My good friend and favorite sports blogger Charles Geier, of The Widening Geier fame, has long used statistics-based reasoning when making the case for the best in sports, whether for the current season or throughout the history of a given sport.
He recently launched an in-depth site called Sports Statistics – By the Numbers, which details the crucial importance of statistics, and of course, it got me thinking about country music.
Music statistics are difficult to use in the same way, if only because chart success is but one measure of an artist’s impact. However, with country music being such a commercial genre, it’s interesting to see how the most successful chart acts have fared among Country Music Hall of Fame inductees.
Looking through Joel Whitburn’s Hot Country Songs 1944-2008 and Hot Country Albums 1964-2007, it’s immediately clear that the charts are important. All of the top ten country singles artists are in the Hall of Fame, as are eight of the top ten country albums artists.
But what about those not in the Hall of Fame who are ranked high in either measure? Should they be next in line, or should they still wait? What follows are the top ten singles artists and album artists that have yet to be inducted or announced as inductees of the Hall of Fame. Their rank overall is included after their name.
Top Country Singles Artists Not in the Hall of Fame
Reba McEntire (Overall Rank: #11)
Hank Williams, Jr. (#15)
Alan Jackson (#18)
Garth Brooks (#23)
Ronnie Milsap (#26)
Kenny Rogers (#27)
Tim McGraw (#29)
Brooks & Dunn (#33)
Tanya Tucker (#34)
Don Williams (#37)
Top Country Albums Artists Not in the Hall of Fame
Hank Williams, Jr. (Overall Rank: #5)
Kenny Rogers (#10)
Garth Brooks (#12)
Reba McEntire (#13)
Alan Jackson (#18)
Randy Travis (#19)
Tim McGraw (#22)
Anne Murray (#23)
Toby Keith (#24)
Ronnie Milsap (#27)
This year’s artist inductees to the Hall of Fame are Barbara Mandrell and Roy Clark. Mandrell ranks #55 on the singles list and #64 on the albums list. Clark comes in at #118 on the singles list and #63 on the albums list. Both artists, however, were very successful on television, so they also reveal how limiting such lists can be.
While the Grammys have honored country music from the very first ceremony in 1959, they did not begin honoring by gender until 1965, when the country categories were expanded along with the other genre categories.
This is a look back at the Best Female Country Vocal Performance category. It was first awarded in 1965, an included single competing with albums until the Best Country Album category was added in 1995. When an album is nominated, it is in italics, and a single track is in quotation marks.
I’ve often made the case that female artists were making the best music in the 1990s, and the Grammys did a great job nominating songs and albums that were ignored at the CMA and ACM awards, which is not surprising, given that those shows have so few categories that are actually for songs and albums.
As usual, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back.
Martina McBride, “For These Times”
LeAnn Rimes, “What I Cannot Change”
Carrie Underwood, “Last Name”
Lee Ann Womack, “Last Call”
Trisha Yearwood, “This is Me You’re Talking To”
This year’s lineup includes three former winners and two women looking for their first victory in this category. Martina McBride is in the running for the eighth time in fifteen years, and with one of her more understated performances. Lee Ann Womack returns for a fifth time, having received a nomination for the lead single of her five most recent albums. Both ladies turned in good performances here, but they’ve been overlooked for records bigger and better, so they’re not likely to snap their losing streaks this time around.
As for the previous winners, LeAnn Rimes earned her third consecutive nod, bringing her total to five in this category. She hasn’t won since 1997, when she took home the award for “Blue.” If enough voters hear “What I Cannot Change,” she might have a shot, though the only version of the song that’s been a legitimate hit has been the dance remix.
Trisha Yearwood won in 1998 for “How Do I Live,” her only victory to date. But she’s earned her tenth nomination for “This is Me You’re Talking To,” which is arguably her strongest vocal performance of the ten. Like Rimes, the challenge is getting enough voters to listen to it, but she’s never been more deserving of the victory than she is this year.
Still, the favorite remains Carrie Underwood. She’s quickly become a favorite with Grammy voters, having won this category two years running, along with Best New Artist in 2007. She’s the nominee with the highest profile, and while “Last Name” is nowhere near the same league of “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and “Before He Cheats” in terms of artistry or impact, it was a big hit, something that the other four entries cannot claim.
If Underwood was nominated for “Just a Dream,” she’d have a mortal lock on this one. But the strength of the other nominees will at least keep this race competitive. If Underwood prevails, Grammy queen Alison Krauss better watch her back.
Alison Krauss, “Simple Love”
Miranda Lambert, “Famous in a Small Town”
LeAnn Rimes, “Nothin’ Better to Do”
Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats”
Trisha Yearwood, “Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love”
Looking at this lineup, you’d think that it was a golden age of female country artists, something akin to the mid-nineties. In reality, only one of these songs was a big radio hit, though three others managed to go top twenty. In terms of quality, however, this is the most consistent and thoroughly wonderful set of nominees this category has seen this century. You’d have to go back to exactly 1999 to find a better lineup.
In a year when any winner would have been deserving, Underwood won for “Before He Cheats,” her second straight win for a signature mega-hit from her debut album.
Building a music collection used to be a far more difficult thing, a dogged hunt through record stores and mail order catalogs, hoping to find what you were looking for. The advent of the internet made things easier, but it wasn’t until music could be downloaded digitally that a deep music collection could be built with far less effort.
However, all of this available music can be overwhelming, especially when you’re trying to get a handle on the catalog of an established artist. Country Universe is here to help. Our Buyer’s Guides will walk you through the music that is digitally available for a given artist, starting with the essential purchases for new listeners, and working through the entire digital catalog until even the completist fan will be sated. You can also sample each album in its entirety, and purchase any song or album that you like through Amazon’s MP3 store.
Our first Buyer’s Guide is for our artist of the month, Dolly Parton. Look for many more to come in the new year.
Starting Your Collection
Dolly Parton’s catalog is quite the labyrinth. Thankfully, there are several compilations available that are an excellent value, offering twenty tracks each for less than ten dollars. Casual fans can just pick up the first set, but serious country fans should skip the first and buy the other three.
Ultimate Dolly Parton
This collection is all that the casual fan will ever need, with twenty hits included for just under eight bucks. All of her big crossover hits are here, like “Islands in the Stream”, “9 to 5″ and “Here You Come Again.” Also included are her country classics “Jolene”, “Coat of Many Colors” and the original recording of “I Will Always Love You.” It’s a bit too broad for studious fans of country music, but if you just want the big hits, they’re all here.
The Essential Dolly Parton, Volume Two
RCA has yet to issue a definitive box set for Parton, but their three Essential releases in the nineties are collectively effective in covering her tenure with the label. This is the strongest of the three sets, focusing on her sixties and seventies material. In addition to the big hits, including the original recording of “I Will Always Love You”, you also get lesser-known greats like “Touch Your Woman”, “Mule Skinner Blues” and “The Seeker.” Her transformation from mountain singer to pop sensation is captured here, as the set includes the first wave of her pop hits, too.
The Essential Dolly Parton One: I Will Always Love You
Even though it was released first, this set focuses on the latter years of Parton’s tenure, with nearly all of the cuts being released in the eighties. The rest of the big pop hits are here, like “9 to 5″ and “Islands in the Stream”, along with some forgotten gems, most notably “Single Women”, “God Won’t Get You” and “Tennessee Homesick Blues.” Also of note is her recording of “To Daddy”, which she chose not to release when Emmylou Harris expressed interest in recording it instead.
The Essential Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton
Although they both are Hall of Famers, you can’t effectively tell the story of either Porter Wagoner or Dolly Parton without discussing their work together. They are the most successful collaborators in country music history, and nearly all of their hits are collected here. Classics like “Making Plans” and “Just Someone I Used To Know” are essential, as are “Burning the Midnight Oil” and “The Last Thing on My Mind.”
Building Your Collection
For all three women involved – Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris – this was a career landmark, which brought them wide critical acclaim and huge commercial success. The harmonies are exquisite throughout, but the best moments are “The Pain of Loving You”, “Wildflowers” and “Telling Me Lies.”
It’s been a while since I’ve heard a mainstream country single that really surprised me. This one does. The song combines the basic theme of Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine” with the bluesy rollick of Tanya Tucker’s “It’s a Little Too Late,” and the result is a swaggering little sass-fest that sounds like nothing else on the radio right now.
There are hitches: the central image of exposed “roots” proves too frivolous to carry the song along the whole way, and as interesting a vocalist as Shawanda is, she sounds a little green behind the mic here, like she’s not yet sure how to harness her massive voice on record.
But the funny thing about this single is how it almost seems to be less about the song itself and more about the message conveyed through the combination of sound, style, performance and sentiment. It’s like Shawanda and RCA are daring the same radio programmers who embraced “You Can Let Go” to take up their swords for an artist who isn’t afraid to show her true colors and sing outside the box – and that’s pretty friggin’ cool.
Written by Whitney Duncan, Christi Dannemiller, & Robin Lee Bruce
The 1990s were a time of tremendous fortune for the leading ladies of country music, with the females in the genre mining more gold and platinum than ever and selling a record number of concert tickets.
The depth in talent was none more apparent than in the Female Vocalist of the Year category. Although only four men were named Male Vocalist of the Year between 1990-1999, eight different women received recognition as the year’s premier vocalist. Three women in particular, all diverse artists in an ever-changing genre, made their marks on the CMA Awards with their one win in the category.
She was barely a teenager when she first appeared on the country music scene, but her voice had a tortured wisdom far beyond her years. Her early singles were dark and brooding slices of Southern Gothic, but over time she would mellow into one of the most consistently successful female country artists of all-time, with a span of hits stretching over three decades.
As a young child, Tucker was surrounded by music. Her older sister LaCosta was an aspiring country singer, and by the time Tanya turned eight, she had embraced the same dream. Her father Bo drove her across the West and Southwest, looking for opportunities for his youngest child and taking construction jobs wherever he could find them. She auditioned for a film in Utah, earning a small part, and sang at the Arizona State fair. In 1969, she was discovered by Mel Tillis, who put her on a show with him. This encouraged the family to move to Las Vegas, where Tucker was soon performing regularly.
While still shy of her thirteenth birthday, she recorded a demo tape that caught the attention of Billy Sherrill, head of A&R at Columbia. He was so impressed that he invited her to record for the label. On the first day that he presented her material, he played her what he thought would be the perfect song for a young teen artist: “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.” Tucker hated it, and passed on the song. Sherrill was taken aback, but the next day he returned with another song, “Delta Dawn.” It was a dark and mysterious tale of a 41 year old woman who wandered around town, looking for the deceased lover who was supposed to make her his bride.
The song was a smash, and set the tone for a stunning series of Southern Gothic singles from the throaty young vocalist. Her first #1 single, 1973′s “What’s Your Mama’s Name”, was about an old man desperately searching for the love child he’d learned about in a letter years ago. “Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone”) was a love song seeking a promise to share a grave. Her darkest hit was the #1 smash “Blood Red and Goin’ Down”, where Tucker is a young girl following her father from bar to bar until he finds his cheating wife and her lover. “He sent me out to wait, but scared I looked back through the door. And Daddy left them both soaking up the sawdust on the floor.”