When Yearwood and LeAnn Rimes released dueling versions of this song in 1997, it was apparently a wake up call to country listeners: “Hey, wait a minute. Trisha Yearwood is an amazing singer!” She elevates “How Do I Live” beyond its movie theme nature by adding layers of subtlety and nuance to the typical Diane Warren template. – Kevin Coyne
I don’t claim to have any real knowledge of what it’s like to spend a night at the liveliest of honky-tonks, but I’ll be darned if this song doesn’t make me feel like I do. Because “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” isn’t really about a specific place where people go, and it isn’t even about the boogie itself; it’s about the universal thrill of busting out of the work week, kicking back and dancing your troubles away. From start to finish, Brooks & Dunn’s performance is a twangy blast of exhilaration, and that’s a feeling we can all relate to – outlaws, in-laws, crooks and straights alike. - Tara Seetharam
Don’t Take Her She’s All I Got Tracy Byrd
1997 | Peak: #4
Just a damn catchy trad country sing-a-long. It was good fun when Johnny Paycheck had the original hit with it, and lost none of its steam when Tracy Byrd resurrected it for a new audience twenty-six years later. – Dan Milliken (more…)
The second segment of our countdown includes the first appearances by Garth Brooks and Reba McEntire, two of the biggest-selling stars of the decade.
#375 How Do I Get There Deana Carter
1997 | Peak: #1
It’s always a gamble when friends decide to take their relationship to the next level. “How Do I Get There” explores the struggle of following one’s heart, even though it’s taking a big emotional risk to do so. – Leeann Ward
If I Could Make a Living Clay Walker
1994 | Peak: #1
This song is either ridiculously cheesy or irresistibly cheesy depending on your taste, but there’s no denying Walker sells the heck out of it with charm and enthusiasm. – Tara Seetharam
It Sure is Monday Mark Chesnutt
1993 | Peak: #1
Mark Chesnutt is one of the best male vocalists of the nineties, but there were many times when he did not always rise to the challenge of conveying the energy to elevate a decent song to a good one. Case in point: “Friends in Low Places”, which was eventually properly energized by Garth Brooks. “It Sure Is Monday”, however, is a positive example of Chesnutt actually making a song his own by demonstrating the ability to breathe life into a decent song and make it really good. – LW (more…)
New fans of country music in the nineties were hit over the head with the assertion that country music was one big family. Nothing demonstrated this mythos better than the all star jams that cropped up during the boom years.
There were some variants of this approach. A popular one found a veteran star teaming up with one or more of the boom artists to increase their chances of radio airplay. George Jones was big on this approach, with the most high profile attempt being “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair.” Seventeen years later, it’s amazing to see how young everyone looks – even Jones himself!
Jones shared the CMA Vocal Event of the Year trophy for that collaboration with Clint Black, Garth Brooks, T. Graham Brown, Mark Chesnutt, Joe Diffie, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis, and Travis Tritt. He’d continue with this approach by teaming up with his vocal chameleon Sammy Kershaw on “Never Bit a Bullet Like This”, and he recorded an entire album of his own songs as duets with mostly younger stars. The Bradley Barn Sessions was represented at radio with “A Good Year For the Roses”, which found him singing one of his best hits with Alan Jackson:
Among the legends, the only other one to be successful with this approach was Dolly Parton, who used collaborations with young stars to score consecutive platinum albums for the first and only time in her career. Her 1991 set Eagle When She Flies was powered by the #1 single “Rockin’ Years”, co-written by her brother and sung with Ricky Van Shelton:
That album also included a duet with Lorrie Morgan on “Best Woman Wins.” She upped the bandwagon ante on Slow Dancing With the Moon, bringing a whole caravan of young stars on board with her line dance cash-in “Romeo.”
That’s Mary Chapin Carpenter, Billy Ray Cyrus, Kathy Mattea, and Tanya Tucker in the video. Pam Tillis isn’t in the clip, but she sings on the record with them. Parton also duets with Billy Dean on that album on “(You Got Me Over a) Heartache Tonight.”
Her next collaboration was with fellow legends Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, but they couldn’t resist the temptation to squeeze in several younger stars in the video for “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.” Alongside veterans like Chet Atkins, Bill Anderson, and Little Jimmy Dickens, you’ll catch cameos from Mark Collie, Confederate Railroad, Rodney Crowell, Diamond Rio, Sammy Kershaw, Doug Stone, and Marty Stuart.
Parton scored a CMA award when she resurrected “I Will Always Love You” as a duet with Vince Gill:
And while it didn’t burn up the charts, her version of “Just When I Needed You Most” with Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski:
Tammy Wynette made an attempt to connect with the new country audience with her own album of duets, Without Walls. Her pairing with Wynonna on “Girl Thang” earned some unsolicited airplay:
Perhaps the most endearing project in this vein came from Roy Rogers. How cool is it to hear him singing with Clint Black?
The new stars liked pairing up with each other, too. A popular trend was to have other stars pop up in music videos. There’s the classic “Women of Country” version of “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her”, for starters. Mary Chapin Carpenter sounds pretty darn good with Suzy Bogguss, Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, Pam Tillis, and Trisha Yearwood on backup:
That’s a live collaboration, so at least you hear the voices of the other stars. But Vince Gill put together an all-star band for his “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away” video without getting them to actually play. That’s Little Jimmy Dickens, Kentucky Headhunters, Patty Loveless, Lee Roy Parnell, Carl Perkins, Pam Tillis, and Kelly Willis behind him, with Reba McEntire reprising her waitress role from her own “Is There Life Out There” clip.
My personal favorite was Tracy Lawrence’s slightly less A-list spin on the above, with “My Second Home” featuring the future superstars Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, and Shania Twain, along with John Anderson, Holly Dunn, Hank Flamingo, Johnny Rodriguez, Tanya Tucker, Clay Walker, and a few people that I just can’t identify.
For pure star wattage, it took the bright lights of Hollywood to get a truly amazing group together. The Maverick Choir assembled to cover “Amazing Grace”, and it doesn’t get much better than country gospel delivered in a barn by John Anderson, Clint Black, Suzy Bogguss, Billy Dean, Radney Foster, Amy Grant, Faith Hill, Waylon Jennings, Tracy Lawrence, Kathy Mattea, Reba McEntire, John Michael Montgomery, Restless Heart, Ricky Van Shelton, Joy Lynn White, and Tammy Wynette.
What’s your favorite of the bunch? Any good ones I missed?
As I scanned the list, I saw expected gems like Tim McGraw’s “My Old Friend”, along with curious selections such as Shania Twain’s “Come On Over.” Even #2 on the list was questionable: Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” is as much about friendship as “The Dance” is about the Fox Trot.
Left off the list completely is the country song that I think best describes the nature of friendship. John Michael Montgomery’s “Friends” may not have the scope and death of Plato’s Lysis, but it captures the essence of friendships as well as anything else I’ve seen this side of ancient Greek philosophy.
The framework of the song is that a woman has told Montgomery that she just wants to be friends, which he describes as “a newly sharpened blade” and “a dagger to the heart of the promises we made.” Well-written stuff, to be sure, but not exactly ground that wasn’t already efficiently covered by Lobo.
It’s in the chorus, when he describes what he fears their relationship will dwindle down to, that friendship is perfectly defined:
Friends get scattered by the wind
Tossed upon the waves
Lost for years on end
Slowly drift apart
They give away their hearts
Maybe call you now and then
But you wanna be just friends
As much as the artificiality of today’s social networking may obscure it – You have 864 Friends! – all friendships have an ebb and flow that is directly impacted by time, distance, and common goals and interests. Even many marriages do not survive the life changes that occur as people grow older, so a relationship as tenuously constructed as “friends” is far less likely to survive such changes.
Montgomery’s best known for his wedding standards, but I’d argue that he made his most believable and long-lasting statement on an entirely different type of relationship.
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.”
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.
Gary Allan, “Watching Airplanes”
Big & Rich, “Lost in This Moment”
Kenny Chesney, “Don’t Blink”
Miranda Lambert, “Famous in a Small Town”
“Stay” swept the Song of the Year categories at all three industry shows, along with winning the ACM for Single Record. Allan’s presence here shows that being a little West Coast can still help a guy at the ACMs.
Heartland, “I Loved Her First”
Rascal Flatts, “What Hurts the Most”
George Strait, “Give it Away”
Josh Turner, “Would You Go With Me”
Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats”
George Strait earned his second ACM Single Record award a decade after his first (“Check Yes or No”) and two and a half decades after having his first radio hit. Underwood won at the CMAs later that year. “Give it Away” is one of a small group of ACM winners to not receive a nomination at the CMA ceremony.
Gary Allan, “Best I Ever Had”
Brooks & Dunn, “Believe”
Brad Paisley, “Alcohol”
Sugarland, “Baby Girl”
Carrie Underwood, “Jesus, Take the Wheel”
In the battle of biblical hits, the CMA picked Brooks & Dunn but the ACM picked Carrie Underwood. Much like George Strait would later win a CMA trophy for a different single (“I Saw God Today”), Underwood later triumphed at the CMA with “Before He Cheats.”
Tim McGraw, “Live Like You Were Dying”
Brad Paisley with Alison Krauss, “Whiskey Lullaby”
Rascal Flatts, “Bless the Broken Road”
Keith Urban, “Days Go By”
Gretchen Wilson, “Redneck Woman”
Lee Ann Womack, “I May Hate Myself in the Morning”
Because McGraw picked up the trophy at the CMAs in 2004, the field was cleared for Womack to win the CMA later in 2005. McGraw had won the ACM before for “It’s Your Love.”
Brooks & Dunn, “Red Dirt Road”
Alan Jackson with Jimmy Buffett, “It’s Five O’ Clock Somewhere”
Alan Jackson, “Remember When”
Toby Keith, “American Soldier”
Randy Travis, “Three Wooden Crosses”
Among all the lead nominees, only Toby Keith wasn’t a previous winner. Still, the award went to the new alcoholic’s creed, winning over a more pensive Jackson track and a big comeback hit for Randy Travis.
Kenny Chesney, “The Good Stuff”
Toby Keith, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)”
Trick Pony, “Just What I Do”
Keith Urban, “Somebody Like You”
Mark Wills, “19 Somethin’”
Chesney spent nearly two months at #1 with this hit, perhaps giving him the edge over the other mega-hits at radio from Keith, Urban, and Wills. As for the Trick Pony nomination, somebody really should find out what Heidi Newfield has on those ACM voters.
Brooks & Dunn, “Ain’t Nothin’ ‘Bout You”
Diamond Rio, “One More Day”
Alan Jackson, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”
Toby Keith, “I Wanna Talk About Me”
Travis Tritt, “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive”
Jackson’s powerful 9/11 reflection stands out as the only ballad among his four ACM Single Record victories.
Toby Keith, “How Do You Like Me Now?!”
John Michael Montgomery, “The Little Girl”
Jamie O’Neal, “There is No Arizona”
Aaron Tippin, “Kiss This”
Lee Ann Womack with Sons of the Desert, “I Hope You Dance”
Toby Keith’s run of four consecutive nominations began this year. His album of the same name proved victorious that evening. Womack’s massive hit became an instant standard, and is incidentally the most recent winner to also be a genuine crossover hit.
Dixie Chicks, “Ready to Run”
Tim McGraw, “Please Remember Me”
Brad Paisley, “He Didn’t Have to Be”
George Strait, “Write This Down”
As pop hits go, this one was a monster. “Amazed” even topped the Hot 100, the first country single to do so since “Islands in the Stream.”
Faith Hill, “This Kiss”
Martina McBride, “A Broken Wing”
Shania Twain, “You’re Still the One”
Steve Wariner, “Holes in the Floor of Heaven”
The Wilkinsons, “26 Cents”
Hill and hubby Tim McGraw each have two ACM trophies in this category, one solo and one shared.
Diamond Rio, “How Your Love Makes Me Feel”
Tim McGraw with Faith Hill, “It’s Your Love”
LeAnn Rimes, “How Do I Live”
George Strait, “Carrying Your Love With Me”
Trisha Yearwood, “How Do I Live (from “Con Air”)”
While Yearwood had won over Rimes at the Grammys a few weeks earlier, the ACM sidestepped the big controversy of the year and gave the trophy to the biggest hit in the bunch.
Brooks & Dunn, “My Maria”
Deana Carter, “Strawberry Wine”
Tracy Lawrence, “Time Marches On”
LeAnn Rimes, “Blue”
George Strait, “Carried Away”
It’s rare that the ACM goes with the song that was least successful at radio, but don’t let that #10 peak of “Blue” fool you. That hit was responsible for millions of record sales.
Brooks & Dunn, “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone”
Faith Hill, “It Matters to Me”
Tim McGraw, “I Like It, I Love It”
George Strait, “Check Yes or No”
Shania Twain, “Any Man of Mine”
It was a stroke of marketing brilliance: add two singles to a box set of a genre superstar. When the first single became one of his biggest hits, the box set quickly became the top selling in country music history.
Joe Diffie, “Third Rock From the Sun”
Vince Gill, “Tryin’ to Get Over You”
Alan Jackson, “Livin’ On Love”
Tim McGraw, “Don’t Take the Girl”
John Michael Montgomery, “I Swear”
There have been a few wedding standards to win this award, though Montgomery’s hit didn’t cross over in its original form.
Clint Black with Wynonna, “A Bad Goodbye”
Garth Brooks, “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)”
Alan Jackson, “Chattahoochee”
Reba McEntire with Linda Davis, “Does He Love You”
Dwight Yoakam, “Ain’t That Lonely Yet”
Jackson won the ACM with his massive hit, but the McEntire/Davis duet and the Yoakam track were Grammy winners.
John Anderson, “Straight Tequila Night”
Brooks & Dunn, “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”
Billy Ray Cyrus, “Achy Breaky Heart”
Collin Raye, “Love, Me”
Tanya Tucker, “Two Sparrows in a Hurricane”
Brooks & Dunn are among the most nominated artists in this category’s history, but this is their only victory.
Clint Black, “Where Are You Now”
Garth Brooks, “Shameless”
Alan Jackson, “Don’t Rock the Jukebox”
Travis Tritt, “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)”
Trisha Yearwood, “She’s in Love With the Boy”
This was Jackson’s first major industry award.
Alabama, “Jukebox in My Mind”
Garth Brooks, “Friends in Low Places”
Vince Gill, “When I Call Your Name”
Alan Jackson, “Here in the Real World”
Shenandoah, “Next to You, Next to Me”
Garth-mania was beginning to peak in 1991. He swept the ACMs that year.
Clint Black, “Better Man”
Garth Brooks, “If Tomorrow Never Comes”
Patty Loveless, “Timber I’m Falling in Love”
Keith Whitley, “I’m No Stranger to the Rain”
Hank Williams & Hank Williams Jr., “There’s a Tear in My Beer”
Clint Black is one of only three artists in the last twenty years to win for their first proper single, with Carrie Underwood and LeAnn Rimes being the other two.
Kathy Mattea, “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses”
K.T. Oslin, “I’ll Always Come Back”
Ricky Van Shelton, “I’ll Leave This World Loving You”
Randy Travis, “I Told You So”
Keith Whitley, “Don’t Close Your Eyes”
Mattea’s award-winning hit had such a high profile that it was even referenced in the dialog of the hit movie Rain Man.
Restless Heart, “I’ll Still Be Loving You”
Ricky Van Shelton, “Somebody Lied”
George Strait, “All My Ex’s Live in Texas”
Randy Travis, “Forever and Ever, Amen”
Hank Williams Jr., “Born to Boogie”
Travis won for the second year in a row with what would become his signature hit.
Alabama, “Touch Me When We’re Dancing”
Janie Fricke, “Always Have, Always Will”
The Judds, “Rockin’ With the Rhythm of the Rain”
Reba McEntire, “Whoever’s in New England”
Randy Travis, “On the Other Hand”
This was technically his first single, but when released under the name Randy Traywick, it bombed. Warner Bros. then released “1982″ under Randy Travis, and it went top ten. They then re-released this song, and it became his first #1 hit.
Lee Greenwood, “Dixie Road”
Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, “Highwayman”
The Judds, “Love is Alive”
Mel McDaniel, “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On”
Hank Williams Jr., “I’m For Love”
So successful was this winning single that the four legends would go on to release future collaborations as the Highwaymen.
Alabama, “When We Make Love”
Julio Iglesias & Willie Nelson, “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”
The Judds, “Why Not Me”
John Schneider, “I’ve Been Around Enough to Know”
Conway Twitty, “I Don’t Know a Thing About Love (The Moon Song)”
Say what you want about this winner, but it was popular enough to sell two million 45s.
John Anderson, “Swingin’”
Anne Murray, “A Little Good News”
Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, “Pancho and Lefty”
Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton, “Islands in the Stream”
Shelly West, “José Cuervo”
Another pop smash that moved two million 45s. Is there anybody over 30 who can’t sing along to the chorus?
David Frizzell, “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino to Decorate Our Home”
Willie Nelson, “Always on My Mind”
Kenny Rogers, “Love Will Turn You Around”
Ricky Skaggs, “Crying My Heart Out Over You”
Nelson’s had quite a few signature hits, but none bigger than this one.
Rosanne Cash, “Seven Year Ache”
David Frizzell & Shelly West, “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma”
Barbara Mandrell, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool”
Ronnie Milsap, “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me”
Oak Ridge Boys, “Elvira”
This might be the most pop-flavored lineup in category’s history. Even the Mandrell hit doth protest too much.
George Jones, “He Stopped Loving Her Today”
Johnny Lee, “Lookin’ For Love”
Dolly Parton, “9 to 5″
Eddie Rabbitt, “Drivin’ My Life Away”
Don Williams, “I Believe in You”
Jones capped his biggest comeback in a career defined by them with several awards for this classic hit.
Charlie Daniels Band, “Devil Went Down to Georgia”
Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers Band, “All the Gold in California”
Crystal Gayle, “Half the Way”
Waylon Jennings, “Amanda”
Kenny Rogers, “Coward of the County”
West Coast represent!
Crystal Gayle, “Talking in Your Sleep”
Loretta Lynn, “Out of My Head and Back in My Bed”
Willie Nelson, “Georgia On My Mind”
Waylon & Willie, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys”
Don Williams, “Tulsa Time”
In a category of superstars, the Gentle Giant of Country Music was the victor.
Debby Boone, “You Light Up My Life”
Crystal Gayle, “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue”
Waylon Jennings, “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)”
Kenny Rogers, “Lucille”
Linda Ronstadt, “Blue Bayou”
All of these records made a big impact on both the country and the pop chart.
Mickey Gilley, “Bring it On Home to Me”
Loretta Lynn, “Somebody Somewhere (Don’t Know What He’s Missin’ Tonight)”
Marty Robbins, “El Paso City”
Red Sovine, “Teddy Bear”
Waylon & Willie, “Good Hearted Woman”
A surprising win, perhaps fueled by the momentum of Gilley’s previous single, “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time.”
Glen Campbell, “Rhinestone Cowboy”
Freddie Fender, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”
Mickey Gilley, “Overnight Sensation”
Willie Nelson, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”
Kenny Starr, “The Blind Man in the Bleachers”
Campbell made quite the comeback with this one, and it later inspired the Dolly Parton film vehicle Rhinestone, which earned an ACM nomination of its own for the Tex Ritter Award.
John Denver, “Back Home Again”
Merle Haggard, “Things Aren’t Funny Anymore”
Ronnie Milsap, “(I’d Be) A Legend in My Time”
Cal Smith, “Country Bumpkin”
Billy Swan, “I Can Help”
Smith may not have gotten all the recognition that his talent warranted, but he made two undeniable classics: “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking”, and his winner here.
Merle Haggard, “If We Make it Through December”
Byron MacGregor, “The Americans”
Jeanne Pruett, “Satin Sheets”
Charlie Rich, “Behind Closed Doors”
Charlie Rich, “The Most Beautiful Girl”
Rich’s two hits were so big that even with vote-splitting, he still emerged the winner.
Donna Fargo, “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.”
Merle Haggard, “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)”
Johnny Rodriguez, “Pass Me By (If You’re Only Passing Through)”
Jerry Wallace, “If You Leave Me Tonight I’ll Cry”
Faron Young, “Four in the Morning”
Fargo was a local star on the West Coast before she broke through nationwide with this hit, dominating the 1973 ACM Awards as a result.
Merle Haggard, “Carolyn”
Freddie Hart, “Easy Loving”
Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, “Lead Me On”
Loretta Lynn, “One’s On the Way”
Charley Pride, “Kiss an Angel Good Morning”
This gold-selling classic helped Hart triumph over the superstars of his day.
Lynn Anderson, “Rose Garden”
Merle Haggard, “The Fightin’ Side of Me”
Anne Murray, “Snowbird”
Ray Price, “For the Good Times”
Sammi Smith, “Help Me Make it Through the Night”
Each one of these is a classic in its own right. In a battle of Kristofferson-penned hits, Price emerged victorious, though Smith won the CMA later that year.
Glen Campbell, “Try a Little Kindness”
Johnny Cash, “A Boy Named Sue”
Merle Haggard, “Okie From Muskogee”
Billy Mize, “Make it Rain”
Elvis Presley, “Don’t Cry Daddy”
Freddy Weller, “Games People Play”
Tammy Wynette, “Stand By Your Man”
Haggard’s only victory in this category came on a night where he also won Album of the Year for the only time in several nominations.
Glen Campbell, “Wichita Lineman”
Merle Haggard, “I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am”
Merle Haggard, “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde”
Merle Haggard, “Mama Tried”
Roger Miller, “Little Green Apples”
Miller’s known for his legendary songwriting, but his winning hit here was penned by Bobby Russell.
Glen Campbell, “Burning Bridges”
Glen Campbell, “Gentle on My Mind”
The Gosdin Bros., “Hangin’ On”
Bobbie Gentry, “Ode to Billy Joe”
Merle Haggard, “Branded Man”
Merle Haggard, “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive”
A young Vern Gosdin made up half of the nominated Gosdin Bros., a nice historical footnote to the first year of this category. Glen Campbell’s victory was appropriately West Coast for the ACMs first attempt at honoring the national country music scene.
Facts & Feats:
(4) – Alan Jackson
(3) – Willie Nelson
(2) – Glen Campbell, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Kenny Rogers, George Strait, Randy Travis
The ACM Awards has traditionally been overshadowed by the CMA Awards, despite its longer existence. This is for several reasons. First, the ACM originally existed to emphasize the West Coast country music scene, whereas the CMA Awards represented Nashville from the start. The ACM has also been more commercially-oriented from the beginning, as the history of this category proves. Eighteen of the last twenty winners in this ACM category are multi-platinum sellers, and the organization allowed greatest hits albums to compete for more than a decade.
Still, the ACM category has bragging rights of its own. Critically-acclaimed albums like Storms of Life, Trio, Killin’ Time and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend won at the ACMs but were overlooked by the CMAs. Additionally, women have also been far more successful at this ceremony. Only five women have ever won the CMA Album trophy, and one of them was Sissy Spacek! At the ACMs, women have dominated the category for the past three years, and the category has honored everyone from Loretta Lynn and Donna Fargo to K.T. Oslin and Shania Twain.
A special note about ACM flashbacks. Like the Grammys, the ACMs issue their award for a given year the following year, so the awards for 2009, for example, are given out in 2010. For the purposes of the flashbacks, Country Universe notes the year the award is presented. While the ACM first presented awards in 1966, the Album category wasn’t introduced until 1968.
As with other flashbacks, we begin with a look at this year’s nominees:
Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum
Miranda Lambert, Revolution
Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
Carrie Underwood, Play On
Zac Brown Band, The Foundation
Three previous winners – Miranda Lambert, Brad Paisley, and Carrie Underwood – compete against the debut albums of two hot bands. Lady Antebellum and Zac Brown Band each picked up a Grammy this year and are well represented on the rest of the ACM ballot. This is a very competitive race. Even the sales-friendly nature of the ACMs doesn’t help much here, as four of these albums are platinum and Lambert’s just went gold.
Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
Montgomery Gentry, Back When I Knew It All
George Strait, Troubadour
Taylor Swift, Fearless
Carrie Underwood, Carnival Ride
Taylor Swift became the third consecutive female artist to win in this category, a feat that would’ve seemed unthinkable earlier in the middle part of the decade, when country radio all but exiled women from radio.
Rodney Atkins, If You’re Going Through Hell
Kenny Chesney, Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates
Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Brad Paisley, 5th Gear
Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift
A visibly shocked Lambert accepted the trophy for her critically acclaimed sophomore set. While it did go gold, it remains an anomaly among ACM album winners. You have to go all the way back to 1979 (Oak Ridge Boys) to find another ACM album winner that didn’t sell platinum or higher.
Brooks & Dunn, Hillbilly Deluxe
Vince Gill, These Days
Rascal Flatts, Me and My Gang
George Strait, It Just Comes Natural
Carrie Underwood, Some Hearts
Carrie Underwood became the first solo female artist to win this award in eleven years with her 7 million-selling Some Hearts.
Gary Allan, Tough All Over
Brad Paisley, Time Well Wasted
Rascal Flatts, Feels Like Today
Sugarland, Twice the Speed of Life
Lee Ann Womack, There’s More Where That Came From
A strikingly strong lineup, with the victory going to Brad Paisley. Due to differences in eligibility between the two shows, there are two CMA winners in this category. Not only did Paisley repeat his victory the following fall, Womack won the CMA the previous year.
Kenny Chesney, When the Sun Goes Down
Sara Evans, Restless
Tim McGraw, Live Like You Were Dying
Keith Urban, Be Here
Gretchen Wilson, Here for the Party
Though he’s always been popular with the CMA and Grammy voters, Urban’s only Album award to date came courtesy of the ACMs. Oddly enough, they haven’t nominated him since.
Brooks & Dunn, Red Dirt Road
Toby Keith, Shock’n Y’All
Martina McBride, Martina
Brad Paisley, Mud on the Tires
George Strait, Honkytonkville
On an evening where he won several major awards, Keith picked up his second Album of the Year trophy from the ACMs for an album that included the #1 hits “American Soldier”, “Whiskey Girl”, and “I Love This Bar.”
Kenny Chesney, No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems
Dixie Chicks, Home
Alan Jackson, Drive
Toby Keith, Unleashed
Trick Pony, On a Mission
If you think all of those 2009 nominations for Heidi Newfield were surprising, check out Trick Pony’s presence in this category among four albums that sold more than 4 million copies each. Alan Jackson picked up his third trophy in this category for the album that included “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” and “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”.
Brooks & Dunn, Steers & Stripes
Toby Keith, Pull My Chain
Tim McGraw, Set This Circus Down
Soundtrack, O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Travis Tritt, Down the Road I Go
Big comeback albums for Brooks & Dunn and Travis Tritt were nominated, but it was no surprise to see the victory go to the landmark soundtrack that sold more than eight million copies in the end.
Johnny Cash, American III: Solitary Man
Billy Gilman, One Voice
Toby Keith, How Do You Like Me Now?!
Brad Paisley, Who Needs Pictures
Lee Ann Womack, I Hope You Dance
Even Keith was a veteran in comparison to Gilman and Paisley, who were nominated with their debut albums, but the biggest surprise was the nomination of Cash for his third project with Rick Rubin. Even the CMA didn’t recognize those collaborations until the fourth volume and “Hurt.”
Asleep at the Wheel, Ride With Bob
Dixie Chicks, Fly
Faith Hill, Breathe
George Jones, Cold Hard Truth
Tim McGraw, A Place in the Sun
An impressively eclectic lineup is unsurprisingly represented by the consensus choice Dixie Chicks, the one act that everybody used to agree on.
Garth Brooks, Double Live
Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces
Faith Hill, Faith
Jo Dee Messina, I’m Alright
George Strait, One Step at a Time
For the fourth time in the nineties, the trophy went to an artist’s breakthrough album. After their shocking win at the Grammys a few weeks earlier, this Dixie Chicks victory wasn’t quite as surprising.
Garth Brooks, Sevens
Patty Loveless, Long Stretch of Lonesome
Tim McGraw, Everywhere
George Strait, Carrying Your Love With Me
Shania Twain, Come On Over
Strait’s third victory in this category tied him with Alabama for most wins. It was also his first album to top the overall Billboard 200, a feat he’s repeated with three additional albums.
Brooks & Dunn, Borderline
Tracy Lawrence, Time Marches On
Patty Loveless, The Trouble With the Truth
LeAnn Rimes, Blue
George Strait, Blue Clear Sky
Strait’s victory came with an album that featured the #1 hits “Blue Clear Sky” and “Carried Away”, along with the rodeo-themed “I Can Still Make Cheyenne.”
Brooks & Dunn, Waitin’ On Sundown
Patty Loveless, When Fallen Angels Fly
Tim McGraw, All I Want
George Strait, Lead On
Shania Twain, The Woman in Me
Although Loveless won the CMA award the previous fall, the ACM sided with the Grammy winner for Best Country Album, Shania Twain’s landmark set, The Woman in Me.
Garth Brooks, In Pieces
Mary Chapin Carpenter, Stones in the Road
Vince Gill, When Love Finds You
Alan Jackson, Who I Am
Tim McGraw, Not a Moment Too Soon
McGraw’s only victory in this category came with his first nomination. This set remains his top-selling to date, thanks to the presence of the massive hits “Don’t Take the Girl”, “Indian Outlaw”, “Down on the Farm”, and the title track.
Brooks & Dunn, Hard Workin’ Man
Billy Ray Cyrus, It Won’t Be the Last
Vince Gill, I Still Believe In You
Alan Jackson, A Lot About Livin’ (And a Little ‘Bout Love)
Various Artists, Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles
Dwight Yoakam, This Time
Alan Jackson picked up his second victory in this category with an album that included “Chattahoochee”, which would remain his biggest hit for nearly a decade.
Garth Brooks, The Chase
Brooks & Dunn, Brand New Man
Mary Chapin Carpenter, Come On Come On
Billy Ray Cyrus, Some Gave All
These are some big selling albums. Wynonna and Mary Chapin Carpenter both sold five million and they are tied for last place among the nominees. It’s easy to forget how fresh the Brooks & Dunn sound was when it first arrived on the scene. Five hits, including the classic title track, “Neon Moon”, and “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”, helped power them to a win.
Garth Brooks, No Fences
Garth Brooks, Ropin’ the Wind
Alan Jackson, Don’t Rock the Jukebox
Ricky Van Shelton, Backroads
Travis Tritt, It’s All About to Change
In perhaps the most bizarre moment in this category’s history, Garth Brooks competed again with No Fences, which won the same award last year. Alan Jackson emerged victorious with his sophomore set.
Alabama, Pass it On Down
Garth Brooks, No Fences
Vince Gill, When I Call Your Name
Alan Jackson, Here in the Real World
Ricky Van Shelton, RVS III
No Fences includes the Garth Brooks classics “Friends in Low Places”, “Unanswered Prayers”, and “The Thunder Rolls”. It remains his highest-selling album to date, and second only to Shania Twain’s Come On Over among all single-disc country albums in history.
Clint Black, Killin’ Time
Rodney Crowell, Diamonds and Dirt
Kathy Mattea, Willow in the Wind
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Vol. II
Randy Travis, Old 8×10
The winning album demonstrates why Clint Black was the head of the Class of ’89, even though he’d soon be overshadowed by fellow newbie Garth Brooks.
Vern Gosdin, Chiseled in Stone
K.T. Oslin, This Woman
Ricky Van Shelton, Loving Proof
George Strait, If You Ain’t Lovin’ You Ain’t Livin’
Dwight Yoakam, Buenos Noches From a Lonely Room
K.T. Oslin dominated the awards circuit in 1988 and 1989, with her final victories coming at the ACM Awards. Her Album of the Year winner included the #1 hit “Hold Me”, along with the top five hits “Hey Bobby” and the title track.
The Judds, Heart Land
Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris, Trio
George Strait, Ocean Front Property
Randy Travis, Always and Forever
Hank Williams Jr., Born to Boogie
The classic project by legends Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris also won a CMA for Vocal Event and a Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
The Judds, Rockin’ With the Rhythm
Ricky Skaggs, Live in London
George Strait, 7
Randy Travis, Storms of Life
Dwight Yoakam, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.
The neo-traditionalist movement at its peak, with a win by its standard-bearing artist with his standard-bearing debut album.
Alabama, 40 Hour Week
Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson, Highwayman
The Judds, Why Not Me
George Strait, Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind
Hank Williams Jr., Five-O
The only #1 hit from this album was the title track, but “The Fireman” and “The Cowboy Rides Away” have since become signature songs for the legendary artist.
Alabama, Roll On
Earl Thomas Conley, Don’t Make it Easy On Me
Ricky Skaggs, Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown
George Strait, Right or Wrong
Hank Williams Jr., Man of Steel
Their third victory in four years came on the strength of the hits “Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)”, “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)”, “(There’s a) Fire in the Night”, and “When We Make Love.”
Alabama, The Closer You Get…
John Anderson, Wild & Blue
Merle Haggard, Going Where the Lonely Go
Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson, Pancho & Lefty
Ricky Skaggs, Highways & Heartaches
Over a field of traditionalists old and new, the pop-country supergroup Alabama won their second Album award. In addition to the hit title track, The Closer You Get… included the hits “Lady Down on Love” and “Dixieland Delight.”
Alabama, Mountain Music
Willie Nelson, Always On My Mind
Kenny Rogers, Love Will Turn You Around
Ricky Skaggs, Waitin’ For the Sun to Shine
Don Williams, Listen to the Radio
Nelson’s biggest single powered the album of the same name to victory. It also included a pair of #2 hits: “Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning” and “Let it Be Me.”
Alabama, Feels So Right
Rosanne Cash, Seven Year Ache
George Jones, Still the Same Ole Me
Oak Ridge Boys, Fancy Free
Dolly Parton, 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs
With the exception of George Jones, all the nominees here enjoyed significant pop success with these projects. Alabama won their first trophy in this category with Feels So Right, which included the hit title track, “Old Flame”, and their biggest crossover hit, “Love in the First Degree.”
Charley Pride, There’s a Little Bit of Hank in Me
Kenny Rogers, Greatest Hits
Soundtrack, Coal Miner’s Daughter
Soundtrack, Urban Cowboy
Don Williams, I Believe in You
For all that it’s been maligned, the Urban Cowboy soundtrack does have a lot of classic hits on it. Some of them were recycled, like “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and “Lyin’ Eyes”, but some were introduced on the soundtrack, most notably Anne Murray’s “Could I Have This Dance” and Johnny Lee’s “Lookin’ For Love.”
Larry Gatlin, Straight Ahead
Emmylou Harris, Blue Kentucky Girl
Waylon Jennings, Greatest Hits
Willie Nelson, Willie Sings Kristofferson
Kenny Rogers, Kenny
Those of you wondering how on earth Larry Gatlin was the winner in this field should know that this was actually a platinum-selling album. Perhaps its big hit, “All the Gold in California”, endeared the project to west coast voters.
Ronnie Milsap, It Was Almost Like a Song
Anne Murray, Let’s Keep it That Way
Willie Nelson, Stardust
Oak Ridge Boys, Y’All Come Back Saloon
Kenny Rogers & Dottie West, Every Time Two Fools Collide
They had made several albums as gospel stars, but it was their first big country hit that fueled this win for Album of the Year.
Waylon Jennings, Ol’ Waylon
Dolly Parton, Here You Come Again
Elvis Presley, Moody Blue
Kenny Rogers, Kenny Rogers
Conway Twitty, Greatest Hits Vol. II
This self-titled album was renamed “Lucille” in later pressings to capitalize on its biggest hit.
Mickey Gilley, Gilley’s Smokin’
Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser, Wanted! The Outlaws
Loretta Lynn, Somebody Somewhere
Marty Robbins, El Paso City
Conway Twitty, Now and Then
Gilley’s winning album features his most well known hit, “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time.” It’s the most recent album in the category’s history that hasn’t reached at least gold status.
Glen Campbell, Rhinestone Cowboy
Freddie Fender, Before the Next Teardrop Falls
Merle Haggard, Keep Movin’ On
Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty, Feelins’
Willie Nelson, Red Headed Stranger
This shared award is the only Album trophy that either Lynn or Twitty won from the ACM or CMA, though Lynn did go on to win Best Country Album three decades later at the Grammys.
John Denver, Back Home Again
Merle Haggard, Merle Haggard Presents His 30th Album
Loretta Lynn, They Don’t Make ‘Em Like My Daddy
Cal Smith, Country Bumpkin
Bob Wills, For the Last Time
Denver’s biggest country album, it spent thirteen weeks atop the country album chart. The title track topped the chart, and “Annie’s Song” became a wedding standard.
Merle Haggard, I Love Dixie Blues…so I Recorded “Live” in New Orleans
Loretta Lynn, Love is the Foundation
Charlie Rich, Behind Closed Doors
Johnny Rodriguez, Introducing Johnny Rodriguez
Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn, Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man
Rich’s classic set has sold four million copies, an unheard of tally for a country album from this time period. It didn’t hurt that the title track and “The Most Beautiful Girl” were crossover hits, with the latter actually topping the pop singles chart.
Mac Davis, Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me
Donna Fargo, The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.
Merle Haggard, The Best of the Best of Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard, It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)
Merle Haggard, Let Me Tell You About a Song
Freddie Hart, Bless Your Heart
Donna Fargo triumphed in a field of six albums, half of which were recorded by Merle Haggard! The Fargo set produced two million-selling singles – the title track and “Funny Face”.
Merle Haggard, Hag
Merle Haggard, Someday We’ll Look Back
Freddie Hart, Easy Loving
Ray Price, I Won’t Mention it Again
Charley Pride, Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs
The title track was a massive hit, helping Hart’s Easy Loving reach gold status and spend nine weeks atop the country albums chart.
Glen Campbell, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Album
Merle Haggard, The Fightin’ Side of Me
Merle Haggard, A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (or, My Salute to Bob Wills)
Ray Price, For the Good Times
Charley Pride, Charley Pride’s 10th Album
Who knows how many times Haggard could’ve won this award if he wasn’t nominated against himself? This year, Ray Price’s For the Good Times was the victor, thanks to the Kristofferson-penned title track.
Glen Campbell, Live
Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison
Merle Haggard, Okie From Muskogee
Charley Pride, Best of Charley Pride
Tammy Wynette, Greatest Hits
Haggard’s only victory in this category was for a live album. Incidentally, he won over two other live albums and a pair of greatest hits sets.
There has been a fair amount of positive hype surrounding newcomer, Easton Corbin, as of late. He has been lauded as the next George Strait (not that George Strait is going anywhere quite yet, by the way!). Since he isn’t afraid to prominently feature the steel guitar on his self-titled debut record, such comparison is natural if not justified, though Corbin’s voice is not yet as strong as Strait’s.
Country radio is still playing some neotraditional artists in the vein of George Strait, Alan Jackson, Joe Nichols and Josh Turner, but Corbin is somewhat of an anomaly in the largely pop-leaning mainstream country music landscape. As a result, being a proponent of traditionalism, it is admittedly tempting to give him special deference for embracing a sound that is not prevalent on radio right now. His album, however, is a product of mixed results that does not quite live up to the hype, but is a solid debut effort nonetheless.
From songs like the lead single, “I’m A Little More Country Than That” (an indirect proposal song), which celebrates country life by comparing himself to decidedly country elements, to “Roll with It” and “That’ll Make You Wanna Drink”, Corbin makes it clear that he is a man who embraces the simple kind of life, which he emotionally equates to being a country boy. Incidentally, these songs are among the weaker tracks on the album.
Alongside the innocuous swagger, Corbin intersperses songs that explores relationships in the simplest terms. Stereotypes about old people abound in “Someday When I’m Old”, but the song still maintains a tangible sweetness. Additionally, “Don’t Ask Me About a Woman” is a predictable characterization of how confusing women are, though with an amusing line that says, “Boy, I’ve lived nearly eighty years/a lot of know-how between these ears/But when it comes to your grandma, /I’m still your age.”
The most infectious melody on the album is the Caribbean flavored “A Lot to Learn About Livin’” with the dullest song, both in melody and content, being “Let Alone You.” As a counterpoint, one of the strongest songs is the final track, “Leavin’ a Lonely Town”, which follows the protagonist as he is on his way out of a town that he has apparently outgrown.
In many ways, Easton Corbin hearkens back to the neo-traditional movement of the Class of ’89. The simple melodies are encased in the sonic appeal of fiddles, steel and acoustic guitars, and prominent, though not overpowering, drums. Moreover, Corbin exudes a relaxed sincerity that is often overshadowed by loudness and overdone melodies on country records these days. The song selection, however, is a step below the debut efforts of the ’89 Class like Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson or Clint Black.
While Corbin’s voice is surprisingly indistinctive, it is pleasant and melds rather nicely with his choice of structurally simplistic songs. Much like his voice, however, none of the melodies or lyrics on this album are particularly memorable, though inoffensive they may be. Nevertheless, the potential for this newcomer is tangible and future growth is extremely likely. So, it would be wise for us to keep an anticipatory ear out for Easton Corbin’s future endeavors.
Peak: #9 Written by George Ducas and Tia Sillers
One hit wonders were once an anomaly in country music. The nineties changed that, as the massive commercial success of the genre inspired more labels to get into the game. The result was more artists than country radio could ever play regularly, so even a breakthrough top ten hit was no longer enough to get radio to automatically give the next single a shot.
George Ducas was one of the earliest casualties of this new era. With a voice like Dwight Yoakam with a touch of Raul Malo, Ducas showed tremendous promise as a singer-songwriter. There’s a beautiful melancholy to his performance of “Lipstick Promises.” It’s the tale of a man who has been blinded by beauty and ends up being burned by his unfaithful lover.
It still sounds great today, and it’s a shame that radio didn’t give a fair shot to the singles that followed. “Hello Cruel World” and “Every Time She Passes By” were both on par with the better single releases of their day. Ducas exited his label after two projects, but has gone on to have some success as a songwriter, penning hits for Garth Brooks (“Beer Run)” and Sara Evans (“A Real Fine Place to Start.”) He’s also had songs recorded by Trisha Yearwood, Dixie Chicks, and Gary Allan.
Tia Sillers, co-writer of “Lipstick Promises”, went on to win major awards for “I Hope You Dance”, the peak of a songwriting career that has also included hits by Pam Tillis (“Land of the Living”), Trisha Yearwood (“Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love”), Dixie Chicks (“There’s Your Trouble”), and Alan Jackson (“That’d Be Alright.”)
Last year, I counted down my twenty-five favorite Christmas songs. This year, it’s time to do the same with my favorite country Christmas albums. Feel free to add your own favorites in the comment section.
SHeDaisy, Brand New Year
This is not a typical, conservative country Christmas album. SHeDaisy spices things up by not only including originals, but rearranges the classics to make an unpredictable, unique Christmas album that stands out from the pack.
Dolly Parton, Home for Christmas
This is an incredibly cheesy Christmas album. As only Dolly can do, however, it’s at least delightfully cheesy.
Charlie Daniels & Friends, Joy To the World: A Bluegrass Christmas
This album flew under the radar this year, but it’s a wonderful bluegrass album with a few famous friends. Daniels even steps aside to allow his guests to sing while only accompanying them. Jewel steps up with an impressively country vocal on “Blue Christmas” and Kathy Mattea offers a rollicking version of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.”
John Denver and the Muppets, Christmas Together
I grew up with this album. On the strength of nostalgia, I’d put it at the top of this list, but for the sake of being reasonable, I’ll settle for this ranking. Who doesn’t love the Muppets, anyway?
John Cowan, Comfort and Joy
John Cowan’s Comfort and Joy is a new release, but its acoustic production and Cowan’s clear voice is instantly appealing. He interprets some classics, but also includes some worthy originals and lesser-known songs. The sprightly “Christmas Everyday”, the thoughtful “Little Match Girl” and the gospel “Good News” provide welcome depth to this Christmas project.
Mindy Smith, My Holiday
Mindy Smith adeptly covers well-known standards on her Christmas album, but her original inclusions are what really stand out here, particularly “Follow the Shepherd Home” and “I Know the Reason.” With guest appearances from Alison Krauss, Thad Cockrell and Emmylou Harris (not to mention Smith’s own beautiful voice), My Holiday is one of the most outstanding mixes of originality and tradition on this list.
Loretta Lynn, Best of Christmas…Twentieth Century Masters
This is a collection of Loretta Lynn Christmas songs. It’s my favorite traditional country Christmas album.
Emmylou Harris, Light of the Stable
If you enjoy Harris’ bluegrass album, Roses in the Snow, and her Live At the Ryman, you’ll likely enjoy this acoustic-based Christmas album as well. It has a live, relaxed feel to it. While it doesn’t necessarily sound big-budget, it is still a well-crafted Christmas album.
The Tractors, Have Yourself A Tractors Christmas
The Tractors are infamous for their cringe-worthy novelty song, “Baby Likes To Rock It”, but they made an excellent Christmas album nonetheless. Their blend of swing and shuffle makes for a crisp album that I love to hear every year. I enjoy the entire album with the exception of their Christmas twist on “Baby Likes to Rock It.”
Lee Ann Womack, A Season for Romance
Lee Ann Womack is successful in conveying a romantic vibe on this album that suggests just that. With her easy southern drawl, Womack knows her way around a gorgeous Christmas melody. Her fun side should not be ignored, however, as her version of “the Man with the Bag” is easily the superior track on the album.
Travis Tritt, A Travis Tritt Christmas: Loving Time of the Year
Tritt rocks on songs like “Winter Wonderland”, adds a bluesy twist to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, waxes nostalgic on “Christmas in My Hometown” and reverently sings “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Nevertheless, he keeps Christmas in perspective as he philosophizes on the title track and, possibly naively, proclaims it to be the “most loving time of the year.”: “I wish I could bottle up this feeling/Pass out a little everyday/’Cause all the scars of pain have started healing/And troubles of this world just fade away…”
Dwight Yoakam, Come on Christmas
Dwight’s signature quirky vocal style does not disappoint on this Christmas album. He does some standards and a few originals. His bluesy version of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” just may be the only version of that song that I like. Among the originals, the dysfunctional “Santa Can’t Stay” and the album’s sensual title track are the highlights of the project.
Gene Autry, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Other Christmas Classics
Like Bing Crosby, Gene Autry’s name is simply synonymous with Christmas music.
John Prine, A John Prine Christmas
Prine’s rough, unpolished voice does not try to navigate beloved classics that conjure up feelings of warmth and frivolity. Instead, he does what works best for him, which means writing songs that reveal insightful observations of real life. As a result, A John Prine Christmas is darker than a typical Christmas album.
Alan Jackson, Let It Be Christmas
While Alan Jackson’s first Honky Tonk Christmas album is great, this one was recorded to appease his mother who requested a more traditional-sounding record. This one is especially good when hosting guests with mixed music tastes. Backed by a big band and orchestra, Jackson’s smooth voice navigates these traditional tunes with ease. Jackson’s original composition, the title track, is superb enough to stand with the revered classics.
Martina McBride, White Christmas
Martina McBride made a safe Christmas album with all familiar songs, but she still managed to deliver an album that’s engaging and among the best of its kind. And as one might expect from McBride, she knocks “O Holy Night” out of the park.
Toby Keith, A Classic Christmas
Toby Keith shows his generosity at Christmas time by making two Christmas albums (one of religious classics and the other of secular classics) and packaging them together for one low price. As a skillful interpreter, he treats these classics with both reference and fun as appropriate, with “Little Drummer Boy” receiving the coolest laid back production that I’ve ever heard on it.
Lorrie Morgan, Merry Christmas from London
With the London Orchestra, Morgan is in fine voice and keeps up with the power accompaniment quite well. This is a beautiful, straightforward album that includes many classics and a sweeping version of “My Favorite Things.”
Randy Travis, An Old Time Christmas
This Christmas album is exactly what one would expect from Randy Travis. If you like Randy Travis music and you like Christmas music, this one doesn’t disappoint. Highlights include his version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, Meet Me Under The mistletoe” and “Old Time Christmas.”
Kathy Mattea, Joy for Christmas Day
Kathy’s warm, soothing voice is meant for Christmas songs. She sings some standards along with some awesome originals. The stand out tracks are the gorgeous “Straw Against The Chill” and the infectious “Unto Us A Child Is Born.”
Garth Brooks, Beyond the Season
Garth’s first and best Christmas album sounds a lot like Garth Brooks music of the early nineties. Even the classics get the Brooks treatment, including a soulful version of “Go Tell It On A Mountain.” The highlights include but aren’t limited to “The Friendly Beasts” (in which he enlists the help of some of his songwriting friends), “Unto You This Night” and Buck Owens’ “Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy.”
George Strait, A Classic Christmas
Strait has as many Christmas albums as he has decades in the country music business. This album is far superior to the other two, however. While all of the songs are classics, he has recorded them with rootsy productions to match his warm vocals. Highlights include “Jingle Bells”, “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” and “Oh Christmas Tree.”
Clint Black, Christmas With You
This album consists of all original songs composed by Clint Black himself. Most of it contains Christmas through the eyes of children, including “Slow As Christmas”, “Milk and Cookies” and “The Coolest Pair.” It’s fresh, fun and joyous, just as Christmas should be.
Patty Loveless, Bluegrass And White Snow: A Mountain Christmas
As a follow up to Mountain Soul, Patty Loveless delivers a soulful bluegrass Christmas album that radiates Christmas warmth while injecting moments of festive frivolity as well. Appearances by Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Rebecca Lynn Howard and Jon Randall are not necessary to strengthen this already masterful Christmas album, but they certainly help the celebration in a special way. (For more on this album, read a review by guest contributor Stephen Fales.)
Pam Tillis, Just in Time for Christmas
Most of the time, I want to hear warmth on a Christmas album. As is the case with many of my favorites, I like to be able to imagine listening to Christmas music by a cozy fire (though I don’t have a fireplace) and a nice mug of hot chocolate. With Tillis’ album, my imagination does not have to stretch very far, because it commands such images with its tasteful, jazzy production and Tillis’ naturally pleasant voice. This is clearly a country Christmas album, but it also manages to blend country elements with other traditional components that result in a perfect hybrid of torch and twang.