Do you remember the first country album you ever bought? Maybe it was on a vinyl record. Maybe it was on a CD. Maybe for some of you younguns it was a digital download. Maybe it was one that you loved at the time, but eventually outgrew – or maybe it’s one that you still listen to and love today. Either way, our first country album purchases became part of the soundtrack of each of our lives, not to mention part of our journey of discovery into the genre that we love.
Today we at Country Universe are sharing the first country albums that we remember buying along with our thoughts on those albums today, plus a few of our personal memories that we associate with them. If you’re in the mood for a musical walk down memory lane, please feel free to tell us about your own first country album purchases in the comments below.
Put Yourself In My Place
Something In Red
I’d been aware of country music from an early age. Two of my favorite artists when I was in elementary school – Olivia Newton-John and the Everly Brothers – had been successful in the genre. My parents were both huge fans of current and older country music. Car rides featured a mix of Reba McEntire, George Strait, Tammy Wynette, Johnny Cash, Rosanne Cash, Johnny Horton, and Conway Twitty. My father’s appreciation for John Conlee transferred over to me. My mother’s for Lee Greenwood did not.
But I was completely immersed in pop music in the early nineties, and it took CMT to change that. We had a vacation house in the Pocono mountains, and the house there had cable, which had yet to arrive in our New York home. During MTV and VH1 commercial breaks, I found myself checking out CMT. One of the first videos to stick in my mind was “Put Yourself in My Place.” I had no idea that Pam Tillis was country music royalty. I just thought the video was a bit odd and it stuck in my memory.
Then in the winter of 1991, a show called Hot Country Nights debuted. My parents had it on because my dad loved Clint Black and my mom loved K.T. Oslin. Pam Tillis was at the bottom of the roster, and I remember making a comment about the music video when her name was announced in the opening credits. I expected a colorful performance of “Put Yourself in My Place” that was like the video.
Then she came out and sang “Maybe it Was Memphis,” and my musical world was turned upside down. I had never heard something so passionate, so powerful, and so emotional. It gave me chills. I’d been obsessed with music since I was very little, but I had no idea music could be like this.
Shortly afterward, we visited a mall in Pennsylvania and I had some Christmas money to spend. For the first time, I intentionally sought out the country section, picking up Pam’s Put Yourself in My Place on cassette. I bought Lorrie Morgan’s Something in Red at the same time. My memory is foggier on that one because I don’t remember how I first heard “Except For Monday.” It didn’t have a video, so it must’ve been on the radio, or maybe another episode of Hot Country Nights. But I know it was for “Monday,” because discovering the title track was the highlight of hearing the whole cassette for the first time.
As for Pam, the experience of hearing “Memphis” repeated itself with “Melancholy Child,” her autobiographical song with a Celtic sound. I felt a connection to her music that was deeper than anything I’d experienced before.
Lorrie Morgan being a second generation country star was also lost on me at the time, but it’s funny looking back how closely I associated the two of them in my early years as a country fan. Their album cycles were closely linked, and I remember buying Watch Me around the same time as Homeward Looking Angel and War Paint around the same time as Sweetheart’s Dance. Even as nineties country became what I listened to the most, it was always a special event for me to get new albums from them.
Soon, my nineties collection was being augmented by the artists who influenced my current favorites, getting box sets for Christmas every year: Dolly Parton, then Emmylou Harris, then Linda Ronstadt. I became as big a Johnny Cash fan as my dad when he released American Recordings, and while dad and I didn’t always overlap in tastes – we rarely did, actually – we could always agree on Dwight Yoakam and Alan Jackson.
But it was always Pam’s albums that I treasured the most, listening to them on repeat and providing the foundation for my ever-growing love for country music. Put Yourself in My Place isn’t my favorite album of hers. It probably ranks fifth or sixth, maybe even seventh. But that’s a reflection of how she kept getting better, not on the quality of the album itself. I’ll forever be thankful that our television was tuned to Hot Country Nights that winter evening.
The Way Back Home
I grew up in a very large family where money was not in high supply. I got into country music when I was 12 years old. I was obsessed with listening to the radio and I badly wanted to own music by my favorite artists, but I rarely had money for such a thing. I would even set my alarm for 2:00 in the morning on Sundays, because there was a country music station that would play an artist’s entire album each week. So, I would wake up to record whatever album they decided to play early each Sunday morning. It’s amazing that my alarm never woke anyone else up!
I specifically remember a moment when I was a teen that my dad had a stack of probably no more than 20 CDs in the living room cabinet and thinking, “When I’m adult, I hope I can collect this many albums someday!”
One year when I was 14 or 15, my grandfather gave us $20 each to spend on Christmas gifts for other people in our family. Well, I somehow justified buying a little gift for myself out of that money too. The first album that I bought was from the bargain bin and it was Vince Gill’s “The Way Back Home” album on cassette, which was one of his RCA
albums. I didn’t know any of the songs on the album, because it was before his hitmaking CMA albums, but I was able to afford an album from my favorite artist, which was extremely exciting to me. Even though it’s certainly not his best album, I still love that album for what it was, which is a representation of the first album I ever bought and, what’s more, the first Vince Gill album I owned.
All of these years later, I’ve surpassed my childhood goal of owning 20 albums and I have hundreds of albums, though they’re mostly digital now.
Come On Over
It was not a new release – Come On Over had been out for some eight years when I bought it. I had first been introduced to the music of Shania Twain when my family was visiting my aunt. My aunt owned Twain’s Up! album (a fairly recent release at the time) and played it during the visit. My sister and I both took an instant liking. I remember her singing along nonstop to “I’m Gonna Getcha Good!” while I was quickly hooked by the title track with its infectious beat and incessant optimism.
My sister soon acquired a copy of Up!, followed by Twain’s Greatest Hits, both of which received much play in our home. Though I hadn’t previously known who Twain was, I recognized “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” and “You’re Still the One” from radio. I quickly grew to love Twain’s catchy pop melodies laced with country twang, so much so that when I came across her Come On Over CD at a retail store, it became the official beginning of my country music collection.
Today? I still listen to it. I still love it. I still have the same physical disc that I purchased as a young teen, and it still periodically gets popped into my car’s CD player. While I would later fall in love with traditional country music as well, I never lost my love of a great pop-country hook. In that area, I remain of the opinion that Twain set a bar which very few have reached.
The first compact disc I ever owned was Dwight Yoakam’s Buenas Noches from the Lonely Room. It was a birthday present from my mom, who fully supported my love of traditional country music. If I wanted something from Rodney Crowell or Michael Martin Murphy, it would show up for a birthday or a holiday or a good report card or “just because.” Part of that reason was because I’d play it in the house, and so Mom would get to hear it all too. I’d get physical custody of the CD, but Mom still got the music.
But our musical tastes didn’t line up all the time. So if I wanted to buy an album that was a little outside of her musical tastes, then I was on my own. So the first album I ever spent my own money on was, I believe, County Line by Southern Pacific. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it was a country-rock band that had members of Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Doobie Brothers – the version on this album was Kurt Howell on keyboards and vocals, Keith Knudsen on drums, Stu Cook on bass and John McFee on everything else and vocals.
The first time I ever heard “Any Way the Wind Blows” played on the radio (This being a time when interesting music was frequently played on country radio!), I fell in love with it. This album also had “Time’s Up,” a fiery duet with Carlene Carter, “Memphis Queen,” a cool song about a cursed riverboat, and “I Fall to Pieces,” an a capella version of a Del Shannon hit. Some of the songs were minor hits, and others less so, and the band broke up a year later. But when I was just starting to develop a left-of-center musical identity, this was the band I needed to hear.
Up on the Ridge
To be completely honest, I don’t remember exactly the first country music album I bought with my own money. I do, however, remember that 2010 was a pivotal year that pushed my growing fascination with country music into a borderline obsession, and I credit Dierks Bentley’s Up on the Ridge album for that.
While the late 2000s and especially early 2010s aren’t remembered that fondly in country music history – especially compared to the ‘90s – I still remember, as a kid, hearing songs on the radio that meant something or were, at the very least, interesting. Strangely enough, even then I strengthened my knowledge of the genre through country radio. I remember connecting to the pain expressed through songs like Sunny Sweeney’s “From a Table Away” and Brett Eldredge’s “Raymond,” among others. By no means a perfect time period, mind you, especially in hindsight and especially when I know there was enough bad to go around as well. But compared to today – where I struggle to connect with more than maybe five charting songs this year, at best – I find myself, at age 24, feeling old-fashioned in trying to capture what I feel is missing from the mainstream today.
Granted, not everything had to be a tearjerker to connect with me, and that’s why I gravitated toward the lead single and title track to Bentley’s Up on the Ridge project. I loved its moody unease captured through its tense atmosphere, and though it is, on paper, little more than a basic hookup track, there’s a sense of adventure and allure to it – and maybe even a sense of danger to it – that prompted me to buy the album the day it came out. While Bentley’s foray into bluegrass has always been described by purists as merely bluegrass-inspired, I still remember loving how different it sounded from not only the majority of mainstream country music, but Bentley’s own discography in general.
More importantly, I think it’s why I learned to love the album concept in general, and appreciate how artists could make statements, profound or otherwise – and often in less than 40 or so minutes, at that. There are other factors that contributed to my deeper love of the genre and especially to why I write about it today, but as for why I take the time to appreciate what I hear, I credit Up on the Ridge.
Country music was integral to my childhood as a working-poor Kentucky kid in the 1980s. Some of my earliest memories of music are the sounds of Dwight Yoakam, The Judds, Dolly Parton, and Randy Travis– and Alabama and The Forrester Sisters, because I knew early on what I didn’t like, too– pouring out of the cassette deck on my grandparents’ rusty white Buick. But when I had finally saved up enough money from the tooth fairy and birthdays to buy my own music, my first purchases weren’t country. The first music I ever bought of my own accord was a 45 rpm single of Cyndi Lauper’s “Change of Heart,” and the first album I ever bought was The Bangles’ Different Light. Even in grade school, I was a Poptimist long before that was even a thing.
But as I leaned into the fact that I was destined to be deeply uncool, I cared less and less about the music that my peers were listening to. I still liked a lot of pop and rock music of the late 80s and early 90s, but it was the music of those lo-Fi cassettes in that old Buick that really spoke to me. When I finally got a CD player for Christmas, several years after they’d been on the market and long after most of my friends had one, I was eager to start building out my own music collection in that format. The first country album I bought, having already recorded its hit singles off the radio and onto mixtapes many times over, was the self-titled debut album from an artist whose voice I’d loved for pretty well my entire life to that point: Wynonna.
That’s a purchase I still feel pretty smug about, nearly three decades on. I knew from my subscriptions to Billboard and Rolling Stone that the album was both a commercial and critical success at the time, and it’s an album whose stature has taken root over the years. While I’ve revisited it often– and those hit singles still sound as fresh today as they did in 1992– it’s been especially poignant to listen to the album again in recent weeks, as I’ve been focused on how great an artist Wynonna truly is in the aftermath of her mother’s suicide. Both Wynonna and Wynonna are truly great, and I’ll say I picked a great first album when creating my library of country music.