Pam Tillis Ranked: #75-#51

Pam Tillis Ranked

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

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

Innovative covers, underrated hits, and should’ve been singles abound as we fully enter the upper half of the list.

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

 

#75

“We Must Be Thinking Alike”

Every Time

1998

Written by Chris Farren and Chuck Jones

Produced by Pam Tillis and Chris Farren

“We Must Be Thinking Alike” is a sophisticated slice of pop-country, grounded in the realism of a long-term relationship that is at a crossroads, deciding whether it’s time to go or stay.

What did a decision to stick it out look like in 1998?  “Let’s just stay home. I’ll get a pizza and a movie we both want to see.  Then later on, who knows what we’ll find to agree on. It’s been so long.”

Country music by adults for adults.

 

#74

“It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”

Come See Me and Come Lonely

2017

Written by Paul Anka

Produced by Richard Landis

One of Pam’s solo tracks on her most recent album collaboration with Lorrie Morgan, her cover of “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” borrows more from the Anka arrangement than the Holly or Ronstadt versions.   There’s an air of weary resignation in her performance here.  It’s the sound of a woman who has “done everything and now I’m sick of trying.”  She’s looking ahead to when “you won’t matter anymore,” but if her vocal is any indication, that time has already come.

Other Voices: Buddy Holly, Paul Anka, Linda Ronstadt

#73

“Light of the World”

Just in Time For Christmas

2005

Written by Richard Leigh and Gary Nicholson

Produced by Pam Tillis and Matt Spicher

This isn’t the last appearance of Jesus on this list, but this is the highest song on the list that’s about his birth.  Tillis captures the miracle of his arrival while also foreshadowing the darkness of the path he is destined to walk.  It’s a moment of hope laced with the sadness of what deliverance of that hope will cost.

 

#72

“A Great Disguise”

Every Time

1998

Written by Greg Barnhill, Hillary Kanter, and Even Stevens

Produced by Pam Tillis and Billy Joe Walker Jr.

Martina McBride’s original recording of this “Tracks of My Tears”-inspired number leaned heavily into the bravado, as if it was being sung during the brightness of day and the mask was properly fitted.   Tillis takes the opposite approach, as if she’s just gotten home and has taken the mask off.   Her heartache is palpable as she cries, “I’m still in love with you. It’s all smoke and lies.  I’m just a good pretender in a great disguise.”

Other Voices: Martina McBride

 

 

#71

“Do Ya” (with Lorrie Morgan)

Come See Me and Come Lonely

2017

Written by K.T. Oslin

Produced by Richard Landis

This was one of the coolest choices Tillis and Morgan made on their covers album.  “Do Ya” opens the set, sounding like the opening theme song of an eighties television and dramedy.  Oslin’s distinctive phrasing is referenced more than recreated, as both ladies latch on to the familiar groove and filter it through their own unique vocal styles.  It’s a fitting tribute to one of her era’s best singer-songwriters.

Other Voices: K.T. Oslin

 

#70

“Seasons”

Just in Time For Christmas

2005

Written by Viktor Krauss and Karyn Rochelle

Produced by Pam Tillis and Matt Spicher

Karyn Rochelle is another wonderful, underrated songwriter, and A-list female artists feasted on her catalog in the 2000s.  “Seasons” is only tangentially related to Christmas, but it’s still one of the strongest tracks on Pam’s Christmas album.  It’s sung from the perspective of a stalwart supporter, and works as well as a song about a romantic partner as it does as a song from a mother to a child:  “Seasons, you know they’re always gonna change, but my love, it will always stay the same.”

 

#69

“So Many Ways”

This is My Country: Twin Fiddles and Accordion

2012

“Mi Vida Loca” was the No. 1 hit, but Pam’s best Spanish-flavored number is this stunner from This is My Country: Twin Fiddles and Accordion, which functions as a companion piece to the film of the same name.  This is one of the best vocal performances of her entire career.  Tillis is seductive and sensual as she slips effortlessly between English and Spanish, declaring all the ways she will show that her love is true.

 

#68

“What Was I Thinkin’” (with Lorrie Morgan)

Dos Divas

2013

Written by Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan

Produced by Pam Tillis, Lorrie Morgan, and Matt Spicher

Morgan and Tillis do a full rundown of their questionable choices over the years: the men, the perms, the leggings.  It’s all humility and good humor, as the ladies are able to laugh at themselves as they enjoy their time together, which is a direct result of trading “early retirement for life on the road.” 

 

#67

“Ring of Fire”

Greatest Country Love Songs

2007

Written by June Carter and Mel Kilgore

Tillis was laser focused on traditional country in the mid-2000’s, starting with her tribute album to her dad in 2002 and culminating in her purest traditional country album, Rhinestoned.   Her cover of “Ring of Fire” fits in perfectly with her approach at the time.  Its liberal use of fiddle and her unique phrasing, especially on the second verse, make an overly familiar song sound new again.

Other Voices: Anita Carter, Johnny Cash, Carlene Carter

 

 

#66

“I’ve Seen Enough to Know”

Put Yourself in My Place

1991

Written by Pam Tillis and Radney Foster

Produced by Paul Worley and Ed Seay

Much earlier in the list, I mentioned that Tillis would do a better version of “Love is Sneakin’ Up On You” on her first country album.  “I’ve Seen Enough to Know” works so much better because it has the wisdom gleaned from a few more years of living and loving, and it radiates the empathy that animates all of her best work.  She has a clearer understanding of why this man is being cautious, as she’s been burned over the years, too.  The way she takes flight with the melody toward the end is goosebump-inducing.

 

#65

“I Said a Prayer”

Every Time

1998

Written by Leslie Satcher

Produced by Pam Tillis and Billy Joe Walker Jr.

Pam’s early discovery of Leslie Satcher was timed well, as she was looking for a hopeful song to release as a counterpoint to “All the Good Ones are Gone,” her smash from one year earlier.  “I Said a Prayer” flat out rocks, with aggressive electric guitar accentuated with some fierce fiddle work.  This was her final top twenty hit on the Billboard singles chart.

 

#64

“Jagged Hearts”

Thunder & Roses

2001

Written by Stephanie Bentley and Chris Lindsey

Produced by Kenny Greenberg

The best songs on Thunder & Roses explore what it means to navigate life and love with many miles behind you and more than a few bumps along the way.  On “Jagged Hearts,” Tillis is partnering with another person who has had their heart broken, and acknowledging how hard it is to try again. “It’s hard to feel,” she observes, “when your feelings are numb.”  But “jagged hearts can mend, scars can heal and then, it’s so amazing when jagged hearts fit together.”

 

 

#63

“Beautiful Night”

Just in Time For Christmas

2005

Written by Julie Lee Still

Produced by Pam Tillis and Matt Spicher

The best track on Just in Time For Christmas is a simple song about how Christmas brings people together, and finding the beauty in those seasonal moments of togetherness.  There’s snow on the ground, friends are gathered together, and there’s a sense of warmth and peace that comes from the season and the surroundings.  I love the “Silent Night” riff toward the end – “all is calm, all is bright” – being used in this context.  Christmas time can feel like an assault on the senses, but those quiet moments with the ones you love are what you remember after all the holiday clatter fades away.

 

#62

“Dolly 1969”

Looking For a Feeling

2020

Written by Bob Regan

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

In an era when Dolly Parton has gone from criminally underappreciated to something approaching a deity, “Dolly 1969” is a refreshing reminder of Parton’s grit and determination.  It’s based around a photograph of her in 1969, where it’s clear in her eyes that she’s going to make it big, and she’s the only one on earth who knows that for sure.  Having another female country legend sing this song adds poignancy to it, as Tillis strode down a path that Parton helped clear for her, while doing some path-clearing of her own for the next generation of female country artists.

 

#61

“It’s Over” (with Lorrie Morgan)

Come See Me and Come Lonely

2017

Written by Bill Dees and Roy Orbison

Produced by Richard Landis

I love the theatrical harmonies on this Roy Orbison cover.  Much like their take on “The End of the World,” they are singing this song with a few more decades under their belt than Orbison had at the time he recorded it.  So many great pop records capture how big emotions feel when you’re young, much like so many great country records capture how deep the hurt runs when a life shared together comes to an end.   Their take on “It’s Over” favors the latter perspective, but preserves the big pop theatrics of the original recording.

Other Voices: Roy Orbison

 

 

#60

“Off-White”

Thunder & Roses

2001

Written by Pam Tillis, Tammy Hyler, and Kim Tribble

Produced by Paul Worley

Finally, a wedding song for second marriages:  “I’ll be wearing off-white, but that’s all right, this time to have and hold is gonna last for life.”

Tillis co-wrote this one, and it has the whispered intimacy of her best self-penned songs.  This is far and away the best vocal performance on Thunder & Roses, and one of the very best of her Arista run as a whole.  She’s the only songwriter who fully understands what she can do as a singer.

 

#59

“A Whisper and a Scream”

Every Time

1998

Written by Austin Cunningham and Verlon Thompson

Produced by Pam Tillis and Billy Joe Walker Jr.

When I heard Every Time for the first time, I truly believed it would be the first Pam Tillis album with at least six singles pulled from it.  The songs are so well-crafted, and felt tailor-made for radio.

“A Whisper and a Scream” has a gorgeous arrangement, with rootsy instrumentation that recalls “Shake the Sugar Tree.”  The song is wryly observant of how a couple can meet “at the crossroads, going to extremes,” as they both cycle through needing each other and needing space:  “Sometimes I need attention when you need ‘left alone,’ sometimes you feel like clinging when I feel like being gone.”

 

#58

“Where the Real Love Begins” (with Jon Weisberger)

I’ve Been Mostly Awake

2014

Written by Pam Tillis and Jon Weisberger

Produced by Jon Weisberger

This may be my favorite surprise discovery on the list.  “Where the Real Love Begins” revisits the same basic concept of “Love is Only Human,” but where that song opted for grandiose drama, this one chooses quiet reflection.   The bluegrass-flavored song finds Pam noticing that the spark is gone in her current relationship, but rather than seeing that as a reason to leave, she realizes that this means their relationship has finally started for real:

When the shine is off the penny, when the violins stop playing
And when the rose-colored glasses are set aside
Let’s forge love in the fire so we can shine like gold again
Maybe here’s where the real love begins

 

#57

“Heart Over Mind”

It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis

2002

Written by Mel Tillis

Produced by Pam Tillis

Pam’s mournful cover of “Heart Over Mind” features a forlorn harmony vocal from Emmylou Harris, who can make even the saddest song just a little bit sadder.  The It’s All Relative tracks from here on out work best because they’re essentially Pam Tillis tracks, where reverence for the original recordings is less prioritized and she approaches them as if they were songs pitched to her that she’s making her own.

This serves as a gorgeous centerpiece for the tribute album, and is one of the most ambitious reworkings of the collection.

Other Voices: Ray Price, Dean Martin, Mel Tillis

 

#56

“Better Friends”

Looking For a Feeling

2020

Written by Joe Pisapia

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

There aren’t nearly enough good songs about the end of friendships. Seems like everybody wants to write about love gone good or bad.  A friendship that comes to an end can cut just as deep, but often lacks the closure built in to the ending of a romantic relationship.

Here, Tillis shoulders the blame for what went wrong as she wishes she could undo the choices that led to the friendship coming to an end:  “When you saw me angry, what you didn’t see was that I was afraid, I felt incomplete.”  Alas, she’s almost certain that they “are the pages of a book near the end,” even as she longs for a way back to the friendship that appears irreparably lost.

 

#55

“Mental Revenge”

It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis

2002

Written by Mel Tillis

Produced by Pam Tillis

In every other recording of “Mental Revenge,” it sounds like the singer is angry at the moment and coming up with a laundry list of bad things they’d like to see happen to the one who has wounded them.  Tillis sounds like she’s had time to reflect, and her resentment has simmered long enough to become vengeance.  When she sings that “all in all, if the curtain should fall, I hope that it falls on you,” you’re certain that however long this downfall takes to arrive, she’ll still be there: watching, waiting, and savoring every damn minute of it.

Other Voices: Waylon Jennings, Mel TillisLinda Ronstadt

 

 

#54

“How Gone is Goodbye”

Homeward Looking Angel

1992

Written by Pam Tillis, Jan Buckingham, and Bob DiPiero

Produced by Paul Worley and Ed Seay

“How Gone is Goodbye” is another track from Homeward Looking Angel that would’ve been an obvious single if it had been released on her previous album.  Here, she’s the one who has screwed up, and she’s remarkably self-aware about how her ego got in the way of this relationship.  This leads to one of her all-time best lines as a songwriter:  “Well I’m afraid that I already know the answer. Oh, just this once I’d sure love to be wrong.”  That line communicates more about what went down and where things are now than most songwriters can get across in three verses and a bridge.

 

#53

“One of Those Things”

Put Yourself in My Place

1991

Written by Pam Tillis and Paul Overstreet

Produced by Paul Worley and Ed Seay

“One of Those Things” was a hit that was a long time coming.  The Tillis original for Warner Bros. didn’t chart, and the Janie Fricke version remained an album cut.  But with a few slight changes in tempo and phrasing, Tillis revived it on her Arista debut and it went to #6 in Billboard and #4 on the Radio & Records chart.   Today, it feels like her most forgotten top ten hit, as it had to compete for recurrent play with “Don’t Tell Me What to Do,” and then the one-two punch of “Maybe it Was Memphis” and “Shake the Sugar Tree.”

It’s still a killer ballad that is very worth rediscovering.

Other Voices: Pam Tillis (1985), Janie Fricke

 

 

#52

“Karma”

Looking For a Feeling

2020

Written by Pam Tillis and Jen Schott

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

“You’re my karma, aren’tcha?”

Leave it to Pam Tillis to build such a compelling, brooding number around that line.

“Karma” is another one of those darker moments that occasionally surface from Tillis, as she realizes that all of the hurt she’s going through is just like the hurt she inflicted on those that came before the man through which she finally met her match.

“Lessons that I was were in the past,” she ruefully observes, “are catching up with me fast.”

 

#51

“Come See Me and Come Lonely” (with Lorrie Morgan)

Come See Me and Come Lonely

2017

Written by Red Lane

Produced by Richard Landis

The best moment on Come See Me and Come Lonely is the title track, which closes out the album but has served as an opening number for Tillis and Morgan when they’re on the road.  This is a deep cut, the only single from the 1978 album Dottie that its namesake took to the top twenty.

They lean heavily into their Nashville roots here, singing in that pre-Ronstadt Nashville Sound style that the Opry matriarchs perfected.  It’s a style that Morgan has more fully embraced on record than Tillis, so it’s a special treat to hear Pam sing in a way that favors her fellow Opry cast members from the sixties and seventies.

Other Voices: Dottie West

 

Pam Tillis Ranked

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

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

1 Comment

  1. Man, do I wish your prediction of Every Time spawning six hit singles from back then came true! That album was certainly worthy of accomplishing that feat. Unfortunately, Pam was pretty much in the same boat as Patty Loveless, Lorrie Morgan, etc. with the female artists radio was cooling on by the late 90’s. In hindsight, it seems ironic that it was that time frame in which those women were being pushed off the airwaves, since that was actually one of the best times for female artists as far as commercial success goes.

    – I absolutely love “We Must Be Thinking Alike,” and I think it would’ve made a great single. THIS is the kind of contemporary country that I miss so much! As you said, this is proof that pop leaning country can also be mature and relatable and just flat out enjoyable. I love the chiming lead guitar coupled with the fiddle and steel. The “I’ll get a pizza and a movie we both want to see” line was always one of my favorites, as well. Also, it pretty neat being reminded that it was co-written and co-produced by Chris Farren, who wrote and produced a lot of my other favorites from the late 90’s.

    – “I Said A Prayer” does indeed rock! And it’s so much fun. Like many other late 90’s cuts, this is a perfect mix of 90’s alternative rock, pop, and traditional country. I especially love the aggressive 90’s rock guitar coupled with the killer fiddling! I also love how it goes from a dark feel and atmosphere in the verses to bright and cheery in the choruses. The “Sorry ’bout the lightning bolt” line in the second verse always makes me smile, too. Dangit, this really should’ve been a bigger hit! On a side note, I just took a gander at the official music video on YouTube, expecting to hear the original album version of the song with it. What I heard instead is what I’m assuming was a dance/club mix of the song that I didn’t even know existed! And you know what? I actually dig it! It definitely gives the song even more of an alternative feel, and I can picture a bunch of people dancing to it at a club in the late 90’s just having a blast. Pam also looks great throughout the video, and I love the short haircut she was sporting around that time!

    – For the longest time, when it came to “A Great Disguise,” I always gave the slight edge to Martina’s version because that’s the first one I ever heard, and I just loved the arrangement of her version. After having just heard Pam’s version again, though, I now have to say that I really enjoy both about equally. I loved your comparison between the two, which was pretty interesting. Pam’s take does indeed have an even darker feel to it, in which I really like. It’s just a truly great song all around that would’ve made a great single for either artist, imo.

    Two more of my very favorites from Put Yourself In My Place are featured in this batch, as well!

    – “One Of Those Things” is, in my opinion, one of her best and most underrated singles, and it’s another one of my favorite traditional country ballads from the early 90’s. It’s just a great song about sadly realizing that a relationship is unsalvageable after doing all you can to save it. Paul Worley and Ed Seay were a killer production team in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and they just did this song perfectly. I love how even though it’s a sad ballad, it’s still so full of energy, especially with the kicking drums. And the way Pam wails out some of her best vocals the last few lines of the song still gives me chills today. It’s such a shame that it became one of her forgotten singles. Like “Put Yourself In My Place,” I also had this song recorded off the radio on to a tape in early 1993. It’s actually one of those K-Mart brand tapes from the 80’s, and it amazingly still plays well today. I was revisiting a bunch of my tapes around 2001, including that one, and I remember being blown away by Pam’s song after not having heard it in ages. The early childhood memories just came flooding back, and I was like “Where has this song been after all this time?” It’s actually one of the songs that inspired me to look for Pam’s Put Yourself In My Place and add it to my collection of 90’s country debut albums that I was building at the time (Of course, I didn’t know back then that it wasn’t technically her debut recording).

    – When I did get that album in the early 00’s, “I’ve Seen Enough To Know” was one of the immediate standouts for me when it came to the non singles, and it’s one of the songs I’d repeat over and over. To this day, I still consider it to be one of the biggest missed opportunities for single release among her hidden album cuts. The song is simply gorgeous from start to finish, and like much of co-writer Radney Foster’s work with and without Bill Lloyd, it’s an excellent hybrid of country and 60’s rock/pop. I especially love the chiming guitars throughout which recalls a lot of Foster & Lloyd’s 80’s work. Lyrically, I don’t think I’ve heard a more perfect song about being reluctant and cautious about giving love another try after being burned too many times, and Pam nails the patience and understanding of her character perfectly in her performance. I love how you continue to drive home that Pam’s empathetic side is one of the very best qualities of her greatest songs (in which I fully agree), and that’s most definitely on full display here. And yes, the way she wails out the last lines after the excellent guitar break gives me chills, as well!

    “How Gone Is Goodbye” is one of my favorite non-singles from Homeward Looking Angel. It’s such a fun Texas flavored country shuffle that also happens to be quite clever and original lyrically. Besides Pam’s performance, the self-awareness of her character in the song is also a big part of its charm. I also love that second verse. :) In addition, I love it when she growls out some of the lines, along with the excellent telecaster and steel guitar playing throughout. I actually first heard this song in the early 00’s when one of our favorite barbeque restaurants had the Homeward Looking Angel album as part of their rotation one afternoon. I immediately fell in love with it! That’s also when I heard “Let That Pony Run” again after not having heard it in ages.

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