Pam Tillis Ranked: #100-#76

Pam Tillis Ranked

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

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

We enter the top 100, with this section including the first appearance of a track from Pam’s most recent album, Looking For a Feeling.

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

 

#100

“I Know What You Did Last Night” (with Lorrie Morgan)

Dos Divas

2013

Written by Al Anderson and Karyn Rochelle

Produced by Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan

The best duets on Dos Divas recall the classic duet albums of the sixties and seventies, where two established stars and personalities engage in banter throughout the song.  “I Know What You Did Last Night” is a morning after comedy record with Tillis and Morgan escalating their accusations of each other while trying to evade blame for their own transgressions from the prior evening.

 

#99

“Go Your Own Way”

Live at the Renaissance Center

2005

Written by Lindsey Buckingham

Produced by Matt Spicher

Live at the Renaissance Center closes with a glorious rendition of the Fleetwood Mac classic, “Go Your Own Way.”  Whereas the Buckingham vocal on the original is all clenched teeth grit, Tillis weaves a classic country loneliness into her rendition, adding a wistful sadness to the already melancholy lyric.

Other Voices: Fleetwood Mac, Wilson Phillips

#98

“It Isn’t Just Raining”

Thunder & Roses

2001

Written by Jennifer Hanson, Tony Martin, and Mark Nesler

Produced by Billy Joe Walker Jr.

The most traditional cut on Thunder & Roses is also one of the most emotionally impactful. Vince Gill provides a strong harmony vocal that heightens the Nashville Sound-influenced performance from Tillis.  I don’t think there’s anyone left on the radio who can be as effortlessly honky-tonk as Tillis is when she sings, “When you get back, this time I’ll be gone.”

 

#97

“After Hours”

Every Time

1998

Written by Suzi Ragsdale and Verlon Thompson

Produced by Pam Tillis and Billy Joe Walker Jr.

This might be the most evocative recording Tillis ever released.  It’s all mood and atmosphere, capturing little details of a bar at closing time: “The talk is on the level. The truth is coming out.”

Rather than tell us why those lonesome souls are hanging around, “After Hours” leaves the specifics to our imagination.  That they’re lonesome as hell is clear as day:  “We’re all in this together.  We’re all in this alone.”

Other Voices: Suzi Ragsdale

 


#96

“Guitars, Cadillacs” (with Lorrie Morgan)

Come See Me and Come Lonely

2017

Written by Dwight Yoakam

Produced by Richard Landis

Nobody ever made being a honky-tonk fool sound as effortlessly cool as Dwight Yoakam did. This was a bold cover choice on the part of the Grits and Glamour duo, and it is delightful to hear two veteran female artists turned loose on this classic hit.  Why should the young guys get all the guitars, cadillacs, and hillbilly music to themselves?  

Other Voices: Dwight Yoakam 

 

#95

“Silver Wings”

Mama’s Hungry Eyes: A Tribute to Merle Haggard

1994

Written by Merle Haggard

Produced by Pam Tillis and Bruce Bouton

This Merle Haggard cover is all about that first verse, and every time that it gets repeated.  Most of “Silver Wings” is an understated and faithful cover of the Merle Haggard original. But when Tillis wails, “Don’t leave me, I cried,” the heartbreak can be heard over the jetliner as it leaves the ground. 

This cover isn’t available for streaming, but you can purchase it here

Other Voices: Merle Haggard

 

#94

“I’ll Be Home For Christmas”

Just in Time For Christmas

2005

Written by Kim Gannon, Walter Kent, and Buck Ram

Produced by Pam Tillis and Matt Spicher

Something about “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” just works better than most Christmas standards do, especially when a country artist tackles it.   Life on the road gives them immediate access to dreaming of home and longing to be there for the moments that they miss.  That’s the price of the dream.  Tillis balances jazz and country so well here. 

Other Voices: Bing Crosby, Michael Bublé, Kelly Clarkson

 

#93

“Not Me”

Every Time

1998

Written by Cathy Majeski, Sunny Russ, and Stephony Smith

Produced by Pam Tillis and Billy Joe Walker Jr.

The best compliment I can give to “Not Me” is that when I first heard it, I thought it was co-written by Kim Richey.  It has a similar groove to her work from this time period.

Tillis is showing a returning beau right back to the door – “Once is enough to be someone’s fool. You may find someone else willing to lose themselves, be what you want them to be, but not me.”

Another missed opportunity for a single from Every Time, which had more radio-friendly cuts than any other Tillis album.

 

#92

“Leave it All Behind”

Noble Things

2008

Written by M. Jason Greene and David Reed

This song features every small town staple that we’ve been bombarded with in the bro country era.  It’s got the small town girl riding up front in the cab of the truck as it speeds down a dirt-laden back road.

The key difference? The girl in this song is behind the wheel and leaving the limitations of her small town behind.  She’s got her own dreams to follow and no interest in sticking around somewhere that will leave her potential unrealized.

Much like mainstream country music when Tillis exited the radio, the town she leaves behind won’t be nearly as valuable as it was when she was still around. 

 

#91

“Tennessee Waltz” (with Lorrie Morgan)

Come See Me and Come Lonely

2017

Written by Pee Wee King and Red Stewart

Produced by Richard Landis

Tillis and Morgan tap into the existential loneliness of “Tennessee Waltz.”  They lost more than a dancing partner that night.  Their whole world and the future they’d planned for it have waltzed away, never to be seen again. 

Other Voices: Patti Page , Sam Cooke 

 

 

#90

“Bettin’ Money On Love”

Rhinestoned

2007

Written by Doug Crider and Verlon Thompson

Produced by Pam Tillis, Gary Nicholson, and Matt Spicher

Few things are harder to pull off than a spoken narrative song, regardless of how proficient the singer might be.  Storytelling in this form requires expressiveness through variation of tone and using rhythm and pacing to heighten the emotional beats.

“Bettin’ Money On Love” is even more difficult to pull off because the narrator herself is beaten down and more than a little bitter, which Tillis signals with her low-key exasperation throughout the song.  On lines like “I think I loved the car more than I ever loved the man,” she communicates bravado, longing, and irritation all at once. 

 

#89

“Hurt Myself”

Every Time

1998

Written by Savannah Snow

Produced by Pam Tillis and Billy Joe Walker Jr.

This is the darkest piece that Tillis has ever recorded.  She contemplates running up debt, driving drunk,  playing with knives, and all other sorts of self-inflicted wounds, and determines she’ll do all of them before giving her departed lover another try:  “If I want to love somebody who wants me to be somebody else, I know where to find you if I need another way to hurt myself.”

 

#88

“Put Yourself in My Place”

Put Yourself in My Place

1991

Written by Pam Tillis and Carl Jackson

Produced by Paul Worley and Ed Seay

Tillis throws down the gauntlet on the opening track of her first country album.  Right out of the gate, she’s showcasing her sharp wit, playful banter, and contagious energy, as well as her ability to infuse traditional country and bluegrass elements with a contemporary point of view.  The guitar breakdown before the final chorus is still one of the coolest musical moments in her entire catalog. 

 

#87

“Pull Your Hat Down Tight”

8 Seconds

1994

Written by Lewis Storey

Produced by Pam Tillis

This track is historically significant for Pam Tillis, as it’s her first entirely self-produced track.  A rodeo soundtrack may seem like a strange fit for Tillis, but she wisely picks a little-known Southern Pacific cut for her contribution.  It uses rodeo as a metaphor for getting knocked down in love, dusting yourself off, and getting back in the game again.

Tillis always shines on “conversational advice” songs, and this is no exception: “You fell for a show-and-tell sweetie and the girl made a wreck out of you.  You found she was runnin’ ‘round doin’ what a good hearted woman don’t do.  You wish all you want to wish but wishin’ won’t make a girl true. Let it slide tonight, pull your hat down tight, well there ain’t nothin’ else you can do.”

Other Voices: Southern Pacific

 

#86

“The End of the World” (with Lorrie Morgan)

Come See Me and Come Lonely

2017

Written by Sylvia Dee and Arthur Kent

Produced by Richard Landis

Here’s one where Morgan and Tillis being audibly older and wiser makes an already heartbreaking song more poignant, with deeper shades of melancholy than you can find on the youthful Skeeter Davis classic..  These could be two ladies comforting each other as they grieve their dearly departed loved ones, whether it was the angels or divorce proceedings that took away the tomorrows that were planned along the way.  

Other Voices: Skeeter Davis, Herman’s Hermits, Patti Smith

 

 

#85

“Come On and Sing” (with Mel Tillis and Family)

It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis

2002

Written by Mel Tillis

Produced by Pam Tillis

Madonna was on to something when she sang that “Music makes the people come together.” Mel Tillis was on to it decades earlier.  In the aftermath of 9/11, there was an added urgency to Pam, Mel, and family opining that people are “doing too much fighting,” and there’s “not enough singing going on.  How many folks have you ever seen fight while they were singing a song?”

There’s always some conflict going on in some part of the world, and every generation thinks they’re living in the end times.  Hearing these words in 2002 – “Come on and sing, girls, sing, boys, this old world may not last long” – packed an extra punch that hits all over again during these dark days of plague, prejudice,  and political rage.

 

#84

“Train Without a Whistle”

Rhinestoned

2007

Written by Jon Randall

Produced by Pam Tillis, Gary Nicholson, and Matt Spicher

It doesn’t get more lonesome than a country train song.  Here, the train doesn’t have a whistle, so you won’t see or hear it coming until “you’re run over by the truth.”  Tillis wearily warns future suitors that the “tall dark handsome stranger” will make a wreck out of them, and once he’s gone, “he ain’t comin’ back.”

The playlist has a live version.  You can hear the studio version here

 

#83

“Rose in Paradise”

Come See Me and Come Lonely

2017

Written by Stewart Harris and Jim McBride

Produced by Richard Landis

On the Jennings original, Waylon tells the story of a jealous banker who may or may not have killed the woman of his dreams.  In Waylon’s telling, the sympathy seems to be with the banker.  In Pam’s reading, the sympathy is transferred to the woman who felt trapped in a mansion that felt like it was a prison.  In her version, the lone rose growing at night, likely marking the woman’s grave, is transformed from a simple burial marker into an eternal statement of resilience. Her body was killed but her spirit lives on. 

Other Voices: Waylon Jennings

 

#82

“Violet and a Rose” (with Dolly Parton)

It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis

2002

Written by Mel Tillis, Thresa Auge,”Little” Jimmy Dickens, and John Reinfeld

Produced by Pam Tillis

Dolly Parton provides a bluegrass-inspired harmony vocal on “Violet and a Rose,” which was first a hit for “Little” Jimmy Dickens decades earlier.  The two legends harmonize beautifully, with the camp of the Dickens original fading away, bringing forth the tender loneliness of the lyric.

Other Voices: “Little” Jimmy Dickens

 

#81

“We’ve Tried Everything Else”

Homeward Looking Angel

1992

Written by Pam Tillis, Bob DiPiero, and Sam Hogin

Produced by Paul Worley and Ed Seay

Homeward Looking Angel was such an ambitious demonstration of artistic growth that this conventional love song, which likely would’ve been a hit single if included on her previous album, languished in anonymity as an album cut. It’s a great song that Tillis sings with urgency.  Michelle Wright later covered it, but the Tillis original remains the strongest recording of it. 

Other Voices: Michelle Wright

 

#80

“Every Time”

Every Time

1998

Written by Tommy Lee James and Jennifer Kimball

Produced by Pam Tillis and Billy Joe Walker Jr.

“Radio can just decide not to play you anymore,” Tillis mused to New Country magazine in 1994, as she was on the cusp of her commercial peak.  Four years later, country radio stopped playing Pam Tillis.  After the lead single from this album just missed the top ten, this gorgeous ballad was sent to radio, featuring the Eagles’ Timothy Schmidt on harmony vocal.

It should’ve been a smash, but it barely went top forty.  24 years later, I’m still annoyed about it. 

 

#79

“Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life)”

Sweetheart’s Dance

1994

Written by Pam Tillis and Jess Leary

Produced by Pam Tillis and Steve Fishell

Meanwhile, Tillis only had one No. 1 Billboard hit, although five other of her singles topped at least one major industry chart.  “Mi Vida Loca” was buoyed by Tillis winning Female Vocalist of the Year right before its release, and she performed the song on the CMA show the evening of her victory (and everywhere else in the coming months, from Letterman to Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve.)

It was a breath of fresh air at the time, and it’s worth noting that Ricky Martin’s inescapable hit with a similar title was still five years away, so the phrasing wasn’t overly familiar when Tillis used it.  

It’s a fun record to listen to, even if it doesn’t quite live up to the style and substance of the big hits that are still to come.  

 

#78

“Say You Love Me”

Gone Country ’70’s Rock

200

Written by Christine McVie

This song jumped about fifty places in the overall ranking once I finally listened to it alongside the Fleetwood Mac original.  What I assumed was a derivative cover is really a transformative one, with country instrumentation seamlessly integrated into its classic rock structure, as well as – I’ll come right out and say it – a far stronger lead vocal performance from Tillis than we get from McVie.

The song itself is so good that the Tillis version feels like it finally reaches its full potential, despite it being an undeniable classic in its original form.  

Other Voices: Fleetwood Mac

 

#77

“Dark Turn of Mind”

Looking For a Feeling

2020

Written by Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch

Produced by Pam Tillis, Joe Pisapia, Jimmy Ritchey, and Matt Spicher

Looking For a Feeling finally makes is first appearance on the list, with its lowest-ranked track still having a fairly lofty ranking.  Tillis transforms the woefully sad Gillian Welch song “Dark Turn of Mind” into a mid-tempo shuffle, leaning into the lyric’s reveal toward the song’s end: “Some girls are blessed with a dark turn of mind.”  Tillis finds the sunshine that lurks within the shadows, understanding that happiness cannot exist without sadness.

Other Voices:  Gillian Welch

 

#76

“Tequila Mockingbird”

All of This Love

1995

Written by Pam Tillis and Mel Tillis Jr.

Produced by Pam Tillis

What would “El Paso” have been like if the story had been written from Felina’s perspective?

It would be something like “Tequila Mockingbird,” where the songbird of the county line cantina carrying on with her life as she mourns Diamond Dan, her one true love who she once found “with the gamblers all around him, lying in a pool of cheater’s blood.”

Tillis tells the tale with her signature empathy: “She used to be a desert rose with ballerina toes, but that wasn’t in the cards she chose to play. The pages of her life are wrinkled, but her Spanish eyes still twinkle every time she steps out on the stage.”

Side note: if you want to measure just how much she grew as a singer in only ten years, listen to her yodeling on “Sidewinder’s Symphony” and then listen to it on “Tequila Mockingbird.” 

 

Pam Tillis Ranked

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

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

 

2 Comments

  1. Just want to share how much I am loving this feature. I need to find the time to listen to all the songs I am unfamiliar with. Thankfully, it’s all here!

  2. So sorry I’m super late to this one, but I still wanted to share a few thoughts on some of these selections.

    – “Every Time” is still one of my personal favorite songs from Pam as well, despite it not being as big of a hit as it should’ve been. I still think of the Fall of 1998 whenever I hear it. I remember hearing it often on the radio around that time whenever I was in bed on a school night, listening to the radio before I fell asleep. It was still early into my 7th grade year. The song sounded great coming out of my clock radio at night, and I remember especially enjoying the steel guitar parts by Sonny Garrish. Pretty cool learning about the Eagles connection with it! It’s such a shame that radio started cooling on Pam right around this time. I personally love the Every Time album and think it’s quite underrated.

    – Speaking of the Every Time album, “Hurt Myself” has always been one of my favorite cuts from it! I really love how dark it is, both lyrically and sonically. Love how creatively it’s written, too. So many late 90’s country albums had great ballads like this hidden away as album cuts.

    – “Not Me” is one of my favorites off that album, as well. Love the beat and the “No way I’m fallin’ for that again!” lyrics. I especially like it when she sings “You’ve become a broken record” lol. Sonically, it’s another one with a nice dark atmosphere to it, especially the tone of the guitar and steel guitar in some parts. I agree that it would’ve made a great single.

    – “Put Yourself In My Place” is one of her main songs for me that’s such an essential part of the soundtrack to my early childhood. That song and its video actually served as my introduction to Pam. I had already heard the song a few times on the radio as a six year old in 1991, but it was after seeing the song’s video on CMT while over at my dad’s house in Fredericksburg, VA that I got to see what she looked like for the first time. I also got it on one of my all time favorite tapes that I recorded from the radio in early 1993, and I listened to that sucker countless times throughout my childhood. I remember pulling that tape out again around 2001 and thinking how “Put Yourself In My Place” (plus many other songs on the tape) sounded refreshingly “old timey” and organic compared to what was then currently on the radio. I guess that just showed how much mainstream country had changed in just a ten year span. Anyway, the track is still just as fun, fresh, and exciting for me today, and its bluegrassy, true blue country arrangement is part of what makes it still sound so great and authentic. I absolutely love Pam’s enthusiastic, spirited performance as well as the mean guitar pickin’ featured on it throughout. It’s simply one of her most fun records ever that still gets my toes tappin’!

    – “Mi Vida Loca” is another very fun song from Pam that did deserve its number one peak, but it definitely didn’t deserve to be her very last number one. Love the Tex-Mex arrangement of this, especially in the instrumental break. She also gives it a great joyful, enthusiastic performance that just makes you smile. Besides, how can I not like a song with the narrator proudly talking about her crazy life?

    – “We’ve Tried Everything Else” is one of my favorites off of Homeward Looking Angel that I agree would’ve made a great single. Speaking of Michelle Wright, love her early 90’s music, as well! “Take It Like A Man” should’ve been a number one, and if I had my way, both “He Would Be Sixteen” and “The Change” would’ve been bigger hits.

    – “Pull Your Hat Down Tight” is one of my favorite cuts off of that 8 Seconds Soundtrack. I didn’t even know it was previously cut by Southern Pacific. Another thing I miss about the 90’s is having these all star cast country soundtracks for different kinds of movies.

    1

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