Reflections on Wynonna & The Judds: A Greatest Hits Christmas

I’ve always been a Wynonna fan first.

Growing up in the eighties, some country music of the time made its way on to my radar through long car rides with my parents.  As I’ve mentioned before, it was John Conlee and Lee Greenwood and Reba McEntire and George Strait.  Even some Rosanne Cash, because my parents were cooler than they or I realized at the time.

But The Judds were on my radar for their public personalities more than their music, simply because the only Judds music my family owned was a 45 of “Grandpa (‘Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days),” which was transferred to many a mixtape of theirs.

I was flirting with being a hardcore country music fan by the end of 1991, which coincided with their farewell tour and final award show appearances. By the time I was all in on the genre, Wynonna had launched her stunning self-titled debut album, which was eclipsing the commercial and critical success that the Judds had experienced toward the end of their run.

I love the Wynonna album from start to finish.  They could’ve released twice as many singles from it without lowering the caliber of what was sent to radio.  I also loved Wynonna’s solo persona, all grit and confidence and 100% comfortable in her own skin.  Her solo career felt like a liberation from her former limitations.

Still, my appetite for country music was ravenous, so the Judds’ Greatest Hits CD made it onto my 1992 Christmas list, alongside a Super Nintendo system.  I was barely 13, y’all.  I hooked up the SNES to the computer monitor in my room and popped their hits CD into my stereo, expecting to give it a once over while playing the first few stages of Super Mario World.  One Christmas break later, I’d found all 96 exits in the game and had listened to the Judds on repeat the entire time.

How had so many brilliant songs evaded me over the years? Sure, I knew about “Mama He’s Crazy” and “Why Not Me” and even “Rockin’ With the Rhythm of the Rain.”  But “Change of Heart” was a revelation, and an early indication that Naomi Judd was a songwriter to be reckoned with. I loved the moody groove of “Cry Myself to Sleep” and Wy’s reading of “the cashier gave me the strangest look” in “Have Mercy.”  I was baffled that “Give a Little Love” somehow stopped at No. 2.  I was convinced that “Love is Alive” was the best song ever written about love.

The sound was mesmerizing. Those harmonies! Those acoustic guitar licks! That slow emergence of Wynonna’s bluesy growl.  By New Year’s Day of 1993, I was a true blue Judds fan, and my allowance eventually went toward a copy of Greatest Hits Volume Two.   It didn’t have the same impact, but “Born to Be Blue” and “Young Love (Strong Love)” joined those earlier hits among my favorite records of theirs.

Through the years I have remained a much bigger fan of Wynonna’s solo work than I am of her work with the Judds, though Naomi still remained a presence in some of my favorite Wynonna moments over the years.  She co-wrote the brilliant songs “My Strongest Weakness” and “That Was Yesterday,” and provided harmony on Wy’s exquisite cover of “Flies On the Butter (You Can’t Go Home Again).”   In a weird way, Naomi Judd’s impact has always felt overstated and underrated at the same time.  I’m happy that they got into the Country Music Hall of Fame together, even if it means Wynonna’s deserved solo induction is now a long way off.

I can’t go back and understand what it was like hearing that classic Judds sound in real time, washing over the airwaves like a cool mountain stream. But I can go back to the Christmas of 1992 and play Greatest Hits on repeat again, and remember the awe that I felt in discovering the depth of their talent and the breadth of their material.  That’s what I’m doing this morning as I write these words.




  1. I first got into country music in 1996, when I was 9-years-old, so my introduction to Wynonna came through “To Be Loved By You” and her revelations album. I saw her in concert with Blackhawk that year and afterwards became aware of her debut solo album. So, the Wynonna I first knew was the one who was very bluesy and had black backup singers, not that one who sang in a duo with her mom. I first got into The Judds music through a few of their hits, namely “Why Not Me,” “Grandpa,” “Mama He’s Crazy,” and “Young Love.” My first big exposure to The Judds was through the live recording of their New Year’s Eve 1999 millennium concert and then Big Bang Boogie. I don’t even think I knew the majority of their major hits until I heard them on Sirius/XM Prime Country.

    I know people laud after Connie Smith, her voice is incredible, but no one holds a candle to Wynonna vocally. She has one of my favorite voices ever in country music. The definitive version of “That Was Yesterday” isn’t from Tell Me Why, but rather Her Story: Scenes From A Lifetime. It just might be the greatest single vocal performance of her entire career. I’m thrilled she also covered Tina Turner’s “The Best” on that album, which is as perfect a song for Wynonna as anything she ever recorded. It would’ve been a perfect addition to her debut album, standing alongside “No One Else on Earth.”

    As for Judds’ songs, I’ll also single out the often overlooked yet stunning “Maybe Your Baby’s Got The Blues” and the should’ve been single “Dream Chaser.” I always look at “Flies On The Butter” as a full-fledged Judds song, a perfect latter-day addition to their storied catalog.

  2. I was always a bigger Judds fan than I was a solo Wynonna fan, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t all about Wynonna too. Wy, Trisha, Reba, Patty and Pam all ruled the 90s for me. I always liked Naomi’s harmonies and especially on “The Sweetest Gift” “Mr. Pain” and on Wynonna’s solo “When I Reach the Place I’m Going”. Naomi’s stage presence absolutely captivated me as a kid in 1990 and I loved her songwriting.

    I think Naomi was a big part of what steered the Judds sound. She really helped them stand out from what was happening in the 80s. Wynonna was so young at their launch, but Naomi’s smarts really helped them establish almost overnight. 14 number ones in just 6 years blows my mind. It seems odd for the ones that did miss that “Give A Little Love” missed. Must’ve been a multi-week number one that blocked it? Has to be one of my favorites from them along with “Young Love (Strong Love” As far as duos in country music goes I think Naomi contributed the most to the act’s overall success. Sure, Kix Brooks and Christian Bush contribute in their songwriting and stage presence, but I think they could’ve been replaced with any other sidekick and still had a big impact with Ronnie or Jennifer’s vocals. I don’t think the Judds would’ve had the same level of success and the run they had without Naomi.

  3. I also wanted to add that probably 2-3 of the greatest vocals I’ve ever heard on record probably come from Wynonna’s live album in 2005 “Her Story: Scenes From A Lifetime”. Also the structure of that concert was just fantastic.

    • That performance is stunning. As Ashley said at the Hall of Fame, she’s a GOAT. I have so many favorite moments from that, like Faith Hill and Tim McGraw singing along in the audience to “Young Love” and that epic introduction to “That Was Yesterday.” (“When he got home…she…wasn’t there. But I was.”)

      • Her exchange with the kids that night also really highlighted her stage presence. The versions of “Is It Over Yet” “Love Can Build A Bridge” and and “No One Else On Earth” are probably the best live versions I’ve ever heard of them. Actually all of them are probably the best live version. She was on absolute fire for that.

        I’d always wished for Trisha Yearwood to do a concert in this style pairing the songs with the stories of her career in chronological order and adding in influences. I just want a live album from her period,

        • I’ve enjoyed the clips of Wynonna’s interrractions with the audience that I’ve seen. She’s funny and quick when she needs to be.

  4. That first Greatest Hits album is the first Judds music I owned as well. I’m guessing the first song I loved by them was “Young Love”, but I can’t say for sure. They were never played on the most popular station in my area when I got into country music in ’93, but I heard them on our other country station, which did play more than just the current hits. Even though I preferred more pop country at the time, I really loved the Judds and really noticed Naomi’s distinct harmonies. However, before I learned otherwise, I thought Naomi was the lead singer, because most of Wynonn’as vocals for the Judds music sounded so different from the Wynonna solo songs that I knew. So, I remember being surprised to learn that Wynonna was actually the lead singer of The Judds.:)

    It’s been really fun for me to be “rediscovering” Wynonna now that I’ve been listening to her solo music again. I always liked her, but I’ve learned that I never gave her enough credit for what she accomplished after the comfort zone/safety net of being part of The Judds was gone! She does have an amazing voice and while her first two albums are excellent, the albums that followed are still strong in my opinion, even though it seems as though a lot of people have panned them.

    I’ve said it previously and I’ll say it again, “No One Else on Earth” holds up incredibly well!

    My favorite Judds songs are “Rockin’ with the Rhythm of the Rain”, “Don’t You Throw that Mojo on Me”, “Flies on the Butter”, “Guardian Angel.” It wasn’t until I recently listened to Wy’s debut solo album that I rediscovered “When I Get to Where I’m Going” and it was a pleasant gift/surprise to hear Naomi on it!

  5. Yes! That concert was excellent and I loved that intro too! I also loved when she named a bunch of big male artists and then lowered the boom by saying that they all opened for her.

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