The Chicks Ranked: #25 – #1

The Chicks Ranked

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

The top 25 tracks from the Chicks can all be found on their five studio albums, which collectively establish the band as the best country recording artists of the past 25 years.

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

 

#25

Wide Open Spaces

Wide Open Spaces

1998

Written by Susan Gibson

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

The Chicks became superstars on the strength of this single, which was their first release to radio that was consistent with the youthful and independent energy that they demonstrated on stage and in interviews.  When they perform it today, they have more in common with the mother letting their daughter go than with the young girl going out on her own for the first time, giving the song a melancholy undertone that is absent in the original recording.  It’s a classic hit that would’ve remained the signature track for nearly any other artist.  For them, it was just a solid starting point.

 

#24

Sin Wagon

Fly

1999

Written by Natalie Maines, Stephony Smith, and Emily Strayer

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

Fans that are surprised to hear Olivia Newton-John’s “Xanadu” being used as the exit song of their current tour are likely unaware of the origins of “Sin Wagon.” The phrase is borrowed from the Grease scene where Danny’s amorous advances are soundly rejected by Sandy at the drive-in movie.  In the song, however, the Chicks are looking to take a ride on that sin wagon, resulting in the best ever “did she really say that? Holy crap, she really did say that” moment in all of nineties country, as Maines proudly sings she’s gonna “do a little mattress dancin’. That’s right, I said mattress dancin’.”

  

#23

Easy Silence

Taking the Long Way

2006

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

Produced by Rick Rubin

Taking the Long Way is about external turmoil as much as Gaslighter is about internal turmoil.  Fourteen years before they made country music’s finest divorce record, marriage was the place to find peace and solace when the world was crashing down around them: “I just want to hold on to the easy silence that you make for me…and the way you keep the world at bay for me.”

 

 

#22

Set Me Free

Gaslighter

2020

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

Produced by The Chicks and Jack Antonoff

“Decency,” Maines wails, “would be to sign and release me.”  I don’t know what legal restraints were placed on her when she made this album, but it’s almost frightening to imagine how much more she’d go for the jugular, if Gaslighter was her still holding back.  “Set Me Free” closes the album with a powerful demand to be released from the chains of their failed marriage and the conspiracy of silence she was forced to endure in its aftermath.

  

#21

Lil Jack Slade

Home

2002

Written by Terri Hendrix, Lloyd Maines, Martie Maguire, and Emily Strayer

Produced by The Chicks and Lloyd Maines

Amazingly, this is the only instrumental track on any of their five albums.  “Lil Jack Slade” is an entertaining romp from start to finish, and serves as the perfect transition into Home‘s two closing ballads.   The Chicks won their only Best Country Instrumental Performance Grammy for this in 2003.

 

#20

Silent House

Taking the Long Way

2006

Written by Neil Finn, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, and Emily Strayer

Produced by Rick Rubin

The hardest thing about dementia and memory loss is what the family still remembers, not what the loved one has forgotten.  “Silent House” is a heartbreaking song, capturing the emptiness of a house that was once filled with joy and headed up by a brilliant and creative matriarch who is now in the final, lonely moments of her life.  The commitment made here is beautiful, and really the only thing that those who remain can do: “I will try to connect all the pieces you left. I will carry it on, and let you forget.  And I’ll remember the years when your mind was clear, how the laughter and life filled up this silent house.”

 

#19

March March

Gaslighter

2020

Written by Jack Antonoff, Ross Golan, Ian Kirkpatrick, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, Emily Strayer, and Dan Wilson

Produced by The Chicks and Jack Antonoff

As a general rule, political music is difficult to pull off.  For one part of your audience, you’re preaching to the choir, while for another, you might be alienating them completely.  It’s remarkable how successful “March March” is at overcoming those obstacles.  It helps that the part of their audience that would’ve been unreceptive to this message had been gone since the early 2000s, but the primary reason “March March” works is because it’s a call to action on behalf of their children.  They make a statement of solidarity with the younger generation who are now tasked with fixing the failures of the generations before them.

 

#18

Voice Inside My Head

Taking the Long Way

2006

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

Produced by Rick Rubin

It isn’t made explicitly clear if the protagonist chose to end her pregnancy or to have a child and give it up for adoption.  Regardless of which choice she made, she’s wondering whether it was the right one: “I want, I need, somehow to believe in the choice I made.  Am I better off this way?”   She knows her life is probably better, as she is now older and on firmer ground, living a stable life with her husband and their child.   But on days she’s feeling down, she still wonders, “What would life be like with you around?”

 

#17

Julianna Calm Down

Gaslighter

2020

Written by Jack Antonoff, Natalie Maines, and Julia Michaels

Produced by The Chicks and Jack Antonoff

Two of the best tracks from Gaslighter are about similar conversations with different audiences.  On “Julianna Calm Down,” they’re talking to their daughters, giving them the guidance necessary to navigate the destruction inflicted by a faithless man.  “Breathe. It’ll be okay.”  The song starts as a whisper, but builds to a celebration, fully embracing the façade being constructed to avoid him getting satisfaction from her pain:  “Put on your best shoes, and strut the fuck around like you’ve got nothing to lose.”

 

#16

Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)

Home

2002

Written by Radney Foster

Produced by The Chicks and Lloyd Maines

Radney Foster wrote this song for his young son when they were separated, his former partner having moved to France and taken their child with her.  Foster’s son played the song every night before he went to bed.  His original recording was so perfect that the Chicks preserved most of it, including the haunting harmony vocal from Emmylou Harris.  It’s a beautiful lullaby that can provide comfort to child and parent:  “God hears ‘Amen’ wherever we are, and I love you.”

   

#15

Bitter End

Taking the Long Way

2006

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

Produced by Rick Rubin

“Bitter End” revisits the Celtic sounds of “Ready to Run,” and puts them to use in a devastating rumination on fair weather friends.  The first two verses celebrate a departed friend and express sorrow for not being there for a friend before it was too late, and then the song pivots to a savage takedown of the hangers-on that abandoned the Chicks in the aftermath of the incident: “You had a good time drinking all of our wine after the show.  We all rode the wave of that crazy parade. Where’d you go?”

Knife cleanly inserted, it is then turned: “What happened to the ones we knew? As long as the I’m the shiniest star, oh, there you are.”

 

#14

Sleep at Night

Gaslighter

2020

Written by Teddy Geiger, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, Emily Strayer, and Justin Tranter

Produced by The Chicks, Jack Antonoff, and Teddy Geiger

“My husband’s girlfriend’s husband just called me up. How messed up is that? It’s so insane that I have to laugh.  But then I think about our two boys trying to become men. There’s nothing funny about that. How do you sleep at night?”

Maines’ lyrical retelling of her marriage ending is already damning on paper.  Her vocal delivery of those lyrics could scar a soul.

 

#13

Am I the Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way)

Wide Open Spaces

1998

Written by Maria McKee

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

Buried toward the end of Wide Open Spaces is the sharpest and smartest track on the entire album.  Songwriter Maria McKee’s original recording provides a template, but Maines’ vocal and the harmonies from Maguire and Strayer elevate the song to greater heights.  They give a fiery performance that is predictive of their post-debut musical output.

 

 

#12

Lubbock or Leave it

Taking the Long Way

2006

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

Produced by Rick Rubin

If Taking the Long Way is the Chicks leaving country music and the restraints of southern cultural norms behind them, “Lubbock or Leave it” is the gasoline-soaked match they throw over their shoulder on their way out.  It’s a wholesale rejection of every hypocritical societal expectation placed upon their gender: “Raised me, praised me, couldn’t save me, couldn’t keep me on my knees.”

The most brutal stretch of the song is the second verse, where their home state’s performative Christianity is read for filth:

Throwing stones from the top of your rock
Thinking no one can see
The secrets you hide behind
Your southern hospitality
On the strip the kids get lit
So they can have a real good time
Come Sunday they can just take their pick
From the crucifix skyline

She may never “get to heaven now,” but at least hell is in her rear view mirror.

 

#11

My Best Friend’s Weddings

Gaslighter

2020

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

Produced by The Chicks and Jack Antonoff

Another slow burner from Gaslighter.  “My Best Friend’s Weddings” starts out like a solemn hymn, but as Maines grows in confidence, so does the tempo, building to pure euphoric release as she takes inspiration from her best friend getting married again: “I guess from ashes we can really grow…and my wildfire’s coming, burning the path that I know.”

She finds hope in her friend’s happy ending, but doubles down on her own independence, turning “go it alone” from a nervous acknowledgment of reality to a triumph worth celebrating by the end of the song.

 

#10

Heartbreak Town

Fly

1999

Written by Darrell Scott

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

It’s worth remembering that even when they were the most feted and celebrated act in Nashville, the Chicks still saw the machinery for what it was, and they had plenty of side eye for Music Row’s exploitative culture: “You take your number and you stand in line and they watch to see how high you’re gonna climb. Pat on the back and ‘better luck next time,’ this ain’t nothin’ but a heartbreak town.”

The Chicks would later record songwriter Darrell Scott’s spiritual sequel to this song, and it’s even better than “Heartbreak Town.”

  

#9

Young Man

Gaslighter

2020

Written by Jack Antonoff, Annie Clark, Marty Maguire, Natalie Maines, Emily Strayer, and Justin Tranter

Produced by The Chicks and Jack Antonoff

While singing to their daughters on “Julianna Calm Down,” the Chicks try to protect their girls from toxic masculinity.  On “Young Man,” they’re determined that their sons don’t become the kind of men that daughters need protection from.  They do it not by demonizing the father who has left their home in tatters, but rather by insisting that their parents’ unhappiness is not their burden to carry:  “I’ve done my best, the best I know how to, and my blues aren’t your blues.”

The chorus is as pure an expression of love for a child as I’ve ever heard in a song:  “You’re of me, not mine. Perfect in my eyes. You’re gonna be just fine. Take the best parts of him as your own life begins, leave the bad news behind you.”

 

#8

The Long Way Around

Taking the Long Way

2006

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

Produced by Rick Rubin

One part origin story, one part reset button, “The Long Way Around” opens Taking the Long Way, and it allows the Chicks to reclaim the narrative that was taken away from them in the aftermath of the incident.   They recount their early days “in a pink RV with stars on the ceiling,” and laugh about how they “wouldn’t kiss all the asses that they told” them to.  Rick Rubin’s production is reserved throughout the album, but the pedal steel kicking in right after that line is a wonderful tongue-in-cheek flourish.

 

 

#7

Truth No. 2

Home

2002

Written by Patty Griffin

Produced by The Chicks and Lloyd Maines

“Truth No. 2” was just getting prepped for country radio when the Chicks got banned, and it was never officially sent for airplay.  This would’ve sounded so damn good on the radio.  Patty Griffin and the Chicks are one of those songwriter-artist pairings that is next level: her songs sound better sung by the Chicks, and the Chicks sound the best when singing her songs.  One of the key takeaways of this song is that a woman has the right to speak her mind, even though “You don’t like the truth coming from my mouth.”  Country radio silencing their voices didn’t weaken the Chicks, but twenty years down the road, country radio still hasn’t recovered from cutting them loose, as it continues to sideline and marginalize female artists, too afraid of the sound of the truth coming from their mouths.

 

#6

Cowboy Take Me Away

Fly

1999

Written by Marcus Hummon and Martie Maguire

Produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley

One of the best country love songs of all time was inspired by a bubble bath commercial.  Maguire took the old slogan, “Calgon, take me away!” and turned it into a romantic yearning to be swept off her feet by a good-hearted cowboy.  It’s a bit like “Wide Open Spaces” for the post-college woman, where she still wants to connect with the great outdoors and explore the great unknown, but now wants some company for her journey.

 

#5

Travelin’ Soldier

Home

2002

Written by Bruce Robison

Produced by The Chicks and Lloyd Maines

This poignant ballad of a fallen Vietnam soldier was the Chicks’ last big radio hit, sitting at No. 1 when country radio decided to throw their best act overboard.  That it made it No. 1 at all is a testament to how powerful their artistry – and their popularity – were at the time.  It’s an intimate acoustic number that quietly indicts the indifference we can have to a person that has lost their life in service to our country, while also reminding us that each life lost leaves someone behind that loves them: “Crying all alone under the stands was the piccolo player in the marching band.  One name read and nobody really cared but a pretty little girl with a bow in her hair.”

 

#4

Not Ready to Make Nice

Taking the Long Way

2006

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

Produced by Rick Rubin

“Not Ready to Make Nice” has become an empowerment anthem over time, embraced by many listeners who identify with the song’s core refusal to sacrifice who you are and what you believe to be forgiven for something that you aren’t sorry for in the first place.

It’s been embraced that way for so long that it’s easy to forget that when it was first released, it didn’t feel like an empowerment anthem so much as a cathartic act of defiance.  All they really had to do was put their heads down, make a few friendly overtures, and not talk about what happened, and the Chicks would’ve been back on country radio.

They calmly, firmly, insistently refused, pouring that refusal into a song that officially severed ties with the country music establishment, righteously and correctly concluding that those who didn’t have their backs when they were under attack would never again be worthy of their time and talent.   It was a moment of fearlessness and resolve that would’ve been impressive even if the song wasn’t as brilliantly written and performed as it was.   That they said goodbye with a record this fantastic validated the good sense and good taste of those of us who stuck by them every step of the way.

  

#3

Top of the World

Home

2002

Written by Patty Griffin

Produced by The Chicks and Lloyd Maines

“Top of the World” is the epic closing track to Home, and despite preserving the album’s limited acoustic instrumentation, it still manages to feel larger than life.  That’s a credit to the evocative songwriting of Patty Griffin, the flawless instrumentation of Maguire and Strayer, and Maines’ rafter-ringing vocal performance.

The song is from the point of view of a man who has passed on and realized he had a negative impact on his loved ones, but it’s too late now for him to do anything about it.  “Top of the World” understands that little choices and meaningless moments all add up to a larger story of how a life was lived.

The protagonist isn’t looking back on intense fights or significant milestones.  He’s just haunted by little opportunities left untaken, the moments where he could’ve showed “all of the things I was on the inside,” but instead would “pretend to be sleeping when you come in in the morning, to whisper ‘goodbye,’ go to work in the rain.  I don’t know why, don’t know why.”

 

#2

Gaslighter

Gaslighter

2020

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

Produced by The Chicks and Jack Antonoff

March 2020 was a terrible month, as the pandemic made itself known and the entire country soon locked down at home.  But for a few days there, the biggest news in the Country Universe world was that the Dixie Chicks were back, and they’d returned with a song that was 100% fire.  Kicking off with their distinctive a cappella harmonies, “Gaslighter” slams down on the accelerator and rarely lets up, weaving together their signature country sound with the pop sensibility of their new co-producer, Jack Antonoff.

When it does slow down at the bridge, you can feel the tension recharging as Maines goes in for the kill:  “You just had to start a fire, had to start a fire. Couldn’t take yourself on a road little higher.  Had to burn it up.  Had to tear it down….You’re still sorry and there’s still no apology.”  The combination of the front and center harmonies from Home, the raw lyrical honesty of Taking the Long Way, and the clean production of contemporary pop was irresistible, at once sounding familiar and completely brand new.

 

#1

Long Time Gone

Home

2002

Written by Darrell Scott

Produced by The Chicks and Lloyd Maines

Not only the best record of the Chicks, but also the best county record of the current century.

“Long Time Gone” is a pure showcase of their instrumental talent, with Martie and Emily being as essential to the song’s hooks as Maines’ delivery of the lyrics.  It features the same empowered energy of their best hits from Wide Open Spaces and Fly, but with a sharper edge and a complete refusal to mince words as they slice and dice the contemporary country landscape that they still ruled at the time.

It’s almost as if they knew what was coming, and how barren that landscape would be without them: “We listen to the radio to hear what’s cooking but the music ain’t got no soul.”  Their ruthless indictment of what’s on the radio was played in heavy rotation alongside the targets of their ire: “They sound tired but they don’t sound Haggard.  They got money but they don’t have Cash.  They’ve got junior but they don’t have Hank.”

It got a hell of a lot of country airplay at the time, and sold well enough as a single to become their first top ten pop hit.  But their journey away from Nashville still began here, on a record that is completely untethered from the tired conventions and compromising limitations of the early 2000s Music Row industry.

“Long Time Gone” is their statement of independence from that world as well as a requiem for it.

The Chicks were exiled from that world a few short months after this song dominated the airwaves, bringing Nashville’s improbably glorious era of artistic excellence and commercial dominance to an end.   As they prophetically sang twenty years ago, it’s a “long time gone and it ain’t comin’ back again.”

 

The Chicks Ranked

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

 

 

12 Comments

  1. You’re a gifted writer, Kevin—able to say a lot with only a few words. This was a great read / tribute to one of the all-time great bands. Thanks!

    3
      • Sure thing! I just read through the one on Pam Tillis—great stuff! I’m pretty familiar with her first four Arista albums and “Rhinestoned,” but the feature made me want to get to know “Every Time” better. I never really dug into it. I was glad “Something Burning Out” ranked so high—it’s one of my favorites from her

        1
    • Glad you enjoyed it! We are very much on the same page regarding Home and Gaslighter. I played the Gaslighter album 30 times before reviewing it because I couldn’t believe it was in the same league as Home, which I viewed as untouchable.

  2. Both the Tillis and Chicks feature hammered home how influential great writing about music can be. They brought me back to my pre-internet days when I often experienced music by reading about it first in magazines and books; a great album review, interview, or feature piece drove me to the record store to hear the music for myself. In many ways, the writing about the music was just as important as listening to the music; at their symbiotic best the two are inseparable. Congratulations, Kevin, on providing this wonderful resource and reference material for fans of the Chicks and Tillis, maybe more so for those less familiar with either artist.

    4
  3. Happy to see “Am I the Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way)” ranked so high. That’s one of my favorites to listen to on hard days.

    Thanks for doing this, Kevin!

    2
  4. Kevin, excellent work as always. I struggle to find a ranking here I disagreed with and also believe Long Time Gone is the best country single this century.

    1
  5. Re. “Not Ready To Make Nice”: Sixteen years since this song first struck, and the intensity does not seem to have lightened up…and rightly so, I think. The reaction to what Natalie said at Shepherd’s Bush was not just over-the-top stupid; in my opinion, it was downright dangerous, because it was so deliberately taken out of context by right-wing America. Not since John Lennon made a similarly taken-out-of-context comment in 1966 about The Beatles being more popular than Jesus at that time (a comment that was probably quite accurate) had anything said by any pop music figure caused such a firestorm. So to write such a raw, uncompromising song as that was quite an achievement for the Chicks, and one that struck a chord with a lot of people back then. In many ways, I think it still does.

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  6. …some job well done. following this ranking exercise reminded me of how close right and wrong can come together in country music at times. to be proven right by history eventually is not a small feat. not only the chicks’ music is art at it’s best – their “not ready to make nice” clip is simply outstanding. a gem in every aspect.

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  7. Thanks for your great work on this, Kevin. It’s a really enjoyable feature — I hope you’ll do more of them. (Pam Tillis and The Chicks are two of my Top 5 favorite country acts of all time, so your batting average with me is very good so far.) I agree with “Long Time Gone” as the top single. I don’t share the same enthusiasm for the “Gaslighter” album, so I would not have ranked so many of those singles so high. I respect the music on that album more than I enjoy it — I don’t tend to go back to it for repeat listens. I still want The Chicks to be mostly a country band, so that album strayed too far for me. Still love The Chicks, though. Always will.

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  8. Excellent list Kevin. I disagree with a few but its still great. My top 3 qould be Travelin Soldier, Long Time Gone and Cowboy Take me Away

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