One of the strongest voices of the New Traditionalist movement, Dwight Yoakam revitalized the Bakersfield sound as he shot to stardom in 1986.
Yoakam was born in Kentucky and raised in Ohio. Growing up, he pursued both music and acting, putting greater emphasis on the former after graduating from high school. He moved to Nashville in the late seventies, but did not fit in well with the pop-flavored country music scene.
However, he did meet guitarist Pete Anderson while there, and the two headed off to Los Angeles, where Yoakam became popular in both rock and country clubs, thanks to his contemporary take on classic country and rockabilly sounds.
An independent EP caught the attention of Reprise Records, and Yoakam landed a deal with the label. His debut LP, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., shot to the top of the charts upon its release in 1986. It established Yoakam as a significant leader among the New Traditionalists, updating the classic sounds of California country legend Buck Owens, among others.
Yoakam would spend the next decade selling platinum and beyond, despite having less consistent radio support than contemporaries like Randy Travis and Ricky Van Shelton. In addition to writing his own material, he smartly chose covers that worked for his style, including one that partnered him with idol Owens. Their collaboration “Streets of Bakersfield” was Yoakam’s first #1 hit, and it brought Owens back to the top slot for the first time in sixteen years.
Yoakam reached his critical and commercial peak in 1993 with This Time, an album that featured three huge hits, sold more than three million copies, and earned him a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance. While riding high on the success of the album, he began to pursue acting in Hollywood. From this point on, he would split his attention between music and film.
As the nineties progressed, his album sales slowed but continued to earn him critical acclaim. He had his last major hit with a cover of the Queen classic “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” in 1999. Since then, he’s released well-received albums on independent labels, most recently his stellar tribute album, Dwight Sings Buck. In 2007, the CMA honored Yoakam with its award for International Touring Artist, and in 2012, he received the prestigious Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award from the Academy of Country Music.
Yoakam has not released a new studio album since 2005, but he has re-signed with his former label home of Warner Bros., and is scheduled to release an album of new material this year.
Some of the greatest artists in country music left the scene just as they reached staggering artistic heights, leaving fans to forever wonder what might have been.
Keith Whitley was born and raised in Kentucky, and was performing music from a very young age. A prodigious talent, he was only fifteen years old when he met Ricky Skaggs while competing in a regional music contest. The two became fast friends, and were soon performing on stage with bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley.
Whitley made two separate runs as a member of the Clinch Mountain Boys with Stanley, then performed in a group called New South, led by J.D Crowe. After appearing on more than a dozen albums, first with the Boys and then with New South, he finally pursued a solo career in the early eighties, signing with RCA records.
His first album, A Hard Act to Follow, made little impact, but his second set, L.A. to Miami, earned him stardom. It featured his breakout hit, “Miami, My Amy”, and raised his profile considerably, but Whitley was displeased with the album’s slick sound. He truly found his voice on his first gold album, Don’t Close Your Eyes, which featured three consecutive #1 hits, including the CMA Single of the Year, “I’m No Stranger to the Rain”, and the modern standard, “When You Say Nothing at All.”
Whitley became a new standard-bearer for neo-traditional country music, receiving critical acclaim that exceeded that of contemporaries like Randy Travis and Ricky Van Shelton. With the chart success and a marriage to fellow country artist Lorrie Morgan that had just produced a son, Whitley was poised for long-term professional and personal success.
Sadly, he was battling alcoholism, a fight that he lost in May 1989, when he died of alcohol poisoning. Amazingly, his success continued posthumously with the album, I Wonder Do You Think of Me also selling gold and featuring three big hits. He remained a presence on radio in the early nineties through duets with other artists. A collaboration with Morgan earned the CMA Vocal Event trophy, and a collaboration with Earl Thomas Conley reached #2 in 1991.
Whitley’s recording career was brief, but much like Patsy Cline before him, his influence has cast a long shadow over the genre.
Ricky Van Shelton rose to superstardom in the late eighties, bringing his old traditionalist sound to the forefront of the new traditionalist movement.
Born and raised in Virginia, Shelton enjoyed the traditional country music of the sixties, but also had a taste for the pop of the same era and the gospel sounds that he heard in church every Sunday. He would draw from all three genres in his recording career, but his heart was always in traditional country music.
After playing in a band with his brother, he followed his girlfriend to Nashville in 1984. He played in nightclubs for a short time before being discovered by a local journalist. The media exposure led him to a deal with Columbia Records.
His debut album, Wild-Eyed Dream, was released in 1987. Featuring a handful of classic country covers and new material that was similar in sound, Shelton’s timing was ideal. The new traditionalist movement was in full swing, with Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam breaking out in a big way the previous year. The title track was a minor hit, and Shelton broke through to the top ten with his second single, “Crime of Passion.”
But it was his third single, “Somebody Lied”, that made him a star. The forlorn ballad showcased his baritone vocals, and the classic country arrangement sounded like an early sixties hit recorded with modern technology. This kicked off a string of hits, and Shelton emerged as one of the brightest young stars of his time.
From 1987 to 1991, he released four consecutive platinum albums which featured ten #1 hits. The CMA gave him the Horizon Award in 1988, then upgraded him to Male Vocalist one year later. There was plenty of compelling new material that he spun into hits, like “Keep it Between the Lines” and his tender duet with Dolly Parton, “Rockin’ Years.” But he also resurrected country classics like “Life’s Little Ups and Downs”, “From a Jack to a King”, and “Statue of a Fool.”
Even as radio cooled on his singles starting in 1992, he remained widely popular with audiences. Despite not producing hits, his albums continued to go gold. Most impressively, his 1992 gospel collection, Don’t Overlook Salvation, was certified gold despite not having a single released from it at all.
Despite continued fan support, Shelton struggled with alcoholism, which further slowed his career. He released his swan song for Columbia, Love and Honor, in 1994, which was his first release not to sell well. A few years later, he would release projects on his own RVS Label, and then for Audium/Koch records. His most recent studio album is Fried Green Tomatoes from 2000.
Throughout the first half of the last decade, Shelton remained a presence on the road, but he retired in 2006 to spend more time with his family. No plans have been announced for him to return to the studio or to touring, but his classic albums remain widely available, and there are several good hits collections that capture the highlights of his country radio years.
The hits come from all over the place here. Breakthrough hits from Trace Adkins and Carlene Carter join one-hit wonders Brother Phelps and George Ducas. And alongside crafty covers of songs by sixties rock band The Searchers and nineties country artist Joy Lynn White, you can also find tracks from three diamond-selling country albums.
400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #200-#176
Carrying Your Love With Me George Strait
1997 | Peak: #1
A traveler gets through his lonely nights on the sheer strength of love. It’s perhaps a little too saccharine for some, but the sweet melody and Strait’s understated vocals make the record work. – Tara Seetharam
A man sits around in a bar “talking ’bout the good old times, bragging on how it used to be.” Standard premise, but Black’s melancholy performance lifts the record to Haggardly heights. – Dan Milliken (more…)
At least the third song on this list about a guy mulling over romantic gestures he wishes he’d made to his former love, and the most traditional among those songs. You could easily imagine this one being a minor classic by a 60′s or 70′s legend, so close is its replication of that style. – Dan Milliken
I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying Toby Keith with Sting
1997 | Peak: #2
My hard-and-fast rule for Toby Keith: The sadder he is, the happier the listening experience tends to be. He’s all kinds of sad in this snapshot of post-divorce melancholia, reflecting on everything from unfair custody protocol to the greater motions of the universe. Even a gratuitous Sting cameo can’t detract from the single’s gloomy grandeur. – DM
You Ain’t Much Fun Toby Keith
1995 | Peak: #2
Toby Keith is also funny, though. What’s a man to do? Sobering up ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be from is perspective. Ever since he’s done so, his wife has been taking advantage of his increased functionality by giving him honey-do lists that he wasn’t ably tackling pre-sobriety. It’s enough to drive a man to drink. – Leeann Ward
Tender Moment Lee Roy Parnell
1993 | Peak: #2
Every once and awhile an artist delivers a song so powerful that it seems to shatter all divides in its genre. A tribute to both the late Keith Whitley and Gill’s late brother, “Go Rest High On That Mountain” pairs deeply spiritual lyrics with a tender, emotion-soaked performance. The combination is magic. – TS
A good power ballad shot to greatness by its artists’ striking chemistry – palpable, fiery and so very genuine. More than just a hit single, “It’s Your Love” represents the moment in country music history at which we were introduced to one of its definitive couples. – TS
Grandpa Told Me So Kenny Chesney
1995 | Peak: #23
An earnest, soulful confession of love. It’s hard to ignore the fact that it leans more in the adult-contemporary direction than that of anything else, but when a song is this moving, it’s also hard to care. – TS
What She’s Doing Now Garth Brooks
1992 | Peak: #1
In an unusual tact for Mr. Brooks, he forgoes melodrama in order to allow the natural drama of pining for a lost love to speak for itself. The dialed down performance works in the service of the song, as the sadness appropriately penetrates through. – LW
Find My Way Back to My Heart Alison Krauss & Union Station
1997 | Peak: #73
Some of the best songs from AKUS play on the home life that’s sacrificed by following the musical dream. Krauss remembers how she used to laugh at songs about the lonely traveling life, but she’s not laughing now. – KC
A man makes a soaring yet understated plea for his lover to let go of her past love. The song is made sadder by the touch of resignation in Wariner’s performance, which suggests the man knows he’s making his plea in vain. – TS
A whole song about deciding whether or not to go all the way with one’s movie date. McCready gives a fantastically entertaining performance, speak-singing her lines with a a bold campiness that most other gals wouldn’t dare. – DM
Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow Alan Jackson
1990 | Peak: #2
Ten years before “You Belong With Me” made its splash, McCann set her sights on the same demographic with a song just as relatable, vibrant and passionate. That the song lacks Taylor Swift’s sharp perspective is perhaps what makes it such a great record: there’s something so pure about McCann’s fully unapologetic, headfirst fall into love. – TS
Chesnutt makes a phone call to an old love that could be construed as creepy, pathetic or terribly sad – take your pick. I’m going with a mixture of all three, with a pinch of selfishness thrown in. Either way, “I Just Wanted You to Know” is a memorable slice of the-one-that-got-away reality.- TS
In the twenty years that passed since the release of this song, the path to success in the music industry has morphed into something that looks very different than it used to. Unlike that of Bobby in the song, these days an artist’s journey can come in all shapes and forms, sometimes abrupt and sometimes completely unprecedented.
Think what you want about this paradigm shift, but here’s what I believe: regardless of how you shoot to the top, the only way you’ll achieve longevity and, most importantly, respect in country music is if you share the fire in Bobby’s eyes. This soul-stirring hunger and unshakable passion is the heart of “I’m Gonna Be Somebody” and the reason it remains a timeless classic. Here’s to hoping – and I’m optimistic – our modern artists are made of the same stuff. – TS
From his rocking side, Tritt is tired of trying to please everyone around him, including his demanding lover. As a result, he brashly declares that he’s going to make some changes, which will include looking out for himself. Get out of the way, because his ferocious performance makes him seem quite serious about his epiphany. – Leeann Ward (more…)
New fans of country music in the nineties were hit over the head with the assertion that country music was one big family. Nothing demonstrated this mythos better than the all star jams that cropped up during the boom years.
There were some variants of this approach. A popular one found a veteran star teaming up with one or more of the boom artists to increase their chances of radio airplay. George Jones was big on this approach, with the most high profile attempt being “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair.” Seventeen years later, it’s amazing to see how young everyone looks – even Jones himself!
Jones shared the CMA Vocal Event of the Year trophy for that collaboration with Clint Black, Garth Brooks, T. Graham Brown, Mark Chesnutt, Joe Diffie, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis, and Travis Tritt. He’d continue with this approach by teaming up with his vocal chameleon Sammy Kershaw on “Never Bit a Bullet Like This”, and he recorded an entire album of his own songs as duets with mostly younger stars. The Bradley Barn Sessions was represented at radio with “A Good Year For the Roses”, which found him singing one of his best hits with Alan Jackson:
Among the legends, the only other one to be successful with this approach was Dolly Parton, who used collaborations with young stars to score consecutive platinum albums for the first and only time in her career. Her 1991 set Eagle When She Flies was powered by the #1 single “Rockin’ Years”, co-written by her brother and sung with Ricky Van Shelton:
That album also included a duet with Lorrie Morgan on “Best Woman Wins.” She upped the bandwagon ante on Slow Dancing With the Moon, bringing a whole caravan of young stars on board with her line dance cash-in “Romeo.”
That’s Mary Chapin Carpenter, Billy Ray Cyrus, Kathy Mattea, and Tanya Tucker in the video. Pam Tillis isn’t in the clip, but she sings on the record with them. Parton also duets with Billy Dean on that album on “(You Got Me Over a) Heartache Tonight.”
Her next collaboration was with fellow legends Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, but they couldn’t resist the temptation to squeeze in several younger stars in the video for “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.” Alongside veterans like Chet Atkins, Bill Anderson, and Little Jimmy Dickens, you’ll catch cameos from Mark Collie, Confederate Railroad, Rodney Crowell, Diamond Rio, Sammy Kershaw, Doug Stone, and Marty Stuart.
Parton scored a CMA award when she resurrected “I Will Always Love You” as a duet with Vince Gill:
And while it didn’t burn up the charts, her version of “Just When I Needed You Most” with Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski:
Tammy Wynette made an attempt to connect with the new country audience with her own album of duets, Without Walls. Her pairing with Wynonna on “Girl Thang” earned some unsolicited airplay:
Perhaps the most endearing project in this vein came from Roy Rogers. How cool is it to hear him singing with Clint Black?
The new stars liked pairing up with each other, too. A popular trend was to have other stars pop up in music videos. There’s the classic “Women of Country” version of “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her”, for starters. Mary Chapin Carpenter sounds pretty darn good with Suzy Bogguss, Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, Pam Tillis, and Trisha Yearwood on backup:
That’s a live collaboration, so at least you hear the voices of the other stars. But Vince Gill put together an all-star band for his “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away” video without getting them to actually play. That’s Little Jimmy Dickens, Kentucky Headhunters, Patty Loveless, Lee Roy Parnell, Carl Perkins, Pam Tillis, and Kelly Willis behind him, with Reba McEntire reprising her waitress role from her own “Is There Life Out There” clip.
My personal favorite was Tracy Lawrence’s slightly less A-list spin on the above, with “My Second Home” featuring the future superstars Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, and Shania Twain, along with John Anderson, Holly Dunn, Hank Flamingo, Johnny Rodriguez, Tanya Tucker, Clay Walker, and a few people that I just can’t identify.
For pure star wattage, it took the bright lights of Hollywood to get a truly amazing group together. The Maverick Choir assembled to cover “Amazing Grace”, and it doesn’t get much better than country gospel delivered in a barn by John Anderson, Clint Black, Suzy Bogguss, Billy Dean, Radney Foster, Amy Grant, Faith Hill, Waylon Jennings, Tracy Lawrence, Kathy Mattea, Reba McEntire, John Michael Montgomery, Restless Heart, Ricky Van Shelton, Joy Lynn White, and Tammy Wynette.
What’s your favorite of the bunch? Any good ones I missed?
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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).
“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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.
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.)
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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”.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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”.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
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
The ACM Awards has traditionally been overshadowed by the CMA Awards, despite its longer existence. This is for several reasons. First, the ACM originally existed to emphasize the West Coast country music scene, whereas the CMA Awards represented Nashville from the start. The ACM has also been more commercially-oriented from the beginning, as the history of this category proves. Eighteen of the last twenty winners in this ACM category are multi-platinum sellers, and the organization allowed greatest hits albums to compete for more than a decade.
Still, the ACM category has bragging rights of its own. Critically-acclaimed albums like Storms of Life, Trio, Killin’ Time and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend won at the ACMs but were overlooked by the CMAs. Additionally, women have also been far more successful at this ceremony. Only five women have ever won the CMA Album trophy, and one of them was Sissy Spacek! At the ACMs, women have dominated the category for the past three years, and the category has honored everyone from Loretta Lynn and Donna Fargo to K.T. Oslin and Shania Twain.
A special note about ACM flashbacks. Like the Grammys, the ACMs issue their award for a given year the following year, so the awards for 2009, for example, are given out in 2010. For the purposes of the flashbacks, Country Universe notes the year the award is presented. While the ACM first presented awards in 1966, the Album category wasn’t introduced until 1968.
As with other flashbacks, we begin with a look at this year’s nominees:
Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum
Miranda Lambert, Revolution
Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
Carrie Underwood, Play On
Zac Brown Band, The Foundation
Three previous winners – Miranda Lambert, Brad Paisley, and Carrie Underwood – compete against the debut albums of two hot bands. Lady Antebellum and Zac Brown Band each picked up a Grammy this year and are well represented on the rest of the ACM ballot. This is a very competitive race. Even the sales-friendly nature of the ACMs doesn’t help much here, as four of these albums are platinum and Lambert’s just went gold.
Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
Montgomery Gentry, Back When I Knew It All
George Strait, Troubadour
Taylor Swift, Fearless
Carrie Underwood, Carnival Ride
Taylor Swift became the third consecutive female artist to win in this category, a feat that would’ve seemed unthinkable earlier in the middle part of the decade, when country radio all but exiled women from radio.
Rodney Atkins, If You’re Going Through Hell
Kenny Chesney, Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates
Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Brad Paisley, 5th Gear
Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift
A visibly shocked Lambert accepted the trophy for her critically acclaimed sophomore set. While it did go gold, it remains an anomaly among ACM album winners. You have to go all the way back to 1979 (Oak Ridge Boys) to find another ACM album winner that didn’t sell platinum or higher.
Brooks & Dunn, Hillbilly Deluxe
Vince Gill, These Days
Rascal Flatts, Me and My Gang
George Strait, It Just Comes Natural
Carrie Underwood, Some Hearts
Carrie Underwood became the first solo female artist to win this award in eleven years with her 7 million-selling Some Hearts.
Gary Allan, Tough All Over
Brad Paisley, Time Well Wasted
Rascal Flatts, Feels Like Today
Sugarland, Twice the Speed of Life
Lee Ann Womack, There’s More Where That Came From
A strikingly strong lineup, with the victory going to Brad Paisley. Due to differences in eligibility between the two shows, there are two CMA winners in this category. Not only did Paisley repeat his victory the following fall, Womack won the CMA the previous year.
Kenny Chesney, When the Sun Goes Down
Sara Evans, Restless
Tim McGraw, Live Like You Were Dying
Keith Urban, Be Here
Gretchen Wilson, Here for the Party
Though he’s always been popular with the CMA and Grammy voters, Urban’s only Album award to date came courtesy of the ACMs. Oddly enough, they haven’t nominated him since.
Brooks & Dunn, Red Dirt Road
Toby Keith, Shock’n Y’All
Martina McBride, Martina
Brad Paisley, Mud on the Tires
George Strait, Honkytonkville
On an evening where he won several major awards, Keith picked up his second Album of the Year trophy from the ACMs for an album that included the #1 hits “American Soldier”, “Whiskey Girl”, and “I Love This Bar.”
Kenny Chesney, No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems
Dixie Chicks, Home
Alan Jackson, Drive
Toby Keith, Unleashed
Trick Pony, On a Mission
If you think all of those 2009 nominations for Heidi Newfield were surprising, check out Trick Pony’s presence in this category among four albums that sold more than 4 million copies each. Alan Jackson picked up his third trophy in this category for the album that included “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” and “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”.
Brooks & Dunn, Steers & Stripes
Toby Keith, Pull My Chain
Tim McGraw, Set This Circus Down
Soundtrack, O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Travis Tritt, Down the Road I Go
Big comeback albums for Brooks & Dunn and Travis Tritt were nominated, but it was no surprise to see the victory go to the landmark soundtrack that sold more than eight million copies in the end.
Johnny Cash, American III: Solitary Man
Billy Gilman, One Voice
Toby Keith, How Do You Like Me Now?!
Brad Paisley, Who Needs Pictures
Lee Ann Womack, I Hope You Dance
Even Keith was a veteran in comparison to Gilman and Paisley, who were nominated with their debut albums, but the biggest surprise was the nomination of Cash for his third project with Rick Rubin. Even the CMA didn’t recognize those collaborations until the fourth volume and “Hurt.”
Asleep at the Wheel, Ride With Bob
Dixie Chicks, Fly
Faith Hill, Breathe
George Jones, Cold Hard Truth
Tim McGraw, A Place in the Sun
An impressively eclectic lineup is unsurprisingly represented by the consensus choice Dixie Chicks, the one act that everybody used to agree on.
Garth Brooks, Double Live
Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces
Faith Hill, Faith
Jo Dee Messina, I’m Alright
George Strait, One Step at a Time
For the fourth time in the nineties, the trophy went to an artist’s breakthrough album. After their shocking win at the Grammys a few weeks earlier, this Dixie Chicks victory wasn’t quite as surprising.
Garth Brooks, Sevens
Patty Loveless, Long Stretch of Lonesome
Tim McGraw, Everywhere
George Strait, Carrying Your Love With Me
Shania Twain, Come On Over
Strait’s third victory in this category tied him with Alabama for most wins. It was also his first album to top the overall Billboard 200, a feat he’s repeated with three additional albums.
Brooks & Dunn, Borderline
Tracy Lawrence, Time Marches On
Patty Loveless, The Trouble With the Truth
LeAnn Rimes, Blue
George Strait, Blue Clear Sky
Strait’s victory came with an album that featured the #1 hits “Blue Clear Sky” and “Carried Away”, along with the rodeo-themed “I Can Still Make Cheyenne.”
Brooks & Dunn, Waitin’ On Sundown
Patty Loveless, When Fallen Angels Fly
Tim McGraw, All I Want
George Strait, Lead On
Shania Twain, The Woman in Me
Although Loveless won the CMA award the previous fall, the ACM sided with the Grammy winner for Best Country Album, Shania Twain’s landmark set, The Woman in Me.
Garth Brooks, In Pieces
Mary Chapin Carpenter, Stones in the Road
Vince Gill, When Love Finds You
Alan Jackson, Who I Am
Tim McGraw, Not a Moment Too Soon
McGraw’s only victory in this category came with his first nomination. This set remains his top-selling to date, thanks to the presence of the massive hits “Don’t Take the Girl”, “Indian Outlaw”, “Down on the Farm”, and the title track.
Brooks & Dunn, Hard Workin’ Man
Billy Ray Cyrus, It Won’t Be the Last
Vince Gill, I Still Believe In You
Alan Jackson, A Lot About Livin’ (And a Little ‘Bout Love)
Various Artists, Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles
Dwight Yoakam, This Time
Alan Jackson picked up his second victory in this category with an album that included “Chattahoochee”, which would remain his biggest hit for nearly a decade.
Garth Brooks, The Chase
Brooks & Dunn, Brand New Man
Mary Chapin Carpenter, Come On Come On
Billy Ray Cyrus, Some Gave All
These are some big selling albums. Wynonna and Mary Chapin Carpenter both sold five million and they are tied for last place among the nominees. It’s easy to forget how fresh the Brooks & Dunn sound was when it first arrived on the scene. Five hits, including the classic title track, “Neon Moon”, and “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”, helped power them to a win.
Garth Brooks, No Fences
Garth Brooks, Ropin’ the Wind
Alan Jackson, Don’t Rock the Jukebox
Ricky Van Shelton, Backroads
Travis Tritt, It’s All About to Change
In perhaps the most bizarre moment in this category’s history, Garth Brooks competed again with No Fences, which won the same award last year. Alan Jackson emerged victorious with his sophomore set.
Alabama, Pass it On Down
Garth Brooks, No Fences
Vince Gill, When I Call Your Name
Alan Jackson, Here in the Real World
Ricky Van Shelton, RVS III
No Fences includes the Garth Brooks classics “Friends in Low Places”, “Unanswered Prayers”, and “The Thunder Rolls”. It remains his highest-selling album to date, and second only to Shania Twain’s Come On Over among all single-disc country albums in history.
Clint Black, Killin’ Time
Rodney Crowell, Diamonds and Dirt
Kathy Mattea, Willow in the Wind
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Vol. II
Randy Travis, Old 8×10
The winning album demonstrates why Clint Black was the head of the Class of ’89, even though he’d soon be overshadowed by fellow newbie Garth Brooks.
Vern Gosdin, Chiseled in Stone
K.T. Oslin, This Woman
Ricky Van Shelton, Loving Proof
George Strait, If You Ain’t Lovin’ You Ain’t Livin’
Dwight Yoakam, Buenos Noches From a Lonely Room
K.T. Oslin dominated the awards circuit in 1988 and 1989, with her final victories coming at the ACM Awards. Her Album of the Year winner included the #1 hit “Hold Me”, along with the top five hits “Hey Bobby” and the title track.
The Judds, Heart Land
Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris, Trio
George Strait, Ocean Front Property
Randy Travis, Always and Forever
Hank Williams Jr., Born to Boogie
The classic project by legends Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris also won a CMA for Vocal Event and a Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
The Judds, Rockin’ With the Rhythm
Ricky Skaggs, Live in London
George Strait, 7
Randy Travis, Storms of Life
Dwight Yoakam, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.
The neo-traditionalist movement at its peak, with a win by its standard-bearing artist with his standard-bearing debut album.
Alabama, 40 Hour Week
Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson, Highwayman
The Judds, Why Not Me
George Strait, Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind
Hank Williams Jr., Five-O
The only #1 hit from this album was the title track, but “The Fireman” and “The Cowboy Rides Away” have since become signature songs for the legendary artist.
Alabama, Roll On
Earl Thomas Conley, Don’t Make it Easy On Me
Ricky Skaggs, Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown
George Strait, Right or Wrong
Hank Williams Jr., Man of Steel
Their third victory in four years came on the strength of the hits “Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)”, “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)”, “(There’s a) Fire in the Night”, and “When We Make Love.”
Alabama, The Closer You Get…
John Anderson, Wild & Blue
Merle Haggard, Going Where the Lonely Go
Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson, Pancho & Lefty
Ricky Skaggs, Highways & Heartaches
Over a field of traditionalists old and new, the pop-country supergroup Alabama won their second Album award. In addition to the hit title track, The Closer You Get… included the hits “Lady Down on Love” and “Dixieland Delight.”
Alabama, Mountain Music
Willie Nelson, Always On My Mind
Kenny Rogers, Love Will Turn You Around
Ricky Skaggs, Waitin’ For the Sun to Shine
Don Williams, Listen to the Radio
Nelson’s biggest single powered the album of the same name to victory. It also included a pair of #2 hits: “Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning” and “Let it Be Me.”
Alabama, Feels So Right
Rosanne Cash, Seven Year Ache
George Jones, Still the Same Ole Me
Oak Ridge Boys, Fancy Free
Dolly Parton, 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs
With the exception of George Jones, all the nominees here enjoyed significant pop success with these projects. Alabama won their first trophy in this category with Feels So Right, which included the hit title track, “Old Flame”, and their biggest crossover hit, “Love in the First Degree.”
Charley Pride, There’s a Little Bit of Hank in Me
Kenny Rogers, Greatest Hits
Soundtrack, Coal Miner’s Daughter
Soundtrack, Urban Cowboy
Don Williams, I Believe in You
For all that it’s been maligned, the Urban Cowboy soundtrack does have a lot of classic hits on it. Some of them were recycled, like “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and “Lyin’ Eyes”, but some were introduced on the soundtrack, most notably Anne Murray’s “Could I Have This Dance” and Johnny Lee’s “Lookin’ For Love.”
Larry Gatlin, Straight Ahead
Emmylou Harris, Blue Kentucky Girl
Waylon Jennings, Greatest Hits
Willie Nelson, Willie Sings Kristofferson
Kenny Rogers, Kenny
Those of you wondering how on earth Larry Gatlin was the winner in this field should know that this was actually a platinum-selling album. Perhaps its big hit, “All the Gold in California”, endeared the project to west coast voters.
Ronnie Milsap, It Was Almost Like a Song
Anne Murray, Let’s Keep it That Way
Willie Nelson, Stardust
Oak Ridge Boys, Y’All Come Back Saloon
Kenny Rogers & Dottie West, Every Time Two Fools Collide
They had made several albums as gospel stars, but it was their first big country hit that fueled this win for Album of the Year.
Waylon Jennings, Ol’ Waylon
Dolly Parton, Here You Come Again
Elvis Presley, Moody Blue
Kenny Rogers, Kenny Rogers
Conway Twitty, Greatest Hits Vol. II
This self-titled album was renamed “Lucille” in later pressings to capitalize on its biggest hit.
Mickey Gilley, Gilley’s Smokin’
Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser, Wanted! The Outlaws
Loretta Lynn, Somebody Somewhere
Marty Robbins, El Paso City
Conway Twitty, Now and Then
Gilley’s winning album features his most well known hit, “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time.” It’s the most recent album in the category’s history that hasn’t reached at least gold status.
Glen Campbell, Rhinestone Cowboy
Freddie Fender, Before the Next Teardrop Falls
Merle Haggard, Keep Movin’ On
Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty, Feelins’
Willie Nelson, Red Headed Stranger
This shared award is the only Album trophy that either Lynn or Twitty won from the ACM or CMA, though Lynn did go on to win Best Country Album three decades later at the Grammys.
John Denver, Back Home Again
Merle Haggard, Merle Haggard Presents His 30th Album
Loretta Lynn, They Don’t Make ‘Em Like My Daddy
Cal Smith, Country Bumpkin
Bob Wills, For the Last Time
Denver’s biggest country album, it spent thirteen weeks atop the country album chart. The title track topped the chart, and “Annie’s Song” became a wedding standard.
Merle Haggard, I Love Dixie Blues…so I Recorded “Live” in New Orleans
Loretta Lynn, Love is the Foundation
Charlie Rich, Behind Closed Doors
Johnny Rodriguez, Introducing Johnny Rodriguez
Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn, Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man
Rich’s classic set has sold four million copies, an unheard of tally for a country album from this time period. It didn’t hurt that the title track and “The Most Beautiful Girl” were crossover hits, with the latter actually topping the pop singles chart.
Mac Davis, Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me
Donna Fargo, The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.
Merle Haggard, The Best of the Best of Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard, It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)
Merle Haggard, Let Me Tell You About a Song
Freddie Hart, Bless Your Heart
Donna Fargo triumphed in a field of six albums, half of which were recorded by Merle Haggard! The Fargo set produced two million-selling singles – the title track and “Funny Face”.
Merle Haggard, Hag
Merle Haggard, Someday We’ll Look Back
Freddie Hart, Easy Loving
Ray Price, I Won’t Mention it Again
Charley Pride, Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs
The title track was a massive hit, helping Hart’s Easy Loving reach gold status and spend nine weeks atop the country albums chart.
Glen Campbell, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Album
Merle Haggard, The Fightin’ Side of Me
Merle Haggard, A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (or, My Salute to Bob Wills)
Ray Price, For the Good Times
Charley Pride, Charley Pride’s 10th Album
Who knows how many times Haggard could’ve won this award if he wasn’t nominated against himself? This year, Ray Price’s For the Good Times was the victor, thanks to the Kristofferson-penned title track.
Glen Campbell, Live
Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison
Merle Haggard, Okie From Muskogee
Charley Pride, Best of Charley Pride
Tammy Wynette, Greatest Hits
Haggard’s only victory in this category was for a live album. Incidentally, he won over two other live albums and a pair of greatest hits sets.