The Chicks Ranked: #50-#26

The Chicks Ranked

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

The middle section of the list is stacked top to bottom with excellent records.

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

 

#50

Some Days You Gotta Dance”

Fly

1999

Written by Troy Johnson and Marshall Morgan

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

This frothy hit would’ve been out of place on any of their last three albums, but fits perfectly with the freewheeling spirit of Fly, the album of theirs that best represents both their ability to craft mainstream country records while also pushing back at the boundaries of what women could sing about on the radio.  This works so much better as a female declaration of independence than it did as a rave-up by Keith Urban’s The Ranch.

 

#49

You Were Mine

Wide Open Spaces

1998

Written by Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

“You Were Mine” is an incredibly important Chicks record.  It demonstrated the songwriting prowess of Maguire and Strayer, and Maines’ vocal performance on the demo sealed the deal for her taking over lead vocalist responsibilities for the band.  What holds it back now is its limited perspective.  This was written about the sisters’ parents’ divorce, so its understanding of a marriage’s dissolution isn’t intimate and specific like the songs on Gaslighter.  But you can get an early understanding of how this band made the greatest country divorce album of all time (sorry, Kacey) 22 years down the road.

 

#48

If I Fall You’re Going Down With Me” 

Fly

1999

Written by Matraca Berg and Annie Roboff

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

The uptempo radio hits from Fly weren’t necessarily more substantive than the first two releases from Wide Open Spaces, but they’re better because the female empowerment that the Chicks were projecting with their public personas matches up with the lyrical content.

 


#47

Nothing Compares 2 U

DCX MMXVI

2017

Written by Prince

Produced by The Chicks

How strong a vocalist is Natalie Maines? Strong enough to outsing Sinead O’ Connor.  Yes, this live version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” outstrips the classic hit version . The O’Connor performance runs out of steam after the second verse, while Maines is able to sustain the emotional impact all the way through.  She can also sustain the notes.  O’Connor hits the high notes like a junior high kid jumping up and slapping the top of a doorway. Maines hits them and holds on tight.  The instrumental bridge featuring Maguire and Strayer also significantly outpaces the musicianship on the original hit recording.

 

 

#46

Cold Day in July”

Fly

1999

Written by Richard Leigh

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

After the Chicks finish their Patty Griffin covers album, they should circle back and cover the rest of the Joy Lynn White canon.   White was a criminally overlooked artist in the early-to-mid ’90’s, and Maines is one of the only singers to ever come along that could match her pure honky tonk vocal skills.  I’ll always have a place in my heart for the White original, but when those Maguire/Strayer harmonies kick in toward the end of this cover, it is pure bliss.

 

 

#45

“Favorite Year”

Taking the Long Way

2006

Written by Sheryl Crow, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, and Emily Strayer

Produced by Rick Rubin

Perhaps the most understated ballad on Taking the Long Way.  “Favorite Year” is some low-level melancholy, speaking to the quiet ache of missing a certain person and a certain moment in life that felt at the time like it would last forever, like it was the start of something permanent instead of just a fleeting moment of happiness.  We see ourselves in the way that others see us, and it hurts to lose the person who made you love yourself as much as you loved them.

 

#44

Texas Man

Gaslighter

2020

Written by Jack Antonoff, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, Julia Michaels, Emily Strayer, and Justin Tranter

Produced by The Chicks and Jack Antonoff

The Chicks are missing a certain kind of Texas man here, and they’re willing to open their hearts up to him…on their terms.  Dude’s going to have to bring that Lone Star State manliness to California if he wants a shot at having his body “all tangled up” with one of these ladies.  A wonderfully light moment on a pretty dark album overall.

 

  

#43

Tonight the Heartache’s On Me

Wide Open Spaces

1998

Written by Mary Francis, Johnny MacRae, and Bob Morrison

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

The Joy Lynn White cover on their first album is even better than the one on their second.  Maines sings the hell out of this one, and it was a very smart move to speed up the tempo, as the White original drags a little bit.  As noted earlier in the list, Wide Open Spaces relies heavily on previously recorded material, but as we get closer to the top, the quality of that material is getting stronger.

 

#42 

Hello Mr. Heartache

Fly

1999

Written by John Hadley and Mike Henderson

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

Of course, they didn’t need to rely on covers as much after Wide Open Spaces.  Every songwriter in Nashville was clamoring to get a cut on their second album.  “Hello Mr. Heartache” is very similar in theme to “Tonight the Heartache’s On Me.”  It’s just a tad stronger lyrically than its predecessor, giving it a slight edge in this ranking.

 

#41

Lullaby

Taking the Long Way

2006

Written by Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, Emily Strayer, and Dan Wilson

Produced by Rick Rubin

This lovely ballad for their children was recently certified gold, despite never being released as a single.   It’s poignant and touching, and would be higher if they hadn’t covered an even better lullaby on their previous album and if they hadn’t written two songs for their children on their follow-up album that are stronger than this.

 

#40

“Soon You’ll Get Better” (with Taylor Swift)

Lover

2019

Written by Jack Antonoff and Taylor Swift

Produced by Jack Antonoff and Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift could retire tomorrow and go down in history as one of the all-time great songwriters, and she invited the Chicks to support her on the best composition from her stellar Lover album.  Swift is singing about her mother’s battle with cancer, and her country roots are movingly represented by the harmonies and musicianship of the Chicks on this track.

 

#39

“Daddy Lessons” (with Beyoncé)

Daddy Lessons 

2016

Written by Beyoncé, Kevin Cossom, Alex Delicata, and Diana Gordon

Produced by Beyoncé, Alex Delicata, and Diana Gordon

The Chicks were already covering this on their 2016 tour when they teamed up with Beyoncé to perform it together on the 2016 CMA Awards.  It was one of the best moments of a surprisingly strong 50th anniversary show.  As a longtime fan who still isn’t ready to make nice, it was deliciously satisfying to see them break into that “Long Time Gone” bridge, looking the industry audience dead in the eyes as they eviscerated a crowd with plenty of money but not a bit of Cash. 

 

#38

Tights On My Boat

Gaslighter

2020

Written by Jack Antonoff, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, Julia Michaels, and Emily Strayer

Produced by The Chicks and Jack Antonoff

Speaking of eviscerating people, I suspect Natalie’s ex is still in the witness protection program because of “Tights On My Boat,” a ruthless, relentless, and deservedly vicious takedown of the man who did her wrong.  “I hope you die peacefully in your sleep…just kidding, I hope it hurts like you hurt me,” she seethes.  That’s just the opening line, and it’s all downhill from there.

 

#37

Don’t Waste Your Heart

Fly

1999

Written by Natalie Maines and Emily Strayer

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

Maines demonstrates her songwriting chops on this collaboration with Strayer, which places the woman in the role of the vagabond who won’t settle down.  She tries her best to warn her doe-eyed suitor that chasing her heart is an exercise in futility, and he’s better off letting go of his dated assumptions that she needs a man to complete her:  “It’s plain to see you’d rescue me from my loneliness, so-called unhappiness.”  She’s happier without you, dude.

 

 

#36

I Hope

Taking the Long Way

2006

Written by Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, Kevin Moore, and Emily Strayer

Produced by Rick Rubin

I’ll always be partial to the Keb Mo’ version of “I Hope” that was released for charity during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but the album version is lovely, too.   Their political material is more effective when it’s centered on wanting a better world for us all, which is the plaintive wish of this somewhat optimistic number.  As they remind us: “Our children are watching us. They put their trust in us. They’re gonna be like us.”  Time to break the cycle if we want better days ahead.

 

#35

White Trash Wedding

Home

2002

Written by Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, and Emily Strayer

Produced by The Chicks and Lloyd Maines

The ladies go back to the “Sin Wagon” mine and strike gold again. “I shouldn’t be wearing white and you can’t afford no ring.”  White trash wedding, indeed.

 

 

#34

So Hard

Taking the Long Way

2006

Written by Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, Emily Strayer, and Dan Wilson

Produced by Rick Rubin

The Chicks felt so exposed and vulnerable following “the incident” that nothing was off-limits when they wrote their fourth album.  “So Hard” features struggles with infertility in the second verse, leading to the most devastating lyric of their entire catalog: “It felt like a given, something a woman’s born to do.  A natural ambition to see a reflection of me and you. I feel so guilty that was a gift I couldn’t give.  Could you be happy if life wasn’t how we pictured it?” 

 

#33

I Believe in Love

Home

2002

Written by Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, and Marty Stuart

Produced by The Chicks and Lloyd Maines

The Chicks debuted this song on the 9/11 telethon shortly after the terrorist attacks, and it signaled that their upcoming music would be more mature and thoughtful.  It quietly asserts the importance of a woman settling for nothing less than true love: “I’d rather be alone like I am tonight, than settle for the kind of love that fades before the morning light.”  When she finds that love, it’s a revelation that proves her instincts were right all along.

 

#32

Without You

Fly

1999

Written by Natalie Maines and Eric Silver

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

This captures the sentiment of pining for a relationship that has run its course more effectively than “You Were Mine.”  No guilt trips about the children here.  Just open and honest truth-telling: “Without you I’m not okay. Without you I’ve lost my way.”

 

#31

Landslide

Home

2002

Written by Stevie Nicks

Produced by The Chicks and Lloyd Maines

Home was the first Chicks album to put the sisters’ harmonies front and center, instead of recording them as background vocalists.  That makes all the difference in “Landslide,” which truly takes flight when Maguire and Strayer join in as Maines sings, “Can the child within my heart rise above?”  It was forgotten in the aftermath of “the incident,” but this was as big of a pop hit as it was a country hit.  They were poised for major crossover success when it all fell apart.

 

#30

Let Him Fly”

Fly

1999

Written by Patty Griffin

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

The closing track of Fly is an harbinger of what’s to come.  Patty Griffin penned and recorded this stark ballad, and her version seemed untouchable until the Chicks released their cover of it.  They’d go deeper in this vein on Home, making what felt like an anomaly at the time seem like a letter from the future in retrospect.

 

#29

A Home

Home

2002

Written by Maia Sharp and Randy Sharp

Produced by The Chicks and Lloyd Maines

One would expect the title track of Home to be a celebration of returning to your roots.  “A Home” completely subverts expectations.  It’s a haunting song about a woman who very much did not believe in love, and missed her chance at happiness because of it:  “Not a night goes by I don’t dream of wandering through the home that might have been. I listened to my pride when my heart cried out for you.  Now every day I wake again in a house that might have been a home.”

 

#28

Hope it’s Something Good

Gaslighter

2020

Written by Jack Antonoff, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, and Emily Strayer

Produced by The Chicks and Jack Antonoff

Then again, sometimes love doesn’t work out, and you can still end up haunting your own home after the man you placed your trust in lets you down. The woman in “Hope it’s Something Good” is just as much of a ghost as the woman in “A Home,” though having experienced love and then lost it has softened her enough to still wish the best for the man who has left her behind.

 

 

#27

More Love

Home

2002

Written by Gary Nicholson and Tim O’Brien

Produced by The Chicks and Lloyd Maines

This is the most philosophical track on “More Love,” and it was something of a balm for the soul as the country geared up for the war of choice that would ultimately prove as futile as the Chicks had warned on stage and on this album: “Just look out around us, people fighting their wars. They think they’ll be happy when they’ve settled their scores.”  What a shame that their warning went unheeded.

 

#26

Goodbye Earl

Fly

1999

Written by Dennis Linde

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

Don’t let the goofy sound effects and taunting delivery fool you: this isn’t a novelty song.  Earl may get his deserved comeuppance, but he isn’t this story’s only villain.  “Goodbye Earl” is an indictment of a society that repeatedly fails its victims of domestic violence, and it’s only the ladies delivering justice through black-eyed peas that’s a fantasy.  The cold hard truth – “She finally got the nerve to file for divorce, she let the law take it from there. But Earl walked right through that restraining order and put her in intensive care” – is usually where the story ends for women like Wanda, in a country where the violence they receive at the hands of their partners is amplified by violence against them by the state.

The Chicks Ranked

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

9 Comments

  1. Wide Open Spaces is horribly placed here. Just a beautiful sounding song, decent message, what more do you want? Don’t get caught up in the artsy fartsy world where songs have to be harumph, harumph, important! Music is essentially sound and Wide Open sounds spectacular, top 5 for the Chicks for sure.

  2. Re. “Goodbye Earl”: You really have to love how hypocritical country radio is when it comes to the idea of vengeance, in that a man can do it, but that if a woman does it, she deserves to be burned at the stake, especially when it’s an obvious S.O.B. like Earl.

    And does it need to be pointed out that it was a man who wrote “Goodbye Earl”–in fact the same man responsible for Elvis’ last truly large-scale hit “Burning Love”?

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  3. They have so many good songs I would have a tough time doing a ranking. No complaints with this list other than “Nothing Compares 2 U”. Brandi Carlile’s version couldn’t make me like that song either.

    Interesting how favorites change over time. Re-listened to Taking The Long Way recently and “Favorite Year” really stood out for me like it hadn’t before. Didn’t realize Sheryl Crow was a writer on it.

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  4. …this ranking is… – complicated. just glad that i didn’t have to do it. lots of stuff between #50 – #26 i probably would have totally misplaced higher up.

    • Not misplaced, just differently placed! I’m not the oracle of the Gods on this. I actually have way more confidence in my Pam Tillis rankings, which didn’t stir up any controversy (or many comments, for that matter!)

      The Chicks made five very different albums and a case could be made for ranking them in any order.

  5. You didn’t get more comments from me on the Tillis rankings because I was overwhelmed by the amount of music to listen to and interact with, to connect and contextualize. The same challenge persists with the Chicks’ rankings. I love the intent and spirit of this feature, but, despite the many opportunities to enter the conversation, it is difficult to choose what door to open first when faced with an abundance of worthy choices. Rather than focusing on individual songs, I find myself broadly reflecting on the historic significance of the artists themselves in my head, which isn’t the point; it should be about the songs. I doubt this is helpful in any way.

  6. This edition of Ranked has actually inspired me to revisit a lot of the Chicks’ music recently. Specifically, I’ve been listening to Home and Taking The Long Way, both of which I haven’t listened to in a while. I especially find myself liking Taking The Long Way quite a lot lately and really loving its more rock/Americana inspired sound, which actually fits them very well, imo. And of course, as a lover of Bluegrass and generally acoustic based country, Home is still one of my most favorite records from them!

    “Favorite Year” is one of the big standouts for me on Taking The Long Way. I love its chiming guitars, its very relaxing melody, and the very relatable lyrics. While it’s sad, it also has a nice breezy feel to it, sonically, that makes it nice to hear while driving around on a beautiful day.

    “Everybody Knows” is another one of my favorites, which I believe appeared on the last batch of this list.

    “Lullaby” is so beautiful and relaxing, but I agree that the lullaby track on Home is even better.

    There are some very great tracks from Home here, as well!

    I especially love “A Home” with it’s dark, haunting melody and beautiful harmonies. Love the dobro on this track, as well! It’s simply gorgeous from beginning to end. It’s just amazing that a group making high quality bluegrass like this was the top mainstream country artist during the time that this album was new.

    “More Love” is another one of my favorites, not only because I love its message, but I also love the Celtic instruments featured and its incredibly beautiful melody. It’s just a beautiful song that gives me so much joy when I hear it. Imo, it’s a message that needs to be heard now more than ever. And yeah, it’s a shame no one listened back then.

    “I Believe In Love” is also so pretty, and it’s pretty much a traditional country ballad done bluegrass style. Once again, I really love its message, and I love Natalie’s soothing vocals on this one, which definitely showed more maturity than their previous work. It’s also another Marty Stuart co-write on this album I love.

    “White Trash Wedding” is such a fun bluegrass romp full of excellent musicianship all around. It’s actually come up on my Spotify quite a few times recently.

    I also love their earlier late 90’s work, as well, and if I’m being honest, I’m a bit bummed that we’ve seen the majority of it already on this list.

    “You Were Mine” will always be one of my top favorite Chicks songs and have a special place in my heart. It brings back wonderful memories of my 7th grade year in early 1999, and I’ve always loved Natalie’s emotional performance on it. Even the signature fiddle parts from Martie are so pretty on this one. Its devastating lyrics never fail to make me emotional. The bridge especially always gets me when Natalie sings “I can give you two good reasons to show you that love’s not blind…”

    Same goes with “Without You,” except this one brings back great memories from my freshman year in high school and going to Pennsylvania in late 2000 and early 2001. Once again, it’s one of my most favorite ballads from them, and despite it being technically a breakup song, it’s relatable for anyone who’s ever lost anybody who was such a big part of their world. “Without you, I’m not okay. Without you, I’ve lost my way. My heart’s stuck in second place without you.” Sounds about right. Not to mention, it’s just gorgeously produced, from the opening dobro, and the beautiful instrumental break. Love how intense it gets at the song’s bridge, as well, with a nice falsetto part from Natalie.

    Traditional country shuffle, “Tonight The Heartache’s On Me,” is right up my alley, and looking back, it’s so cool that a still fairly new all female group was killing it on the charts with material like this in the Spring and Summer of 1999. Can I please have a time machine? I never knew this was a Joy Lynn White cover until finding a used copy of White’s Wild Love album many years later. I agree all the way with JLW deserving more recognition that what she got. I love her first two albums! For me, “True Confessions” totally should’ve been a hit, especially.

    Same with “Cold Day In July.” I actually quite like Joy Lynn White’s version on her 1992 debut album, but the Chicks version will always be the definitive one for me, not only because it’s the one I heard first, but also I like it’s production, especially the opening electric guitar that sounds great on a hot, lazy July day. I also like Natalie’s performance on it, along with the harmonies from the sisters.

    “Hello Mr. Heartache” is one of my favorite non-singles from Fly, and again, it’s amazing that one of the best selling albums of the late 90’s and early 00’s from one of the best selling groups of that era included high quality, old fashioned Texas shuffles like this. Again I ask, may I please have a time machine?

    Ditto to “Don’t Waste Your Heart.” Love the role reversal in this one, too, along with some great fiddling from Martie.

    “If I Fall You’re Going Down With Me” has always been one of my favorites of their upbeat songs, and it’s one I still love to listen to while cruising on a summer day. I especially love the fiddle and slide guitar work. It’s also a neat reminder of Matraca Berg being yet another one of the many talented songwriters of the time landing a cut with the Chicks.

    “Goodbye Earl” was so different and unconventional when it came out in early 2000, that I just didn’t know what to think of it at first. Now, it’s definitely one of my favorites from them! I absolutely love Natalie’s personality packed performance, the “Na na na na na’s” in the chorus, and despite it’s heavy subject matter, it’s just so fun to listen to. Love the galloping drums in the chorus, as well. And of course, I love the story of the women getting revenge on the absolute scum bag that is Earl. One of my favorite lines that still gets me giggling to this day is: “It turns he was a missing person who nobody missed at all.” When I picked up the Fly album years later, this is one of the songs in particular that Dad and I always really enjoyed when we played it in the car. :)

    For me, the Chicks and Beyonce collaboration was actually one of the most memorable and enjoyable performances of the 2016 CMA’s besides the awesome opening with all the veteran artists performing small parts of their classic songs. I really don’t get what the fuss was all about, since it was actually more country sounding (not to mention more interesting) than several of the other performances by artists who are actually under the modern country label. And yes, I LOVED that little detour into “Long Time Gone” with them singing one of my favorite lines of that song that is more true now than ever.

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