Tag Archives: Lorrie Morgan

Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters: Gary Burr

Written by Music & More blogger Bob Losche.

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.

#25
“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.

#24
“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.

#23
“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.

#22
“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).

#21
“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.

#20
“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.”

#19
“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.

#18
“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.

#17
“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.”

#16
“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.

#15
“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.

#14
“That’s My Job” – Conway Twitty
Borderline, 1987
co-writer – None

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.)

#13
“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.

#12
“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.

#11
“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.

#10
“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”.

#9
“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.

#8
“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.

#7
“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.

#6
“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.

#5
“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”.



#4

“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.

#3
“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.

#2
“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.

#1
“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.”

I agree.

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Recommend Ten Tracks: 2009 Edition

2009Can’t say that I’m loving country music in its 2009 version, though my steadfast allegiance to the genre runs deep, so I hold out hope as a new decade is about to begin.  Tonight, I’m recommending ten tracks from albums that were released this year. I’ve avoided singles so there’s some sense of discovery.  I look forward to discovering music that I missed through the comments!

Recommend Ten Tracks: 2009 Edition

Lorrie Morgan, “I’m Always On a Mountain When I Fall” from A Moment in Time

I love the effect that was created by having this album recorded live in the studio. It’s like hearing her in a smoky nightclub. This is by far my favorite track on the album, a loser’s lament that was quite worthy of revival.

Aaron Tippin, “Prisoner of the Highway” from In Overdrive

He already has the default voice of the overworked working man, so his world-weary vocal is a perfect fit for this song about an imprisoned by the freedom of the road.

Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me” from Revolution

I find her new album to be a bit unwieldy as a whole, but I love this particular track about a woman asking the new owner of her childhood home to allow her some time alone with the place that raised her. Having just sold our family home of thirty years, this song has been resonating with me, as we truly can’t go home again.

Todd Snider, “Money, Compliments, Publicity (Song Number 10)” from The Excitement Plan

The wry and witty folkster at his most wry and witty, yet still spilling out nuggets of brilliance from the corner of his mouth.

Carrie Underwood, “Someday When I Stop Loving You” from Play On

Don’t count me among the folks that wish that Underwood would just stick to simple songs like this with quiet arrangements that showcase her voice at its most tender. I like my pop-country and want some more, thank you very much. But for those of you who just want to hear that voice and the barest of accompaniment, this track is golden.

Patty Loveless, “When the Last Curtain Falls” from  Mountain Soul II

Given the preference, I’ll take my Patty Loveless down from the mountain. I love that pure country voice contrasted against electric instrumentation. But the best reason to listen to Patty Loveless is to hear her wrap her voice around complicated and truly adult material that reflects the reality of life and love.  This track could stand toe to toe with the best of her material to date.

Tim McGraw, “If I Died Today” from Southern Voice

It’s not nearly as accessible an assessment on one’s own morality as “Live Like You Were Dying”, but it’s a heck of a lot more believable than sixteen seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.

Love and Theft, “Slow Down” from World Wide Open

He’s talking to life and it’s a sadly beautiful conversation.

Holly Williams, “Birds” from Here With Me

This song is hauntingly gorgeous, a requiem for a dying love and a wishful hope for the new love that has yet to come.

Keith Urban, “Thank You” from Defying Gravity

Urban’s explorations of his demons have produced some of his best tracks, like “You’re Not My God”, and this one is a winner, a love letter to the wife that helped pull him away from the precipice.

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The Worst Singles of the Decade, Part 5: #10-#1

monkeyThe Worst Singles of the Decade, Part 5: #10-#1

#10
Alan Jackson, “www.memory”

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”)

#9
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.

#8
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.

#7
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.

#6
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.”

#5
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.

#4
Rascal Flatts, “Bob That Head”

A desperate attempt to come off like edgy rockers.

#3
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.”

#2
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.

#1
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.

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Bargain Hunter: Get Lorrie Morgan’s brand New Album, A Moment in Time, for $3.99

It seems that 2009 has been a year of covers albums. Artists such as Aaron Tippin, Wynonna Judd, Tanya Tucker, and Rosanne Cash have all released worthwhile albums that have celebrated the songs of yesteryear within the last year. Now, to add to the list, Lorrie Morgan has just released her own tribute to tradition with a brand new project called A Moment in Time.

I don’t know about all of you, but this one almost slipped under the radar for me. As one of the middle tier female singers in the nineties, Morgan proved herself capable of singing various styles of music, but her love of and respect for traditional country music always lurked under the surface. So, this should be a welcome addition to the covers craze of 2009.

For an unknown amount of time, you can buy Morgan’s album of covers for just $3.99 at Amazon’s digital store.

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The Worst Singles of the Decade, Part 1: #50-#41

Worst SinglesAs we begin our look back on the last ten years in country music, we’re starting with the bottom. Over the next few days, you’ll be reading about the worst that country music sent to radio in the 2000s, much of which they actually played.

But first, a disclaimer. This list makes no attempt to objectively list the worst singles of the decade. If that’s what I was going for here, I’d just post a collection of homemade tracks and twenty Rascal Flatts singles and call it a day. Instead, this list takes a broader view, including songs from accomplished artists that were just disappointing, copycat and fad-chasing numbers, and just plain old mediocre efforts.

This isn’t the type of thing we normally do, but I’m sure I’ll hear what I’m right about, what I’m wrong about, and what I forgot to include in the first place!  Look for the best-of lists to follow as the year starts winding down.

The Worst Singles of the Decade, Part 1: #50-#41

#50
Mark Wills, “19 Somethin'”

Pick a decade, man.

#49
Toby Keith, “Who’s Your Daddy?”

The biggest casualty of Keith’s ascent to superstardom was his quality check. When your label lets you put out anything and radio goes ahead and plays it, the blame must be spread around for such silliness as this.

#48
Halfway to Hazard, “Daisy”

In which a girl’s sole reasons for existing are to make a boy a man, lead him to God, and give him a child. After that, you can just kill her off in the final verse.  This is why people hate country music.

#47
Martina McBride, “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden”

McBride’s bloodless cover of the Lynn Anderson classic lacks all of the layers of irony found in the original, but it secured its place on this list by the parenthetical addition to the title.  “Oh, it’s that song about a rose garden!”

#46
Rascal Flatts, “Revolution”

Then again, if Martina sounds like she doesn’t get the layers of meaning in “Rose Garden”, Rascal Flatts make clear they have no idea at all what John Lennon was singing about on the White Album.  That they have the audacity to start going “Shoo-be-doo-bop” in the background as Gary LeVox sings about Chairman Mao is simply insane.

#45
Joe Nichols, “If Nobody Believed In You”

He’s worried that God is finally giving up on mankind. He was able to keep the faith through all those epic wars and acts of genocide, but no prayers in public school  pushed Him over the edge.

#44
Miranda Lambert, “Dead Flowers”

Person #1: “Wow, this song has no melody at all.”

Person #2: “Did she just compare herself to Christmas lights?”

Person #1: “And it just goes on forever. Who’s singing this anyway?”

Person #2: “It’s by….Miranda Lambert.”

Person #1: “Miranda Lambert?…..It’s…..brilliant!”

Person #2: “Yes. Brilliant!”

#43
Lady Antebellum, “Lookin’ For a Good Time”

She should look for an Autotuner instead.

#42
Billy Gilman, “She’s My Girl”

“The way she moves, the way she grooves. She drives me wild with her wild-child smile.”   It took Billy Gilman singing a romantic song to make all of his inspirational songs seem painless in comparison.

#41
Sammy Kershaw & Lorrie Morgan, “He Drinks Tequila”

He drinks tequila, she talks dirty in Spanish. That’s the premise.  Lorrie Morgan yelping like a chihuahua is the unfortunate result.

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Women of the Decade

reba-mcentireCountry Universe contributor and reader Cory DeStein flagged this rundown from Billboard regarding women on the charts this decade:

PERFECT 10: On Country Songs, Carrie Underwood ropes her 10th top 10, as “Cowboy Casanova” climbs 11-8. With the advance, Underwood now stands alone in first-place for most top 10s on the chart among solo women this decade.

Here are the solo females with the most top 10s on Country Songs since 2000:

10, Carrie Underwood
9, Faith Hill
9, Martina McBride
8, Taylor Swift
7, Sara Evans
7, Reba McEntire
6, Jo Dee Messina
5, LeAnn Rimes
5, Gretchen Wilson
4, Shania Twain

Notably, the artist who led the category among women last decade did so with almost three times as many top 10s. Reba McEntire ranked first among solo women in the ’90s with 27 top 10s on Country Songs. Trisha Yearwood placed second with 18 between 1990 and 1999, and Faith Hill, Patty Loveless and Tanya Tucker each posted 14 in that span.

The decline in fortune for women at radio this decade is even more pronounced when you compare the above top ten to the previous decade:

Most Top Ten Singles by a Female Artist – 1990-1999:

  1. Reba McEntire (27)
  2. Trisha Yearwood (18)
  3. Faith Hill (14)
  4. Patty Loveless (14)
  5. Tanya Tucker (14)
  6. Pam Tillis (13)
  7. Lorrie Morgan (12)
  8. Shania Twain (12)
  9. Wynonna (11)
  10. Martina McBride (10)

That’s ten women who matched Underwood’s total for this decade. That Underwood didn’t even hit the top ten for the first time until late 2005 shows how bleak it was at radio for female artists this year.

But this comparison doesn’t even tell the whole story. Take a look at the list of women with the most top ten singles two decades ago:

Most Top Ten Singles by a Female Artist – 1980-1989:

  1. Reba McEntire (23)
  2. Crystal Gayle (22)
  3. Dolly Parton (21)
  4. Janie Fricke (17)
  5. Barbara Mandrell (17)
  6. Rosanne Cash (16)
  7. Emmylou Harris (16)
  8. Anne Murray (14)
  9. Tanya Tucker (12)
  10. Kathy Mattea (10)

Notice the trend? This decade, the top ten women combined for a total of 70 top ten hits. In the 90’s, the top ten women enjoyed a total of 145 top ten hits. In the eighties, a total of 168 top ten hits.  Even the nineties list is dominated by women who were played heavily in the earlier part of the decade.

What’s strange is that it was in the mid-nineties that female artists became the dominant commercial force in country music. Janie Fricke never had a gold album. Shania Twain has sold 48 million albums. Yet Fricke  had more top ten hits in just the eighties than Shania Twain has earned in her entire career.  Record buyers have wholeheartedly embraced Alison Krauss and Miranda Lambert, but despite their strong sales, they’ve each enjoyed only one solo top ten hit.

So what to make of all of this?  Is the recent success of Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood an indication that things are improving for women on the radio dial? Is it worth noting that Sugarland and Jennifer Nettles (11 top ten hits) and the Dixie Chicks (14 top ten hits) have done their part to compensate for this lack of gender parity? Does it even matter that radio is playing women less often each decade, especially if record buyers are finding their music anyway?

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September

SeptemberThere’s a certain sadness to the month of September. The first hints of fall feel like the beginning of the end, as summer warmth tuns to autumn chill. Perhaps that’s why there are so many great songs about this time of year, nearly all of them tinged with sadness.

For me, “September When it Comes” is the most beautiful example of this theme. The track was recorded by Rosanne Cash and Johnny Cash just months before he passed away. The song eerily foreshadowed his death, which would come to pass that very September:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLSrTguB23I

There are many other great country songs about September, like Ryan Adams & The Cardinals’ “September” and Cheryl Wheeler’s “75 Septembers.”  Then there are the great songs about the season in general, like Lorrie Morgan’s “Autumn’s Not That Cold” and George Strait’s “The Chill of an Early Fall.”  Pop music has its own fair share as well, with Neil Diamond’s “September Morn” and Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends” being bona fide classics.

Of course,  the greatest September moment in pop culture history isn’t a song, but it deserves to be included every single time this month comes up in conversation:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNoV_kSe7Dk

What are your favorite songs about the month of September and the beginning of fall?

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Country Music Firsts

pamtillisOur readers have clearly responded well to our Back to the Nineties features this month. (Fret not, there are more on the way.) Part of the reason is that so many of you, like myself and Leeann, first discovered country music in that decade.

This isn’t too surprising, as the nineties helped establish country music as a genre with widespread appeal. The suburbanization of once-rural America reached its apex, and at the same time, CMT deeply penetrated the cable market. For you newbies, the channel was 24-hour videos back then, with remarkably democratic video rotation.

A clip in heavy rotation would only be seen two more times a day than one in light rotation.  This is the reason both Mutt Lange and Sean Penn discovered Shania Twain through her “What Made You Say That” clip, which was played extensively on the channel despite the song stalling at #55 at radio.

The New York country radio station back then would do a “Country Convert” feature every morning. A radio listener would call in and say what song converted them to country music. Newbies to country music back then had a religious zeal to them, and would work very hard trying to convince others to fall in love with the music.

In the spirit of that “Country Convert” feature, I’d like to ask all of you about your country music firsts. I imagine many of us will have answers concentrated in the nineties, but if yours are from another decade, share them anyway!

Here are the questions:

  • What was the first country song that you remember loving?
  • What was the first country album that you bought with your own money?
  • What was your first country concert?

My Answers:

What was the first country song that you remember loving?

I liked a lot of the older stuff that my parents listened to, like Johnny Horton and Conway Twitty, but it was always my parents’ music.  One night, we were watching a TV variety show called Hot Country Nights. I think we had it on because my mom’s favorite, Ricky Van Shelton, was performing that night. Out came Pam Tillis, singing “Maybe It Was Memphis.” I just had never heard anything like it before, and I was instantly smitten.  

What was the first country album that you bought with your own money?

I remember buying Pam Tillis’ Put Yourself in My Place and Lorrie Morgan’s Something in Red on the same day.  I bought both on cassette. If I recall correctly, I listened only to Side 1 of each tape for a very long time.

What was your first country concert?

Somewhere in New Jersey in 1992: Clint Black, Billy Dean and Aaron Tippin. It was Black’s tour to support The Hard Way. I remember that there was a complicated set for Black’s performance, something with falling rocks.

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Lorrie Morgan Starter Kit

Lorrie MorganAmidst her generation of successful female country artists, Lorrie Morgan was the only one who was clearly from the tradition of heartbreak queen Tammy Wynette, with a healthy dose of Jeannie Seely in the mix.  With her contemporaries far more shaped by the work of Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, Morgan was instrumental in keeping the sound of female country from the sixties still relevant in the nineties.

While Morgan never earned the critical acclaim or industry accolades of peers like Patty Loveless and Pam Tillis, she was immensely popular with country fans, able to sell gold with albums that radio largely ignored. She was the first female country artist to have her first three studio albums go platinum, with three additional albums going gold and a hits collection selling double platinum.

Many of Morgan’s best recordings were never sent to radio, and those interested in discovering her in depth should seek out her finest studio albums, Greater Need and Show Me How.

But her singles were pretty good too, with these being the most essential.

Ten Essential Tracks:

“Dear Me”
from the 1989 album Leave the Light On

This song broke through just as news of the death of Keith Whitley, Morgan’s husband, became known. She was unfairly accused of capitalizing on his death with this release, as people both misinterpreted the song’s meaning and apparently ignored the fact that it had gone to radio weeks before his death.

“We Both Walk”
from the 1991 album Something in Red

One of her more cutting performances. She refuses to let her roving man come back home, because when he leaves, he walks away and she walks the floor.

“Something in Red”
from the 1991 album Something in Red

Her signature hit is the tale of a woman’s life through conversations while shopping for clothes. Amazingly poignant, especially given the conceit of the song.

“What Part of No”
from the 1992 album Watch Me

“Back off, buddy,” is the message of Morgan’s biggest chart hit, which topped the charts for three weeks.

“I Guess You Had to Be There”
from the 1992 album Watch Me

In my opinion, Morgan’s finest performance from her platinum years. When this was on the radio at the same time as Pam Tillis’ “Do You Know Where Your Man Is”, it was the next best thing to having Tammy Wynette back in heavy rotation.

“If You Came Back From Heaven”
from the 1994 album War Paint

Morgan finally addressed Whitley’s death in song with this self-penned ballad.

“I Didn’t Know My Own Strength”
from the 1995 album Greatest Hits

Her third and final #1 hit was an empowering anthem that topped the charts just as women were becoming the dominant commercial force in country music.

“I Just Might Be”
from the 1996 album Greater Need

This breezy single is cutting with its casual indifference.

“Good As I Was to You”
from the 1996 album Greater Need

The best of her power ballads finds her confronting her cheating husband as he dines with his mistress.

“Do You Still Want to Buy Me That Drink (Frank)”
from the 2004 album Show Me How

This single mom finally gets a night out, but before she moves forward with the man who is looking to hook up with her, she makes clear she’s part of a package deal.

Two Hidden Treasures:

“Greater Need”
from the 1996 album Greater Need

The title track of her finest RCA album is painfully vulnerable, as she realizes that she’s always the one with the greater need in her relationships.

“Don’t Worry Baby”
from the 1996 Beach Boys album Stars and Stripes Vol. 1

Morgan’s take on this Beach Boys classic completely changes the point of view of the song, giving it an added passion along with greater desperation.

Amazon Bonus Tracks:

Since the Amazon store doesn’t carry a handful of Morgan’s key hits, a few extra cuts are included to help round out the Starter Kit for those who don’t care for the iTunes store:

“Out of Your Shoes”
from the 1989 album Leave the Light On

A sad but sweet #2 hit which finds a woman looking on as he best friend goes home with the man that she wants for her own.

“Except For Monday”
from the 1991 album Something in Red

One of those catchy little numbers that can make any young kid a country fan in three minutes. Play Alan Jackson’s “Little Bitty” right after and they’ll be hooked for life.

“By My Side” (with Jon Randall)
from the 1996 album Greater Need

Her duet with then-husband was a top twenty hit. They sounded great together.

“I Can Count On You”
from the 2004 album Show Me How

The contrast between the pure tone of Pam’s voice makes Johnny’s spoken bridge sound all the more authoritative. It’s like a singing angel surrounding the voice of God.

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Grammy Flashback: Best Female Country Vocal Performance

Revised and Updated for 2009

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 is a look back at the Best Female Country Vocal Performance category. It was first awarded in 1965, an included single 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.

I’ve often made the case that female artists were making the best music in the 1990s, and the Grammys did a great job nominating songs and albums that were ignored at the CMA and ACM awards, which is not surprising, given that those shows have so few categories that are actually for songs and albums.

As usual, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back.

2009

  • Martina McBride, “For These Times”
  • LeAnn Rimes, “What I Cannot Change”
  • Carrie Underwood, “Last Name”
  • Lee Ann Womack, “Last Call”
  • Trisha Yearwood, “This is Me You’re Talking To”

This year’s lineup includes three former winners and two women looking for their first victory in this category. Martina McBride is in the running for the eighth time in fifteen years, and with one of her more understated performances. Lee Ann Womack returns for a fifth time, having received a nomination for the lead single of her five most recent albums. Both ladies turned in good performances here, but they’ve been overlooked for records bigger and better, so they’re not likely to snap their losing streaks this time around.

As for the previous winners, LeAnn Rimes earned her third consecutive nod, bringing her total to five in this category. She hasn’t won since 1997, when she took home the award for “Blue.” If enough voters hear “What I Cannot Change,” she might have a shot, though the only version of the song that’s been a legitimate hit has been the dance remix.

Trisha Yearwood won in 1998 for “How Do I Live,” her only victory to date. But she’s earned her tenth nomination for “This is Me You’re Talking To,” which is arguably her strongest vocal performance of the ten. Like Rimes, the challenge is getting enough voters to listen to it, but she’s never been more deserving of the victory than she is this year.

Still, the favorite remains Carrie Underwood. She’s quickly become a favorite with Grammy voters, having won this category two years running, along with Best New Artist in 2007. She’s the nominee with the highest profile, and while “Last Name” is nowhere near the same league of “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and “Before He Cheats” in terms of artistry or impact, it was a big hit, something that the other four entries cannot claim.

If Underwood was nominated for “Just a Dream,” she’d have a mortal lock on this one. But the strength of the other nominees will at least keep this race competitive. If Underwood prevails, Grammy queen Alison Krauss better watch her back.

2008

  • Alison Krauss, “Simple Love”
  • Miranda Lambert, “Famous in a Small Town”
  • LeAnn Rimes, “Nothin’ Better to Do”
  • Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats”
  • Trisha Yearwood, “Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love”

Looking at this lineup, you’d think that it was a golden age of female country artists, something akin to the mid-nineties. In reality, only one of these songs was a big radio hit, though three others managed to go top twenty. In terms of quality, however, this is the most consistent and thoroughly wonderful set of nominees this category has seen this century.  You’d have to go back to exactly 1999 to find a better lineup.

In a year when any winner would have been deserving, Underwood won for “Before He Cheats,” her second straight win for a signature mega-hit from her debut album.

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