The Chicks Ranked: #81-#51

The Chicks Ranked

Introduction | #81-#51#50-#26 | #25-#1

The Chicks list kicks off with a handful of collaborations, alongside tracks from all five of their studio albums.

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

 

#81

Merry Christmas From the Family” (with Rosie O’Donnell)

Another Rosie Christmas

2000

Written by Robert Earl Keen Jr.

Produced by Ric Wake

When the bottom entry is an uproarious Robert Earl Keen cover, you know you’re in for a good ride all the way through.  The Chicks are good sports as they perform with Rosie O’Donnell for a charitable cause.  O’Donnell’s heart is in the right place, even if she never finds the right key.  This track serves as the unofficial endpoint of their early days, where they were still country music’s good ol’ girls and their serious artist phase had yet to begin.

 

#80

Roly Poly” (with Asleep at the Wheel)

Ride With Bob

1999

Written by Fred Rose

Produced by Ray Benson

“Roly Poly” is the closest the Chicks ever came to their pre-Natalie Maines sound.  If nothing else, it’s proof positive that even those independent records would have been excellent if she was at the mic.  It’s a fun performance of a silly song. 

 

#79

Lullaby On Broadway” (with Tony Bennett)

Duets: An American Classic

2006

Written by Al Dubin and Harry Warren

Produced by Phil Ramone

Want an easy indication of the Chicks’ versatility? They can do homage to the McGuire Sisters just as easily as to Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys.  They sound fantastic on this collaboration with Tony Bennett, although it still ranks as only their second best meeting.  Nothing will ever top him enthusiastically presenting them with Record of the Year at the 2007 Grammy Awards.

 

#78

Strong Enough” (with Sheryl Crow)

Live From Central Park

1999

Written by Sheryl Crow and Jeff Trott

Produced by Sheryl Crow

Yes, that’s Natalie Maines outsinging Sheryl Crow on her own song at her own Central Park concert.  Maines absolutely nails the required combination of strength and desperation that the lyric calls for, again demonstrating her versatility as a singer.  Crow will appear again on this list as a co-writer of one of the better tracks on Taking the Long Way.

 

#77

“The Neighbor”

Shut Up and Sing

2007

Written by Gary Louris, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, Emily Strayer, and Pete Yorn

Produced by Rick Rubin

“The Neighbor” is the afterbirth of the Taking the Long Way era, recorded for the wonderful documentary, Shut Up and Sing.  It’s a bit too on the nose to work as well as that album’s best tracks that implicitly address the controversy that redirected their career.  Maines’ vocal is, as always, beyond reproach.

 

#76

You Can’t Hurry Love

Runaway Bride

1999

Written by Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland, and Edward Holland Jr.

Produced by Peter Asher

We’re only six tracks into this list, and the Chicks have already successfully done alternative country, Western swing, Tin Alley pop, Lilith Fair rock, and sixties Motown R&B.

What’s most interesting about this cover of the Supremes classic is hearing a strong singer like Maines replace the fragile-sounding Diana Ross.  She sounds impatient rather than sounding desperate like Ross did on the original hit recording.

 

#75

Thin Line”

Taking the Long Way

2006

Written by Gary Louris, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, Robert Schneider, and Emily Strayer

Produced by Rick Rubin

The Chicks culled their material well for Taking the Long Way, the first album of theirs to be heavily driven by the trio writing together.  So it’s not a surprise that the digital bonus tracks don’t hold up as well as the proper album cuts on their Grammy-winning album.  This is the lesser of the two bonus cuts, simply because it doesn’t deviate from the album’s steady midtempo groove.

 

#74

I Can Love You Better

Wide Open Spaces

1998

Written by Pamela Brown Hayes and Kostas

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

Their debut single is also their weakest single.  The first two releases from Wide Open Spaces feature the same storyline: a girl wants a guy who is dating another girl, and tries to convince him that she’d be better for him.

From Fly to Gaslighter, that’s a storyline that never resurfaces, and thank goodness for that.  It’s an oddly regressive framework for a very progressive band.   This one is ranked lower than its counterpart because the hook isn’t as strong on this one and their musicianship isn’t showcased as strongly, either.

 

#73

Live Wire

Taking the Long Way

2006

Written by Mike Campbell, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, and Emily Strayer

Produced by Rick Rubin

Of the three tracks from this era not included on the proper album, “Live Wire” would be the best addition.  It has a kinetic energy that is complemented by Maines’ gritty vocal.  It doesn’t reach the glorious heights of the album’s best uptempo track, “Lubbock or Leave it,” but it is still worthy of a listen if you’ve never heard it before.

 

#72

“Loving Arms”

Wide Open Spaces

1998

Written by Tom Jans

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

Wide Open Spaces relies heavily on previously recorded material, and “Loving Arms” is the most overly familiar of all of the tracks, having been recorded over the years by everyone from Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge to Elvis Presley and Olivia Newton-John.  Dobie Gray had a minor hit with it in 1973.

They perform it well enough, but as it’s still their first major label album, they don’t push the envelope with the arrangement and performance like they would have on later albums.

 

 

#71

Something in the Air”

DCX MMXVI

2017

Written by Speedy Keen

Produced by The Chicks

Speaking of relying heavily on covers, when the Chicks toured America for the first time in ten years back in 2016, they hadn’t released a new studio album between tours.  So to keep the set list fresh, they covered several songs by other artists.  This is the least essential of them, but it’s still a strong version of the Thunderclap Newman classic from 1969.

 

 

#70

Once You’ve Loved Somebody

Wide Open Spaces

1998

Written by Thom McHugh and Bruce Miller

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

This was first recorded by John & Audrey Wiggins, and like most of Wide Open Spaces, it is radio-friendly mainstream country that is more conventional than anything on the four albums that followed.  It’s a pleasant listen and a notable improvement over the original recording.

 

#69

“Baby Hold On”

Taking the Long Way

2006

Written by Gary Louris, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, Emily Strayer, and Pete Yorn

Produced by Rick Rubin

This is a better version of what they were going for with “Thin Line.”  The lyrics have greater specificity, so it feels like a window into one individual enduring marriage, rather than just generally being an encouragement to persevere when times get tough.

 

#68

Better Way”

DCX MMXVI

2017

Written by Ben Harper

Produced by The Chicks

The ladies closed their 2016 tour with their extended cover of Ben Harper’s “Better Way,” which does its best to be “Give Peace a Chance” for a more cynical generation.  What makes their performance of it truly special is the extended instrumental section, though it doesn’t showcase their unique musical talents as well as another moment from this tour that is a bit higher on the list.

 


#67

For Her

Gaslighter

2020

Written by Sarah Aarons, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, Ariel Rechtshaid, and Emily Strayer

Produced by The Chicks and Jack Antonoff

There isn’t a weak moment on Gaslighter, one of the few albums on Country Universe to earn a full five star rating.  “For Her” features some light gospel moments and a steady groove.  What holds it back compared to the rest of the album is that the tension built earlier in the track never gets a full release.  It comes close, but it doesn’t quite get there.  This might be the track that benefits best rom the energy of a live performance.

 

#66

Never Say Die

Wide Open Spaces

1998

Written by George Ducas and Radney Foster

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

The Chicks found this song on the underrated Radney Foster album Labor of Love.  It’s a strong composition about pledging undying love, regardless of the challenges that life throws at a couple.  They hew closely to the Foster original, as they would on another Foster cover that is much higher on the list.

 

#65

“You” (with Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers”

Rare Bird Alert

2011

Written by Steve Martin

Produced by Tony Trischka

The Chicks haven’t done a lot of collaborations.  Out of all of them, this one is the most fascinating.  Steve Martin is a surprisingly talented musician, and his songwriting here is up to Chicks standards.  This could’ve easily been a digital bonus track on Home on an alternate timeline.  Their harmonies are on point, perhaps because this is close as it gets to a natural setting for the band.  They can do so many different styles, but they do bluegrass the best.

 


#64

I Like it

Taking the Long Way

2006

Written by Gary Louris, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, and Emily Strayer

Produced by Rick Rubin

A moment of levity on a very heavy album.  “I Like it” has the Chicks holding on tight to the things that bring them happiness.  In its own way, “I Like it” as a strong a statement of defiance in response to the controversy as “Not Ready to Make Nice.”  Nothing irritates grumpy old men more than women who can still find their joy, regardless of how nasty and cruelly they’ve been attacked.

 

#63

I’ll Take Care of You

Wide Open Spaces

1998

Written by J. D. Souther

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

This cover of a J.D. Souther classic is among the more effective on Wide Open Spaces because of the gender swap.  It allows the Chicks to play the strong and supportive role in the relationship, which aligns better with their ethos than much of the rest of that album.  Maines gives one of her best vocal performances on this track, and the signature Chicks harmonies are fully present.

 

#62

Hole in My Head

Fly

1999

Written by Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

The first track to appear from Fly demonstrates how much the Chicks grew in confidence following their debut album being such a monstrous commercial success.  On Fly, the attitude that radiated off of them on stage and in interviews was fully present in the studio.  Maines gives a ferocious performance on this track, sounding like she could tear a hole in her suitor’s head with the power of her voice.  Hope he got out before it was too late.

 

#61

Bluegrass Instrumental Medley”

DCX MMXVI

2017

Various Writers

Produced by The Chicks

This bluegrass medley preceded “Ready to Run” on their 2016 tour, and it’s a barn stomper.  Included are snippets from “Roanoke,” “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On it),” “Seven Nation Army,” “Can’t Feel My Face,” and “Wheel Hoss.”  The songs couldn’t be more different from each other, but they blend seamlessly in the arrangement the Chicks put together here.

 

#60

There’s Your Trouble

Wide Open Spaces

1998

Written by Mark Selby and Tia Sillers

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

The gender politics are just as regressive here as they are on “I Can Love You Better,” but the hooks are stronger, and Martie’s top-notch fiddle playing is as catchy as the rapid fire wordplay.  This was their first No. 1 hit and was one of two Grammys won by them in 1999.

 

#59

“Everybody Loves You”

Gaslighter

2020

Written by Charlotte Lawrence, Hayley Penner, and Joseph Spargur

Produced by The Chicks and Jack Antonoff

“Everybody Loves You” is the only track on Gaslighter not co-written by at least one of the Chicks.  It still fits in perfectly on that album’s exploration of a marriage breaking up after twenty years.  “I’m so tired,” Maines sings in the opening line, and what follows is a sleepwalk of a performance, as she struggles with knowing the truth about what her beloved husband has done, long before the rest of their circle has found out about it.  She’s almost taunted by his sterling reputation, as it piles another layer of lies over the ones that have destroyed their union.

 

#58

Give it Up or Let Me Go”

Wide Open Spaces

1998

Written by Bonnie Raitt

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

The Chicks deliver a fun and loose cover of the Bonnie Raitt classic.  It’s the only song on Wide Open Spaces that fully showcases what the ladies are capable of as instrumentalists, and Maines’ Lubbock twang is a perfect fit for the bluesy vocal performance that the song requires.

 

#57

Everybody Knows

Taking the Long Way

2006

Written by Gary Louris, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, and Emily Strayer

Produced by Rick Rubin

There’s a quiet power to “Everybody Knows,” as the vulnerability hidden behind a tough exterior is revealed to the listener.  It’s revelatory because that exterior is so damn convincing.   Maines noted that backstage after the Grammy sweep in 2007, she cried over the whole controversy and its aftermath for the first time since it happened.  When she sings, “I swore they’d never see me cry,” it’s impossible not connect it to that post-Grammy moment.

#56

Let ‘Er Rip

Wide Open Spaces

1998

Written by Billy Crain and Sandy Ramos

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

Another early example of the Chicks matching their public personas to the material they’re performing.  “Let ‘Er Rip” charted as an album cut for many weeks, and it’s surprising that it wasn’t officially released as a single.  It’s a solid kiss-off anthem that demands the guy get his goodbye over with so she can move on: “If you’re gonna say goodbye, don’t take all damn night.”

 

#55

“Mississippi”

Live: Top of the World Tour

2003

Written by Bob Dylan

Produced by The Chicks and Lloyd Maines

Sheryl Crow covered this Bob Dylan song on her Globe Sessions album, and her arrangement heavily informs the live Chicks version.  This was the perfect cover to add to this particular tour, which they performed while being attacked as enemies of the state and under the cloud of constant death threats.  It effectively serves as their severing of ties with Music City, Nashville, and the country music industry, with Mississippi serving as the stand-in for all of them:  “The only thing that I did wrong – I stayed in Mississippi a day too long.”

 


#54

“Don’t Let Me Die in Florida”

DCX MMXVI

2017

Written by Patty Griffin

Produced by The Chicks

Before Sony notified them that a covers project wouldn’t satisfy their contracted requirement for one more studio album, the Chicks had planned to release an entire album of Patty Griffin songs.  Now that they’re free agents, let’s hope they still pursue that idea.  Maines’ vocals and the sisters’ musicianship match up perfectly with Griffin’s idiosyncratic songwriting style.  This was one of the best moments on their 2016 tour, and it has even more potency now as Florida is backsliding into its dark pre-civil rights era history.

 

#53

“Stand By Your Man”

Tribute to Tradition

1998

Written by Billy Sherrill and Tammy Wynette

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

This is a fantastic cover of “Stand By Your Man,” which Wynette wrote and delivered as a counterpoint to the feminist movement, but was soon embraced as a feminist anthem in its own right.  A popular but irritating podcast spent an entire episode trying to convince those who saw “Stand By Your Man” in the latter light as being wrong because Wynette didn’t intend for it to be seen that way.  Who cares what Wynette meant? When Maines sings, “After all, he’s just a man,” it’s clear she’s got the upper hand in this relationship, and she’s standing by a man who also stands by her.

 

#52

“Ready to Run”

Fly

1999

Written by Marcus Hummon and Martie Maguire

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

For a song clearly written for and inspired by the Julia Roberts romantic comedy Runaway Bride, “Ready to Run” stands up pretty well outside the context of that film.  As the opening track of Fly, it makes clear that the album will not be Wide Open Spaces 2.   The Celtic instrumentation, the increased prominence of the fiddle, and Maines’ vocal being completely untethered from Nashville convention announce that the Chicks are well aware of the capital they built up with their first album and they fully intend to spend it.  That it’s not even in the upper half of this album’s best tracks is an indication of just how quickly their artistry developed and just how good all of their music was from this point on.

 

#51

Tortured, Tangled Hearts”

Home

2002

Written by Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, and Marty Stuart

Produced by The Chicks and Lloyd Maines

The growth from Wide Open Spaces to Fly was dramatic.  The growth from Fly to Home was exponential.  “Tortured, Tangled Hearts” is the only song on Home that could’ve fit on Fly, but the arrangement wouldn’t have been as captivating as it is on Home, a stunning bluegrass album released by the biggest band in country music without drums.   The frothy storyline and uptempo arrangement gives listeners a moment of levity during the heady second half of the album, and serves as the perfect segue into a brilliant instrumental track that is featured higher on the list.

The Chicks Ranked

Introduction | #81-#51#50-#26 | #25-#1

15 Comments

    • My understanding is that they submitted it in the pop categories instead of the country categories. Pop is far more competitive right now and they don’t have the voting base there.

      I think that if they had submitted it in the country categories, they would have at least two more Grammys on their mantles right now. Maybe three.

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      • That’s correct: The album and title track– and, I believe, “Juliana, Calm Down,” but I’ll need to triple-check that one– were submitted in the Pop field. Though they’d previously swept the General Field, they were an unproven commodity with the voters in that field, and they were shut out in a very competitive year. I will say that I was also surprised that they didn’t manage a Duo / Group Performance nomination, at the very least. And I actually think the Pop field placement was “more” correct for the full album, but I would’ve submitted a few tracks in the Country and American Roots fields, too.

        For me, what’s even more inexplicable was the rejection of the studio version of “Daddy Lessons” with Beyoncé, but that’s a topic for another of these posts…

  1. I support so many Taking the Long Way tracks already being out, but am a bit disappointed by so many Wide Open Spaces tracks already being out. Their future albums are heavier thematically, but Wide Open Spaces is fun and really showcases them as a group (Taking the Long Way doesn’t showcase Emily and Martie much, for example).

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    • Their musicianship is best featured on Home, but on Taking the Long Way and Gaslighter, they are writers on nearly every track.

      It’s trickier than with Pam Tillis, because she’s a solo artist who did a lot of writing and producing. The Chicks have the added element of instrumentation, so they express themselves in so many different ways, and rarely altogether on one track. The album that featured their playing and their harmonies most also had far fewer songs written by them.

      Honestly, the quality is already so high on the “bottom” of the list. They’ve been so consistently good in so many different ways.

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  2. The only issue with this already opposed to the earlier singles being included already is the fact “Juliana Calm Down” is top 5 or #1 at the bottom. That song is so bad that I can’t believe nobody told Natalie that her vocal was awful and scrapped it. Don’t take it personally because these lists will never line up with everybody and I love reading lists that go beyond singles because I just love seeing what other people gravitate too because in the end we are all fans and love the genre. Thanks for doing these lists writers!

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  3. Re. “You Can’t Hurry Love”: I wish there had been more of a push to get this on pop radio, since by that time, most Baby Boomers had had 33 years to familiarize with the Supremes’ original; and the Chicks’ version is a fairly rocking re-imagining of this Motown classic.

    It might be quite intriguing, also, to find out whose idea it was to do “You Can’t Hurry Love”–maybe Natalie’s, or maybe all three of them, or possibly a suggestion on the part of the producer of this track, Peter Asher. Asher, who was one-half of the British pop duo Peter and Gordon in the 1960’s and a close friend to The Beatles, isn’t unfamiliar with producing Motown covers, one by James Taylor (“How Sweet It Is”); and three by Linda Ronstadt (“Heat Wave”; “The Tracks Of My Tears”; “Ooh Baby Baby”).

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  4. Oh, man! A Chicks Patty Griffin covers album would be so awesome!

    I’m loving this series and there are even some tracks that I’d forgotten about.

    My favorite Chicks albums are Home and Gaslighter. I didn’t think anything would touch Home for me, but Gaslighter is wonderful and I love it almost as much as Home.

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  5. Can’t disagree with anything here even if I adore most of these tracks!

    I will never not wish we lived in a timeline where the incident didn’t happen! The music and story we got from it are amazing and quite honestly one of the biggest moments I. The history of American music, but in theory we lost so many more albums from them. As I doubt they would have stopped anytime soon.

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    • I also wish every day that the incident never happened, even though I love “Not Ready To Make Nice” and enjoy other things they’ve done since then. So many interesting think pieces can be written just pondering where the genre would be if the Chicks were never banished from radio. Just thinking about all the great music we missed out on from them makes me sad.

      Finding out that “Truth No.2” was going to radio just makes me wish even more that it never happened. It’s just crazy looking back that up until that point, one of the most, if not the THE most successful artist in the genre was an all female group who played their own instruments whose current album was mostly a bluegrass album. Just thinking about that and then looking at what we have now on the radio 20 years later is enough to make me wish I had a time machine.

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  6. I’m really loving this so far!

    “I Can Love You Better” and “There’s Your Trouble” will both always have a special place with me because they were my earliest exposures to the Chicks and they always make me feel like a pre-teen and early teen in the late 90’s all over again. They both just make me so happy whenever I hear them! That being said, I do agree that it’s a good thing they moved on from the type of subject matter of those songs.

    “Never Say Die” is one of my favorite non-singles from Wide Open Spaces, and it’s also one of my favorite cuts on Radney’s criminally underrated Labor Of Love album. Love that signature guitar riff in the intro.

    “Let ‘Er Rip” is so much fun, and it’s such a great kiss off song. I love Natalie’s fun, spirited performance, and I also love how you can tell where the song is going from the beginning with the sarcasm in her voice and the comedic style playing of the dobro.

    “Once You’ve Loved Somebody” is another one of my favorites from Wide Open Spaces, and I had no idea John & Audrey Wiggins also cut it (I only have John and Audrey’s debut album).

    “Ready To Run” is still so much fun to hear today! I especially always loved the Celtic instrumentation in the intro and outro, which really made it stand out on the radio in the Summer of ’99. I even love their creative performance of it on the 1999 CMA’s. And yes, I still think of Runaway Bride too whenever I hear it!

    One thing I love about the Chicks is how they also included unconventional, fun, left of center cuts like “Hole In My Head” on even their earlier albums. I love Natalie’s attitude filled performance on this one! I especially love it when she screams “Wild goose chase, WIIIIIILD goose chase!” near the end.

    I love “Tortured, Tangled Hearts,” and it displays one of the things I’ve always loved about bluegrass in general. Not only are you most likely to hear excellent musicianship, but so many of the songs are just so much fun to listen to, despite the often downbeat subject matter in the songs. I also love how the ladies do the “Whoo hoo hoo’s” near the end, which is also one of co-writer Marty Stuart’s trademarks. Seeing this as the only Home cut featured so far makes me excited about where the rest of them will end up on this list. Home is definitely one of my most favorite records from them! :)

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