Thursday, August 16th, 2012
100 Greatest Men: The Complete List
Coming to prominence during golden ages in film, radio, and television, Gene Autry was the internationally recognized singing cowboy.
Autry was the descendants of the very first settlers in Texas, and grew up in the wide open spaces he’d later immortalize on record and in films. He learned guitar at a young age, and was a performer in his spare time while he pursued more realistic goals.
While working as a telegraph operator, he was killing his boredom by singing and playing his guitar. By chance, a customer named Will Rogers heard him, and encouraged him to pursue a career in radio performance. Within a year, he was auditioning in New York, releasing demos and singles for Victor and Columbia before signing an exclusive deal with the American Record Corporation.
His first big release, “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine”, sold more than half a million copies. Throughout the thirties and forties, he would go on to release singles that sold in the millions and defined the Country & Western sound, like “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “Back in the Saddle Again.” Through his popularity on national radio programs as Oklahoma’s Yodeling Cowboy, he brought Western music to a wider audience.
His singing cowboy image was cemented by his appearances in more than ninety films, where he sang his songs and played roles consistent with his “Home on the Range” image. He is widely credited for reviving the Western film genre, and his popularity on the silver screen further fueled his record sales. His career was briefly detoured by a stint in the army during World War II, but he returned to the states as popular as ever, and the experience led to his classic hit, “At Mail Call Today.”
As popular tastes changed, Autry moved into the arena of television, starring in his own show from 1950-1956. While his Western records had decreased in popularity, Autry’s ability to handle pop material led him to record a handful of secular Christmas singles that are still played on radio more than sixty years later, along with perhaps the only successful attempt at a secular Easter single with “Peter Cottontail.”
Autry moved away from performing and toward business interests later in life, most notably an ownership share in the Anaheim Angels and a stint as Vice President of the MLB American League. By the time he passed away at age 91, he’d been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Radio Hall of Fame. He is also the only performer in history to have five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one in each of their five categories: motion pictures, radio, recording, television, and live theater.
- That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine, 1932
- Tumbling Tumbleweeds, 1935
- Back in the Saddle Again, 1939
- South of the Border (Down Mexico Way), 1939
- Blueberry Hill, 1940
- You are My Sunshine, 1941
- At Mail Call Today, 1945
- Home on the Range, 1947
- (Ghost) Riders in the Sky,1949
Essential Holiday Singles:
- Here Comes Santa Claus (Down Santa Claus Lane), 1947
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, 1949
- Peter Cottontail, 1950
- Frosty the Snowman, 1950
Next: #34. Charlie Rich
Previous: #36. Ricky Skaggs
100 Greatest Men: The Complete List
Sunday, June 3rd, 2012
100 Greatest Men: The Complete List
A legendary star who performed for more than sixty years, Hank Thompson stayed relevant as country music slowly moved from a regional music to a national one.
Born and raised in Waco, Texas, Thompson modeled his musical style after Texas swing greats like Bob Wills and Gene Autry. After a stint in the navy, Thompson developed his musical craft, putting together an outstanding backing band called the Brazos Valley Boys. The band released a few singles on independent labels, before Tex Ritter landed them a major label deal with Capitol.
Thompson would record with Capitol for eighteen years, and most of his essential work would be recorded during that period. Thompson and his band recorded scores of hits in the fifties, including classics like “The Wild Side of Life”, which spent fifteen weeks at #1. Before Thompson finally went solo in 1968, the band had accumulated more than two dozen top ten singles.
Thompson was a pioneer in country music marketing, starring in the first color television variety show the genre had seen, and having the first tour with corporate sponsorship. Along with Marty Robbins, he was one of the first to make full-length country albums with a unifying concept, and in 1961, he released country music’s first big live album.
Thompson recorded solo material with Dot starting in 1968, which earned him a few scattered hits in the late sixties and the early seventies. Like many of the country stars of his generation, his star dimmed with the arrival of the Nashville sound and the increasing urbanization (and suburbanization) of the genre’s audience. Still, he remained a huge concert draw around the world, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989.
Thompson passed away in 2007, only a month after officially retiring from live performing.
- Humpty Dumpty Heart, 1949
- The Wild Side of Life, 1952
- Rub-a-Dub-Dub, 1953
- Wake Up, Irene, 1953
- Wildwood Flower, 1955
- Squaws Along the Yukon, 1957
- Songs of the Brazos Valley, 1956
- Dance Ranch, 1958
- Songs for Rounders, 1959
- At the Golden Nugget, 1961
- A Six Pack to Go, 1966
- Smoky the Bar, 1969
Next: #53. Brooks & Dunn
Previous: #55. Roy Clark
100 Greatest Men: The Complete List
Thursday, December 24th, 2009
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.
Category Christmas, Favorite Albums
Tags: Alan Jackson, Charlie Daniels, Clint Black, Dwight Yoakam, Emmylou Harris, Garth Brooks, Gene Autry, George Strait, Jewel, John Cowan, John Denver and the Muppets, John Prine, Kathy Mattea, Lee Ann Womack, Loretta Lynn, Lorie Morgan, Martina McBride, Mindy Smith, Pam Tillis, Patty Loveless, Randy Travis, SHeDaisy, The Tractors, Toby Keith, Travis Tritt
Wednesday, December 24th, 2008
One of my favorite features to write for Country Universe is Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists. So, since I love Christmas music, it seems natural that I change the format a bit to accommodate a list of my favorite Christmas songs.
Narrowing my favorite Christmas songs down to twenty-five choices proved to be a nearly impossible challenge. In order to accomplish this feat, I had to do two things: (1) disqualify all quintessential versions of classics, i.e., Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” or any songs by Gene Autry. Instead, I’ve stuck to modern country versions of any classics that may appear on this list. (2) Limit the number of classics included on this list so that there can be room for as many original Christmas songs as possible.
You can listen to most of the songs and purchase them through the Amazon link at the end. Merry Christmas!
Asleep At The Wheel, “Christmas in Jail”
Merry Texas Christmas, Y’All, 1997
Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel have a fun time with “Christmas In Jail.” The lesson he learns?: “Ain’t going to drink and drive no more.” Good!
Roger Miller, “Old Toy Trains”
King Of The Road: The Genius of Roger Miller, 1995
I first heard this song as a little girl on a Raffi Christmas album, long before I had any idea of who Roger Miller was. So, after I discovered country music and Roger Miller, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this familiar song was actually written by Roger Miller for his son Dean. In this sweet and irresistible ditty, Miller is trying to coax his little boy to go to bed despite the excitement of Christmas
Clint Black, “Til’ Santa’s Gone (Milk And Cookies)”
Looking For Christmas, 1995
This is sung from the perspective of a five-year-old who is getting ready for Santa’s impending visit. He knows what brings Santa back every year. Milk and cookies, of course!
Category Christmas, Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists, Features
Tags: Alan Jackson, Alison Krauss, Asleep at the Wheel, Bing Crosby, Cherryholmes, Dixie Chicks, Garth Brooks, Gene Autry, Kathy Mattea, Marry Chapin Carpenter, Merle Haggard, Pam Tillis, Randy Travis, Rosie O'Donnell, Steve Ripley, The Judds, The Tractors, Trisha Yearwood, Vince Gill