After Part 1 and Part 2 , we’re wading further into the sea of mediocrity.
The Worst Singles of the Decade, Part 3: #30-#21
Terri Clark, “Dirty Girl”
Double entendres are a lot more enjoyable when the naughty meaning is the real one.
Jamey Johnson, “The Dollar”
Real kids don’t talk like this.
Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, “Love Will Always Win”
This treacly ballad is the nadir of Trisha’s career and one “It’s Midnight Cinderella” away from being Garth’s as well.
Darryl Worley, “Have You Forgotten?”
Featuring more straw men than a Wizard of Oz audition.
Clint Black, “I Raq and Roll”
“Have You Forgotten?” without all the nuance and subtlety.
Shania Twain and Billy Currington, “Party For Two”
Proof positive that spoken dialogue can ruin a song before it even begins.
Martina McBride, “God’s Will”
He was dressed as a bag of leaves? That’s his costume? Hey, at least she didn’t kill him off in the last verse.
Brooks & Dunn, “Play Something Country”
There are so many poorly written female characters in Brooks & Dunn songs, it’s hard to pick just one to represent them all. But I’ll give the nod to this one, simply because it has her howling the title to a melodic hook that’s a blatant rip-off of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Shut Up and Kiss Me.”
Jason Aldean, “Johnny Cash”
The “country star as song name” trend hasn’t yielded anything worthwhile, but at least “Tim McGraw” and “Kristofferson” have some tenuous connection to their titular song. “Johnny Cash” is just shameless name-dropping.
Gretchen Wilson, “Red Bird Fever”
In retrospect, this should’ve been a huge red flag that Wilson wasn’t built to last. My personal favorite moment of this St. Louis Cardinals shout-out comes in the chorus, when she sings “Let me get a big ‘Go Cards!’ from the Red Bird fans like me. Go Cards!” and the backup singers answer back, “Hell yeah!” because they couldn’t be bothered to change the “Redneck Woman” backing track.
The following is a guest contribution from Country Universe reader Erik North.
Sometimes you first find out about your favorite artists not necessarily from your peers but, strangely enough, from either your parents or your relatives.In the case of Linda Ronstadt, I found about her through my aunt, who had a copy of Linda’s 1978 album Living In The U.S.A. that I listened to when I was eight years old back in 1978. Since that time, I have been a very staunch fan of Linda’s, even on those occasions when her excursions into other musical arenas have driven others to distraction.As it is with Elvis or the Beatles, if you have to have Linda Ronstadt explained to you, you may never get it.
Linda is not one of those who confines herself to any single genre; while that does tend to cause people a lot of problems, it’s in Linda’s nature to explore as much as she can, regardless of what the critics, or even her own fans, think.Whether it’s big band pop, Mexican rancheras, Gilbert and Sullivan, traditional, contemporary, and urban folk music, the experimental classical music of composer Philip Glass, rock and roll, blues, R&B or jazz, she just can’t stop exploring musically.
And yet, at the same time, even though she has never put herself in the strict category of being a country singer, her classic country-rock albums and songs have influenced at least three different generations of female country and roots-rock singers.She has an appreciation for and a huge knowledge of the country genre, through and through, having grown up in Arizona on a steady diet of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, the Grand Ole Opry and the Louisiana Hayride.The early rockabilly records of Elvis, and later Buddy Holly, were also important factors in her musical growth.And when there was a revival of American folk music as the 1960s dawned, she was into that, too, getting a full dosage of traditional Appalachian folk music and bluegrass.All of those things have factored into how Linda Ronstadt approaches country music.Her approach is just more Sunset Boulevard than Music Row, that’s all.
Although it often gets pointed out that many of Linda’s hits are remakes of long-standing rock, R&B, and country songs that had been hits for others, what often gets overlooked is the complete albums those hits came from, and the songs that surround those hits.Linda was perhaps the first female singer in any genre, country or otherwise, whose career was defined by albums as much as (if not more than) hit singles.And so this is an advocacy of Linda’s great talents within or on the perimeter of the country genre, not only as a hitmaker, but as an album artist par excellence as well.
“The Only Mama That’ll Walk The Line”
Hand Sown, Home Grown, 1969
From Linda’s debut album, arguably the very first alternative-country album by a female artist, comes this feminist take on a song that had been a hit the previous year by Waylon Jennings (as “The Only Daddy…”).Linda’s snarling, almost-spat-out delivery, and a clever change in a lyric at the beginning, are almost a challenge against the stereotype of female country singers of that era.It was the first song she did on the Johnny Cash Show on June 21, 1969, that introduced her to country music audiences.
“I Can’t Get Over You”
Adieu False Heart, 2006
Linda’s duet album with Ann Savoy, though rooted in Celtic and Cajun roots music, goes into very rustic traditional folk/country territory with this ballad written by Julie Miller, whose husband Buddy plays acoustic guitar on this track.Linda’s lead vocals transport one back to that rootsy sound, aided and abetted by Ann’s harmony vocals.It is one of the standout tracks on an album that got a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Folk Music recording in 2006.
“It’s So Easy”
Simple Dreams, 1977
At the height of her success, Linda also fueled a revival of rock and roll legend Buddy Holly’s catalog; and one of the ways she did this was to record this traditional rock and roll number from 1958 and spice it up with clavinets, a cowbell, and pounding drums.The inherent rockabilly twang of the song got a fair amount of country airplay, even though it only charted at No. 81 on the country singles chart.It nevertheless got to No. 5 on the pop singles chart.And at the same time, the album it came from was the No. 1 album on both the pop and country album charts.
Heart Like A Wheel, 1974
Who says women don’t do truck driving songs?Thanks to this number written by her good friend, the late Lowell George (of Little Feat), Linda pulls it off in this dissolute tail of being “robbed by the rain/driven by the snow” and being given “weed, whites, and wine” while journeying “from Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonopah.”This is a defining song in the California country-rock repetoire from a landmark album in the genre.
“New Partner Waltz”
Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’, 2003
This all-star tribute to the country/gospel duo the Louvin Brothers won the 2003 Grammy for Country Album of the Year. Overlooked amidst the contributions made by heavyweights like Vince Gill, Terri Clark, Dierks Bentley, and her Trio pals Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, was this particular track in which Linda returns to her traditional country roots by duetting with the album’s producer and her good friend, bluegrass music master Carl Jackson.The two of them do such a good job, and it showed that Linda always had a lot of business revisiting the country arena.
“That’ll Be The Day”
Hasten Down The Wind, 1976
Having previously done a superb country/folk version of Buddy Holly’s last hit “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” on Heart Like A Wheel, Linda returned to the Holly catalog two years later with this modern rockabilly remake of his and the Cricket’s No. 1 hit from 1957.The use of echo on Linda’s vocals, and the twin guitar breaks provided by her guitarists Waddy Wachtell and Dan Dugmore, propelled this song to No. 11 on the pop singles chart, and No. 27 on the country chart in October 1976, and led to Linda earning her second Grammy award, this one for Best Pop Female Vocal.
Linda Ronstadt, 1972
Linda’s penchant for understanding the traditions of honky-tonk heartbreak songs, while realizing the timelessness of them, is borne out in this recording of a song that had previously been a hit for, among others, Ray Price in 1956, and has since been more recently covered by Patty Loveless, one of Linda’s many fans and peers.Coming from her self-titled album, which was her first true country breakthrough (it reached No. 35 on the country album chart early in 1972), this song also features contributions from a couple of guys named Glenn Frey and Don Henley.Need I tell anyone what became of them?
“Break My Mind”
Hand Sown, Home Grown, 1969
Another country standard, this one written by John D. Loudermilk (he of “Tobacco Road” and “Indian Reservation” fame, among others), this one was a favorite among the elite of the Los Angeles country-rock movement of the late 1960s; and Linda had the foresight to give it a honky-tonk rock throwdown rendition, complete with an unusually growling lead vocal from her, and a stinging guitar break from the late, great West Coast C&W guitar master Clarence White.
“Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me”
Simple Dreams, 1977
Linda often took a lot of hard knocks from critics for being “self pitying,” so in response, she shocked them by doing this very atypical Warren Zevon-penned hard country-rocker (complete with cowbell and syn-drums).This song revealed a humorous side of Linda, though it’s a brand of humor that is as black as coal.If its chart placement at the time seemed a little low (No. 31 pop, No. 56 C&W), it still remains one of Linda’s all-time best performances, given that it is essentially an ode to gang rape—a point that Terri Clark may have missed when she did this song nineteen years after Linda.
“Long, Long Time”
Silk Purse, 1970
One overlooked fact about this incredibly heartbreaking ballad is that Linda recorded it, and the album it came from, largely with a group of Nashville session musicians known as Area Code 615.The fact gets overlooked because the contributions made by fiddle player Buddy Spicher and pedal steel master Weldon Myrick to the song make it seem more orchestral than pure country.This song was also the only time Linda strongly advocated for its release as a single, over the objections of her then record label Capitol, and it paid off.Not only did it go to No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 in October 1970 (getting onto country radio later in the decade, when Linda’s crossover popularity was too great to ignore), but it also got Linda her first Grammy nomination, for Best Contemporary Female Vocal.
Don’t Cry Now, 1973
Much like her version of the Eagles’ “Desperado” on this same album (her first for Elektra/Asylum), this country-rock ballad, written by Rick Roberts of the Flying Burrito Brothers (he replaced Gram Parsons) and later of Firefall, is a tale of homesickness and a desire to come back to the homestead after many long years of being alone.It is a fitting song for Linda, for though she grew up in Arizona and not Colorado, its sentiment and its setting in the Intermountain West are borne out in Linda’s passionate, heartfelt delivery, boosted by a lush string section and surrealistic pedal steel guitar work from the late, great Sneaky Pete Kleinow.
“He Was Mine”
Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions, 1999
Linda and her good friend Emmylou Harris are a Mutual Admiration Society of the highest order, and their 1999 collaboration, recorded in Linda’s hometown, was a substantial hit with country and roots-rock fans (No. 73 pop, No. 6 C&W, October 1999).One of the songs on this album that stands out is this track, written by Emmy’s ex, Paul Kennerley, and given a typically passionate delivery by Linda, boosted by Emmy’s harmony vocal and Greg Leisz’s pedal steel solo.This was meant to be heard by a larger core of listeners, but country radio sadly stayed away from it.
“When Will I Be Loved?”
Heart Like A Wheel, 1974
The hard-belting style Linda displays whenever she gets her teeth into a traditional rock and roll number is very much in evidence in this Everly Brothers remake, essentially the Sunset Strip meeting the rockabilly sound of Sun Records, with its twanging guitar break from Linda’s long-time favorite session player Andrew Gold.All that kept it from going to No. 1 on the pop chart was the Captain and Tenille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together”; it became Linda’s one solo No. 1 country hit in June 1975.
Feels Like Home, 1995
Matraca Berg considered it an extreme honor to have one of her songs recorded by one of the female legends who inspired her the most, even asking that those who were listening with her keep silent as she took it in.This hoedown, fueled by Linda’s Southwestern drawl and Allison Krauss’ fiddle, sadly got what amounted to The Shaft from country radio in April 1995, as it charted only at No. 61 on the country singles chart.Nevertheless, it is one of Linda’s strongest, most countrified vocal performances in her stellar career.
“Telling Me Lies”
Linda’s 1987 collaboration with good pals Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton was among the best-selling country albums of the pre-Garth, post-Urban Cowboy era; and one of the reasons was this Linda Thompson/Betsy Cook-penned ballad about betraying and deceitful men—perfect for a world-class vocalist like Linda, who sings lead here.“Telling Me Lies” peaked at No. 3 on the country chart on July 15, 1987, when Linda turned 41; and Trio peaked at No. 1 C&W, No. 6 pop, winning a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Duo/Group performance for 1987.
“I Fall To Pieces”
Linda Ronstadt, 1972
It may be considered sacrilege for a non-country singer to tackle a song made immortal by Patsy Cline back in 1961, but Linda takes a cue from Patsy’s relaxed delivery, giving this standard it a modest shuffle sound, rent with pedal steel and fiddle flourishes, and the ambience of a live audience (this was recorded at the legendary Troubadour nightclub in Los Angeles in August 1971).Once again, future Eagles Don Henley and Glenn Frey are there, assisting Linda with good grace.
“I Never Will Marry”
Simple Dreams, 1977
A traditional Appalachian folk ballad popularized first by the Carter Family is given a restrained treatment by Linda, complete with her good friend Dolly Parton’s authentic Appalachian harmony vocals, which makes it appropriate that it should have peaked at No. 9 on the country singles chart in June 1978.What gets overlooked, though, is that Linda plays acoustic guitar on this track as well, helped out by the traditional Dobro shadings of the Seldom Scene’s Mike Auldridge (as an addendum, this song’s A-side, a hard-rocking version of the Stones’ “Tumbling Dice,” was a No. 37 pop hit).
“A River For Him”
Winter Light, 1993
Winter Light, released in late 1993, was one of Linda’s most criminally underrated albums (only getting to No. 92 on the pop album chart); and one of the highlights of it was this tear-inducing, acoustic guitar-and-synthesizer-dominated ballad written by her good pal Emmylou Harris.Linda’s low-key delivery of Emmy’s lyrics is really affecting without being manipulative, and she gets all of the heartbreaking nuances, as she had done twenty-three years before with “Long, Long Time.”
Hasten Down The Wind, 1976
Once again, Linda isn’t afraid to tackle a classic, as she does here with this Willie Nelson-penned ballad immortalized by Patsy Cline in 1961.Linda’s approach is more bluesy than Patsy’s is, but her delivery, besides paying homage to a legend, also helped coin the phrase “torch rock.”The song, which hit No. 6 on the country chart in February 1977, also made the album it came from a No. 4 hit on the pop album chart, and No. 1 country.
“I Will Always Love You”
Prisoner In Disguise, 1975
There is such a thing as subtlety, something that Linda proved when she became the first artist to cover this Dolly Parton mega-classic, just fourteen months after Dolly’s original.If you think you’ve heard all you need to hear of this song through Whitney Houston’s arguably way-over-the-top 1992 version for the movie The Bodyguard, do yourself a favor and take a listen to Linda’s version, poweredby Andrew Gold’s subtle piano, the R&B-tinged backup singers, Dan Dugmore’s pedal steel flourishes, and, above all else, Linda’s dramatic, heartfelt soprano voice.This song helped power the album to No. 4 on the pop album chart, and No. 2 on the country album chart in late 1975.
We Ran, 1998
There is just no way of getting around it: We Ran, released in June 1998, is one of Linda’s greatest latter-day albums and arguably also the single most criminally underappreciated album of her career (it only got as high as #168).And one of the highlights of this album is this track, penned by Paul Kennerley and country maverick Marty Stuart, a return to Linda’s early ’70s C&W-rock roots.It is essentially a duet of sorts, as former Eagle and longtime Ronstadt musician favorite Bernie Leadon harmonizes in a very slithery way with her and also does the twangy Telecaster guitar licks.This one track should have gotten country airplay.
“Silver Threads And Golden Needles”
Don’t Cry Now, 1973
How does this grab you—a remake of a remake.Linda had originally recorded this song, first a hit for Wanda Jackson in 1956, on Hand Sown, Home Grown in 1969, but she was unhappy with the arrangement of the song on that album.Four years later, she redid this country standard as a country-rock hoedown, fueled by the fiddle work of Cajun musician Gib Guilbeau and some piercing steel guitar work from Ed Black.With a No. 20 placement on the country singles chart in May 1974 (the album it came from hit No. 5 on the country album chart, and No. 45 pop), “Silver Threads” began Linda’s crossover dominance, by which she helped reconnect rock and roll with its traditional country roots.
Simple Dreams, 1977
What had originally been a very modest hit for its writer, the late and legendary Roy Orbison, in 1963 turned into one of Linda’s signature hits, also helping to re-establish Orbison’s place in the rock pantheon.With its bass line, marimba, and lush electric piano backing, in Linda’s hands, “Blue Bayou” is influenced to no small degree by Linda’s Mexican roots (she re-recorded this song again shortly after this had hit, this time in Spanish).Propelled near the climax by Dan Dugmore’s soaring steel solo, “Blue Bayou” got to No. 2 on the country chart in November 1977, and on Christmas Day was at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.With “It’s So Easy” also at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time, Linda had set two records.She became the first female artist to have two top five hits at the same time, and the first act of any kind to pull off such a feat since the Beatles dominated the Top Five in April 1964.
“I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)”
Heart Like A Wheel, 1974
Linda always mentioned Hank Williams as a pivotal musical influence; and on her version of one of Hank’s signature hits, she puts her money where her big voice is.Aided and abetted on harmony vocals by her good pal Emmylou Harris, Linda pulled off a remarkable feat.“I Can’t Help It,” which hit No. 2 on the country singles chart in March 1975, was the B-side of “You’re No Good,” Linda’s No.1 pop hit of one month earlier.The following year, she won the first of (so far) eleven Grammy awards, for Best Female Country Vocal, beating out, among others, Emmylou and her other Trio pal Dolly Parton.
“Love Is A Rose”
Prisoner In Disguise, 1975
One can trace the Dixie Chicks’ approach back to this bluegrass-fueled version of a Neil Young composition that reveals Linda’s approach to country—more Laurel Canyon than the Opry, but still rooted in country, thanks to the contributions of Herb Pederson on banjo, and David Lindley on fiddle.“Love IsA Rose” hit #5 on the country chart, while the A-side, a pounding version of the Motown classic “Heat Wave,” simultaneously hit No. 5 on the pop singles chart in November 1975.
Universal Music Group continues to lay claim to the strongest single-disc reissue series in country music, as Terri Clark’s The Definitive Collection plays to all of the strengths of this particular series.
The approach is simple: fit all of the definitive hits of a significant artist on one CD. For legends like Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, you get the cream of the crop. For artists like Sammy Kershaw and Billy Ray Cyrus, you get all of the hits from their career, all on one disc. Terri Clark’s hit run fits her neatly into the second category, as she scored more than a dozen hits from the time she arrived on the scene in the mid-nineties until the end of her run with Mercury Records.
While her excellent Greatest Hits 1994-2004 package compiled all of her big hits, The Definitive Collection goes deeper. Thankfully, all of the twelve tracks from that package are here, including then-new single “Girls Lie Too” and “One of The Guys”, the latter of which was not released as a single. This makes her first hits collection instantly obsolete, as you can find all of her signature hits like “Better Things To Do” and “I Just Wanna Be Mad” here, alongside some should’ve been hits like “Suddenly Single” and “She Didn’t Have Time.”
The chronological arrangement of the eighteen songs help demonstrate two things. One, that Terri Clark didn’t compromise her musical sound for more than a decade, despite how much things changed around her in country music. Two, even though her fortunes rose and fell more than once at country radio, the music itself was consistently good all along.
Best of all, since she was primarily a great singles artist, you can get just about all of the Terri Clark you need with this generous hits collection. If it leaves you wanting more, her two best studio albums – Pain to Kill and Fearless – are highly recommended.
Reba McEntire isn’t the only country star recharging her creative batteries with a career change this month. In an announcement on her website last week, Terri Clark informed her fan club that she would be exiting BNA Records and concentrating her efforts on international markets, specifically her native Canada.
As you all know, I have been struggling over the past couple of years at trying to find and write songs to finish an album for BNA records. Over the course of the past few years, the record business, and radio has changed dramatically. I recently came to the conclusion that I no longer feel as though I can creatively “fit” into a certain “box” or model, and have come to a very difficult crossroads in making the decision to part ways with my record label, and forge ahead independently.
Terri Clark’s first top ten single, “Better Things to Do,” was released in 1995, the same year that fellow Canadian import Shania Twain exploded onto the mainstream scene. The pair represented the diversity of the genre, with Twain implementing a number of rock and roll and pop elements to make an ultimately universal brand of pop-country, and Clark rarely straying from the modern country style that first attracted her to Nashville. At first, this diversity meant that both artists could thrive, and Clark excelled at rowdy rockers and even scored hits with more thoughtful material such as “Now That I’ve Found You” and “If I Were You.” A rare female hat act, Clark weathered the constant shifts of contemporary music better than most of her contemporaries.
For a look back at the other major categories, visit our CMA Awards page.
Zac Brown Band
Usually there isn’t this much turnover in this race unless most of last year’s nominees are ineligible. This year, only one of the four eligible nominees from last year – Zac Brown Band – earns a nomination. With their massive success and their multiple nominations, they’ve got an excellent shot at winning. Then again, Easton Corbin is elsewhere on the ballot, too. It could be a horse race. 2009
Zac Brown Band
Thirteen years after winning the Best New Artist Grammy as part of Hootie & The Blowfish, Darius Rucker won the country music equivalent, adding an exclamation point to the most successful pop-to-country crossover in a generation.
The industry favorites Lady Antebellum became the fourth band in history to win this award, following Rascal Flatts, Dixie Chicks and Sawyer Brown.
Little Big Town
In the year since winning the Horizon Award, Swift has solidified her position as the genre’s most successful rising star. While her debut album hasn’t reached the sales heights of the first discs by previous winners Carire Underwood and Gretchen Wilson, Swift is still one of the genre’s only significant sellers.
Little Big Town
I had a sneaking suspicion that Josh Turner was going to take this home, but as I’ve said before, Carrie’s got the best pipes since Trisha Yearwood. That she’ was acknowledged for that at such an early stage of her career is pretty amazing. Somehow I think the thrill of winning Horizon was short-lived, as winning Female Vocalist the same night left that memory in the dust.
Big & Rich
Four of these five were nominees again the following year, and all in categories besides just Horizon, though Lambert got another shot at that as well.I think Big & Rich and Sugarland are making the most interesting music, and they’re moving more units than Bentley, though he’s no slouch himself.The CMA showed good judgment this year.
The list of intelligent female singer-songwriters that have made it big in country music is fairly short. Brown-educated and world-traveled by the time she performed publicly, Mary Chapin Carpenter brought a sophistication to country music that was eagerly embraced by the industry and fans alike.
Carpenter began singing the folks songs that she loved when still in high school. Reportedly, classmates threatened to cut her guitar strings if she sang “Leavin’ On a Jet Plane” one more time. The divorce of her parents contributed to her introversion, and she was a reluctant public performer. After attending Brown, earning a degree in American Civilization, she attempted to pursue her musical ambitions.
Fate intervened when she met John Jennings, who would become her primary collaborator. At the time they met, she still considered music a hobby and was determined to “get a real job.” He pushed her to start performing original material, and she demonstrated her sense of humor early on by dubbing her own publishing company “Get a Real Job.” Her demo caught the attention of Columbia Records, who released it as is in 1987, under the title Hometown Girl. It became a popular record on college radio, and the label felt she could reach a larger audience if she pursued a country career.
When Mercury records launched Terri Clark in 1995, they billed her as country music’s first female hat act. Over the next decade, she’d show a lot more staying power than most of her male contemporaries, adapting to the big changes in country music along the way.
Clark grew up in Medicine Hat, a town in Alberta, Canada. Her grandparents had been country stars on the Canadian country music scene, and her mother had sang in local coffeehouses. Terri taught herself to play guitar by listening to her grandparents’ country records. She was inspired to pursue a country career of her own by the female stars of the new traditionalist movement in American country music, particularly the mid-eighties work of Reba McEntire and The Judds.
As soon as she graduated high school in 1987, she headed all the way to Nashville. She headed downtown and walked right into Tootsie’s Orchard Lounge, the legendary Broadway watering hole. Impressed by the young woman’s talent and grit, the managers hired her as a house singer. Clark worked odd jobs around town while moonlighting at the establishment, until a batch of self-written songs caught the attention of Mercury records, and they promptly signed her to a recording contract.
It’s not the embarrassing disaster that “Dirty Girl” was, but it’s not quite a return to form, either. She’s already done this before with “I Wanna Do it All”, only now it’s a list of things she won’t do in her next life, rather than what she wants to do in this one. There’s even a Mardi Gras reference again. She’s better at being Gretchen Wilson than Gretchen Wilson is, so by that standard, she turns in a good performance. Where the witty and insightful Terri Clark of days gone by has run off to is anybody’s guess.