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.
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
Wasn’t there anyone who could tell him that this wasn’t going to work? It’s a terribly awkward effort to force a classic concept into a current framework. (See also: Lorrie Morgan, “1-800-Used-To-Be”)
Reba McEntire & Kelly Clarkson, “Because of You”
This could’ve been great. Two great singers, one great song. The fatal flaw is that it just doesn’t work as a duet. The lyrics don’t make sense when it’s two people singing to each other.
Lonestar, “Mr. Mom”
Mr.Mom was the first movie that I saw in theaters. Back then, the concept of a stay-at-home Dad was novel. By the time this song rolled around, it was hard to even take the conceit of the song seriously. This guy’s not struggling because he’s a guy. He’s struggling because he’s a bumbling fool.
Kenny Chesney, “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy”
The song that made Chesney a superstar doesn’t involve him lounging around on a tropical island, but it sure does make me thankful that he stopped singing about country living.
Kellie Coffey, “When You Lie Next To Me”
It’s rarely the prototypes that are terrible. It’s usually the copies. By the time “Where Were You” became “I Raq and Roll”, the post-9/11 song was insufferable. Here’s what “Breathe” finally devolved into: a schlocky mess that is such a lazy copy that “Just breathe” becomes “Just be.”
Toby Keith, “Stays in Mexico”
Though it’s a fairly tasteless song to begin with, production choices sink this one in the end. Silly sound effects and a backing track that makes “Hot! Hot! Hot!” seem subtle and understated push this dangerously close to novelty status.
Rascal Flatts, “Bob That Head”
A desperate attempt to come off like edgy rockers.
Taylor Swift, “Picture to Burn”
Criticizing Swift for being an irrational teenager is like criticizing water for being wet. But this really is Swift at her absolute worst. Not only is a juvenile lyric coupled with a disastrous vocal performance, both of which are bad enough in their own right. But the underlying message that most of Swift’s songs send to her teenage girl audience is on most naked display: Your happiness and self-worth are solely determined by the men and boys in your life.”
John Michael Montgomery, “The Little Girl”
The most horrific “inspirational song” that I’ve ever heard is directly ripped off from an urban legend that showed up in songwriter Harley Allen’s inbox.
Chad Brock, “Yes!”
Nothing captures how country music embraced mediocrity better than this Chad Brock single, which actually spent three weeks at #1. The storyline is completely unbelievable, the production is as generic as a Karaoke track, and Brock’s performance is so faceless that it might as well be a demo recording.
As awful as some of the other songs on this list are, they at last aspired to make a larger point. Spectacular failures can still demonstrate a noble ambition. “Yes!” aspires to be nothing more than radio filler, and it succeeded in dulling down the radio dial during its entire run. Hearing it again on satellite radio last month was the inspiration for this list. The song’s only indication of personality being the exclamation point in the title? That secured its place atop the list. It truly does represent country music being drained of all of its heart and soul until just a token fiddle is all that’s left to identify it as such.
Write this down: George Strait will be recorded in the annals of country music history as the greatest singles artist of all-time. He already ranks third among all artists in terms of chart success, trailing only Eddy Arnold and George Jones. By the dawn of the next decade, he’ll be on top.
Now, I don’t place inordinate value on what radio decides worthy of massive spins, but I do think that Strait’s hit singles are usually much better than the album cuts that aren’t sent to radio. Even though I have all of his albums, only two of the tracks on this list weren’t released as singles.
With more than thirty albums to his credit, I’m sure that there are many songs that readers love which I haven’t included here. Here are my favorite songs by George Strait.
“Blue Clear Sky” Blue Clear Sky, 1996
This is the type of song that Strait is perfect for. He can elevate a standard uptempo country love song into something special. When he wraps his voice around the hook – “Surprise! Your new love has arrived!” – it’s the sound of weathered experience with a shot of unrestrained joy.
“It Ain’t Cool to Be Crazy About You” #7, 1986
You can’t be smooth and sophisticated when you’re dealing with a heartbreak. “It ain’t suave or debonair to let you know I care.” In lesser hands, this would be delivered in a straightforward way. But Strait adopts the smooth styling of a pop balladeer throughout this record. If Frank Sinatra had ever made a country record, it would’ve sounded just like this.
“Troubadour” Troubadour, 2008
Perhaps the secret to Strait’s longevity is that his image of himself hasn’t changed, despite his legendary success. He still sees himself as just getting started. “I was a young troubadour when I rode in on a song, and I’ll be an old troubadour when I’m gone.”
While the Grammys have honored country music from the very first ceremony in 1959, they did not begin honoring by gender until 1965, when the country categories were expanded along with the other genre categories. This year, the 45th trophy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance will be awarded.
In a continuation of our Grammy Flashback series, here is a rundown of the Best Country Vocal Performance, Male category. It was first awarded in 1965, and included singles competing with albums until the Best Country Album category was added in 1995. When an album is nominated, it is in italics, and a single track is in quotation marks.
As usual, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back. Be sure to vote in My Kind of Country’sBest Male Country Vocal Performance poll and let your preference for this year’s race be known!
Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This”
Jamey Johnson, “In Color”
James Otto, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”
Brad Paisley, “Letter to Me”
George Strait, “Troubadour”
As with the album race, this year’s contenders for Best Male Country Vocal Performance are a combination of unrecognized veterans and promising newcomers. In fact, none of this year’s nominees have won in this category, and only one of them – Brad Paisley – has a Grammy at all.
First, the veterans. Paisley has numerous ACM and CMA victories to his credit, including two each for Male Vocalist. Although he’s been nominated for this award twice before, this is the first time he’s contended with a cut that can’t be dismissed as a novelty number. The touching self-penned “Letter to Me” is his best shot yet at taking this home.
Trace Adkins has been at this a bit longer than Paisley, but this is his first Grammy nomination. His crossover exposure from Celebrity Apprentice might help him out here, along with the fact that the song was considered strong enough by voters to earn a nomination of its own.
But the real veteran to watch out for is George Strait. After being nominated only twice for this category in the first 25 years of his career, voters have now given him three consecutive nominations. This is one of four nods he’s earned for the 2009 ceremony, and “Troubadour” is essentially the story of his epic career distilled into a radio-length song. It would be the perfect way to honor the man and his music in one fell swoop.
However, there’s a newcomer that might be a Grammy favorite already. We just haven’t found out yet. Not James Otto, of course, who is nominated for his charming romantic romp “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”, but rather, Jamey Johnson. The recent Nashville Scene critics’ poll further confirmed the depth of his support among tastemakers, and his nominations for Best Country Song and Best Country Album indicate that he’s very much on the academy’s radar. It helps that he has the most substantial track of the five, and it’s the obvious choice for traditionalists, who have little reason to split their votes in this category. If voters aren’t considering legacy when making their selections, he has a great shot at this.
Dierks Bentley, “Long Trip Alone”
Alan Jackson, “A Woman’s Love”
Tim McGraw, “If You’re Reading This”
George Strait, “Give it Away”
Keith Urban, “Stupid Boy”
The often offbeat Grammy voters have been surprisingly mainstream in this category for the past three years, a trend best exemplified by this lineup, which was the first in more than a decade to feature only top ten radio hits. Tim McGraw and Keith Urban were the only two who had won this before, and it was Urban who emerged victorious. “Stupid Boy” was a highlight of his fourth studio album, and this was the only major award that the impressive collection would win.
Dierks Bentley, “Every Mile a Memory”
Vince Gill, “The Reason Why”
George Strait, “The Seashores of Old Mexico”
Josh Turner, “Would You Go With Me”
Keith Urban, “Once in a Lifetime”
Vince Gill returned to win in this category for a ninth time with “The Reason Why.” Not only is he, by far, the most honored artist in this category, his wins here account for nine of the nineteen Grammys currently on his mantle.
George Jones, “Funny How Time Slips Away”
Toby Keith, “As Good As I Once Was”
Delbert McClinton, “Midnight Communion”
Willie Nelson, “Good Ol’ Boys”
Brad Paisley, “Alcohol”
Keith Urban, “You’ll Think of Me”
Urban’s biggest and probably best hit launched his second album to triple platinum and established him as a crossover artist. He gave a killer performance of the song on the show. Toby Keith was a first-time nominee here, and while he publicly groused that the Grammys put too little emphasis on commercial success in picking their nominations, he lost to the only track that was a bigger hit than his own.
A look back at the previous winners and nominees of the Best Country Album Grammy, updated to include the 2009 contenders.
The Grammys have been doing better in the country categories since they reintroduced the Best Country Album category in 1995, which had only been in existence for two years in the 1960s. Prior to 1995, albums and singles were both eligible in the vocalist categories, so full albums would compete against single tracks in Best Male Country Vocal Performance, for example.
Looking over the history of this fairly young category, you can see trends emerge, with certain acts clearly being favorites of NARAS. You see the same trend with the CMAs, just with different people. What is clear with the Grammys is that radio and retail success will only carry you so far. For awards that are supposed to be based on artistic merit, that’s how it should be.
As with the CMA flashbacks, we’ll begin with a look at this year’s nominees, then discuss previous year’s in reverse chronological order. Winners are in bold.
Be sure to drop by My Kind of Country and vote in their Best Country Album poll. Let your preference be known!
Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights
George Strait, Troubadour
Randy Travis, Around the Bend
Trisha Yearwood, Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love
Four veterans and one newcomer vie for this year’s Best Country Album, and it’s a wide-open race with no obvious favorite. The critically acclaimed breakthrough album of Jamey Johnson could earn him his first Grammy. The legendary George Strait would like to start a Grammy collection of his own. Like fellow nominee Patty Loveless, this is his third nomination for this award. While Loveless has also yet to win this one, she does have a Grammy already, for her contributions to the multi-artist collaboration “Same Old Train.”
Randy Travis is a real contender here; five of his previous albums have won Grammys. Two of them (Always & Forever, Old 8×10) won in the Best Male Country Vocal Performance category, back when albums and singles competed with each other in that race. And while this is his first nomination for Best Country Album, he was won Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album three times, for Glory Train (2007), Worship & Faith (2005) and Rise and Shine (2004.)
While Vince Gill broke the all-female trend in this category last year, he was nominated in an all-male field. If the trend begins again this year, this will be a battle between Loveless and Trisha Yearwood. The latter’s Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love is arguably the strongest album in this category, and while Yearwood won three Grammys in the nineties, she has never won Best Country Album, despite earning more nominations than any other artist in the history of the category – Heartache is her eighth set to contend for the trophy. She’s beyond overdue, but her competition is formidable.
Dierks Bentley, Long Trip Alone
Vince Gill, These Days
Tim McGraw, Let it Go
Brad Paisley, 5th Gear
George Strait, It Just Comes Natural
With the exception of Shania Twain’s Come On Over, no album that has also been nominated for the general Album of the Year race has failed to win Best Country Album. So it was no surprise when Vince Gill picked up the trophy for his four-disc opus These Days. In his acceptance speech, he good-naturedly ribbed Kanye West, providing one of the evening’s brightest moments.
Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way
Alan Jackson, Like Red On a Rose
Little Big Town, The Road to Here
Willie Nelson, You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker
Josh Turner, Your Man
The Chicks became the first artists in Grammy history to win four genre Best Album awards, breaking their tie with Eminem, who has won three Best Rap Album trophies. This was one of five trophies they took home at the February 2007 ceremony, and the album returned to #1 on the country chart and back to the pop top ten on the strength of those victories.
more here ntgomery” src=”http://www.countryuniverse.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/john-michael-montgomery.jpg” alt=”john-michael-montgomery” width=”134″ height=”141″ />Love Ballad #627 from John Michael Montgomery makes one fatal mistake. It rejects the production template of Montgomery’s signature hits – soft, twangy, restrained – and replaces it with the pop bombast of Lonestar’s halcyon days. Imagine Eddie Montgomery singing “Amazed.” Got that? Good. Now you don’t have to listen to this song.
For a look back at the other major categories, visit our CMA Awards page.
Zac Brown Band
Usually there isn’t this much turnover in this race unless most of last year’s nominees are ineligible. This year, only one of the four eligible nominees from last year – Zac Brown Band – earns a nomination. With their massive success and their multiple nominations, they’ve got an excellent shot at winning. Then again, Easton Corbin is elsewhere on the ballot, too. It could be a horse race. 2009
Zac Brown Band
Thirteen years after winning the Best New Artist Grammy as part of Hootie & The Blowfish, Darius Rucker won the country music equivalent, adding an exclamation point to the most successful pop-to-country crossover in a generation.
The industry favorites Lady Antebellum became the fourth band in history to win this award, following Rascal Flatts, Dixie Chicks and Sawyer Brown.
Little Big Town
In the year since winning the Horizon Award, Swift has solidified her position as the genre’s most successful rising star. While her debut album hasn’t reached the sales heights of the first discs by previous winners Carire Underwood and Gretchen Wilson, Swift is still one of the genre’s only significant sellers.
Little Big Town
I had a sneaking suspicion that Josh Turner was going to take this home, but as I’ve said before, Carrie’s got the best pipes since Trisha Yearwood. That she’ was acknowledged for that at such an early stage of her career is pretty amazing. Somehow I think the thrill of winning Horizon was short-lived, as winning Female Vocalist the same night left that memory in the dust.
Big & Rich
Four of these five were nominees again the following year, and all in categories besides just Horizon, though Lambert got another shot at that as well.I think Big & Rich and Sugarland are making the most interesting music, and they’re moving more units than Bentley, though he’s no slouch himself.The CMA showed good judgment this year.
For a look back at the other major categories, visit our CMA Awards page.
Bentley and Shelton have never won, but they’re up against Strait, who has won five times, and Paisley and Urban, who’ve won three times each. With the balance of commercial and critical success not significantly different across the category, this race could bring the night’s biggest surprise. But whatever happens, kudos to Paisley for earning his tenth nomination, and Strait for earning his twenty-fifth!
Just like in the Entertainer category, 80% of this race for the past three years had been Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, George Strait, and Keith Urban. This year, Darius Rucker took the fifth slot that was occupied by Alan Jackson in 2008 and Josh Turner in 2007. Brad Paisley went on to win his third Male Vocalist prize.
After so many years on the sidelines, Paisley began to dominate the category, scoring his second consecutive Male Vocalist award. Meanwhile, Kenny Chesney tied Willie Nelson for most nominations without a win, though his seventh loss was accompanied by his fourth win for Entertainer.
This was the year that Brad Paisley finally won, with his seventh nomination in eight years. The stars aligned for him, with a very successful tour, a new album that is selling strongly, and a continued hot streakat radio that was nearly unmatched. He still hasn’t had a single miss the top ten since “Me Neither” in 2000, a claim that even radio favorites like George Strait, Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, Tim McGraw and Rascal Flatts can’t call their own.
Urban became the first artist to win Male Vocalist three years in a row since George Strait did it in 1996-1998, right after Vince Gill’s 1991-1995 run. His acceptance letter, read by Ronnie Dunn, was the emotional highlight of the evening’s show.
No surprises here, as another multi-platinum year full of radio hits and a high-profile appearance at Live 8 kept Urban fresh on voter’s minds. The big shock was him walking away with Entertainer of the Year later that night.
Urban hadn’t even been nominated for any CMA Awards in 2002 and 2003, after winning Horizon in 2001, but he came back with a bang, taking home Male Vocalist of the Year over the four other superstars in the category. He joined Chesney as the only other man in the running who had never won before; Chesney got the wonderful consolation prizes of Entertainer and Album of the Year the same night.
Things were getting tight in this category in 2003, with so many worthy contenders that ties resulted in six nominees, instead of the usual five. Still, voters chose to stick with last year’s winner, Alan Jackson, a sure indicator of his enduring popularity among CMA voters.
The other four men were merely placeholders, there to create a list around the obvious winner, Alan Jackson. As he swept the awards on the strength of his post-9/11 “Where Were You” and autobiographical “Drive”, the only real shock was that he was winning Male Vocalist for the first time, a result of the ridiculously slow turnover in this category during the 1990′s.
Toby Keith has been a vocal critic of the CMA because he feels they’ve overlooked him, but he’s been up against some tough competition, with his popularity peaking at the same time that Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban were making a huge impact on the charts and at the CMA’s. Thankfully, he’s at least won in this category, so he won’t go down in history with Willie Nelson and Conway Twitty as one of the best male singers to never win it.
On the same evening that his wife was crowned Female Vocalist, McGraw walked away with his second consecutive Male Vocalist award.
Early on in his career, when McGraw was selling tons of records but being excluded from this category, he humbly said that he didn’t think he was a good enough singer to be nominated. His talents grew over the years, and he finally won in 1999.
Strait matched Vince Gill’s record of five wins in this category, defeating Gill and three other nominees who had yet to win in the category.
With no turnover in the category from the previous year, Strait won for the fourth time, again defeating his fellow mega-winner Gill, and three other stars who had never won before.
Jackson was already long overdue, and Collin Raye and Bryan White broke into the category for the first time. Nobody expected Gill to win for the sixth year in a row, but many were surprised to see former two-time winner George Strait collect a Male Vocalist award for the first time in ten years.
John Michael Montgomery
Even Gill was expecting to lose, so when his name was called out for the fifth year in a row, he was gamely applauding backstage for the winner, before suddenly realizing it was him and rushing out to the stage.
Vince won for the fourth year in a row, even though fellow nominees John Anderson, Alan Jackson and Dwight Yoakam were seen as likely spoilers.
Vince not only won his third Male Vocalist award this year, he also took home four other awards: Entertainer, Album, Song and Vocal Event.
A bunch of hot young stars dominated the ballot this year, with Gill emerging triumphant for the second time. Though they would continue to score hits for many years, Joe Diffie and Travis Tritt received their only nominations to date in this category.
After Garth swept the ACM’s earlier that year, he was expected to do the same at the CMA’s, and he came close, winning Entertainer, Single and Album. But industry favorite Vince Gill took home Male Vocalist, an award that Garth Brooks would never receive, though he would win Entertainer a record four times.
Ricky Van Shelton
For the second year in a row, the previous year’s Horizon winner took home Male Vocalist. Clint Black won easily over very distinguished competition.
Ricky Van Shelton
After winning Horizon in 1988, platinum-selling Ricky Van Shelton graduated into a Male Vocalist winner only one year later. Keith Whitley received a posthumous nomination; he won Single of the Year that same evening.
Ricky Van Shelton
Hank Williams, Jr.
It’s hard not to wince at the knowledge that the peerless Vern Gosdin only received one nomination in this category, but there was no stopping Travis from collecting his second win.
Hank Williams, Jr.
In a lineup that was a traditionalist’s dream, new star Randy Travis took home the trophy. At the time, he was breaking sales records, enjoying a quadruple-platinum studio album in Always & Forever.
Hank Williams, Jr.
Strait won his second consecutive Male Vocalist award on the strength of another huge year at radio and retail.
Hank Williams, Jr.
George Strait won the first of a record-matching five Male Vocalist awards, also taking home Album of the Year that same evening.
Greenwood’s Vegas vocals won him the award for the second time.
Greenwood looks pretty shabby against these other four nominees, taking home Male Vocalist in the same year Janie Fricke won for Female Vocalist. Is there a year in the history of the CMA’s where the winners of those two categories were collectively less impressive?
Pulling off the astonishing feat of winning both Male Vocalist and Horizon award, Emmylou Harris’ former bandmate was hugely rewarded for bringing bluegrass to the masses.
It’s taken for granted that Jones is the greatest living male vocalist in country music; few would dare to argue otherwise. No surprise, then, that he won for the second year in a row.
Nominated for the first time in his career, George Jones walked away with Male Vocalist of the Year, along with Single of the Year for “He Stopped Loving Her Today”.
It’s hard to believe that the legendary showman never won Entertainer of the Year, but he did take home a much-deserved Male Vocalist award, at least. Unfortunately, fellow nominee John Conlee would never be recognized at all, losing his first of two shots at this award.
One of the most underrated artists in country music history got a well-deserved pat on the back, winning over four larger personalities in 1978.
Milsap set a record when he won for the third time in this category, which would stand until 1994, when Vince Gill won his fourth trophy.
After losing to Jennings the previous year, Milsap returned to collect his second Male Vocalist trophy in 1976. Conway Twitty lost again in his final appearance in the category.
There was no love lost between Waylon Jennings and the CMA – he loathed the organization so much, he didn’t even show up at his Hall of Fame induction. This was the first of several CMA wins for Jennings, though the only one in this category that he would receive.
Blind singer-songwriter and pianist Ronnie Milsap won for the first time; with Olivia Newton-John winning Female Vocalist the same night, pop was the flavor of the evening.
Tom T. Hall
The Silver Fox won on the strength of a great year at radio. He’s still considered one of the era’s finest and most under-appreciated vocalists.
Charley Pride became the first artist to repeat in the category, winning for the second year in a row.
The CMA had a wealth of great male vocalists to choose from in the early years of the awards, and they finally got around to acknowledging Pride, who had been nominated four times already.
Merle Haggard dominated the show in 1970, winning Entertainer, Male Vocalist, Single and Album of the Year.
Cash was a huge winner in 1969, taking home five awards: Entertainer, Male Vocalist, Single, Album and Vocal Group (with wife June Carter Cash). He wouldn’t win again until after his death in 2003, when he took home another three awards.
Crossover star Glen Campbell won in a year that is so impressive, all five nominees are now in the Hall of Fame. He also took home Male Vocalist the same evening.
Few casual country fans would recognize him today, but Jack Greene will forever go down in history as the first Male Vocalist winner at the CMA’s. He won on the strength of his signature hit “There Goes My Everything”, which also won Single of the Year and was the title track of his Album of the Year winner that same night.
Facts & Feats
(5) – Vince Gill, George Strait
(3) – Ronnie Milsap, Keith Urban
(2) – Lee Greenwood, Alan Jackson, George Jones, Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Randy Travis
Most Consecutive Wins:
(5) – Vince Gill (1991-1995)
(3) – George Strait (1996-1998), Keith Urban (2004-2006)
(3) – John Anderson, Larry Gatlin, Gary Morris, Collin Raye
(2) – Eddy Arnold, Dierks Bentley, John Conlee, Rodney Crowell, Sonny James, Bryan White
Winners in First Year of Nomination:
Clint Black (1990), Glen Campbell (1968), Vince Gill (1991), Lee Greenwood (1983), George Jones (1980), Toby Keith (2001), Ronnie Milsap (1974), Charlie Rich (1973), Ricky Skaggs (1982), Randy Travis (1987), Keith Urban (2004)
CMA Male Vocalists of the Year Who Have Never Won the ACM Award:
Johnny Cash, Jack Greene, Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride, Ricky Van Shelton, Ricky Skaggs, Randy Travis, Don Williams
ACM Male Vocalists of the Year Who Have Never Won the CMA Award:
Garth Brooks (1990 & 1991), Kenny Chesney (2003), Larry Gatlin (1980), Mickey Gilley (1977), Freddie Hart (1972)
CMA Male Vocalists Who Have Also Won the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male:
Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Vince Gill, Lee Greenwood, George Jones, Tim McGraw, Ronnie Milsap, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Charlie Rich, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, Keith Urban
Winners of the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male Who Have Never Won the CMA Male Vocalist Award:
Garth Brooks, David Houston, Lyle Lovett, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Jerry Reed, Ralph Stanley, Dwight Yoakam