It’s easy to forget just how talented Carlene Carter is. In the last eighteen years, she’s only given us two albums to remind us. But with a career that stretches back to her 1978 eponymous debut album, all the way through her excellent new release, Carter Girl, she has been a consistently excellent entertainer and songwriter. In addition to her latest release, her albums Musical Shapes (1980), I Fell in Love (1990), and Little Love Letters (1993) are all among the best country albums of their time. Those three sets factor heavily into this list, but there are plenty of great moments on most of her other studio albums, too. Her first four sets tend to fade in and out of print, but they’re worth snapping up when available. It’s been more than five years since I’ve done a Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists post. For the uninitiated, my rubric Read More
The Carter Family
His legacy has often languished in the shadows of his more accomplished female relatives, but A.P. Carter’s contributions to the development of country music remain essential.
Nashville, Vol. 1: Tear the Woodpile Down
The casual listener may remember Marty Stuart for the string of country radio hits he enjoyed in the late eighties and early nineties. However, Stuart’s legacy was cemented by groundbreaking projects released after his commercial heyday had drawn to a close, particularly 1999’s landmark The Pilgrim as well as 2010’s career-best effort Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions. Through such critically lauded work Stuart has built up a reputation as an elder statesman of country music, acting to preserve country music’s heritage and traditions, while simultaneously working to move the genre forward.
They started out as a gospel group in the forties, but it was their country-pop hits of the early eighties that made them superstars.
First formed as Wally Fowler and the Georgia Clodhoppers in 1943, they became the Oak Ridge Quartet when they found that they were performing their gospel songs in that area of Tennessee more than in any other place.
This was the decade that brought back the single. Not that it ever fully went away, as radio still played the promotional ones and video outlets the filmed ones. But actual commercial singles had gone the way of the dodo, until the digital revolution suddenly made them practical again. Why buy the whole album when you can just get the song that you want?
The devastation this has brought to record company bottom lines was probably unavoidable anyway, given the realities of post-Napster society. But technology has its perks. Now you can buy the songs on this list with a click of our mouse!
And what a list it is: 201 singles that run the gamut, from genuine hits that topped the charts to songs spun only by renegade DJs working the night shift. Here’s how we compiled it: four Country Universe writers ranked their personal favorite 100 singles, with an inverted point system applied (#1 on a list meant 100 points, while #100 on the list meant 1 point.) The songs were then ranked by number of total points, greatest to least. Ties were broken by the number of lists the song appeared on, then by highest individual ranking.
There was more consensus than usual for CU, and we all agreed on one thing: this list was a heck of a lot of fun to compile. We hope you enjoy it, too!
The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 1: #201-#181
“I Run To You”
There’s a palpable intensity to this song that grips me every time I listen to it. Love isn’t always characterized by peacefulness, and the song’s pulsing production perfectly conveys the urgency, desperation and passion that often accompanies it. – Tara Seetharam
“The Last Thing on My Mind”
Given her allegiance to country music’s history and personal association with both Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, you might think this was a cover of that duo’s first top ten hit. Instead, it’s a very modern-sounding song with a modern-day woman who never thinks about the guy she’s left behind until right before she goes to sleep, when “something in my broken heart rewinds” as she lies in an “empty bed as big as Arkansas.” – Kevin Coyne
Today’s Recommend a Track focuses on those songs that remind us to “Keep on the Sunny Side.”
As I wrote in my review of the new Rodney Atkins album, I’m an optimistic guy. So while I do love me some dark and depressing country music, the songs that best match my personal philosophy are those that look at the brighter side of life.
Some of my favorites:
The Carter Family, “Keep on the Sunny Side”
The Grandmama of them all. This was released during The Great Depression, y’all.
Shania Twain, “Up!”
Rodney Atkins sounds about as optimistic as Dwight Yoakam when compared to Shania Twain. This remains one of my favorite songs she’s ever released. Bonus points awarded to this clip because it not only features Alison Krauss & Union Station behind her, but Krauss and Twain discuss deodorant and shaving during the winter seasons.
Harlan Howard is in country music history. When interviewed about his #1 hit for the Judds (“Why Not Me”), he made an interesting statement about the need for repeating certain titles throughout a song: “Why Not Me” wasn’t a great title. To get a really good record, you’ve gotta write a hell of a song when you’re dealing with a title that average. The only thing I know to do with songs like “Why Not Me” and “Busted” – which I never thought was a good title – is to put the title in there often so that people remember it. The weaker the title, the more you gotta hear it.” “Why Not Me” earned the Judds the Country Duo/Group Grammy and the CMA award for Single of the Year. “Busted” was hit for both Johnny Cash with the Carter Family in the sixties and John Conlee in the eighties. Read More
100 Greatest Women #3 Maybelle and Sara Carter (The Carter Family) Just over eighty years ago, a family act from Appalachia traveled to Bristol, Tennessee. Behind the wheel was A.P. Carter, and on board were two mountain women he believed were destined for stardom: his sister-in-law, Maybelle Carter, and his wife, young Sara Carter, who was eight months pregnant as they made the trip. The previous day, A.P. had arrived home and declared, “We’re going to Bristol tomorrow to make a record!” The Carter Family had been performing in churches, living rooms and anywhere else they could get an audience in their Appalachian world, and when A.P. heard that a Victor Records employee was seeking rural talent to record in Bristol, he saw their golden opportunity to make it big. When they got to the recording studio, which was really just a converted warehouse, they took part in a twelve-day Read More