Thursday, April 23rd, is St. George’s Day. George is the name of the patron saint of England. One of the most prominent of the military saints, legend has it that George slayed a dragon that had been terrorizing the people of Silene, in modern-day Libya, doing so on the condition that they convert to Christianity.
And of course, George is also the name of a few very important figures in country music, so this seemed like a good opportunity to dig a little bit into the back catalog of one of them. What follows is a chronological listing of some George Strait songs that, while not necessarily essential or definitive, are my personal favorites:
1. Amarillo By Morning (1983). Included on Strait’s 1982 sophomore album Strait from the Heart, “Amarillo by Morning” was released as a single in early 1983. It had previously been recorded by one of its co-writers Terry Stafford in 1973, Chris LeDoux in 1975 and Asleep at the Wheel in 1981. All of those renditions, however, were eclipsed by Strait’s. This is the first George Strait song I can remember hearing on the radio that really made an impact on me. At the time I didn’t realize it was a song about a rodeo rider. The lines “I hope that judge ain’t blind”, and “I ain’t rich, but Lord I’m free” made me think it was a song about someone who had been wrongfully imprisoned and was hoping to appear before a judge to have the conviction overturned. Eventually, I figured out that wasn’t what the song was about, but it remained a favorite anyway.
2. Right or Wrong (1984). This old Bob Wills classic has been recorded countless times. My collection includes versions by Merle Haggard and Reba McEntire with Asleep at the Wheel, but Strait’s version was the first one I ever heard. It is the only version to have gone to #1 on the Billboard Country Singles chart. It topped the chart in early 1984, becoming Strait’s fourth #1 hit.
3. Let’s Fall To Pieces Together (1984). The follow up to “Right or Wrong”, this was Strait’s fifth #1 hit. I’ve always thought it was a shame that he and producer Ray Baker only made one album together.
4. Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind (1984). The title track to Strait’s 1984 album, this marks the beginning of the “modern” George Strait. It was his first single to be produced by Jimmy Bowen, and by this time he’d begun to develop his trademark crooning-style, which was a much more relaxed style than some of his earlier releases. This song had been turned down by Reba McEntire, who didn’t feel comfortable singing it because of the line about “cold Fort Worth beer.”
5. Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her (1986). The lead single to the album #7, this song was previously recorded by its composer Dean Dillon, who has written many, many hits for George Strait. It was also included on Keith Whitley’s 1985 album L.A. to Miami, but wasn’t released as a single. This is one of Strait’s best vocal performances. He captures perfectly the pain and torment of the protagonist, who regrets having walked out on a woman that he comes to realize too late that he still loves.
6. Baby’s Gotten Good at Goodbye (1988). Released in December 1988, this was the lead single to Strait’s 1989 album Beyond the Blue Neon. I got my first CD player for Christmas in 1988, so this was the first George Strait album I bought on CD. It reached #1 on April 1, 1989. It’s not as well remembered as some of Strait’s other hits, but it’s always been one that I’ve liked a lot.
7. Love Without End, Amen (1990). This song about a father’s unconditional love for his son became the biggest hit of Strait’s career when it was released in 1990. It spent five weeks at #1, the first Strait single to top the charts for more than one week.
8. Lovesick Blues (1991). A cover of the old Hank Williams classic, in which the Williams influence can be be easily heard in Strait’s vocal performance. This is one of those songs that I like no matter who is singing it. Its claim to fame in Strait’s catalog is that it was his first single since 1981′s “Down and Out” that failed to reach the Top 10. It peaked at #24 and remains the lowest charting single of Strait’s career. How many other artists would love to say that a #24 song was their worst chart performance in a career spanning nearly 30 years?
9. I Can Still Make Cheyenne (1996). Another song about a rodeo rider who lost a wife or a girlfriend (we don’t know which) somewhere along the way. The protagonist is devastated when said wife or girlfriend tells him not to bother coming back from an extended period on the rodeo circuit during which he’s failed to even call home, but puts up a good front by saying, “If I hurry, I can still make Cheyenne”, which he had, up to that point, been planning to give up in order to return home.
10. The Seashores of Old Mexico (2005). Another rare Strait single that failed to reach the Top 10, this rendition of the Merle Haggard composition peaked at #11 in 2005. After a period in which Strait’s recordings were beginning to become a little boring, this song, which had previously been recorded by Hank Snow, Freddy Weller, and Merle Haggard (both as a solo artist and as a duet with Willie Nelson), was like a breath of fresh air. The album of the same name is the best Strait album (so far) of the 21st century.
Needless to say, it’s difficult to narrow down such a strong and extensive catalog to just ten favorites. It would be much easier to just write about the George Strait songs that I don’t like. But for better or worse, these are my ten picks.
Happy St. George’s Day, everyone!
What are your favorite George Strait songs?