Tag Archives: Mark Wills

Single Review: Hunter Hayes, “Invisible”

Hunter Hayes InvisibleHunter Hayes scored a killer Grammy performance slot to debut this song, which has all of the necessary components to become a career record.

Showing solidarity with the outcasts in high school halls is as timely as ever, and his youth helps him be the ideal vessel for the heartwarming message.   There are moments which come perilously close to the maudlin, with shades of Billy Gilman’s “One Voice” or the Mark Wills hit, “Don’t Laugh at Me.”    Thankfully, he’s sounding a lot more like a young Keith Urban than a young Bryan White, and the song is just vague enough that it can become a personal anthem for pretty much anyone who feels unnoticed or noticed in all the wrong ways.

This is going to be a big hit, I’m sure, and probably score some songwriting nominations along the way.  Now is as good a time as any to listen to it with fresh ears and appreciate its understatement.   Where he could have laid on thick, he chose not to.  That’s always been a rare choice to make when dealing with material this heavy, so that alone is reason to be grateful.

Written by Bonnie Baker, Katrina Elam, and Hunter Hayes

Grade: B+

 

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Pop Goes Country – A Cover Song Report Card

Cover songs can be a hot topic at just about any given time.  We recently got to hear a somewhat underwhelming OneRepublic cover by Faith Hill, which Kevin recently reviewed.  Other recent attempts include Sara Evans’ pop-country reworking of Rod Stewart’s “My Heart Can’t Tell You No,” as well as last year’s polarizing Beyoncé cover by Reba McEntire.

Since cover songs are so much fun to talk about, I thought I’d weigh in on a few well-known cover songs from the past few years – the good ones, as well as a few that we would rather forget.  My criteria is simple:  A good cover song should bring something new to the table, and the song should be treated in a way that is well-suited to the artist as well as the genre.  This list focuses specifically on country covers of non-country songs.

 

Click the original artists’ names in parentheses to hear the original versions.

 

Rosanne Cash, “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” (The Beatles)
1989 | #1

Where it goes right:  Rosanne’s last career hit was a cover from a Beatles tribute album, and it didn’t sound quite like one might expect.  Though rarely one to use overt country instrumentation throughout most of her career, she delivers a brisk, upbeat take that’s layered in fiddling.  I’ll take it!

Grade:  B+

Mark Chesnutt, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” (Aerosmith)
1998 | #1

Where it goes wrong:  It’s hard to imagine a worse pairing between song and performer.  Mark Chesnutt, the revered neotraditionalist behind “Too Cold at Home” and “Going Through the Big D” covering a rock power ballad?  It’s true – complete with apologetic steel guitar fills and a vocal smothered in autotune.  The end result is so cheesy that you might as well slap it between two crackers.  The fact that this is the top Mark Chesnutt iTunes download is very very sad.

Grade:  D

 

Dixie Chicks, “Landslide” (Fleetwood Mac)
2002 | #2

Where it goes right:  The Chicks give a well-known Fleetwood Mac favorite a stripped-down bluegrass treatment, which is a great fit for the nature-related imagery in the song’s lyrics.  The Chicks elevate the song further with their gorgeous harmonies.  As much as I love Fleetwood Mac, I have to say that this version tops the original.  It’s one of the best cover songs I’ve ever heard, and one of the Dixie Chicks’ personal best moments, of which there have been many.

Grade:  A

 

Sara Evans, “I Could Not Ask for More” (Edwin McCain)
2001 | #2

Where it goes right:  Evans delivers a stunning and powerful vocal performance that holds nothing back whatsoever.

Where it goes wrong:  The arrangement is a bit syrupy, and it’s essentially a pop cover of a pop song.  Is a little fiddle or steel too much to ask for?

Grade:  B

 

Faith Hill, “Piece of My Heart” (Erma Franklin, Janis Joplin)
1994 | #1
faith hill piece of my heart video Pictures, Images and Photos
(Watch the video)

Where it goes right:  The fact that Hill was unfamiliar with the Franklin and Joplin versions is telling.  You can easily tell that she is making no attempt to emulate the style of another artist, instead giving a performance totally her own, while the songs’s melody fits well with the countrified arrangement.

Where it goes wrong:  Again, the fact that Hill was unfamiliar with the previous versions is telling.  Her performance lacks the fire and fury of Joplin’s version, which makes it easy to see why one might consider Hill’s performance to be a bit too sugary.

Grade:  B-

 

Alison Krauss, “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” (The Foundations)
1995 | #49

Where it goes right:  Krauss takes a forgettable Motown tune, and delivers a slowed-down mid-tempo version that much more deeply accentuates the emotions conveyed in the lyrics.  In contrast, the original sounded like one big party, which is an ill-fitting treatment of a song about trying to stop one’s lover from leaving.  The track is made all the more sweeter by Kruass’ angelic vocals, and by the expert instrumental backup of Union Station.  The song went on to win Krauss a well-deserved Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

Grade:  A

 

Reba McEntire, “Cathy’s Clown” (Everly Brothers)
1989 | #1

Where it goes right:  It’s extremely effective as a reinterpretation, as McEntire slows the song down to an emotional ballad, and tweaks the lyrics to fit her feminine perspective.  Did I mention that she also gives a mighty fine vocal performance?

Where it goes wrong:  The production is a bit watered-down, which was not unusual for Reba’s late eighties and early nineties output.

Grade:  B+

 

Pam Tillis, “When You Walk In the Room” (Jackie DeShannon)
1994 | #2

Where it goes right:  Tillis could hardly have chosen a better song to countrify, as the lyric about a nervous encounter with an old flame fits right in with classic country music.  She even tweaked the instrumental opening so as to be better suited for the steel guitar, which demonstrates her strong commitment to the country genre.

Grade:  A

 

Travis Tritt, “Take It Easy” (The Eagles)
1994 | #21

Where it goes right:  The Eagles were about the countriest rock band you’d ever meet, and did a great deal to influence the evolution of country sounds and styles, so they were a fitting candidate for an all-country tribute album.  The centerpiece of the collection was honky-tonker Travis Tritt’s version of “Take It Easy” – an energetic performance that had even more body than the original, but that still felt reverent toward the legendary group’s classic version.

Grade:  A

 

Conway Twitty, “The Rose” (Bette Midler)
1983 | #1

Where it goes right:  Nowhere.

Where it goes wrong:  Everywhere. (Can you say bad karaoke?)

Grade:  D

 

Jimmy Wayne, “Sara Smile” (Hall and Oates)
2009 | #31

Where it goes wrong:  To put it simply… reinterpreting a song does not mean simply “adding a banjo line.”  The fact that Hall and Oates even sing background vocals on this track only adds to the overall feeling of pointlessness.

Grade:  D+

 

Mark Wills, “Back at One” (Brian McKnight)
1999 | #2

Where it goes wrong:  If it made for an awfully cheesy pop song in the hands of Brian McKnight, it made a flat-out terrible country song when Mark Wills covered it a mere two months after the release of the McKnight version.  It’s a record characterized by superfluous genre-pandering steel guitar fills, and a lead vocal that sounds more occupied with grooving to the beat than making any sort of emotional connection.  The song peaked at #2, and then Wills tackled a Brandy song immediately afterwards.  Seriously, dude?

Grade:  C-

 

Dwight Yoakam, “Suspicious Minds” (Elvis Presley)
1992 | #35

Where it goes right:  Covering an Elvis song is a tall order, to say the least.  The fact that Yoakam’s version rivals the original, with its contemporized arrangement and knockout lead vocal, is hardly a small feat.

Grade:  A

 

What’s your take on these tunes?  What are your favorite cover songs?  What are your least favorite cover songs?

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Single Review: Chuck Wicks, “Old School”

Chuck Wicks continues his career as Mark Wills 2.0 with “Old School”, a boring retread that is like “19 Somethin'” with less cleverness, energy, and personality.

That’s right. Less cleverness, energy, and personality than “19 Somethin’.”

Unless shout-outs to  the Steve Miller Band that get your heart all aflutter, this is one nostalgia trip you’re better off forgetting.

Grade: D

Listen: Old School

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Searching for Gary Harrison

Written by Bob Losche (Music & More)

Google “Gary Harrison songwriter” and you won’t find a website or MySpace. There’s not even a Wikipedia article. Don’t know where he’s from, how he got into songwriting or what he likes to eat for dinner.

As far as I know, he has never made an album. When he co-writes a song, does he write the music or the lyrics or a little of both? Don’t know. He’s a Grammy nominated songwriter as co-writer of “Strawberry Wine”, the 1997 CMA Song of the Year, and has penned many BMI Award-Winning Songs. It appears that his first big hit was “Lying in Love with You”, written with Dean Dillon for Jim Ed Brown and Helen Cornelius. The duet went to #2 in 1979.

Since there is so little data to draw from, a chronological treatment of his illustrious career would be difficult. I’ve decided instead to begin with the collaboration Gary is best known for, his work with Matraca Berg, and then continue with his other significant songwriting collaborations.

In his excellent Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters article on Matraca Berg, Kevin gave us his favorite 25 songs written by Berg. Gary Harrison has frequently collaborated with Matraca. On Kevin’s list the following 9 songs are written by Berg/Harrison:

  • #25 Wild Angels – Martina McBride
  • #22 Give Me Some Wheels – Suzy Bogguss
  • #20 Demolition Angel – Pam Tillis
  • #19 Everybody Knows – Trisha Yearwood
  • #10 Strawberry Wine – Deana Carter
  • #7 Wrong Side of Memphis – Trisha Yearwood
  • #5 Diamonds and Tears – Suzy Bogguss
  • #4 Dreaming Fields – Trisha Yearwood
  • #3 My Heart Will Never Break This Way Again – Patty Loveless

Give a read to Kevin’s write-up for all 25. Kevin asked for comments from his readers on their favorite Matraca Berg songs. In the 29 comments received, three more collaborations with Gary were mentioned that didn’t make Kevin’s cut, including “Hey Cinderella” and “Eat at Joe’s” by Suzy Bogguss and Pinmonkey’s “That Train Don’t Run”.

“Hey Cinderella” is from Suzy’s 1993 CD, Something Up My Sleeve. Fantasy turns into “dreams that lost their way” by the end of the first long verse. In the second verse, reality sets in. In “Eat at Joe’s”, from her 1992 CD, Voices in the Wind, Suzy’s sounds like a sultry waitress in an all night diner – “here’s a hot top on your coffee, honey you’re a mess, I ain’t your wife I ain’t your momma, but I’ll do I guess”. The bridge is a wistful but not really hopeful call out to prince charming.

My favorite Pinmonkey song is still “Barbed Wire and Roses”, but “That Train Don’t Run”, from their 2006 Big Shiny Cars CD, isn’t far behind. It’s up-tempo like Barbed Wire. It was also a single for Matraca Berg from her 1997 “Sunday Morning to Saturday Night” cd. The singer recalls a former lover who may have been a bit on the wild side. It must be “your memory rattlin’ the shutters, that train don’t run by here no more”. The next line is “I lie and listen to the last boxcar, sweet dreams baby wherever you are”. Love that last phrase. Sounds like something Bogie might have said.

A bit of trivia: I wonder how many times that last phrase, “sweet dreams baby, wherever you are”, has been used in a song. In addition to the Pinmonkey song, I found it in “Goodnight”, written by Charlie Black and Dana Hunt, from Suzy Bogguss’ self-titled 1999 CD. The last line of the chorus is “I’m signing off, sweet dreams baby, wherever you are”. A song by Jedd Hughes, “Time to Say Goodnight” has “sweet dreams baby, sweet dreams baby wherever you are tonight”. It was written by Hughes, Tommy Lee James and Terry McBride and can be found on Hughes’ 2004 CD, Transcontinental. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else finds another instance.

I found another Berg/Harrison collaboration but this time with Jeff Hanna on a Chely Wright song, “Emma Jean’s Guitar”. It’s an album track from Chely’s 1997 Let Me In CD, which featured “Shut Up and Drive”. The story tells of a guitar with Emma Jean’s name etched in the finish found in a pawnshop. The singer wonders about Emma Jean’s hopes and dreams and feels that she’s the guardian of her guitar.

Gary has written quite a few great songs without Matraca. Another frequent co-writer for Gary has been Tim Mensy. My favorite Mensy-Harrison collaboration is Trisha Yearwood’s “Nearest Distant Shore”, an album track from her 1992 Hearts in Armor CD. It’s a song about getting out of a bad relationship: “You did your best but “the one you swore to love is pulling you down, you’re in over your head, chilled to the bone by the waters you’ve tread, chart a course to land before you drown”.

“That Wasn’t Me” was an excellent album track for Martina McBride on her 1993 CD, The Way That I Am. She knows that the guy is still hurting from the memory of an old girlfriend. She tells him “that wasn’t me”. It’s time to move on because she “can no longer pay the price” of his not letting go.

For fans of Mark Chesnutt, there’s “I Just Wanted You to Know”, a #1 song in ’94 from the CD Almost Goodbye and a #6 the same year, “She Dreams”, from What a Way to Live. Other Mensy Harrison collaborations include Doug Stone’s “I Thought It Was You”, a #4 in 1991, “A Singer in the Band”, an album track on Joe Nichol’s Revelation CD in 2004, and a Mark Wills song “Any Fool Can say Goodbye”.

With J.D. Martin, Gary Harrison wrote “Rollin’ Lonely”, a Johnny Lee song from his “Workin’ for a Livin’ ” album, which reached #9 on the charts in 1985, “Domestic Life”, a John Conlee #4 hit from his “American Faces” album in 1987, “Two Car Garage”, a #3 hit in 1983 from the B.J. Thomas album “The Great American Dream” and “Broken Toys”, a song about child abuse from BJ’s 1985 album “Throwin’ Rocks at the Moon”. The last song was written with Gloria Thomas as well as J.D.

Gary co-wrote 3 songs with Tammy Cochran from her “Thirty Something and Single” album released in June of 2009, the title track, “It’s All Over But the Leaving” and “He Really Thinks He’s Got It”.

With Karen Staley, he wrote “Face in the Crowd” which peaked at #4, a duet with Michael Martin Murphey and Holly Dunn from the former’s 1987 “Americana” album and “Now and Then” which Michelle Wright took to #9 in Canada.

Some other Gary Harrison songs are:

– “I Hate Everything” written with Keith Stegall, a #1 for George Strait in 2005. Check out the wake-up call at the end.

– “Alone Some” with Billy Yates, an album track for Billy from his 2005 album “Harmony Man”.

– “Crazy Me” and “I Do It for Your Love” with Richard Marx, from the Kenny Rogers 2000 CD There You Go Again.

Impressive list and I’ve probably missed some songs. If you search BMI.com, you’ll find 918 work titles for Gary Harrison. He’s been so busy, he probably hasn’t had time to set up a website or MySpace.

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400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #375-351

The second segment of our countdown includes the first appearances by Garth Brooks and Reba McEntire, two of the biggest-selling stars of the decade.

#375
How Do I Get There
Deana Carter
1997 |  Peak: #1

It’s always a gamble when friends decide to take their relationship to the next level. “How Do I Get There” explores the struggle of following one’s heart, even though it’s taking a big emotional risk to do so. – Leeann Ward

#374
If I Could Make a Living
Clay Walker
1994  |  Peak: #1

This song is either ridiculously cheesy or irresistibly cheesy depending on your taste, but there’s no denying Walker sells the heck out of it with charm and enthusiasm. – Tara Seetharam

#373
It Sure is Monday
Mark Chesnutt
1993  |  Peak: #1

Mark Chesnutt is one of the best male vocalists of the nineties, but there were many times when he did not always rise to the challenge of conveying the energy to elevate a decent song to a good one. Case in point: “Friends in Low Places”, which was eventually properly energized by Garth Brooks. “It Sure Is Monday”, however, is a positive example of Chesnutt actually making a song his own by demonstrating the ability to breathe life into a decent song and make it really good. – LW Continue reading

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ACM Flashback: Single Record of the Year

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.

2010

  • 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.

2009

  • 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.

2008

  • Gary Allan, “Watching Airplanes”
  • Big & Rich, “Lost in This Moment”
  • Kenny Chesney, “Don’t Blink”
  • Miranda Lambert, “Famous in a Small Town”
  • Sugarland, “Stay”

“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.

2007

  • 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.

2006

  • 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.”

2005

  • 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.”

2004

  • 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.

2003

  • 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.

2002

  • 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.

2001

  • 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.

2000

  • Dixie Chicks, “Ready to Run”
  • Lonestar, “Amazed”
  • 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.”

1999

  • 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.

1998

  • 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.

1997

  • 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.

1996

  • 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.

1995

  • 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.

1994

  • 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.

1993

  • 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.

1992

  • 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.

1991

  • 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.

1990

  • 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.

1989

  • 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.

1988

  • 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.

1987

  • 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.

1986

  • 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.

1985

  • 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.

1984

  • 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?

1983

  • 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”
  • Sylvia, “Nobody”

Nelson’s had quite a few signature hits, but none bigger than this one.

1982

  • 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.

1981

  • 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.

1980

  • 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!

1979

  • 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.

1978

  • 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.

1977

  • 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.”

1976

  • 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.

1975

  • 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.

1974

  • 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.

1973

  • 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.

1972

  • 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.

1971

  • 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.

1970

  • 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.

1969

  • 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.

1968

  • 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:

Most Wins

  • (4) – Alan Jackson
  • (3) – Willie Nelson
  • (2) – Glen Campbell, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Kenny Rogers, George Strait, Randy Travis

Most Nominations

  • (12) – Merle Haggard
  • (8) – Willie Nelson
  • (6) – Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson, George Strait
  • (5) – Glen Campbell, Waylon Jennings, Tim McGraw
  • (4) – Garth Brooks, Toby Keith, Loretta Lynn, Brad Paisley, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis

Most Nominations Without a Win

  • (4) – Toby Keith, Loretta Lynn, Brad Paisley
  • (3) – Alabama, Crystal Gayle, The Judds, Miranda Lambert, Hank Williams Jr.

Singles that Won Both the ACM and CMA Award:

  • Merle Haggard, “Okie From Muskogee”
  • Donna Fargo, “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.”
  • Charlie Rich, “Behind Closed Doors”
  • Cal Smith, ‘Country Bumpkin”
  • Kenny Rogers, “Lucille”
  • George Jones, “He Stopped Loving Her Today”
  • Oak Ridge Boys, “Elvira”
  • Willie Nelson, “Always On My Mind”
  • Randy Travis, “Forever and Ever, Amen”
  • Kathy Mattea, “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses”
  • Garth Brooks, “Friends in Low Places”
  • Alan Jackson, “Chattahoochee”
  • John Michael Montgomery, “I Swear”
  • George Strait, “Check Yes or No”
  • Lee Ann Womack with Sons of the Desert, “I Hope You Dance”
  • Alan Jackson, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”
  • Tim McGraw, “Live Like You Were Dying”

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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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Discussion: Different Approaches

Typically, I listen to the songs on my iPod via the various playlists I’ve created. However, the other day, for some reason, I listened to my iPod on shuffle. These were the first two songs my iPod played: Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” and Todd Snider’s “Conservative, Christian, Right-Wing Republican, Straight White American Males.” No joke. Apparently, my iPod has a sense of humor.

The “joke” got me thinking, however, about country songs that tackle similar subject matter from opposite points of view or take divergent approaches to the same theme. It’s fairly easy these days to find songs with a similar take on a subject matter, but finding differing takes is a little more difficult. Browsing through my iPod, I came up with a few additional pairs: Carrie Underwood’s “All American Girl” celebrates the success of the stereotypical all-American girl, while Terry Allen’s “The Great Joe Bob” celebrates the downfall of the stereotypical all-American boy.

Sugarland’s “Stay” takes the point of view of the “other woman” cheating with a taken man. She wants him to leave his significant other and stay with her. Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, on the other hand, takes the point of view of the significant other, begging the “other woman” not to take her man.

Trisha Yearwood’s “Walkaway Joe” and Mark Wills’ “Jacob’s Ladder” take divergent approaches to the same theme. Both start out with a similar premise – a young girl leaving home with her young love against her parent’s wishes. However, things turn out vastly different.  In  “Walkaway Joe,” the title says it all.  In “Jacob’s Ladder”, however, things work out much better. The young couple find themselves married with a baby, and accepting grandparents.

What songs can you think of that take different approaches to the same subject matter?

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Mark Wills, “The Things We Forget”

Mark Wills’ album, Familiar Stranger, his first on the newly-formed Tenacity Records, is scheduled for release on October 28. His first single, “The Things We Forget,” finds him reminiscing about the rural life and its slower, simpler pleasures.

Although a majority of Wills’ success occurred in the ’90s, he’s freshened up his sound to run with the radio-friendly artists. His voice is a little more comfortable with the verses, with just a hint of twang as he pangs for the simpler times of the past. He stretches just a little far in the chorus, but a more laidback arrangement would have suited his vocal style better. Yet, the song itself embraces the country way without pushing the easy, emotional buttons that most songs of a similar subject, even without much of a unique take on the matter.

Grade: B-

Listen: The Things We Forget

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