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?
Strait’s fifteenth #1 single, and eighth in a row, was a cover of a #2 Faron Young hit from 1954.
It features Strait singing in such an exaggerated twang that the entire proceedings feel more campy than country. You’re much better off sticking to the original, which is an entertaining representative of the country music from that time.
It’s a testament to Strait’s star power that he got this to go higher on the chart the second time around, but I can’t imagine he recorded it with the idea that it was anything more than album filler.
A first class musician with R&B roots, Ronnie Milsap brought contemporary pop sophistication to the country music of his time, and it made him a superstar.
Milsap had a troubled childhood. He was blind from birth, and the divorce of his parents left him being raised by his father and his grandparents. While enrolled in a school for the blind, instructors noticed his remarkable musical talent, and he began to study classical music. With stunning precision, he learned not only violin, but piano, guitar, and several other instruments.
His attention turned to rock music, and even though he was showing great promise as a pre-law student, he decided to go the music route instead. He first found success as an R&B singer, scoring a handful of chart hits that also grazed the pop charts. He mostly made his rent as a session musician, most notably working on sessions with Elvis Presley.
He was so well-known in other fields that Nashville executives were surprised to find him being pitched as a country act, but he was able to integrate his various genre skills into a modern sound that was distinctively country, despite overwhelming pop and R&B overtones. He hit quickly as a country singer, becoming one of the genre’s top acts almost out of the gate. As the Nashville sound was going uptown, his sophisticated approach was the perfect fit. For more than two decades, he dominated at radio and retail, along with the major award shows.
During his first wave of success in the seventies, he became the first artist to win CMA’s Male Vocalist of the Year three times, and managed to pull off the same feat in their Album category as well. He’d win the latter category an unprecedented fourth time in in 1986, a record that stood until George Strait won his fifth in 2008. He also was a huge Grammy favorite, winning six, including five in the competitive Male Vocal race.
Milsap dominated at country radio to the tune of 35 #1 hits, but his blending of sounds made him appealing at pop radio as well. By the end of the crossover era, he’d scored several pop hits, even reaching the top five with his Grammy-winning classic, “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me.” While many seventies stars faded into obscurity, Milsap continued to do well at radio through the early nineties. In recent years, he has continued to record country albums, but has also explored other genres like pop, jazz, soul, and gospel, helping to bring his musical career full circle.
(I’d Be) A Legend in My Time, 1974
Daydreams About Night Things, 1975
It was Almost Like a Song, 1977
Smoky Mountain Rain, 1980
(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me, 1981
I Wouldn’t Have Missed it For the World, 1981
Any Day Now, 1982
Lost in the Fifties Tonight (In the Still of the Night), 1985
Another one of Strait’s smoothest pop performances, with just enough country touches in the production to keep his traditionalist credentials intact.
It’s widely assumed that Strait was drawn to this song because of the death of his teenage daughter Jennifer in an automobile accident, which adds a bittersweet tinge to the proceedings. But even taken literally as a love gone wrong song, it’s a beautiful piece of work.
Of the three #1 singles from the album, this is easily the best.
Brantley Gilbert originally released “Kick It In the Sticks” in 2010, and it failed to chart. But that was before the one-two punch of number-one hits “Country Must Be Country Wide” and “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do” reversed his fortunes at radio. In light of Gilbert’s newly heightened commercial profile, the single is being re-released for another go-round at radio.
Much has not changed. It was a terrible song in 2010, and it’s still a terrible song now.
Not only is it radio bait through and through, but it’s radio bait of the most grating variety. It hits the listener over the head with blunt force, and then coughs up the usual backwoods clichés. The production is ridiculously loud, and generally sounds plum terrible. Gilbert isn’t even a good singer, and his performance here amounts to nothing more than his usual tuneless rasping.
It’s not fun. It’s not catchy. It’s not clever. It’s not well-written. It’s not well-produced. It’s not well-sung. It’s not artistry in any worthwhile form, and it sure as heck isn’t “country” – not even by 2012 standards, or by any stretch of the imagination whatsoever. (A George Strait namedrop doesn’t change that – it only makes me want to listen to Strait instead)
Can we just lay off desecrating the country music genre with crap like this? Just for a little while? Is that too much to ask? The fact that the song will likely be a hit this time around hurts my heart, and helps ensure that the country radio listening experience will not start becoming less painful any time soon.
Make it stop.
Written by Brantley Gilbert, Rhett Akins, and Ben Hayslip
Strait previewed his eighth studio album, If You Ain’t Lovin’ You Ain’t Livin’, with a cover of a minor hit by Dean Dillon from 1983.
It’s a solid song, but Strait’s performance is oddly distant, and he sings it in a register that’s slightly too low. He may have hemmed to closely to Dean’s original recording, which is ultimately more successful as a record than Strait’s chart-topping version.
Jackson does so many basic things right on his new album that it’s tempting to award him five stars right off the bat.
The production is clean, his singing doesn’t get in the way of the songs, and those songs have complete ideas and actual structure. It’s the first mainstream country album in a long time that isn’t overrun with production tricks, or kicking up the loudness to eleven, or playing an exaggerated personality type that’s condescending to its audience.
In short, it’s what we used to expect most country albums to be, but in today’s climate, it sounds almost revelatory upon first listen. Truth is, it’s just a solid Alan Jackson album, and when put in the context of his own body of work, away from the comparisons to today’s substandard standard-bearers, it demonstrates his usual consistency but perhaps not the creativity that has fueled his best work.
Jackson co-wrote about half the album, and he revisits some of the themes that have resulted in his greatest performances, but the latest variants are not as distinctive and memorable. “Dixie Highway” captures his love for his upbringing and his roots, but despite charming support from Zac Brown, it’s just not specific and urgent enough to meet the bar he set with “Home”, “Chattahoochee”, “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”, and “Small Town Southern Man.”
“Everything But the Wings” is a beautiful love song with some poetic turns of phrase, but it doesn’t have the seductive romance of “I’ll Go On Loving You” or the personal poignancy of “Remember When.” Similarly, there are some brilliant lines scattered throughout the solemn closing track, “When I Saw You Leaving (For Nisey)”, but the rambling narrative lacks the potent simplicity of “Sissy’s Song” and “Monday Morning Church.”
The latter of those two classics was penned by outside writers, and interestingly, it is the outside material that shines brightest on Thirty Miles West. “You Go Your Way” is a goodbye song in the same vein as the George Strait classic “Easy Come, Easy Go”, but it’s not so easy for the protagonist of this one. It has one of those great couplets that only sounds right in a real country song, soaked in fiddles and steel guitar: “I poured some bourbon in a coffee cup. It’s been too long since I drank too much.”
Only a man who could sing that line convincingly could also get away with the opener, “Gonna Come Back as a Country Song”, which finds him promising his wife that she needn’t grieve once he’s gone, providing reincarnation is real. He’ll be back as a country song, living in eternal paradise “between the fiddle and the steel guitar.”
Two breakup songs are even better. “She Don’t Get High” has something of a misleading title, with its lament being that he “don’t make her fly anymore…Hard as I try, I’m not the sky she’s looking for.” Even better is the current single, “So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore”, which isn’t just the best song Alan Jackson has recorded in the past few years. It’s better than nearly everyone else’s best, too.
But my personal favorite moment comes from Jackson’s own pen: “Her Life’s a Song.” It tells the story of a woman who loves every type of music and associates all of the big and little moments of her life with it. He creates a totally believable character, and does so without succumbing to a single female stereotype or disparaging other genres and styles for the sake of putting country on a pedestal. In a weird way, it’s like the music lover’s counterpart to the universality of “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”, celebrating everyone’s experience with music as valid and worth singing about.