio with several multi-week #1 singles, becoming the genre’s flagship male vocalist and one of the few to win two consecutive CMA Album of the Year awards.
His success continued into the 21st century, and while McGraw became a movie star on the side, he still kept his primary focus on the music. In 2004, “Live Like You Were Dying” became the biggest hit of his career, earning him a Grammy and spending 7 weeks at #1, his longest-running stay on the top of the charts. After the album of the same name sold in the millions, his record sales began to cool, though disagreements with his label heated up. He still had regular hits on the radio, but for the first time, he also had several singles missing the top ten.
McGraw finished his commitment to Curb records in early 2012, and has now moved on to Big Machine records, releasing his first single for the label in the summer of 2012. He is currently on a successful stadium tour with Kenny Chesney, an artist that he influenced and mentored.
There’s an endearing story about Faith Hill early in her career. When she was recording “Piece of My Heart”, she expressed that she had never heard the Janis Joplin original. Listening to her cover, that’s quite clear.
That story came back to me while listening to “Hello Goodbye”, a single by new Columbia artist Tyler Farr. Looking at the title, I was curious if it was a cover of the classic Beatles hit. Having heard this completely different song, I’m struck that it’s so country that Farr might not even be aware that the Beatles exist, let alone had a song with the same title.
It’s a beautiful song, and Farr cranks the hillbilly heartbreak up to eleven. I don’t know how much depth and range he has to his voice as of yet, but he can certainly do country weepers better than most of the guys on the radio dial these days.
Age forty is still seen as more of a milestone, but age thirty might be the best place to neatly divide your life.
McGraw captures that feeling of settling in to who you’re going to be, and the growing confidence that you’re really an adult and that you’ve somewhat established yourself.
Suddenly, you look back on the ridiculous things you’ve done in your twenties with amusement and appreciation, like you’re looking back on a different person who you’re quite fond of but can no longer completely relate to. It’s a moment in time when you’ve gathered your necessary life skills and still have enough energy to put them to use.
Who could be a better vehicle for this song than McGraw? He was 32 when he recorded it, and was enjoying unparalleled success at country radio, while also starting a family with fellow superstar Faith Hill. “My Next Thirty Years” was his twelfth #1 single in only seven years, and his seventh to spend four weeks or more at #1, a run absolutely unheard of in the modern era of country radio.
He sings with the confidence of a man on the top of his game, completely unaware of the fact that he’d one day sing “Truck Yeah.”
“You’ve Got a Way” is a beautiful showcase of the unique set of gifts Shania Twain brought to the table as a vocalist.
Her detractors often maligned her vocal abilities, dismissing her as a subpar talent, as she did lack the range and power possessed by several of her contemporaries (such as Faith Hill, Martina McBride, and Trisha Yearwood). Many failed to appreciate the fact that Twain had a strong talent for exuding sincerity in her performances, whichs adds more to a song’s impact than even the highest power notes.
Though having just conquered the world with a succession of hook-heavy pop crossover hits, Twain abruptly changed the rules with “You’ve Got a Way,” instead unplugging with a soft acoustic ballad. Twain does all of the heavy lifting with her vocal delivery, and does so beautifully – with restraint, and a bit of an emotional quiver. It’s a perfect fit for a lyric that is a simple, straightforward expression of love and appreciation.
I would recommend steering clear of the gaudy pop remix used in the film Notting Hill, as it interrupts the flow of emotion with unnecessary echo effects, an intrusive beat, and other distractions. The original country version, however, ranks among Twain’s best work.
Written by Shania Twain and Robert John “Mutt” Lange
As the title suggests, Clay Walker’s latest single plays out like the alternate ending to Faith Hill and Tim McGraw’s fiery “Like We Never Loved At All.” Whereas the latter finds the woman agonizing over her ex moving on, “Like We Never Said Goodbye” tackles a smaller, more predictable range of emotions as its characters rekindle their relationship over wine. On paper, it’s the less interesting road taken.
But it’s not the story that carries this song – it’s the storytelling, done expertly by both Walker himself and the lovely, fitting arrangement. From the first line, Walker is endearingly earnest, using an imperfect vocal to draw out his character’s equal parts eagerness and vulnerability. He glides through the story with playful ease, delivering its simple details with just enough purpose to make them pop. Only a veteran storyteller like Walker could breathe new life into otherwise colorless lyrics –“How you been? / Been awhile / Tell me how’s your mama?”— with nakedly sincere phrasing.
No matter how sweet the delivery, though, this story wouldn’t shine without its subtly compelling arrangement. Long before the lure of Billy Currington, Chris Young and Josh Turner, Walker was making music soaked in a different brand of sensuality, out in full rhythmic swing on “Like We Never Said Goodbye.” As with the best Walker singles, there’s an intangible sparkle somewhere within its melody, pulse and sparse piano lines – evocative enough to match the magnitude of rediscovered love, but gentle enough to remind us that country music is about finding the magic in the simplest of stories.
Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s first studio collaboration is still one of their best (“one of” – “I Need You” is even better). I’ve never been a huge fan of power ballads, but I probably would be if they all sounded as great as this.
Lyrics like “It’s your love/ It just does something to me/ It sends a shock right through me/ I can’t even get enough” might come across as paint-by-number if given a simple by-the-book vocal treatment. But McGraw turns in a top-notch vocal performance – restrained in all the right places, but rising high when the time is appropriate. Thus, the lyrics do not ring vague at all, but instead are heard to spring from a deep place of sincerity. The song itself is good, but it’s the vocals that push the song to greatness.
In essence, Faith Hill does what is typically referred to as “singing background vocals,” but her contributions are prominent enough that her voice clearly comes across as that of the narrator’s lover. More importantly, the depth and color of their harmonies gave fans their first taste of the powerful chemistry that became the hallmark of the McGraw-Hill vocal pairing.
To quote Tara, who says it better than I could, “‘It’s Your Love’ represents the moment in country music history when we were introduced to one of its definitive couples.” Tim McGraw’s singles had been largely hit-or-miss up to this point, but as the precursor to one of his strongest studio albums, “It’s Your Love” announced that McGraw had found his mojo.
As the story goes, “You’re Still the One” was inspired by media speculation that Shania Twain’s marriage to Robert John “Mutt” Lange would not last. Twain and Lange decided to respond to the criticism in song. The result was a song that would become a monster crossover hit, a staple for weddings and anniversaries for years to come, an instant standard of nineties country and pop music, and one of the songs that would go on to define Twain’s unique and outstanding career.
The song was remixed into a massive international pop hit, and was a major factor in powering the Come On Over album to such staggering sales numbers. Still, the song is best heard in its original country form for one simple reason: Any song celebrating an enduring relationship deserves steel guitar backing.
Like many a classic country song, “You’re Still the One” utilizes simple and straightforward lyrics to tap into varying emotions. “You’re Still the One” is a song of joy, triumph, satisfaction, and most of all, a celebration of endless love. Though it’s likely a song of personal nature to Twain, it’s constructed in a way that allows any couple to hear the song as their own story set to music.
It’s Twain’s performance, however, that lifts the song into the heavens. Twain was never known for being a powerhouse vocalist like contemporaries such as Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, and Faith Hill (and was even dismissed as a sub-par vocalist by some detractors). But “You’re Still the One” demonstrates the fact that Twain brought her own unique set of gifts as a vocalist. She invests deep shades of emotions into her lower register throughout her hushed delivery of the opening verses. Two choruses and one steel guitar solo later, she lets her voice rise as if releasing every ounce of the deep love and triumph that was previously conveyed understatedly. Such a layered dynamic rendering is a fine example of Twain’s formidable, yet often overlooked skills as a vocal interpreter, as well as a testament to everything she got right as a songwriter and vocalist.
Sadly, Twain and Lange’s marriage eventually did dissolve a decade later. Regardless, the song’s deep impact is untempered. “You’re Still the One” remains an anthem for any couple who has ‘beaten the odds together,’ with my own parents being one such couple. Songs become hits, and songs fade into obscurity, but this one has been around for thirteen years, and still shows no signs of ever being forgotten.
Written by Shania Twain and Robert John “Mutt” Lange