Pam Tillis Ranked: #150-#101

Pam Tillis Ranked

Introduction | #188-#151 | #151-#101 |

#100-#76 | #75-#51 | #50-#26 | #25-#1

This batch of fifty entries is the first to include major chart hits, with three of Pam’s top forty entries in the mix.  Also appearing for the first time are tracks from her albums Put Yourself in My Place, Sweetheart’s Dance, Every Time, and Rhinestoned.

To avoid spoilers, a playlist of all tracks can be found at the end of this post.  You can also access it here.

 

#150

“Space”

Thunder & Roses

2001

Written by Devon O’Day and Kim Patton-Johnston

Produced by Paul Worley

Thunder & Roses is a better album than it’s usually given credit for.  Part of what got in the way at the time of its release was its combination of youth-oriented material with deep and reflective songs about getting older and the passage of time.

“Space” is one of the youth-oriented songs.  We’re already at the point of the list where all of the material is solid and Tillis delivers all of it well.  So sometimes songs are going to be lower on the list because they don’t aim as high or tap into the full breadth of her talent as the songs that are higher on the list.

“Space” is a bit like watching an NBA all-star on the court at a neighborhood pick-up game.  Nothing but net, but not much effort required on their part to pull off the win.

 

#149

“New Year’s Eve”

Just in Time For Christmas

2005

Written by Frank Loesser

Produced by Pam Tillis and Matt Spicher

A slow and melancholy read of the new year’s standard, suggesting that she’s not fully sure that she’s going to get a “yes” to the question that she’s posing to her potential beau. 

Other Voices: Ella Fitzgerald , Kacey Musgraves

 

#148

“I’m Tired”

Dos Divas

2013

Written by Mel Tillis, Buck Peddy, and Webb Pierce

Produced by Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan

A fiddle-laden cover of the Webb Pierce classic. “I’m tired” is the frequently repeated lyric, but Tillis and Morgan sound anything but. It feels like a foreshadowing of their successful covers album released a few years down the road. 

Other Voices: Webb Pierce, Mel Tillis, Ricky Skaggs

 

#147

“I Thought I’d About Had it With Love”

I Thought I’d About Had it With Love [Single]

1986

Written by Milton Brown and Beth Nielsen Chapman

Produced by Barry Beckett and Josh Leo

She’s getting there.

“I Thought I’d Had it About Love” is an excellent song and she sounds more in command of her talent than on any record up to this point.  The instrumentation is creative, featuring some truly stellar picking throughout.

The production is getting better, but as with all of her Warner Bros. Nashville recordings, it sounds a little incomplete.  A more fully realized version of the sound that they’re going for here can be heard on the title track of her Arista debut.

 

 

#146

“Please”

Thunder & Roses

2001

Written by Michael Delaney, John Hobbs, and Jeffrey Steele

Produced by Billy Joe Walker Jr.

Pam’s final hit single is also her most frustrating.

It’s a tender narrative, as Pam relays the inner monologue of a nervous single mom getting ready for a date.  Having worn those shoes herself, she perfectly embodies the jumbled up emotions expressed by the lyric: “Am I nervous? Am I scared? Is it worth it? Should I even care?”

It should’ve been an instant classic and a much bigger it than it was.  What held it back was the very 2001 production.  It was bad enough that Tillis wasn’t a co-producer for the first time in nine years.  But Billy Joe Walker Jr., who had co-produced some of her best nineties work, should’ve known better than to have Pam singing over a drum machine.

“Please” lays an organic and natural vocal performance over an artificial backing track, and it undermines the work she does here as a vocalist.  It sounds like a crossover remix instead of an original country recording.

 

 

#145

“No Love Have I” (with the Jordanaires)

Caught in the Webb: A Tribute to the Legendary Webb Pierce

2002

Written by Mel Tillis

Produced by Gail Davies

“No Love Have I” served as a preview to her Mel Tillis tribute at the time of its release, even featuring the Jordainaires, who would also appear on It’s All Relative.  It also heralded Pam’s pivot to traditional country, which would reach its apex with Rhinestoned five years later.

It’s a charming and rootsy cover of the classic Webb Pierce hit.  Gail Davies as producer is a nice touch, given her own stellar cover of the song three decades earlier and the ground she broke as a female country artist self-producing her album, which Pam would also do successfully a few years after Davies.

Other Voices: Webb Pierce, Mel Tillis, Gail Davies, Holly Dunn

 

 

#144

“Five Minutes”

Collection

~1986

Written by Beth Nielsen Chapman

Produced by Barry Beckett

A few years before Lorrie Morgan went to No. 1 with this Beth Nielsen Chapman composition, Tillis recorded it for Warner Bros. as part of her singles deal.  It remained unreleased until Tillis was a platinum-selling star for Arista Nashville.

The arrangement is interesting, with Tillis using a slow tempo, acoustic introduction for the first verse, before picking up the pace with the first chorus.  Again, the anemic production holds the record back.  It would’ve been a great addition to her Arista debut if Morgan hadn’t already had a hit on it by then.

Both ladies contributed harmonies to Chapman’s own recording of her song, which is linked below.  Her arrangement hews closer to the Tillis recording.

Other Voices: Lorrie Morgan, Beth Nielsen Chapman

 

 

 

#143

“Christmas Waltz”

Just in Time For Christmas

2005

Written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne

Produced by Pam Tillis and Matt Spicher

Another cool jazz-flavored rendition of a Christmas song, with a bit more freestyle vocal licks than the tracks covered so far.  Best enjoyed with a glass of wine while you’re decorating the tree.

Other Voices: Frank Sinatra, Carpenters

 

 

#142

“Draggin’ My Chains”

Put Yourself in My Place

1991

Written by Pam Tillis and Rick Carnes

Produced by Paul Worley and Ed Seay

Pam’s first country album is a smorgasbord of styles, establishing her early on as an artist who was going to avoid repeating herself.  It has an acoustic introduction quite similar to her version of “Five Minutes,” but once things get underway, the production is finally muscular enough to back her power as a vocalist.

That this was the weakest track of Put Yourself in My Place was an early indication of just how strong her nineties work was going to be.

 

 

#141

“No Two Ways About It”

All of This Love

1995

Written by Greg Barnhill, Kim Carnes, and Vince Melamed

Produced by Pam Tillis

This is the most straight ahead country track on All of This Love, an album that managed to be organic and lush at the same time.  It’s despondently sad, as she must confront the reality that her former lover has moved on, watching her successor dance with him to what used to be “our song.”

It feels almost like a prequel to “In Between Dances.”  If this happened to me, I’d be sitting it out for a while, too.

 

 

#140

“Killer Comfort”

Above and Beyond the Doll of Cutey

1983

Written by Pam Tillis, Pat Bunch, Mary Ann Kennedy, and Pat Rose

Produced by Dixie Gamble-Bowen and Jolly Hills Productions

In the many years that Tillis recorded for Warner Bros., the most effort they ever put into breaking her was this single, which got an international release and was featured in her only music video for the label.

It’s a decent early eighties pop record that could’ve been better with a stronger production team that had a clearer understanding of her vocal abilities.  If she’d worked with someone like John Farrar or David Foster at the time, she might have had that big pop breakthrough, but then she’d never have returned to Nashville.   No harm, no foul.

 

 

#139

“Ain’t Enough Roses”

Dos Divas

2013

Written by Lisa Brokop, Sam Hogin, and Bob Regan

Produced by Pam Tillis, Lorrie Morgan, and Matt Spicher

“Ain’t Enough Roses” was a stateside single for Canadian singer-songwriter Lisa Brokop, which isn’t readily available on YouTube for sharing.  Tillis turns it into a bluesy number that’s more Memphis than Nashville, bringing the hard-earned wisdom afforded to her by time to the cool and collected kiss-off lyric.

 

#138

“Already Fallen”

Put Yourself in My Place

1991

Written by Pam Tillis and Bob DiPiero

Produced by Paul Worley and Ed Seay

Tillis closes out Put Yourself in My Place with “Already Fallen,” which has her telling a returning lover to save his breath.  No explanation necessary, as much as she appreciates it.  She’s all in on trying again.

The rhyme scheme of the second verse is something to behold:

You look so serious leaning on the Frigidaire

And gee, it’s sweet of you to ask me if I really care

But honey, I’m already picking out the silverware

Classic.

 

 

#137

“I Wish She Wouldn’t Treat You That Way”

I Wish She Wouldn’t Treat You That Way [Single]

1987

Written by Walker Igleheart and Kevin Welch

Produced by Marshall Morgan

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Pam Tillis finds a great song from the Nashville songwriting community, goes into the studio to record it, and despite the talent of the lady at the mic, it sounds like Warner Bros. spent $750 to record it, catering included.

I suspect that a big reason why she was able to transition into production so successfully is that making those Warner Bros. records required her to do so much of the heavy lifting.  By the time of this record, she sounds like the Pam Tillis that became a big star four years later.  If only everyone around her at the time had tried to keep up.

Other Voices: The Judds

 

 

#136

“Love is Only Human” (with Marty Roe)

Homeward Looking Angel

1992

Written by Annette Cotter and Kim Tribble

Produced by Paul Worley and Ed Seay

Marty Roe makes for a wonderful duet partner for Pam Tillis, making their pairing a satisfying way to close out side one of Homeward Looking Angel.

It’s a cool idea for a song, too, anticipating that when the newness of love wears off and “love is only human,” their love will still persevere.

Interestingly enough, she recently revisited this same theme on a bluegrass album.  That track will appear in the top 100.

 

#135

Even the Stars

Dos Divas

2013

Written by Tommy Lee James and Danielle Peck

Produced by Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan

“Even the Stars” is an evocative love song that is elevated by Pam’s effective use of her lower register.  The record stays on the right side of the fence between sentimental and sappy, thanks to its organic arrangement, which is maintained even as she goes full power ballad on the choruses.

 

#134

“Silent Night Medley”

Just in Time For Christmas

2005

Written by Franz Gruber, William J. Kirkpatrick, Josef Mohr, James R. Murray, and John Jacob Niles

Produced by Pam Tillis and Matt Spicher

The whole point of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of someone who will die a sacrificial death.  I gravitate toward Christmas songs that lean into the melancholy of that journey. It may end in resurrection and eternal life, but this little baby will have to suffer greatly as a man beforehand.

“Silent Night Medley” leans into that melancholy with its stark, reverent arrangement. It weaves together “Silent Night,” “Away in a Manger,” and “I Wonder as I Wander” into a seamless narrative of Christ’s birth, sung with a solemnity that slowly develops into joy.   It’s close in sound and spirit to the Christmas albums released by Kathy Mattea.

 

 

#133

“(You Just Want to Be) Weird”

Above and Beyond the Doll of Cutey

1983

Written by Pam Tillis and Bill Lamb

Produced by Dixie Gamble-Bowen and Jolly Hills Productions

The best track on Pam’s pop album is the one that makes clear why she couldn’t be a pop star in the first place.

“(You Just Want to Be) Weird” calls out the artifice built into the pop world, as Pam makes wry observations of a woman who has a desperation to be noticed.  She doesn’t begrudge her this – “Go ahead and be weird. Go and dye your hair to match your purple shoes” – but she’s fully aware that “every move is for effect.”

In the ultimate indictment of how such calculated weirdness is just another version of conformity, she ends by pleading, “teach me how to be weird.”

It’s a hilarious record, especially for anyone with a functioning knowledge of the early eighties New Wave scene.  It also helps explain why she didn’t quite fit in the L.A. scene in the same way that her Janie Fricke cover showed why she didn’t quite fit in the Nashville scene during the same time frame.

 

 

#132

“The Rockin’ Christmas Medley” (with Mel Tillis)

Thunder & Roses

2001

Written by Joe Beal, Jim Boothe, and Johnny Marks

Produced by Pam Tillis and Matt Spicher

Mel Tillis makes most of his appearances on this list as a writer, thanks to Pam’s tribute album and other covers of his songs that she’s recorded in recent years.

But he also makes four appearances as a vocalist, and this is the first.  Mel and Pam did a father-daughter Christmas show for several years, and “The Rockin’ Christmas Medley” is the closest thing on record to enjoying that experience live.

Their playful mashup of “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” finds both vocalists at their loosest and most laid-back.

 

 

#131

“I Was Blown Away”

Sweetheart’s Dance

1994

Written by Layng Martine Jr.

Produced by Pam Tillis and Steve Fishell

“I Was Blown Away” was the only single from Sweetheart’s Dance to miss the top ten. It was flying up the charts when the Oklahoma City Bombing happened.  In light of the tragedy, Tillis requested the song be pulled from the airwaves.  It was a noble move on her part.

Arista did the right thing by supporting Tillis on this.  I’m not sure they’d done the right thing by picking this as the fourth single in the first place, though. In the wake of her CMA Female Vocalist win, Sweetheart’s Dance was her fastest selling album and her most supported by radio.  “I Was Blown Away” was doing well on that momentum alone, but it’s the least interesting choice that they could’ve made to follow “Mi Vida Loca.”

At the time, I was hoping for “In Between Dances” to follow “Mi Vida Loca,” and it did eventually become a big hit.  I think that there were stronger choices for an uptempo single, and I’ll discuss those when we get to them.

As for the song itself, it’s the weakest track on an incredibly strong album.  It’s still a solid record, with one of the best couplets in her catalog: “Big sister said, ‘you better watch out.’ I slammed my door and said, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.'”

 

 

#130

“Those Memories of You”

Those Memories of You [Single]

1986

Written by Alan O’Bryant

Produced by Barry Beckett

This was Pam’s highest-charting Warner Bros. single, and it’s one slot shy of being her best release for that label.   This became a big hit for Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris soon after the Tillis version left the charts.

She sings the fire out of it, singing it with the yearning loneliness of country music from an earlier era. The liner notes for her Warner Bros. collection are sparse and don’t include musician information.  But whoever did the male harmony vocal on this did a hell of a job.

Other Voices: Trio (Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris) 

 

 

#129

“I Smile”

Thunder & Roses

2001

Written by Leonard Ahlstrom, Eddie Carswell, and Russ Lee

Produced by Billy Joe Walker Jr.

“I Smile” splits the difference between the youthful and mature material on Thunder & Roses, pairing a very 2001 pop-country production with a lyric about hard-earned love.

The driving fiddles complement Pam’s euphoric vocal, as she looks back on the lonely and challenging life that preceded this newfound joy, and looks toward the future with a new, bright-eyed optimism.

 

 

#128

“Walk Right Back”

Come See Me and Come Lonely

2017

Written by Sonny Curtis

Produced by Richard Landis

For their second collaboration, Lorrie Morgan and Pam Tillis released an excellent covers album.  The first song from that set to appear on this list is their take on the Everly Brothers classic, “Walk Right Back.”

It’s a good fit for them, as many years on the road together have them harmonizing as naturally as a sibling duo.  This is one of the jauntier tracks on the album, and it brings together elements from both the Everly Brothers original and the Anne Murray version that was a hit in the late seventies.

Other Voices: The Everly Brothers, Anne Murray

 

 

   

#127

“Same Old Train”

Tribute to Tradition

1998

Written by Marty Stuart

Produced by Marty Stuart

Marty Stuart has quietly been one of Pam’s best collaborators, especially toward the end of the nineties.  She won a Grammy for this multi-artist collaboration, where she sung alongside Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, Dwight Yoakam, and more.  It captures the history of country music, focusing on the thread that connects today and yesterday: “It’s the same old train, it’s just a different time.”

Unlike on the earlier multi-artist collaborations, Pam is front and center here, showing up in the first verse with lines all to herself.

 

 

#126

“There Goes My Love”

There Goes My Love [Single]

1987

Written by Buck Owens

Produced by Josh Leo and Marshall Morgan

Pam’s final single for Warner Bros. is a winning cover of the Buck Owens hit, “There Goes My Love.”  It’s her only release on the label that showcases the unique phrasing that would make her work so distinctive from the nineties on, which could make even the most familiar material sound fresh.

For those interested in her eighties work, start here.  Or end here, if you want to save the best for last.

Other Voices: Buck Owens, BR5-49

 

 

#125

“Waiting On the Wind” (with Mel Tillis)

Thunder & Roses

2001

Written by Tony Haselden

Produced by Kenny Greenberg

This was Pam’s first full-fledged duet with her dad, appearing as the closing bonus track on her 2001 album.  It’s a tender father-daughter song that could’ve been written specifically for them, as it fits so perfectly with their journey over the years.

A father has to stay behind s his daughter tests her wings and flies out on her own.  Pam Tillis was born in Nashville, the daughter of a country music superstar.  She would later return and become a country superstar herself.  But it’s the time away from home that was needed for her to return on her own terms, relying on her own vision and her own talent to forge her own musical identity.

“I gave you roots, I gave you wings, and girl, I understand.  An eagle can’t sit waiting on the wind.”

Lord, the way Mel’s voice breaks with pride as he sings that line is something to behold.

 

 

 

#124

“Two Kings” (with Kris Thomas)

Two Kings [Single]

2011

Written by Pam Tillis and Brenda O’Brien

At once a tribute to both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Elvis Presley, “Two Kings” is also a celebration of Memphis.

When it was recorded and released, it was easy to take for granted that the legacy of each man was secure.

Eleven years later, as the white supremacy that claimed Dr. King’s life is restoring its vise-grip on our country, the tragic elements of this song resonate more deeply than its heartfelt belief that the darkest days are behind us.

 

 

#123

“So Wrong”

It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis

2002

Written by Mel Tillis, Danny Dill, and Carl Perkins

Produced by Pam Tillis and Ray Benson

The only official single released from It’s All Relative, Tillis smolders on her cover of Patsy Cline’s “So Wrong.”  The Jordanaires provide low-key background vocals throughout the track.

“So Wrong” is another example of how Tillis makes a well-known song entirely her own through her unique phrasing.  The way she stretches out “touch” toward the end is goosebump-inducing.

Other Voices:  Patsy Cline

 

 

#122

“Ancient History”

Put Yourself in My Place

1991

Written by Bob DiPiero and John Scott Sherrill

Produced by Paul Worley and Ed Seay

Similar in theme to “Already Fallen,” “Ancient History” has a catchier melody and arrangement, if not the same lyrical cleverness.

As the B-side to “Blue Rose Is,” the fifth single from Put Yourself in My Place, “Ancient History” received some unsolicited airplay during the A-side’s chart run.

Canadian country band Prairie Oyster had a hit cover of the song in their homeland.

Other Voices: Prairie Oyster

 

 

#121

“You Can’t Have a Good Time Without Me”

All of This Love

1995

Written by Lewis Anderson, Lisa Silver, and Russell Smith

Produced by Pam Tillis

Tillis tackles a song that had circulated around Nashville for years and recorded the definitive version of it.

She gives “You Can’t Have a Good Time Without Me” a delightful Western Swing arrangement, and she pairs it with a vocal that taps into her jazz roots more than anything she recorded during her commercial heyday.

Other Voices: The Forester Sisters

 

 

#120

“Tryin’”

Thunder & Roses

2001

Written by Brett James and Troy Verges

Produced by Dann Huff

Remember that Kenny Chesney hit “Big Star,” about the girl singing in Banana Joe’s Bar who wanted to be a country music star?

“Tryin'” is what that song would be if it had a believable character with realistic obstacles to overcome.

“One in a million, Mama, that’s good enough for me.  And you can’t make me stay here anyway, now that I’m eighteen.”

So she heads off to Nashville, and works late shifts at the diner, biding her time until her dream comes true.  There’s nothing in the lyric to indicate that she is ultimately successful, but Pam’s vocal performance guarantees that she’s not giving up any time soon.

 

 

#119

“You’re the Only Star in My Blue Heaven”

Boots Too Big to Fill: A Tribute to Gene Autry

2007

Written by Gene Autry

Tillis gives a beautiful reading of this Western love song, again proving how comfortable she is with styles beyond traditional and contemporary country music.   It’s a delightful throwback to when the genre was known as Country & Western.

It’s not available on YouTube, but you can stream the entire tribute album here, which also features Marty Stuart, Vince Gill, and John Anderson.

Other Voices: Gene Autry, Patsy Montana

 

#118

“I Envy the Sun”

Dos Divas

2013

Written by Jean Schott

Produced by Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan

The arrangement of this song is gorgeous.  Strings are used effectively, and at certain moments, the backing music disappears completely, leaving Pam’s vocal unadorned.   Then steel guitar drops in and out, and an electric guitar solo appears out of nowhere.

Pam’s two projects before this were steeped in traditional country, so when “I Envy the Sun” arrived, it was a pleasure to hear her eclecticism return. I’d love to hear a whole album in this style.

 

 

#117

“They Don’t Break ‘Em Like They Used To”

Sweetheart’s Dance

1994

Written by Roger Brown and Jason Sellers

Produced by Pam Tillis and Steve Fishell

Sweetheart’s Dance truly was Pam’s full liberation as a vocalist.  When the melody takes flight on this song, she takes it places none of her peers would have gone.  Or could’ve gone, really.  It’s all that Vince Gill can do to keep up with her as he harmonizes on the chorus.  Listen to them soar as they sing the line, “We’re living proof there’s nothing that true love can’t cure” for the last time.

 

 

#116

“Milk & Honey”

The Prince of Egypt: Nashville

1998

Written by Pam Tillis and Marty Stuart

Produced by Pam Tillis and Marty Stuart

All of the Prince of Egypt companion albums suffered from the same problem.  They were weighed down by the heaviness of the concept, as if the only way to treat the story of Moses was with a somber and joyless solemnity.

But Pam Tillis got something right that everyone else got wrong.  The Bible was oral tradition before it was written word, and oral tradition requires engaging storytelling.  So for “Milk & Honey,” we get the story of Moses told with tonal variation and in the contemporary vernacular, just like it would’ve been adapted back in the day to keep it relevant and interesting for the audience:

God was there in the prophet’s dream
And the sparkled stream that flowed from the rock
And the burning bush, on the mountain top
All across that desert sand
Fingerprints of the master’s hand
He cried out, “Look out Pharaoh, I’m headin’ back to town’
That’s the way it all went down
Milk and honey bound
Even God must’ve been relieved to hear something with some life in it.

 

 

#115

“Summer Wine” (with Lorrie Morgan, Joe Diffie, and Darryl Worley)

Come See Me and Come Lonely

2017

Written by Lee Hazelwood

Produced by Richard Landis

My goodness, the sheer audacity of this track.

“Summer Wine” is a classic Nancy & Lee duet which can only be sung by a man and a woman.  But this is an album of duets between two women.

The easy path would’ve been to just pick a guy to sing with one of them, but that wouldn’t have been ambitious enough for Pam & Lorrie.  So they turn it into a double duet, with Pam & Lorrie sharing the Nancy part and Joe Diffie & Darryl Worley teaming up to share Lee’s part.

Try not to think too hard about what this structure suggests really went down between sunset and sunrise under the influence of all that summer wine.   The four of them together is worth more than the black market value of some stolen silver spurs.

Other Voices: Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood, Lana Del Rey & Barrie-James O’Neill

 

 

#114

“Emotions”

It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis

2002

Written by Mel Tillis and Ramsey Kearney

Produced by Pam Tillis

How low can Pam Tillis go?

Listen to the opening of “Emotions” to find out, as she utilizes the lowest part of her register that’s even been committed to tape.

That starting point makes it all the more powerful when she goes for the higher notes as the song progresses, tracking how her conversation with her own emotions grows from weariness to frustration to openly pleading “Emotions, give me a break. Let me forget that I made a mistake. Can’t you see what you’re doing to me? Emotions, please set me free.”

Historical note: This song was originally recorded by Carl Smith in 1957.  Mel Tillis revised the lyrics before pitching it to Brenda Lee, who had a big hit with it in 1961.

Other Voices: Carl Smith, Brenda Lee

 

 

#113

“Sweetheart’s Dance”

Sweetheart’s Dance

1994

Written by Doug Gill

Produced by Pam Tillis and Steve Fishell

We knew we were in for a hell of a ride when the Tex-Mex opening track “Mi Vida Loca” segued into the title track of Sweetheart’s Dance, which kicks off with a flawless fiddle intro.  Sweetheart’s Dance was Pam fully coming into her own as a vocalist, perhaps because she was co-producing for the first time.  As good as her first two albums for Arista were, there wasn’t a single moment on either of them that showcased her range as a vocalist like this album did.  Just take a listen to her delivery of this part of the second verse –  “I love you, I love you, let me whisper in your ear” – and you’ll know what I mean.  Then enjoy the musical outro, with its steel guitar and mandolin waltzing the song off of the stage.

 

 

#112

“Old Enough to Be Your Lover”

Dos Divas

2013

Written by Lisa Carver

Produced by Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan

Pam dropping the b-word on “Dolly 1969” threw me for a loop.  I had to listen to it three times to fully believe what I was hearing.  But I shouldn’t have been so surprised, given how loose and funny she was on the Dos Divas project.

“Old Enough to Be Your Lover” takes a lot of nerve to record, and it wouldn’t have worked if there was even a hint of shame or apology in her performance.  She performs it with reckless abandon, and she sounds like she’s even amusing herself as she rattles off the chorus:  “I’m old enough to be your lover.  You’re old enough to finally take home.  I’m old enough to be your lover.  I’ll break it to my kids, you go break it to your mother.”

It’s a sassy and seductive cut that would’ve made K.T. Oslin proud.

 

 

#111

“Over My Head”

Rhinestoned

2007

Written by Andrew Gold and Jenny Yates

Produced by Pam Tillis, Gary Nicholson, and Matt Spicher

Pam’s acclaimed traditional country set Rhinestoned makes its first appearance on this list with its closing track.

Like “Milk & Honey” before it, “Over My Head” has a lighter touch than most gospel songs.  The arrangement and performance lend credence to the lyric, which clearly communicates that her faith is a source of both joy and resilience.  The Irish penny whistle featured throughout is a nice touch.

This track couldn’t be embedded into the playlist below.  You can listen to it here.

 

#110

“Away in a Manger” (with Terri Clark and Suzy Bogguss)

It’s Christmas…Cheers! 

2021

Traditional

Produced by Terri Clark

The newest recording on this list appears on Terri Clark’s 2021 Christmas album.  Clark is joined by Tillis and Suzy Bogguss, her Chicks With Hits tour mates on the traditional Christmas classic, “Away in a Manger.”  It’s an intimate rendition that mirrors their stage setup, with the ladies alternating lead and harmony vocals with each verse.  They sound great together, and the pure country arrangement complements their vocals.

 

#109

“I am a Woman” (with Lorrie Morgan)

Dos Divas

2013

Written by Mary Sue Englund and Thom Shepherd

Produced by Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan

“I am a Woman” opens the Dos Divas album, setting the stage for a collaboration between two of the defining female artists of their generation.  They explore the different facets of womanhood, and all the roles that women choose or are expected to play.  Both ladies bring a hard-earned wisdom to the material, making the record more affecting than it would have been otherwise.

The version by co-writer Mary Sue Englund is also quite good.

Other Voices: Mary Sue Englund

 

 

#108

“Whiskey On the Wound”

Every Time

1998

Written by Leslie Satcher

Produced by Pam Tillis and Billy Joe Walker Jr.

Pam Tillis was an early and vocal supporter of Leslie Satcher, recording three of her songs on her 1998 album, Every Time.  “Whiskey On the Wound” is the most traditional country of the three cuts, which stood out distinctively among the contemporary sound of the album as a whole.   The fiddle work here is especially effective.

 

 

#107

“Goodbye Wheeling”

It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis

2002

Written by Mel Tillis

Produced by Pam Tillis

As we get higher on the list, Pam takes more liberties with the style and arrangement of her Mel Tillis covers.   This may as well be “Goodbye Freewheeling,” as she ebbs and flows above a mid-tempo shuffle, zigging when expected to zag.  It might be the loosest record she’s ever recorded.

Other Voices: Mel Tillis

 

 

#106

“Crazy By Myself”

Rhinestoned

2007

Written by Matraca Berg and Gary Harrison

Produced by Pam Tillis, Gary Nicholson, and Matt Spicher

Pam hasn’t recorded a lot of Matraca Berg songs, which is a shame because she’s a great match for her idiosyncratic songwriting.

“Crazy By Myself” stars one of Berg’s coolest protagonists, who “probably bought my shrink a Mercedez Benz” and is attracted to a man across the room who is probably as “warped as me.”

She toys with pairing up with him, then decides, “Don’t need you to drive me home, baby. I can go crazy by myself.”

 

 

#105

“Blue Rose is”

Put Yourself in My Place

1991

Written by Pam Tillis, Jan Buckingham, and Bob DiPiero

Produced by Paul Worley and Ed Seay

“Blue Rose is” is an easily overlooked single from early in her Arista tenure, sandwiched in between the signature songs “Maybe it Was Memphis” and “Shake the Sugar Tree.”

Its charms are more understated, telling the tale of a lonely woman looking for love and settling for less at the end of every night.  If anything defines Pam’s point of view, it’s an abundance of empathy without an ounce of judgment.  She embodies that philosophy more fully on later efforts, but the foundation of it is present here.

 

 

#104

“Be a Man”

Thunder & Roses

2001

Written by Chuck Jones and Jeffrey Steele

Produced by Billy Joe Walker Jr.

This is “Any Man of Mine,” Pam Tillis style.

Her expectations go beyond the current moment and run deeper down the emotional well.  She casually rejects the assumptions of what a woman wants…

So you think you got it figured out
What a woman desires most
The house, the car, the ring, the bank account
Sense of security, you ain’t even close

..and shifts the conversation to the things that truly matter:

You better be true to me
Don’t fool with me
Don’t stray from me
Don’t play with me
Turn away when you’re tempted to
And don’t lie to me
Do right by me
Stand beside me
When you’re feeling weak
Think about your woman and think again
Be a man

 It’s the inverse of the Tammy Wynette approach, where it’s the woman who has to do everything she can to keep a man from straying from home, embodying how Tillis was an important marker in the transition of women in country music.   Vulnerable? Yes.  Weak? Hell no.

 

 

#103

“Will You Miss Me” (with Ralph Stanley)

Clinch Mountain Sweethearts

2001

Written by A.P. Carter

Produced by Bill VornDick

Pam Tillis won an International Bluegrass Music Association Award as part of this album that paired Ralph Stanley with the finest female country and bluegrass singers of the era.   Tillis has quietly become a major contributor to the bluegrass scene in the years since, especially as a songwriter.  This particular effort was an early indication of how well she could pivot to the genre, sounding completely natural in a musical surrounding that was new to her.

She might be the only country artist of her generation that had more R&B under her belt than bluegrass at the time.  Still, her country roots run deep, and a Carter Family classic fits her like a glove.

Other Voices: The Carter Family, Stanley Brothers, June Carter Cash

 

 

#102

“New Set of Wings”

Love Lives On

2020

Written by Pam Tillis, Allison Banholzer, Caroline Banholzer, Katherine Banholzer, Rob Crosby and Dean Sams

The story behind this song is amazing.  Tillis wrote it alongside fellow Nashville professionals and the family of a fallen soldier.  The details are specific to the experience of his wife and daughters, but there are universal truths about grief, loss, and faith that everyone can relate to.

As Tillis sings with a crack in her voice, “I can’t begrudge you your new set of wings, though the hurt is so hard and the truth is so mean.”  Anyone who has lost someone knows that feeling.

 

 

#101

“Lay the Heartache Down”

Every Time

1998

Written by Jamie O’Hara

Produced by Pam Tillis and Billy Joe Walker Jr.

Arista Nashville never recovered from the departure of founding label president Tim DuBois, and this Pam’s Every Time was among the casualties of that leadership change.

At some point in the development cycle of Pam’s  album, “Lay the Heartache Down” was considered as the title track, and it was an obvious choice for a single release.  But Arista stopped after two releases from the album, an ominous sign that the commitments to artists and artistry that had defined the label for nearly a decade were no longer going to be honored.

Enjoy it now and try not to think about what might have been, had DreamWorks not whisked DuBois away from his Arista division.

 

Pam Tillis Ranked

Introduction | #188-#151 | #151-#101 |

#100-#76 | #75-#51 | #50-#26 | #25-#1

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

  1. Quite a few of my favorite album cuts here! And also a couple underrated singles from her that I enjoy.

    – I didn’t care for “Please” as much when it first came out because it was so pop sounding, but now I enjoy it a lot. This is the kind of pop country I prefer, which is more mature and relatable, and I even like the early 00’s contemporary production style. To me, it’s more sonically pleasing than most of today’s pop country sounds. Overall, this is the kind of pop country I wish was still being heard on the radio today. I’m sure it would’ve sounded great with a countrier, more organic production, as well, though.

    – “I Smile” is one of my favorite cuts on Thunder & Roses, actually. The song puts me in a good mood, and it makes ME smile. :)

    – “No Two Ways About It” and “You Can’t Have A Good Time Without Me” are a couple of my favorites from All of This Love! I absolutely love the dark feel of “No Two Ways..” and it’s another one of those sad songs I get lost in and picture the story the lyrics tell in my head. “You Can’t Have A Good Time…” on the other hand, is such a fun swinger, and I absolutely love Pam’s playful, personality filled performance on it! I happen to like the Forester Sisters version, as well, but I agree that Pam’s is the best.

    – There’s a couple of my favorites from Sweethearts Dance featured here as well, them being the title track and “They Don’t Break ‘Em Like They Used To.” Both are such, great, fun dance friendly tunes (Leave it to Pam to do better dance country songs in 1994 than most of the line dance ready fluff that was popular then). I agree with you all the way on “Sweethearts Dance,” especially on her charming performance and that lovely outro. And as someone who’s always loved country shuffles “They Don’t Break ‘Em…” is way up my alley!

    – Put Yourself In My Place is still one of my favorite albums of hers, and it was great seeing quite a few of its cuts here.

    . “Draggin’ My Chains” is so much fun, despite the somewhat still downbeat lyrics. I love the quiet opening with Pam and a guitar, until it turns into a nice little honky tonker with the kicking drums, steel guitar, and some fine electric guitar picking. I can picture it playing at some old roadhouse in the early 90’s.

    . I’ve always loved “Ancient History,” as well, and it’s another very fine traditional country shuffle from the early 90’s, with some excellent steel guitar and telecaster playing. Pam’s voice is so perfect for this kind of stuff, too! I also like Prairie Oyster’s version very much.

    . “Blue Rose Is” is definitely one of her more underrated singles, imo. I myself don’t even recall hearing it on the radio in 1992, but I finally got to enjoy it after picking up the album in the early 00’s. The pure country arrangement is simply gorgeous, with some killer fiddle playing, especially, and man, I just love how in your face the steel was in much of these songs! Not to mention Pam’s vocals are so good throughout, and the way her and the harmony vocals sound together in the choruses is nothing short of perfection.

    – “Same Old Train” is a pretty cool collaboration I’ve gotten to enjoy in more recent years after picking up the Tribute To Tradition album. It’s neat how monster collaborations like this were still happening in the late 90’s, and the talent featured on this one track is staggering. Not to mention, this song itself is catchy and pretty cool, as well. Speaking of Marty Stuart, I love Pam’s harmony vocals on his minor 1993 hit, “High On A Mountaintop.”

    – I never knew about her earlier recordings of “Five Minutes,” “Those Memories Of You,” or the Judds’ “I Wish She Wouldn’t Treat You That Way.” This is exactly why I love features like this! I have to go check them out. Hearing that she also did “Five Minutes” is neat given how she and Lorrie have been collaborating often lately. I’ve always loved the Trio’s version of “Those Memories Of You,” but I bet Pam did great on it, too.

    Again, I’m absolutely loving this! Keep ’em coming! :)

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