My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Category Archives: Playlist

Razor X’s top 10 singles of 2015

Compiling a list of the year’s best singles has become one of my least favorite tasks. It seems as though with each passing year country radio gets a little worse. I stopped listening to it in 2007; there is plenty of good music available outside the mainstream, but non-mainstream artists don’t always bother releasing singles to radio. Twenty years ago I’d have had trouble paring my list down to just ten songs; nowadays it is challenge to find ten singles that I like. But in the end, I always manage to find a little wheat among the mountain of chaff. It will come as no surprise to longtime readers to discover that my list is dominated by old favorites who are mostly past their commercial peaks. In fact, my list contains only one bonafide hit, and even that hit #1 without much help from country radio:

fae8ca732384cd6a272747f48c4ebbe010. I Met a Girl — William Michael Morgan

In a stronger year, I wouldn’t have taken much notice of this song but it stands out from the pack because it is a legitimate attempt to get country music back on track without all the hip-hop, bro-country and R&B influences that have come to all but drown out traditional country sounds. It peaked just outside the Top 40, but Morgan has got a good voice and is an artist I’m keeping an eye on for the future.

9. Boy and a Girl Thing — Mo Pitney

Like “I Met a Girl”, this tune is a bit generic but it’s a step in the right direction towards bringing the genre back to its roots. It failed to make the Top 40, but Pitney is an artist that deserves to be heard. Hopefully his music won’t be held hostage by his record label (Curb)

8. Time For That — Clint Black

Clint Black was one of a handful of my old favorites who made a comeback in 2015. It was a shame, but no surprise, that this single did not chart. But regardless of its commercial performance, it sure was good to hear from Clint again.

ashley-monroe-48th-annual-cma-awards-2014-arrivals_44470897. On to Something Good — Ashley Monroe

Ashley Monroe is a very talented artist whose shot at stardom has been hampered by bad timing; she’s had the ill fortune to come along at a time when female artists — particularly traditional-leaning ones — are not given much consideration by country radio. The Blade, produced by Vince Gill and Justin Niebank, is one of the year’s best albums. This single, which got stuck at #53, makes some compromises in an attempt to be heard. Hardcore country it is not, but it is very good, and in another era it would have been a big hit.

6. Cold Beer Conversation — George Strait

The title track of an album that took everyone by surprise proves that drinking songs don’t have to be mindless party songs. It also unofficially marks the beginning of Strait’s post-radio career. After an impressive 35-year-run at the top of the country singles charts, this is his fourth consecutive record not to make the Top 20, and as such, as forced his fans to finally acknowledge that even King George is no longer welcome at country radio.

5. Jim and Jack and Hank — Alan Jackson

This catchy kiss-off tune would have been a big hit during the 90s line-dancing craze. It’s a little light in the lyrics department but is an example of what passed for a fun song on the radio before country music became one big frat party in a cornfield.

lwomack4. Send It On Down — Lee Ann Womack

A beautifully crafted ballad that is a prayer to the Almighty for the strength to make it through adverse times.

3. If I Was Over You — Amanda Watkins feat. Jamey Johnson

This independent release is an interesting pairing between Amanda Watkins (formerly of the pop-country Miss Willie Brown) and Jamey Johnson, which works surprisingly well. It is a stripped down, beautifully produced and well-sung ballad, that can’t possibly have been expected to succeed commercially. However, if Watkns’ forthcoming album is as strong as the lead single, she could be well poised to be country music’s next critics’ darling.

2. Tennessee Whiskey — Chris Stapleton

I surprised myself by ranking this one so highly. When I reviewed Traveller last spring, I commented that Stapleton’s bluesy take on this Dean Dillon tune that was previously recorded by David Allan Coe and a hit for George Jones, was not to my taste. While I still greatly prefer Jones’ version, Stapleton’s remake has grown on me. It is the only decent song to make it to #1 this year, having been driven up the charts by download sales after Stapleton’s CMA wins, and without much help from country radio. It’s a ray of hope that mainstream country may finally start to improve before too much longer.

images-91. I Remember You — Trisha Yearwood

Trisha Yearwood is another old favorite who finally released some new music in 2015. This beautiful, stripped down ballad, on which her sister sings harmony, is a tribute to their late mother, and shows that although radio may have left Trisha Yearwood behind, she can still deliver the goods. This is about as good as it gets.

Advertisements

Occasional Hope’s top 10 singles of 2015

law 2015Country radio may be going from bad to worse with the arrival of the likes of the obviously non-country Sam Hunt, but there have been some superb singles released this year, particularly from female artists. A few of them have even made an impact on radio, proving there is still hope. Among the singles that just missed the cut for my top 10 were the charming first two singles from Kacey Musgraves’ second Mercury album – ‘Biscuits’ and ‘Dime Store Cowgirl’; Sunny Sweeney’s dead-marriage duet with Will Hoge, ‘My Bed’; and Chris Young’s sexy ‘I’m Comin’ Over’.

10. Jon Pardi – ‘Head Over Boots’
Sunny and catchy – this is country rock done exactly right. It’s currently working its way into the top 40.

9. Chris Stapleton‘Nobody To Blame’

Singer-songwriter Chris Stapleton’s unexpected triple victory at this year’s CMA Awards was the pleasantest surprise I’ve had at an awards ceremony in years. Showing why he deserved it, his November single release is an excellent song imbued with his bluesy soulful brand of country music.

burning house8. Cam – Burning House
I hear Camaron Ochs as more folky pop rather than a country singer at heart, but I’ve really liked her two 2015 singles, the upbeat ‘My Mistake’ (about embarking on a one night stand with no regrets), and the gentle melancholy of ‘Burning House’. The haunting melody makes this my favourite of the two, and for a change radio agrees with me, as this has proved to be her breakthrough, with the track at #11 on the country radio chart as of early November. Her debut album is due this month.

shut up and fish7. Maddie & Tae – ‘Shut Up And Fish’
An irresistibly catchy tune from the effervescent duo, which uses its comic trappings to dress up a serious message about sexual harassment.

6. Jason James‘I’ve Been Drinkin’ More’
Perhaps the most obscure of my top 10 singles is this solid barroom shuffle, which sounds like a forgotten county classic:

I’ve been drinkin’ more
Since you’ve been lovin’ me less

5. Jana Kramer – ‘I Got the Boy’
Disappointingly the album it heralded turned out to be otherwise terrible, but I still like Jana Kramer’s mature reflection on the passing of teenage romance, written by Connie Harrington, Tim Nichols and former child TV star Jamie Lynn Spears. Her vocal ability may not stand up to the other women who made my top 10 this year, but on this song at least, she has an appealing warmth. It was another genuine hit, and is still rising.

4. Trisha Yearwood‘I Remember You’
The second single from Trisha Yearwood’s 2014 mixture of hits and fine new songs, Prize Fighter, is an impeccable song, written by Canadians Kelly Archer, Ben Caver and Brad Rempel. My review said it was “as close to perfect as it gets”, and it is an exemplary example of understated subtlety in both the vocal and the production.

jamey johnson3. Jamey Johnson‘Alabama Pines’
Jamey Johnson has not been very forthcoming with new music even now that he has launched his own label. But he did share this single with us earlier this year, even initially allowing it to be downloaded free. A beautiful, steel laced melody, it looks back on his southern childhood and the dreams of a life in music who took him away.

the blade2. Ashley Monroe – ‘The Blade
For most of this year, the title track of Ashley’s latest album has been the song I’ve returned to over and over again. When I reviewed that set I called this a truly outstanding song, and my feelings have not changed. Written by Marc Beeson, Jamie Floyd and Allen Shamblin, produced by Vince Gill and Justin Niebank, and sung by the delicately vulnerable Ashley Monroe, this is a beautiful depiction of the pain of love which lasts longer on one side than the other:

That’s the risk you run when you love
When you love and you give it all you’ve got to give
Knowing all along there’s a chance
There’s a chance you’ll reach and they won’t
You’ll bleed and they don’t
For you, it’s over; for me, it’s not
I kept tryin’ and you just stopped
Now I know how you can sound so brave
Cause you caught it by the handle, baby
And I caught it by the blade

It wasn’t a hit of course – it was far too good for country radio: too country, too subtle, and too female.

1. Lee Ann Womack‘Chances Are’
I thought Ashley Monroe’s single was going to make #1 on my list until I heard late in October that Lee Ann Womack had issued the best song on her critically acclaimed 2014 album The Way I’m Livin’ as its third single. A world-wearied and desperately lonely soul still has hope for love and happiness:

Chances are I took the wrong turn
Every time I had a turn to take
And I guess I broke my own heart
Every chance I had a heart to break
And it seems I spent my whole life
Wishin’ on the same unlucky star
As I watch you ‘cross the barroom, I wonder
What my chances are

Well, I know you’ve been around
And you’ve seen what you needed to see
And at night when you’re dreamin’
You’re probably not dreamin’ ‘bout me
Oh, it’s safe to say I’ve stumbled
But I’ve managed to make it through this far
As I take one step and then another
I wonder what my chances are

I have watched the world go by
Hand in hand and wondered why
I’m still so alone
Could I lay down my foolish pride
Maybe finally find my heart a home

The band has started playing
A simple song I used to know
I take your hand and walk you out
Dance to the rhythm way down low
Every heart has got a story
Mine just has a few scars
But they could heal if you would hold me and tell me
What my chances are
Well, they could heal if you would hold me and tell me
What my chances are

I first heard this excellent song sung by its writer Hayes Carll a few years ago, but LAW’s version of this excellent Hayes Carll song is quite exquisitely beautiful: beautifully sung and interpreted like a masterclass in country music, and tastefully produced with lovely steel guitar dominating the mix. Her unexpected but well deserved nomination as the CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year probably won’t gain her airplay for this stunning record, but it’s unmissable.

Favorite Country Songs of the 1980s: Part 7

honey i dare youIt’s been a while since my last installment of this series. Here are some more songs from the 1980s that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.

Shame On The Moon” – Bob Seger
Bob’s 1982 recording of a Rodney Crowell song charted on the country charts in early 1983, reaching #15 in the process. The song was a bigger hit on the pop charts, reaching #2 for four weeks.

Doesn’t Anybody Get High On Love Anymore” – The Shoppe
The Shoppe was a Dallas based band that hung around for years after their 1968 formation. In the early 1980s they had eight chart records, but this was the only one to crack the top forty, reaching #33. They had a record deal with MTM Records in 1985, but that label vanished, taking the Shoppe with them.

Honey (Open That Door)” – Ricky Skaggs
The early 1980s belonged to Ricky Skaggs as he racked up eight #1 records before the end of 1984. Some of his records were bluegrass/country hybrids, others, like this cover of Mel Tillis-penned Webb Pierce record were more straightforward country. This record topped the charts in 1984 and had a very amusing video to accompany it.

A Far Cry From You” – Connie Smith
After disappearing from the charts for six years, Connie emerged with this excellent single in 1985. Epic didn’t give the record much of a promotional push so it only reached #71, but it was one of my ten favorite records for the year 1985.

He Gives Me Diamonds, You Give Me Chills”– Margo Smith
Margo Smith has a short run of chart success in the late 1970s but by the end of the decade her run was almost over. This 1980 record would stall at #52 and other than a pair of duets with Rex Allen Jr., she would not see the top forty again. Margo is still an active performer and lives in the Villages, FL. When she’s feeling well, she can still yodel with the best of them.

Cheatin’s A Two Way Street”– Sammi Smith
Sammi’s last top twenty record, reaching #16 in 1981. Sammi should have become a much bigger star than she did.

Tear-Stained Letter” – Jo-el Sonnier
This Cajun accordion player had two top ten records for RCA in 1988 before fading away. Cajun has never been mainstream so he didn’t figure to have too many hits (and he didn’t). This record reached #9 and the one before it “No More One More Time” reached 7. Nothing else reached the top twenty.

Hasn’t It Been Good Together” – Hank Snow and Kelly Foxton
Hank’s eighty-fifth chart hit and the very last singles chart appearance for ‘The Singing Ranger’. This song crept to #80 in 1980. Hank would only record one more time after the album from which this album was issued, a duet album with Willie Nelson a few years later. Read more of this post

Favorite Country Songs Of The 80s: Part 6

Here are some more songs from the 1980s that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records:

Memory Machine“– Jack Quist
This 1982 song about a jukebox reached #52. I don’t know anything about Jack Quist other than that he originally was from Salt Lake City, but I am familiar with the song’s writer Ted Harris as he wrote such classics as “Paper Mansions” and “Crystal Chandeliers”.

eddie rabbittOn Second Thought” – Eddie Rabbitt
Released in 1989, this song peaked at #1 in early 1990. This was Eddie’s most traditional sounding hit and my favorite of all of Eddie’s recordings.

Don’t It Make Ya Wanna Dance” – Bonnie Raitt
This song was from the soundtrack of Urban Cowboy and reached #42.

Right Hand Man” – Eddy Raven

Eddy had sixteen consecutive top ten records from 1984-1989. This song is my favorite although it only reached #3. Eddy would have five #1 records during the decade with “Joe Knows How To Live” and “Bayou Boys” being the biggest hits.

She Got The Goldmine (I Got The Shaft)” – Jerry Reed
There are few artists that could get away with recording a song with such a title but Jerry Reed was that one of a kind who could. The song reached #1 in 1982, one of Jerry’s few #1 records. There are those who consider Jerry to have been the best guitar player ever (Chet Atkins among them). Jerry passed away a few years ago perhaps depriving the genre of its greatest all-around talent.

Read more of this post

Favorite Songs of the 1980s: Part 5

The 1980s got off to a poor start with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wrecked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

Here are some more songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.

the okanes“When You Leave That Way You Can Never Go Back” – Sam Neely
This 1983 song reached #77 for a talented performer who spent many years playing the clubs and honky-tonks of Corpus Christi. The song, the reflection of a condemned inmate’s life, looks back at all the bridges he burned beyond repair. The song also was recorded by Bill Anderson and Confederate Railroad.

Dream Lover” – Rick Nelson
Epic reissued Rick’s 1979 cover of a Bobby Darin classic after Rick’s death in a New Years Eve 1985 air crash. It only reached #88 but it gives me a chance to mention one of the fine rock ‘n roll / country singers one last time.

Save Me” – Louise Mandrell
Louise never quite emerged from her big sister’s shadow but this #6 single from 1983 shows that a lack of talent wasn’t the problem.

Wabash Cannonball” – Willie Nelson with Hank (Leon Russell) Wilson
This song is at least as famous as any other song I’ve mentioned in any of my articles. Although the song is often attributed to A.P. Carter, it really is much older than that. Willie and Hank took this to #91 in 1984.

American Trilogy”– Mickey Newberry
Mickey issued a new version of his classic 1971 pop hit in 1988. While it only reached #93, it was good to hear it again on the radio. Glory, Glory Hallelujah forever.

The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)“– Judy Kay ‘Juice’ Newton
This #1 hit from 1982 was Juice’s biggest hit. As great as this recording is, the song sounds even better when she performs it acoustically.

Dance Little Jean” – The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Perhaps my favorite recording by NGDB, it only reached #9 in 1983 but I still hear the song performed today by various and sundry acts, not all of whom are country. The song was the group’s first top ten country hit there would be sixteen in all), although they had pop chart hits dating back to the 1960s.

“Let’s Go All The Way ” – Norma Jean and Claude Gray
A pair of veteran performers teamed up to release this 1982 hit which charted at #68. The song was Norma Jean’s first chart hit back in 1964. This was her last chart hit; in fact, she hadn’t charted since 1971 when this record was released on the Granny White label.

Elvira” – The Oak Ridge Boys
Although not their biggest chart hit, this cover of a Dallas Frazier-penned song from the 1960s , was easily their biggest selling song, reaching #1 in 1981 while hitting #5 on Billboard’s pop charts. Has anyone really forgotten the chorus?

So I’m singin’, Elvira, Elvira
My heart’s on fire, Elvira
Giddy up, oom poppa, omm poppa, mow mow
Giddy up, oom poppa, omm poppa, mow mow, heigh-ho Silver, away!

I didn’t think so …

Oh Darlin’” – The O’Kanes (Kieran Kane and Jamie O’Hara)
This coupling of a couple of singer-songwriters who had not had solo success, resulted in a half dozen top ten records that had a fairly acoustic sound and feel that sounded like nothing else currently being played on the radio. This song reached #10 in 1986. Their next single “Can’t Stop My Heart From Loving You” would reach #1.

Read more of this post

Occasional Hope’s Top Singles of 2012

Although the official charts seem less and less listenable, I have found quite a number of excellent singles were released this year. While none of them was a smash hit, many of them enjoyed some airplay. Here are my favorites. Oddly, while my albums list consisted of almost all male vocalists, my singles list has a majority of female singers.

10. Ex-Old Man – Kristen Kelly
The top 30 hit for the promising new Arista artist (inspired by her own divorce and written by Kristen with Paul Overstreet) shows how good contemporary country can be. I’ll be looking out for more from her.

9. Merry Go Round – Kacey Musgraves
The young Texan singer-songwriter’s debut Mercury single is a very interesting song about the down sides of rural poverty, when getting married and settling down young is virtually the only option, and portrays a family all seeking escape in a different kind of sin. Kacey isn’t the best singer, but her gentle vocal here is very effective and the song is surprisingly catchy. The record reached the top 30.

8. The Wind – Zac Brown Band
Bluegrass never gets much of a hearing from the mainstream, and they were hostile even to consistent if eclectic hit makers the Zac Brown Band when they sent this excellent track to radio. But it’s an excellent record with sparkling musicianship and an interesting lyric with a northern setting.

gwen sebastian with mentor blake shelton7. Met Him In A Motel Room – Gwen Sebastian
I was previously unimpressed by this artist, who has been around for a few years on minor labels. She recently tried a stint on The Voice reality competition with Blake Shelton as her mentor, and although she did not get very far on the show, she then released this single. A compelling story song about a desperate woman on the verge of suicide who finds another way out when she finds a Bible, it really made me sit up and pay attention to her music.

6. You Go Your Way – Alan Jackson
Classic Alan Jackson.

ashley monroe5. Like A Rose – Ashley Monroe
Critical favorite and part-time Pistol Annie Ashley Monroe has come up with a fine lead-in for her Vince Gill-produced new album on Warner Brothers, due early next year. Vulnerable vocals and a pretty melody with delicate production suit the song beautifully.

4. We Can’t Be Friends – Joanna Smith
The relative newcomer’s third single really made me pay attention to her for the first time. A delicately understated plaintive vocal and a subtle song about the difficulties of staying in contact with an ex when a clean break makes more sense, make for a real winner. While she hasn’t yet made a chart breakthrough, it is encouraging that an artist like this is still on a major label.

joey + rory thumbnail3. When I’m Gone – Joey + Rory
The duo’s third Sugar Hill album was their most inconsistent, but there were a few gems, including this exceptional song offering a kind of comfort to the soon-to-be bereaved. A beautiful, tender vocal from Joey is perfectly judged. Even in a better radio climate this would never have been likely to be a hit single, but it is absolutely exquisite – true heartbreak yet utterly beautiful.

2. So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore – Alan Jackson
Alan Jackson’s singles are sometimes hit and miss, but this year he released one of the finest singles of his career. A subtle, understated, and perfect delivery, tasteful production, and outstanding lyric were just too good for radio, with the record peaking at a disappointing #25. It only just missed my #1 spot.

strait thumbnail1. Drinkin’ Man – George Strait
After 30 years at the top, in recent years George Strait has occasionally seemed to be going through the motions. But his best single for years is a clear-eyed confessional from a lifelong alcoholic, who has never managed more than nine days straight sober. Never asking for pity, but truly conscious of his failings, this song is a modern masterpiece, written by Strait himself, his son Bubba, and the great Dean Dillon. It says a lot (and none of it good) about today’s country radio that it got so little airplay, peaking at #37.

Keeping your ears warm: a slacker’s playlist

slacker playlist2December means list-making for lots of people. For Christmas shoppers. said list reminds you to buy Aunt Dorothy that bottle of Evening In Paris perfume and to likewise pick up those all-important token trinkets for every friend, relative, and passing acquaintance in your life. It’s the time of year for giving, after all.

And for music bloggers, it means whittling down the year’s releases into a tidy list of the best of the best. If you’re like me, you’ve waited until December to really start the process of putting them in order. I’ve kept a revolving list of my favorites since January, in no particular order. So for the past week I’ve been revisiting, adding new songs, and eliminating the middling music. In the meantime, I’ve found some great songs – new and old – to keep my ears warm when I’m not re-evaluating the best of 2012. Thanks to my handy Spotify account, I’ve got a pre-made list of my top 10 played songs during the past week. I’ll share them with you below – a sort of procrastination edition of the ever-popular iPod check – and invite you to share your own in the comments.

  • Kasey Musgraves – “Merry Go Round”
  • Don Gibson – “Oh Lonesome Me”
  • Lori McKenna – “Sometimes He Does”
  • Elvis Presley – “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”
  • Kelly Clarkson – “People Like Us”
  • Linda Ronstadt – “Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind”
  • Ray Charles – “I Can’t Stop Loving You”
  • Bobbie Cryner – “Leavin’ Houston Blues”
  • Rick Trevino – “Running Out of Reasons To Run”
  • Kelly Clarkson featuring Vince Gill – “Don’t Rush”

Spotify users can listen to my top 10 playlist.

What’s tops on your playlist right now? Share your top 10 (or 20 or 30) tracks with us.

Last hurrahs and late career resurgences

I became interested in country music at a time when many of the genre’s legends were still scoring hits. Within a few years however, the landscape changed dramatically as the New Traditionalist movement swept a lot of veterans off the charts. Though it was an exciting time with a lot of new talent emerging, it was also a bit sad to see a number of old favorites disappearing from the airwaves all at once. In their struggle to remain commercially relevant, many of these veterans produced some of their finest work. In some cases it resulted in one last big hit; in a few rare cases it resulted in a temporary halt in their slide down the charts, but above all, it usually resulted in some really great music. Here are a few examples of memorable late career moments from some of my favorite artists:

1. “Two Story House” — George Jones & Tammy Wynette (1980)
Though this duo continued to record together after their divorce, their collaborations became less frequent as Jones battled his personal demons. “Two Story House”, a tale of a marriage destroyed by materialism, was their last big hit, charting at #2. They scored one more Top 20 hit later the same year with “A Pair of Old Sneakers”. After that there were no more Jones/Wynette collaborations until 1994 when they remade their biggest hit, 1976’s “Golden Ring” for George’s Bradley Barn Sessions album, which led to one final album of duets, 1995’s One.

2. “Another Chance “– Tammy Wynette (1982)
This bouncy tune was Tammy’s last Top 10 hit as a solo artist, peaking at #8 in 1982. It’s largely forgotten today but it received a lot of airplay at the time and I’ve always thought it was one of her best singles. She would hit the Top 10 one more time in 1985 with “Sometimes When We Touch”, a duet with Mark Gray.

3. “I Lie” — Loretta Lynn (1982)
Loretta’s chart decline paralleled that of Tammy Wynette. This #9 hit from 1982 is one of her glossiest singles. It was her first Top 10 solo hit in three years, and her only appearance in the Top 10 as a soloist in the 1980s, though she did enjoy three more Top 10 duets with Conway Twitty.

4. “Shouldn’t It Be Easier Than This” — Charley Pride (1987)
Charley Pride’s hits began to taper off in the mid-80s. He ended a twenty-year association with RCA Records in 1986 and signed with the independent 16th Avenue label. He scored one final Top 5 hit the following year.

5. “I Wish That I Could Fall In Love Today” — Barbara Mandrell (1988)
Barbara was at the peak of her popularity in 1984 when she was seriously injured in a car accident. Her career never quite regained its momentum, which she partially blames on the bad publicity she received when she filed a lawsuit against the estate of the driver that struck her car — a requirement under Tennessee law in order for her to collect from her own insurance company. She ended a three-year dry spell in 1988 when she returned to a more traditional sound. I was unfamiliar with the Ray Price original, but I loved Barbara’s take on this song and consider it to be one of her very best recordings. By coincidence, my colleague Paul also gave this record a shout-out in the latest installment of his Favorite Country Songs of the 1980s series.

6. “Don’t You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me” — Ronnie Milsap (1989)
Ronnie had a voice tailor made for country music, but unfortunately much of his output during the 1980s leaned heavily towards pop and R&B. He was still enjoying chart success when he got on board with the New Traditionalist movement and covered this Hank Cochran tune.

7. “Wrong “– Waylon Jennings (1990)
This whimsical tune about a marriage that didn’t quite turn out as expected was Waylon’s first single released during a brief stint with Epic Records. It reached #5 and was the last hit of his career.

8. “Feed This Fire“– Anne Murray (1990)
Anne regularly scored hits in both pop and country throughout the 1970s, but during the 1980s her successes were primarily on the country charts. In 1986, in an attempt to regain her popularity outside of country, she deliberately moved in a more pop direction. Ironically, her first release under this new strategy, “Now and Forever (You and Me)” became a #1 country hit, even though it was not remotely country. After that she fell out of favor with both pop and country radio, and by the beginning of the 1990s, she was trying hard to get back on country radio. She succeeded with this excellent Hugh Prestwood tune, which she took to #5 in the US and #6 in Canada. It was her last Top 10 country hit in the US.

9. “Three Good Reasons” — Crystal Gayle (1992)
Loretta Lynn’s little sister managed to buck the commercial trend towards more traditional country and stay on the charts through most of the 1980s. By the end of the decade, however, the hits began to taper off. Like many others she eventually switched to a more traditional sound. This 1992 tune did not chart, although it did get a lot of airplay in the Philadelphia market because Crystal was one of the artists appearing at the local country radio station’s annual anniversary concert that year.

10. “Buy Me A Rose” — Kenny Rogers (1999)
Kenny Rogers hadn’t scored a Top 10 hit in a decade, but age 61 he defied the odds and became the oldest person in country music history to score a #1 hit when he took this tune to the top of the charts in 1999.

Favorite country songs of the 1980s, part 4

The 1980s got off to a poor start with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wrecked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

Here are some more songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records:

“Everybody Needs Love On A Saturday Night”– The Maines Brothers Band
This 1985 song was the biggest hit (#24) for a bunch of talented musicians, some of whom went on to bigger and better things. Lloyd Maines is a leading steel guitar whiz and record producer – his daughter is Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. Three other brothers of Lloyd’s were in this band, as well.

I Wish That I Could Fall In Love Today” – Barbara Mandrell
This 1988 slightly re-titled cover of Warren Smith’s big hit  from 1960 was to be Barbara’s last top ten recording. It is one of my favorite Barbara Mandrell recordings.

Save Me” – Louise Mandrell
Louise never quite emerged from her big sister’s shadow but this #6 single from 1983 shows that a lack of talent wasn’t the problem.

My First Country Song” – Dean Martin with Conway Twitty
Not really – Dean had recorded many country songs to great effect, although never with country accompaniment. The album from which this 1983 song was taken, was actually the last album the 66-year-old Dean would record after a hugely successful career as a pop singer, movie star , television star and stage performer. In his time very few performers were bigger stars than Dean Martin. Conway Twitty wrote this song and performed it with Dean. It wasn’t a huge hit (#35) but it was an interesting ending to one of the greatest careers in American entertainment history.

You Are My Music, You Are My Song”– Wayne Massey with Charly McClain
Wayne Massey was a soap opera heartthrob and his wife Charly was stunningly attractive. This 1986 hit was one of two top tens the duo would have, although Charly had a very successful career as a solo act.

Read more of this post

Random playlist: current album cuts edition

Here are five songs from five current albums I couldn’t help but take notice of when they were released. Have a listen, then share your own favorite tracks from current albums in the comments.

Alison Krauss & Union Station – “Lie Awake”
from Paper Angels, 2011

Written by Alison’s brother Viktor with Angel Snow, “Lie Awake” is set to an Appalachian folk song tempo usually reserved for yarns about murder, madness, and desolation.  In this brooding tale of long gone wrong, the intensity of the singer’s vocal, framed by the ominous dobro plucking and her own forlorn fiddling, speaks of torments untold if she doesn’t get out before dawn.

Zac Brown Band – “Sweet Annie”
from Uncaged, 2012

Like Zac Brown, I know what it’s like to have a ‘sweet Annie’. You probably do too. She’s the girl you put on the shelf for your career, another woman, or just because you’re not ready to commit. But her honeyed southern drawl and if-you-love-him-you’ll-forgive-him nature keeps drawing you back. She’s your go-to girl when the world falls in on you. And God bless her heart, she still hasn’t realized it’s only during those times of dire circumstance you come around.  To tell us about this Annie, the guys surround the verses’ breezy fiddles with the band’s airtight (and dig those repeating) harmonies.  Zac Brown has made this kind of apologetic tale of wanderlust his wheelhouse.

Miranda Lambert – “Nobody’s Fool”
from Four The Record, 2011

This is another song about two ex-lovers and their chance meeting out on the town, made memorable by its unforgettable hook: “When they ask I’ll just say he’s nobody/And me, well I’m nobody’s fool“. It follows the sonic template of last year’s “Heart Like Mine” where a lighter touch would have better served the sharp lyrics. Here, Lambert has a perfect vehicle for her pipes with Chris Stapleton’s bar-fly narrative.  The pain in her Texas drawl is apparent as she sings of eating her heart out while trying to ‘play it all cool’.  While she aches with regret for what she’s lost, there’s a doggedness in her delivery as she fires off the chorus with her chin firmly planted outward.

Kellie Pickler – “Where’s Tammy Wynette”
from 100 Proof, 2011

As the singer looks to country’s First Lady for guidance in life, this shuffling honky-tonk number features lines like “I’m gonna search that midnight radio/’Til I find something that hurts ” that show the romanticization of an icon/heroine as opposed to another hackneyed name dropping from the list of recommended honky-tonk heroes.

Alan Jackson – “Look Her In The Eye and Lie”
from Thirty Miles West, 2012

The hook is pure common horse sense, delivered with a knowing wink. The advice – “You may not get over some loves in your life/But as you get older, you’ll know wrong more than right” – coupled with Jackson’s seasoned wisdom, belies the profundity of the lesson learned.  It’s a perfect example of the classic Alan Jackson sound of sweeping medium tempo neotraditionalism and the wittiness demonstrated in his trademark self-effacing humor that makes me wonder who’s gonna fill his shoes.

Random playlist 5

Here are five songs I’ve been playing a lot recently…

Elizabeth Cook – “Sometimes It Takes Balls to Be a Woman” … I’ve been re-watching my Weeds DVDs in anticipation of season eight’s premiere (it’s this Sunday!) and thanks to the show’s excellent taste in and use of popular music, I was reminded of the sorta-title track to Cook’s 2007 Rodney Crowell-produced album. This bit of raucous ear candy is bitingly funny in its flippant take on the old gender double standards.  Even if it’s not your style, it’s worth a spin if only to hear the lady sing the word “honey”. It’s great.

Waylon Jennings – “You Asked Me To” … I’ve been adding to my limited Waylon Jennings collection lately. After I got a copy of Waylon’s Honky Tonk Heroes set, it was this top 10 hit I kept spinning. It’s a straightforward confessional from a man devoted to the woman he loves and his lack of regard for much else. Because it’s Waylon, it comes with a powerful bass line and plenty of the singer’s strong-jaw personality . Co-writer Billy Joe Shaver later recorded it with Willie Nelson and Elvis even took a shot at it, but Waylon owns this one outright.

Carrie Underwood – “Wine After Whiskey” … I hope the Carrie Underwood camp releases this to radio at some point. It has all the elements of my favorite classic country music: a tale of lost love told with an alcohol metaphor. Underwood turns in an unusually understated performance on this track she co-wrote with Dave Berg (of current Rodney Atkins’ hits fame) and heavy hitter Tom Shapiro, and the steel guitar flourishes almost make up for the lack of fiddles.

Dwight Yoakam – “Intentional Heartache” … Woman scorned, gets pissed, takes revenge. Not so much an original concept. But one should never underestimate Dwight Yoakam’s ability to make a retro theme sound like the first time you heard it. Could be because in this snide tale of said scorned woman motoring to North Carolina to return her man’s prized possessions – “boots, Bud cap, and signed Dale Jr. poster” (but not before spraypainting them and his Monte Carlo neon green) – Yoakam sounds positively delighted to not be on the receiving end this time. That’s my theory.  And a blistering bluegrass meets rockabilly band jams while it all happens.

Reba & Kelly Clarkson – “Up to the Mountain (Live in Dayton, Ohio)” … I was at this show, but I didn’t capture this video. On their 2 Worlds, 2 Voices Tour, the two spent the entire evening turning their respective hits into duets. The result was a vocal showdown of shouting and warbling for the most part. But they kept their showboating to a minimum on this verse-trading number (and a few others) and with a simple piano backdrop turn in a definitive performance of my favorite Patty Griffin song.

What’s your current fancy on your chosen listening device?

Favorite country songs of the 1980s, Part 3

The 1980s got off to a poor start with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wreaked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

Here are some more songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.

Blue Blooded Woman
Alan Jackson
This 1989 ballad was the opening salvo for the career of Alan Jackson. While the song only reached #45, the next year it was released as the flip side of Alan’s first top five record “Here In The Real World”.

She’s Gone, Gone, GoneCarl Jackson
This 1984 cover of a Lefty Frizzell classic reached #44, the top chart performance for an incredibly talented musician better known for his work in bluegrass/ Americana.

Innocent Lies
Sonny James
After a two year chart absence, the Southern Gentleman resurfaced on the Dimension label for one last top twenty tune in early 1982. According to Billboard, Sonny had and forty-three top tens recordings of which twenty-three went all the way to the top.

Just Give Me What You Think Is FairTommy Jennings with Vern Gosdin
Tommy was Waylon’s younger brother. This was the biggest of his three chart hits, reaching #51 in mid-1980.

Theme From The Dukes of Hazzard
Waylon Jennings
Fess up – we all watched the show, mindless as it was at times . This song would reach the top slot in the fall of 1980, also reaching #21 on Billboard’s Pop Charts.

North WindJim & Jesse with Charlie Louvin
This song reached #56, a very good showing for a bluegrass act in 1982.

Give Me Wings Michael Johnson
The late 1970s-early 1980s were Johnson’s peak as a pop artist with “Bluer Than Blue”, reaching #12 Pop/#1 Easy Listening in 1978. A very talented guitarist and songwriter, Johnson found himself classified as country during the mid-1980s although his basic style remained unchanged. “Give Me Wings” and its follow up “The Moon Is Still On Her Shoulders” would both reach #1 in 1987.

Wine Colored RosesGeorge Jones
The 1980s were a huge decade for King George with three number one records and another fifteen songs that reached the top ten. George is at his best with sad songs and this wistful ballad from 1986 is one of my favorites.

Two Story House George Jones & Tammy Wynette
No longer a married couple, George and Tammy still had enough vocal chemistry to take this 1980 entry to #1 on Cashbox. There would be one more single released on Epic but this marked the end for a remarkable duo.

Why Not MeNaomi & Wynonna Judd
I was not a big fan of the Judds, but I liked this #1 record from 1984.

It’s Who You Love Kieran Kane
Basically an Americana artist, this 1982 hit was one of only two top twenty records Kane would have as a solo artist. A few years later he would be part of a more successful duo.

Thank God For The RadioThe Kendalls
I have no idea why the Kendalls faded away during the 1980s as I would have expected the “New Traditionalist” movement to have resurrected their career. The Kendalls had already started to fade away when this 1984 #1 hit returned them to the top ten for one last visit. Jeannie Kendall is about as good a female vocalist as the genre has seen in the last thirty years.

Oklahoma BorderlineVince Gill
It took Vince a while for his solo career to take off after leaving Pure Prairie League. This song reached #9 in early 1986 and was his second top ten recording. The really big hits would start in 1990 with “When I Call Your Name”.

Walk Softly On This Heart of Mine Kentucky Headhunters
This rocked up cover of a Bill Monroe song landed the group their first top thirty hit in 1989. While they would only have one top ten record, the Kentucky Headhunters brought something different and distinctive to county radio.

Cajun BabyDoug Kershaw with Hank Williams Jr.
This song was set to music by Hank Jr., from some lyrics he found among his father’s papers. Hank got to #3 with the song in 1969, but this time it topped out at #52.

Mister GarfieldMerle Kilgore with Hank Williams Jr. & Johnny Cash
Diehard Johnny Cash fans may remember the song from a 1960s album about the Old West. This 1982 record reached #52. Kilgore didn’t have a lot of chart success as a performer, but he wrote or co-wrote a number of huge hits for others such as “More and More”, “Wolverton Mountain” and “Ring of Fire”.

I Still Miss Someone
Don King
A nice take on a Johnny Cash classic, this 1981 recording topped out at #38 in 1981. Don King was a successful songwriter and publisher who was not wild about touring. When he quit working the road, his road band kept going, changing their name to “Sawyer Brown” and had considerable success.

Killin’ TimeFred Knoblock & Susan Anton
Fred Knoblock is a talented singer; Susan Anton was (is) really pretty. This record made it to #10 in 1981. Go figure.

They Killed HimKris Kristofferson
Most of Kris’s best songs date back to when he was a starving songwriter. This 1987 tribute to Jesus Christ, Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King was one of his few later songs that reached his earlier standards. This song deserved a better fate than to be marooned at #67 in 1987, but back then, religious (or even quasi-religious) themes were normally the kiss of death for radio.

Sweet Sexy EyesCristy Lane
The follow up to “One Day At A Time “ (Cristy’s lone #1) this 1980 single saw Cristy returning to the shimmering pop country she had been recording. This record reached #8 in late 1980. This would be Cristy’s last top ten record. She would continue to record pop country for a few more years before turning into a largely religious performer.

Lock Stock and TeardropsKathy Dawn Lang (k.d. lang)
Lang was always a little too left field to have much success at country radio. This single reached #53 in 1988, her third of five charting singles. This song was penned by Roger Miller and this recording is the quintessential recording of the song.

Lady, Lady
Kelly Lang
Her father was Conway Twitty’s road manager, she is married to T.G. Sheppard and she is a very fine singer. Despite all that, this was Kelly’s sole chart entry reaching #88 in 1982.

That’s How You Know When Love’s RightNicolette Larson with Steve Wariner
Basically a pop artist, her “Lotta Love went to #1 on the AC charts in 1978. This song reached #9 in 1986, her only top ten country record. Nicolette sang background on may pop and country recordings. She died in 1997 at the age of 45.

I Wish I Had A Job To ShoveRodney Lay
His biggest hit, this song reached #45 in 1982. Rodney was better known as a musician and was on Hee Haw for a number of years as a member of the house band.

Ten Seconds In The SaddleChris LeDoux
This song reached #96 in 1980, no small feat considering it was pressed on LeDoux’s own label and sold at rodeos. The Garth Brooks tune mentioning him was still five years in the future

Broken TrustBrenda Lee with The Oak Ridge Boys
Brenda’s last top ten record, reaching #9 in 1980. Brenda would continue to chart for another five years, but even if she had ceased charting a decade earlier, she still had a remarkable career.

Cherokee Fiddle
Johnny Lee
Johnny Lee was the ultimate beneficiary of the Urban Cowboy movie. Johnny’s career had gone nowhere in he five years prior to the movie (six chart singles, only one reaching the top twenty). “Looking For Love” kicked off a strong five year run with five #1 records and a bunch more top twenty hits. This record reached #10 in 1982 and remains my favorite of all of his records. Charlie Daniels and Michael Martin Murphey provide backing vocals on this record.

Album Review: Jason Eady – ‘AM Country Heaven’

Mississippi-born and Texas-based Jason Eady moves from the Americana hybrid of his excellent last album When The Money’s All Gone to something more deeply rooted in country. Tastefully produced by Kevin Welch, with backings from Austin-based band Heybale and special Lloyd Maines on steel, it is a low key delight with some excellent songs, almost all written by the extremely talented Eady, occasionally with a co-writer. His pleasing, plaintive voice is ideally suited to his material.

The brilliant title track excoriates the state of country radio, when,

They sing about Jesus and they sing about Jones
And they sing of American pride
But they’re all too damn clean
They’re polished like stones and they won’t sing about cheating or lies…

I knew it was over the day that I overheard a record executive cry
“Keep it all simple, don’t get offensive and don’t play songs in three quarter time”

Well Mr Record Man I hope you don’t take offence
But you’re a hell of a joke I can tell
You’re the reason we’re in AM country heaven
And FM country hell

This sets the tone for an album full of real country music, with songs rooted in real lives.

The excellent ‘Old Guitar And Me’ is a possibly autobiographical tale about growing a little older as a struggling musician, and not quite getting anywhere. Fellow singer-songwriter Walt Wilkins sings backing vocals.

Dealing with the consequences of past choices is a common theme for many of the songs here, with a general mood of acceptance. The subdued and somewhat obscure ‘Tomorrow Morning’ compels attention with its quiet determination,

Cannot live in the light alone
There’s no redemption without the sin
And I must go through darkness knowing
Tomorrow morning I’ll begin again

It ain’t an easy road that I have taken
But I will take it til the end
Every day is joy and sorrow
Tomorrow morning I’ll begin again

The downbeat ‘Wishful Drinking’ has Lloyd Maines’s steel supporting the troubled protagonist’s wistful thoughts about a former lover he desperately hopes (and clearly doesn’t really believe) might still be thinking of him. Eady is very good at bring to life this kind of complex emotion, and he does so on the slow and regretful ‘Longer Walk In The Rain’ considers past choices and a former loved one, and their ongoing emotional impact.

‘I’ll Sure Be Glad When I’m Gone’ (written by Jason with Kevin Welch and Roger Ray) tackles the complex emotions combining relief and regret around an impending breakup. The protagonist of the gentle sounding ‘Lying To Myself’ sounds defeated from the start, as he struggles with life and loss and his own responsibility for the failure of the relationship:

I might need forgiving one of these days
But for now I’ll go on living this way
Running and fighting to survive
Lying to myself to stay alive

The unexpectedly sprightly ‘Paid My Dues’ features bright harmonies from Cary Ann Hearst, and is about a man trying to get over various drug habits, and feeling frustrated by the time it is taking to get better.

On a more positive note, Patty Loveless duets on the delightful bluegrass of ‘Man On A Mountain’, a love song between a wild mountain man (and “a mountain of a man” to boot) and the valley town girl he calls his lily of the valley, but he doesn’t want to get married and she won’t “live in sin” with him. They have allowed their differences to come between them but long for one another. Patty is at her mountain best on this charming song, and her presence on this track is likely to bring the album as a whole some much-deserved attention. The song was written by Eady with Matt Powell, Drew Kennedy, and Josh Grider.

The sardonic up-tempo ‘Forget About The Truth’ offers another change of mood as the protagonist is disillusioned about his girlfriend but is prepared to overlook the lies at least for another night together.

‘Sober On The Weekends’ (0ne of two songs not written by Eady, but by Scott Copeland) is a drinking song with a blues groove about a girlfriend who spend her weeks drinking and her weekends with her man getting high on love instead. The other Copeland song, Water Into Wine has tastefully subtle gospel backing vocals from the Trishas’ Jamie Wilson. In this interesting song, a backslider and onetime choir singer takes refuge in the bottle and “earthly desires that consume what’s left of my life”.

This is one of those rare albums where there really are no weaker tracks. If you like this, I’d also recommend downloading the excellent ‘Promises In Pieces’ and ‘Cry Pretty’ from When The Money’s All Gone, which are on similar stylistic lines and great songs.

Grade: A

There’s a short interview with Jason Eady over at Country California.

Favorite country songs of the 1980s, Part 2

The 1980s were a mixed bag, with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wreaked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

This list is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1980s, nor any sort of ranking of records. It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.


“Walk On By“– Donna Fargo
A nice cover of the 1961 Leroy Van Dyke hit, by the time this record was released Donna had already pulled back on her career due to being stricken with Multiple Sclerosis in 1979. Released in March 1980, the song reached #43. Donna is still alive and you can find out more about her at her website www.donnafargo.com


“Crying Over You” – Rosie Flores

Rosie’s never had much chart success but this self-proclaimed ‘Rockabilly Filly’ is a popular concert draw and a dynamic live performer. This song was her career chart highwater reaching #51 in 1987.

“Just In Case ” 
The Forester Sisters
Katie, Kim, June and Christie had a five year run of top ten hits from 1985 through 1989 with fourteen straight top ten records, including this song, their second of five number one records . Released in 1985, this topped the charts in early 1986.

“Crazy Over You”– Foster & Lloyd
Songwriters Radney Foster and Bill Lloyd joined forces as a duo in 1987. This was their first and biggest chart record reaching #4 in the summer of 1987.

“Always Have, Always Will” – Janie Frickie (or Janie Fricke)

This 1986 #1 was her ninth (and last) #1 record. This bluesy number was an excellent record coming after a long string of successful but insubstantial fluff. A former session singer, Janie’s career hit high gear during the 1980s, a decade which saw her tally 26 chart records with 17 top ten records and eight #1s.

“Beer Joint Fever” – Allen Frizzell

A younger brother of both Lefty and David Frizzell, Allen today writes and sings predominantly Christian music, although he will perform a Lefty Frizzell tribute (omitting Lefty’s rowdier songs). This song charted in 1981 – the follow up was titled “She’s Livin’ It Up (and I’m Drinkin’ ‘Em Down)”, neither of them songs Allen would dream of performing today.

“I’m Gonna Hire A Wino To Decorate Our Home” – David Frizzell
The early 1980s were David Frizzell’s commercial peak, both as a solo artist and as part of a duet with Shelly West. This unforgettable 1982 novelty was David’s sole #1 record, although my personal David Frizzell favorites were the follow up “Lost My Baby Blues” and his 1999 recording of “Murder On Music Row”.

“You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma” – David Frizzell & Shelly West

A huge record, this song came from the Clint Eastwood film Any Which Way You Can and topped the charts in early 1981

“Houston (Means I’m One Day Closer To You)” – Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers

After a dominant streak from 1975 in which seven songs reached #1 on one or more of the major charts, Larry and his brothers hit a rough patch in which their singles charted, but few reached the top ten. Finally in late 1983 this song reached #1, and kicked off a brief resurgence fueled by a large infusion of western swing. The two records that followed this record (“Denver” and “The Lady Takes The Cowboy Every Time”) would have made Bob Wills proud.

“You and I” – Crystal Gayle & Eddie Rabbitt

Crytal Gayle had a run of thirty-four top ten records that ran from 1974 to 1987. I’m not that big a Crystal Gayle fan but I really liked her 1982 duet with Eddie Rabbitt which reached #1 country / #7 pop.

“Somebody’s Knocking” – Terri Gibbs

Released in 1980, this song peaked at #8 (#13 pop / #3 AC) in early 1989. Blind since birth, Terri really wasn’t a country singer and soon headed to gospel music . This was her biggest hit, one of four top twenty records.

“Sweet Sensuous Sensations” – Don Gibson
Not a big hit, this was Don’s next-to-last chart record, reaching a peak of #42 in April 1980. Don’s chart career ran from 1956-1981. His influence as a songwriter is still felt today.

“Oklahoma Borderline” – Vince Gill
It took Vince a while for his solo career to take off after leaving Pure Prairie League. This song reached #9 in early 1986 and was his second top ten recording. The really big hits would start in 1990 with “When I Call Your Name”.

“A Headache Tomorrow (Or A Heartache Tonight)” – Mickey Gilley
Mickey Gilley was a second cousin to Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart as his piano playing amply demonstrates. This song reached #1 in 1981. Mickey’s long string of hits consisted of some original material (such as this song and “Doo-Wah Days”) and some covers of pop hits such as his next record “You Don’t Know Me” (a cover of a Ray Charles hit covering an Eddy Arnold hit) and prior hits “True Love Ways” and “Stand By Me”.

“White Freight Liner Blues” – Jimmie Dale Gilmore

Jimmie Dale Gilmore looks like a renegade hippie from the sixties and sounds like one of my honky-tonk specialist from the fifties. He’s never had much chart success (this song reached # 72 in 1988) but his albums are terrific and his vocals solid country through and through. Probably the most underrated performer of my generation.

“If I Could Only Dance With You” – Jim Glaser

A part of the famous trio Tompall and The Glaser Brothers, Jim’s voice was midway in range between brothers Chuck and Tompall with significant overlap on both ends.  Also, Jim was part of the vocal trio on Marty Robbin’s classic hit “El Paso” and wrote the pop hit “Woman, Woman” (#4 pop hit for Gary Puckett and The Union Gap).  Jim released a number of chart records under his own name form 1968-1977, but his real success began after Tompall & The Glaser Brothers split up (again) in 1982 and Jim signed with Noble Vision Records. After the first three records for Noble Vision went top thirty, this 1984 single reached #10. The follow up “You’re Getting To Me Again” went to #1 but then Noble Vision started having financial problems. Jim would subsequently sign with MCA in 1985 but the momentum had been lost (not to mention that by then Jim was already 47 years old).

“Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” – Tompall & The Glaser Brothers

Tompall and The Glaser Brothers were one of the most impressive live singing groups to ever take the stage. Unfortunately, their stage show did not translate into recording success. The group was together from 1959 until about 1974, recording many fine records but only one top ten hit in “Rings” which reached Record World’s #1 slot in 1971. The group briefly reunited in 1980 and had their career record with this Kris Kristofferson song which reached #2 Billboard / #1 Cashbox in 1980.

“Today My World Slipped Away” – Vern Gosdin

Recorded for the small AMI label, this gem reached #10 in early 1983, just as AMI was going down the toilet. It’s hard for me to pick out just one favorite Vern Gosdin song, but this one would be in my top three. From here Vern would go to another small label Compleat where he would have his biggest hit in 1987’s “I Can Tell By The Way You Dance (You’re Gonna Love Me Tonight”).

“Diamonds In The Dust”- Mark Gray

Mark Gray and Vince Gill were the two young male singers most highly touted to make it big in the early 1980s. Both were associated with bands that had some success (Mark was a member of Exile for a few years, Vince a member of Pure Prairie League). Then Nashville took a traditionalist turn leaving Gray, not as versatile a performer as Vince Gill, stranded. Still, Gray almost made it. This song was Gray’s third top ten record, reaching #9 in late 1984. The follow up “Sometimes When We Touch”, a nice duet with Tammy Wynette reached #6. Then came the Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, et al floodwaters of 1986.

“When A Man Loves A Woman” – Jack Grayson

Nice 1981 cover of a #1 pop hit for Percy Sledge in 1966. This song peaked at #18 in early 1982. This was Grayson’s only top twenty recording out of thirteen charted records.

“The Jukebox Never Plays Home Sweet Home” – Jack Greene
This 1983 single barely cracked the top 100 for Jack but it was a pretty good recording that probably would have been a big hit had Jack recorded it a dozen years earlier. This was Jack’s thirty-third chart record. He would have three more before fading off the charts for good. His 1966 single was #1 for seven weeks in 1966-1967 and was the CMA Single of The Year in 1967. Jack also took home the Male Vocalist honors for 1967. Jack is now 82 years old and still performs, but mostly on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.

“I.O.U.”– Lee Greenwood

This single reached #6 in 1983, his fourth consecutive top ten single, and still my favorite Lee Greenwood song. Lee was the first artist to record “Wind Beneath My Wings” and had it planned as the second single from the I.O.U album. Gary Morris dashed into the studio and got his version recorded and released before “I.O.U.” finished its chart run. Lee’ version was better (and better than the pop version that came out in 1989).

“Lone Star State of Mind” – Nanci Griffith

Nanci is a fine songwriter/poet having written many fine songs. As a singer, she’s not much. This song reached #36 in 1987, her biggest chart hit of the 1980s. She did a nice recording of “Love At The Five & Dime”, but even that song was better in a cover version, as recorded by Kathy Mattea.

“Still The Same” – Bonnie Guitar

Nine years after her last chart entry and twenty years after her last top forty recording , country music’s ‘Renaissance Woman’ snuck onto the charts in 1989 with a nice version of a Bob Dylan song.

“Trains Make Me Lonesome”– Marty Haggard
Marty’s career almost ended before it started when he picked up a hitch hiker who shot him and left him for dead. A long recovery followed with an extended period of recovery. This song reached #57 in 1988 for the soon to be defunct MTM label. Written by Paul Overstreet and Thom Schuyler, this song was recorded by a number of artists including George Strait on his 1992 album Holding My Own. Marty’s version is better and would have been a big hit had it been released in 1958 rather than 1988.

“A Better Love Next Time – Merle Haggard

This was Merle’s 100th chart single reaching #4 in 1989. What else is there to say?

“Song of The South” – Tom T. Hall & Earl Scruggs

Tom T. Hall’s days as a hit maker were largely over by 1982 and Earl Scruggs never was a hit maker – he was of far greater importance than that. These two music masters combined for a wonderful album titled The Storyteller and The Banjo Man in 1982 from which emerged this single. Alabama would have a big hit with this song a few years later but the Alabama version lacks the personality and charm of this rendition.

“She Says” – George Hamilton V

The only chart record for the son of George Hamilton IV, this tune reached #75 in early 1988.

“There’s Still A Lot of Love In San Antone” – Connie Hanson with Darrell McCall

A cover of Darrell’s 1974 hit, this version peaked at # 64 in early 1983.

“After The Last Goodbye ” – Gus Hardin

This 1983 recording was the only solo top ten for the smoky voiced Ms. Hardin. A longtime favorite in Tulsa, Gus broke through with a major label contract (RCA) and charted eight solo singles and two duets. Released in 1984, her duet with Earl Thomas Conley “All Tangled Up In Love” peaked at #8 in early 1985. Her 1985 duet with David Loggins “Just As Long As I Have You” reached #72.

“I’m Moving On ” – Emmylou Harris
Emmylou had 26 top ten recordings between 1975 and 1988. This 1983 live cover of Hank Snow’s 1950 hit (in fact, the biggest chart hit in the history of country music) reached #5. During the 1980s, most of Emmylou’s best recordings were duets – “That Loving You Feelin’ Again” (with Roy Orbison) and “If I Needed You” (with Don Williams) come readily to mind, but there were more.

“Sure Thing” – Freddie Hart

After a hugely successful first half of the 1970s, Freddie hits got progressively smaller. By 1979 Freddie had been dropped by Capitol and signed by Sunbird, the same label that launched Earl Thomas Conley. The label failed to re-launch Freddie’s career but did provide a few good recordings, including this song, which reached #15 in 1980 and would prove to be Freddie’s last top twenty hit.

“Key Largo” – Bertie Higgins

Just when it seemed that the ‘Gulf & Western’ subgenre had been strip mined of hits by Jimmy Buffett, along comes this nostalgic hit which became a #8 pop hit in 1982 (topped out at #50 on the country chart).

“Whiskey, If You Were A Woman” – Highway 101

Highway 101 exploded onto the country music scene in January 1987 running off a string of ten consecutive top tens through early 1990. This one is my personal favorite with Paulette Carlson’s voice seemingly tailor made for the song, which reached #2 in 1987. Typical story – Carlson left the band in late 1990 seeking solo stardom and the band never recovered its momentum (plus Carlson did not succeed as a solo act). I was torn between this song and one of the group’s #1 hits “Somewhere Tonight”.

“Jones On The Jukebox” – Becky Hobbs
The inability of the Hobbs to break through at radio has always bugged me. Other than a duet with Moe Bandy (“Let’s Get Over Them Together” – #10 in 1983), Ms Hobbs was unable to break the top thirty. The closest she got was this song, which peaked at #31 in 1988.

“Texas Ida Red” – David Houston
David’s 60th (and next to last) chart record, this recording peaked at #69 on the small Excelsior label in 1981. This was a pretty good western swing record. Houston would have one more chart record in 1989. His 1966 hit “Almost Persuaded” was (according to Billboard) the biggest chart record of the last fifty years, spending nine weeks at #1.

“All American Redneck” – Randy Howard
#84 in 1983 – what more need I say.

“Til You And Your Lover Are Lovers Again” – Engelbert Humperdinck

Engelbert is one of the truly great vocalists of my generation. His greatest decade was the 1960s when he made international huge pop hits out of country classics such as “Release Me”, “There Goes My Everything” and “Am I That Easy To Forget” as well as covering other country songs on his albums. This song peaked at #39 in 1983.

“Oh Girl” – Con Hunley

This cover of a Chi-Lites hit from 1972 reached #12 in 1982 and featured the Oak Ridge Boys on backing vocals. Con’s voice was too smoky and too distinctive to have achieved much success during the early 1980s but this was a fine recording, even if not very country. Con’s biggest hit came the year before when “What’s New With You” peaked at #11.

“Talk To Me Loneliness” – Cindy Hurt

This song reached #35 in 1982. Her biggest hit was “Don’t Come Knocking” which topped out at #28 earlier in the year. Cindy charted seven records between 1981 and 1983, then disappeared.

Album Review: Vern Gosdin – ‘If You’re Gonna Do Me Wrong (Do It Right)’

1983 saw a new label for Vern, Compleat, and a real comeback.  This was his first album for the label, and was produced by Blake Mevis.  The production shows some signs of its era with liberal but not overwhelming use of string sections and sometimes slightly dated sounding arrangements of the backing vocals, clearly patterned after Janie Fricke’s contribution to earlier Gosdin records, but it allows that voice to shine. 

The classic title track is a stunning song, with a beautifully understated vocal which is, like many of Vern’s recording, a masterclass in singing country music.  Bitter but weary of fighting it, Vern addresses a wife he knows is planning on cheating on him:

There’s a closet full of dresses that I bought you
And here’s the keys to the new car in the drive
And before you leave our room
Put on your best perfume
If you’re gonna do me wrong, do it right

Oh, the next time the phone rings
I won’t answer
I don’t wanna be the fool I was tonight
I don’t wanna know the truth
I don’t wanna see the proof
If you’re gonna do me wrong
Do it right

The pain is palpable. It was Vern’s biggest hit to date, and quite an achievement for an independent label, albeit one distributed and promoted by the major Mercury, and although a peak of #5 was still four spots lower than it deserved. It might have been known as one of George Jones’s classic hits, as Vern and co-writer Max D Barnes had pitched it to the Possum, but he had unaccountably failed to record it. That seems like a real missed opportunity, which Jones acknowledged when he finally got around to covering it on his 2005 set Hits I Missed – but then we would never had heard Vern Gosdin’s own superb version.

Matching its predecessor’s performance, second single ‘Way Down Deep’ picked up both tempo and mood with a positive love song Vern wrote with Max D Barnes and the latter’s son Max T Barnes. It’s very good with a happy feel as it celebrates falling in love, but lacks the emotional intensity which makes Vern’s best work his heartbreak ballads, and is one of my less favourite tracks here.

The wistful ‘I Wonder Where We’d Be Tonight’ was the third top 10 from the album, making it his most consistent and successful release to date. Vern ponders regretfully what might have been if he hadn’t broken up with an ex he still loves, delivering another perfectly executed vocal on an excellent song.

The record is packed full of now-classic recordings. ‘Tennessee Courage’, which Vern wrote with his brother Rex (who died in 1983 aged just 45 after recording backing vocals for this album) is beautiful but sad, portraying a man taking refuge from his loneliness in a bottle of whiskey:

Now my good friend Jack Daniels stands tall on the shelf
And he’ll go to war with my troubles
And he’ll never desert an old friend when I’m hurt
And needin’ some Tennessee courage

Straight 90 proof can alter the truth
Put hair on your chest in a hurry
I know I’ll survive
Raise hell for a while
With the help of some Tennessee courage

The song was later covered by Keith Whitley in his posthumously released I Wonder Do You Think Of Me, the latter’s alcohol-induced death giving an added poignancy to the choice. Vern also repeated his exquisite AMI top 10 hit ‘Today My World Slipped Away’, a song always worth hearing again. The lesser known ‘I’ll Try’ is almost as good, Vern offering a warm and supportive helping hand to someone in pain:

I’ll try to help you understand what love is all about
And why the things you want so bad
You seem to do without
And if your heart should start to cry
As you watch dreams inside you die
And you need someone to tell you why
I’ll try

‘Favorite Fool Of All’ has a devoted Vern all too aware he is fooling himself that his faithless lover will not break his heart like those of all her past conquests.

If the sad songs are the best, there is also some happy material worth hearing. ‘I Couldn’t Love You More’ is a touching love song with a pretty tune, and ‘My Heart Is In Good Hands’ is also nice. While there really isn’t a bad track, the closest we get to filler is with ‘I Feel Love Closin’ In’, a pleasant enough chugging ballad about falling in love, and even this is tenderly sung making it sound good.

This outstanding album was released on CD in 2001 on Vern’s own VGM label and this version is still fairly easy to find. One of the greatest singers country music has ever seen, and high quality material, make this a must-have.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Connie Smith – ‘Just For What I Am’

The past decade or so hasn’t produced much great country music, forcing many fans to mine the back catalogs of some of the genre’s legends, in search of material that they might have initially overlooked. Germany’s Bear Family Records has released numerous extensive box sets of many legendary artists and in doing so has been a Godsend to fans of classic country music. Last month they released a second set of Connie Smith’s music, a little more than a week after it was announced that the Sweetheart of the Grand Ole Opry would finally be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Just For What I Am
is a companion piece to 2001’s Born To Sing, picking up where the earlier collection left off. Together the two collections represent the singer’s entire RCA catalog, marking the first time in decades that many of these classic recordings have been commercially available. It covers the period from 1967 through 1972, and contains 151 tracks, spanning five discs. It contains 14 Top 20 singles, several Gospel numbers, and Connie’s take on many of the then-current hits of her contemporaries, such as Loretta Lynn, Dottie West, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty and Waylon Jennings. It also contains nine tracks that were never released by RCA. The highest charting single in the collection is “Just One Time”, a Don Gibson number that Connie took to #2 in 1971. My personal favorites among the singles are “I Never Once Stopped Loving You” written by Bill Anderson and Jan Howard, and the Dallas Frazier compositions “Where Is My Castle” and “If It Ain’t Love (Let’s Leave It Alone)”, both of which feature the great Johnny Gimble on fiddle and stands in stark contrast to the countrypolitan that was dominating the country charts at the time.

Smith’s singles from this era were great, but most of them have been available for quite some time on the small handful of compilations that RCA saw fit to release on CD. The real gems are the album cuts, most of which have been unavailable since their initial release 40 years ago or more. Of particular interest are the covers of other artists’ hits. Waylon Jennings’ “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line” seems like an unlikely choice for Connie Smith, but she attacks it with gusto, altering the lyrics slightly to represent the female point of view. Jerry Reed’s “Natchilly Ain’t No Good” gets a similar treatment, as do Conway Twitty’s signature tunes “Hello, Darlin'” and “I Can’t Believe You Stopped Loving Me”. Her rendition of Loretta Lynn’s “Before I’m Over You” rivals the original, and her version of “Here Comes My Baby” is superior to Dottie West’s Grammy winning record. My favorite of the cover songs is “If My Heart Had Windows”, which had been a Top 10 for George Jones in 1967. Patty Loveless would later score her first Top 10 hit when she covered the tune in 1988. Another highlight is Harlan Howard’s heartbreaking “The Deepening Snow”. I’d previously heard this song on Tammy Wynette’s 1992 box set; inexplicably, neither Wynette’s nor Smith’s version was ever released as a single.

It was common in the 60s and 70s for male and female labelmates to become duet partners. RCA wanted to pair Connie up with Waylon Jennings, but she resisted, fearing that a hit Jennings-Smith duet would require her to spend more time on the road promoting it. In retrospect, it’s regrettable because Jennings and Smith would have been an amazing pairing. Instead, Connie teamed up with Nat Stuckey, a singer-songwriter who had written such hits as Jim Ed Brown’s “Pop A Top” and Buck Owens’ “Waiting In Your Welfare Line”, and who would go on to co-write “Diggin’ Up Bones” with Paul Overstreet and Al Gore (not the former Vice President). That tune would become a #1 hit for Randy Travis in 1986. Smith recorded two duet albums with Stuckey, and although he was a fine vocalist, it is here that the material falters a bit. Still, there are some gems among their duets. I especially like their take on The Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me” and the Gospel standard “Whispering Hope.” Connie also recorded a handful of duets with Dallas Frazier, who is a great songwriter but not much of a singer.

Among the previously unreleased tracks are Connie’s interpretations of Mel Tillis’and Webb Pierce’s “I Ain’t Never”, Johnny Paycheck’s “(S)he’s All I Got”, Porter Wagoner’s “What Ain’t To Be Just Might Happen” and Dottie West’s somewhat sappy “Country Girl”.

Producer Bob Ferguson was largely responsible for creating the unique Connie Smith sound, but much of the credit should go to steel guitarist Weldon Myrick, who was featured prominently on many of Connie’s recordings. His tribute “Connie’s Song” closes out the collection. It is a steel guitar-led instrumental medley of some of Connie’s biggest hits: “Once A Day, “Then and Only Then”, and “I Can’t Remember”.

Just For What I Am
comes with extensive liner notes written by Barry Mazor, which are contained in a hardcover book. Like all Bear Family projects, it is beautifully packaged and contains a wealth of material, however, it avoids the trap of exhausting the listener with multiple takes of the same song, false starts and studio chatter which were characteristics of many other Bear Family releases. It is expensive, and will probably only appeal to diehard fans. The price, however, can be rationalized by taking into account that it contains twelve albums’ worth of material. If you’ve got some extra cash in your music budget, it is well worth checking out.

Grade: A+

Favorite country songs of the 1980s, Part 1

The 1980s were a mixed bag, with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wrecked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

This list is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1980s, nor any sort of ranking of records. It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.

If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You Gotta Have A Fiddle In The Band)“ – Alabama
Alabama made excellent music during the 1980s, although the country content of some of it was suspect. Not this song, which is dominated by fiddle. One of the few up-tempo Alabama records that swings rather than rocks.

I’ve Been Wrong Before” – Deborah Allen
An accomplished songwriter who wrote many hits for others, particularly with Rafe VanHoy, this was one of three top ten tunes for Ms. Allen, reaching #2 in 1984. This is much more country sounding than her other big hit “Baby I Lied”.

Last of The Silver Screen Cowboys” – Rex Allen Jr.
After some success as a pop-country balladeer, Rex Jr. turned increasing to western-themed material as the 1980s rolled along. This was not a big hit, reaching #43 in 1982, but it featured legendary music/film stars Roy Rogers and Rex Allen Sr. on backing vocals.

“Southern Fried” – Bill Anderson
This was Whispering Bill’s first release for Southern Tracks after spending over twenty years recording for Decca/MCA. Bill was no longer a chart force and this song only reached #42 in 1982, but as the chorus notes: “We like Richard Petty, Conway Twitty and the Charlie Daniels Band”.

Indeed we do. Read more of this post

Discussion: Ten essential albums

I recently retired a group of CDs that have lived primarily in my car for the past year or so, and thus have been greatly overplayed. While flipping through my collection for albums to replace them with, I had one of those rude awakening moments when I came across one album in particular and realized that it has been almost twenty-five years since its release. I’ve had it since it first came out, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. It’s an album that I can’t imagine ever being without, and it inspired me to put together a list of other albums that I’ve had for longer than I care to admit, that I’ve always enjoyed and still play all the way through on a regular basis.

In putting together the list, I decided to limit it to studio albums that I’ve had for at least twenty years. I’ve been listening to country music for much longer than that, but in the beginning when I was still too young to earn my own money, I was somewhat limited in what I could buy so my purchases in those days tended to be hits compilations. For that reason, some of the usual suspects — Haggard, Jones, Wynette and Parton don’t appear on the list. So, without further adieu, here are my selections, in no particular order, for the ten most essential albums in my collection:

1. Keith Whitley Don’t Close Your Eyes (1988). I had heard a few of Keith Whitley’s songs on the radio prior to the release of this album, but I wasn’t really aware of who he was until the title track became his breakthrough hit. Up to that point, his material wasn’t always worthy of his considerable vocal talent, but everything about this album was just perfect. The follow-up, I greatly prefer it to his follow-up album, the posthumously released I Wonder Do You Think of Me.

2. Randy Travis — Storms of Life (1986). All that needs to be said about this album is that it changed the course of country music. It’s arguably the greatest country album released during my lifetime, and indisputably the most important. What more needs to be said?

3. Anne Murray — Let’s Keep It That Way (1978). I didn’t actually get this one in 1978, but I did buy it on cassette sometime in the early 80s and later bought it again when it was released on CD many years later. While never primarily a country artist, Anne was one of my gateways to country music back in the days when country radio stations were virtually non-existent in the north. The album included “You Needed Me”, one of the biggest hits of Anne’s career, and her only record to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US. Aside from that, however, it is one of her more overtly country efforts. It was the first of ten Murray albums to be produced by Jim Ed Norman, who later went on to run Warner Bros’ Nashville division.

4. Barbara Mandrell — I’ll Be Your Jukebox Tonight (1988). By the late 80s, the New Traditionalist movement was in full force and many veteran acts had been swept off the charts. Many of the artists who had enjoyed great success with crossover material tried to adapt by releasing more traditional material. After a lengthy dry spell, Mandrell looked as though she were poised to defy the odds and reclaim her throne at the top of the charts. Her excellent cover of Ray Price’s “I Wish That I Could Fall In Love Today” reached #5, but unfortunately it was her last appearance in the Top 10. Though it doesn’t contain any of her signature hits, I’ll Be Your Jukebox Tonight is the finest album of her career.

5. Willie Nelson — Always On My Mind (1982). Prior to the release of this album, I wasn’t much of a Willie fan, but he won me over with the title track, which had previously been recorded by both Elvis Presley and Brenda Lee. Willie’s version was one of the biggest hits of 1982 (has it really been 30 years?!?) and became his signature tune. The album also includes excellent cover versions of “Let It Be Me”, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” and a remake of his own “The Party’s Over”.

6. Reba McEntire — Whoever’s In New England (1986). It’s hard to pick a favorite Reba album from this era, because all of her work during this period was excellent. Whoever’s In New England marked a move back to a slightly more contemporary sound, following two ultra-traditional albums, 1984’s My Kind of Country and 1985’s Have I Got a Deal For You. Whoever’s In New England became her first gold album and the beautiful title track earned her a Grammy award.

7. Tanya Tucker — What Do I Do With Me (1991). I’ve been a Tanya Tucker fan for longer than I can remember. I can remember singing along to “Delta Dawn” when I was about four years old, though it was probably the Helen Reddy version that was getting played on local radio stations at the time. I bought and wore out quite a few of her hits compilations on cassette, and I also won an autographed copy of 1982 LP Changes, her only release for Arista Records. She had been a guest on a late-night syndicated radio show called Hot Country Nights. I remember trying to stay awake for it but I fell asleep before her segment of the program aired. She left some copies of her album, however, which were offered as prizes in a contest the next night. I got mine for correctly identifying Charlene Tilton as the spouse of Johnny Lee. However, it is her platinum-selling 1991 album that is her finest and the one that I play all the way through most often. It seems like it was released only yesterday, but on the other hand, it does seem like a very long time since music this good was heard regularly on country radio.

8. George Strait — Livin’ It Up (1990). As with many of the other artists on this list, most of my early George Strait albums were hits packages. The first studio album of his I ever had was a homemade copy of 1987’s Ocean Front Property, which a friend had given me. I got a CD player for Christmas in 1988 and got his If You Ain’t Lovin’, You Ain’t Livin’ album through Columbia House shortly thereafter. But it is Livin’ It Up that I come back to most often.

9. Patty Loveless — Honky Tonk Angel (1988). This was the first Patty Loveless album I ever owned. At the time it seemed like her commercial breakthrough — it contains her first two #1 hits “Timber, I’m Falling In Love” and “Chains” — but it was really only scratching the surface of what was to come in the following decade following her switch from MCA to Epic. My favorite track on this album and the reason I bought it was “Don’t Toss Us Away”, which features harmony vocals by Rodney Crowell. MCA had thought this would be her first #1, but it only got to #5. Despite its more than respectable chart performance, it’s not one of her better remembered records today.

10. Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn — Making Believe (1988). Conway and Loretta stopped recording together in the early 80s when Conway moved to Elektra Records, which was later absorbed by Warner Bros. At that time, it was still relatively uncommon for artists on different labels to record together. When Conway rejoined MCA in 1987, it was announced that he and Loretta would once again record together. This album was their one and only reunion in the studio. It consisted of five previously released tracks and five newly recorded cover versions of country standards such as “Release Me”, “Half as Much”, “Please Help Me, I’m Falling”, “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)” and the title track. But despite being only half a new album, the magic was still there. This is another album I wore out on cassette before buying it on CD.

What are some of the albums in your collection that you consider to essential listening, and that you can’t imagine being without?

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Best Of The Best: 25 Greatest Hits’

Many a veteran artist has littered the landscape with albums of new recordings of the hit songs from their glory days. Sometimes the intent is to squeeze a little more money from their prior hits, but more often the motivation is to make available to the faithful songs that are otherwise unavailable except as used merchandise. Unfortunately, too often the remakes are very different than the original hit versions. Either the arrangements are wrong, or the recording is made on a limited budget with fewer musicians and/or synthesizers substituting for real instruments. Too often, the artist has lost some of the vocal quality that propelled him (her) to stardom or sounds bored with trudging to the recording studio to re-record songs already sung thousands of times.

Gene Watson, long considered a ‘singer’s singer’ remains, at age 68, one of the great voices in the history of country music. If anything, he sings better now than during his chart heydays of the mid-1970s – mid-1980s. The voice is still there and he has become a more polished and nuanced singer.

Over the course of his long career Gene Watson has recorded for many labels including Resco, Capitol, Epic, Mercury, MCA, Broadlands, Step One, Gusto, UMG and several others. Consequently it was impossible for Gene’s fans to get many of these songs in their original versions. While there have been several good collections on Gene over the last few years, most have fallen out of print, leaving lesser collections and some remakes made for labels such as IMG/Gusto as still being available.

The recordings on this CD are remakes, but in most cases you’d need to be a Gene Watson fanatic to tell that these are not the original hit recordings. In making these recordings, Gene went back and listened to the hit recordings, used the original arrangements, sang them in the original keys, used highly accomplished musicians (I think some of the original musicians among them) and attempted to replicate the original hit recordings – with great success. The one area where I noticed a difference was in the harmony vocals, which are just slightly different at times.

All of the usual suspects are here: “Farewell Party”, “Fourteen Carat Mind”, “Love In The Hot Afternoon”, “You’re Out Doing (What I’m Here Doing Without)” , “Should I Go Home (Or Should I Go Crazy)”, “Got No Reason Now For Going Home” but Gene has also gathered together some of the hits that appeared on labels for whom he but briefly recorded such as the magnificent “Don’t Waste It On The Blues” from his two album stay with Mercury and “Memories To Burn” from his three album sojourn with Epic. Also from his years with Epic is a song that was a hit in Europe and the British Isles but not Stateside in “Carmen” (Gene’s most requested song when he visits Ireland), plus some great story-songs that seemed to have passed by the wayside in “Paper Rosie”, “The Old Man and His Horn” and “Pick The Wildwood Flower”.

This is a great album, but then I’m prejudiced – I’ve always been a Gene Watson fan and I’m an old fart about to turn sixty. I loaned my advance copy to some of my younger co-workers who profess to like country music, but of the Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean, Taylor Swift variety. One of them wasn’t enthused by the songs but noted that Watson is a better vocalist than anyone she’s heard on the radio lately, one really liked the album but wondered why he hadn’t ever heard of Gene Watson (I wondered the same thing), and the third sent me an e-mail replying that she thought the album was “awesome”.

I don’t use words like “awesome” but darned if I don’t agree with her assessment.

If you don’t have anything by Gene Watson, this is a great place to start. If there are holes in your collection, this will fill some of them. If like me, you have everything Gene has recorded, you’ll still want this album as the sound on this album is terrific and some of the original hits were not as well recorded (or are available only on vinyl).

I’d like to say I’m looking forward to a follow up volume, but Gene only had another ten or twelve songs that could really qualify as hits. There are dozens of great songs in his albums, however, I’d love to hear him go ‘deep catalogue’ and remake some of those songs. Or perhaps visit the canon of great country songs. Since Gene never really recorded many covers, this might be the time.

Grade: A+

Favorite country songs of the 1970s: Part 6

For part six of this series, as always, just some songs I liked, one song per artist, not necessarily the biggest hit, (although I feel free to comment on other songs by the artist).

Forgive and Forget” – Eddie Rabbitt (1975)

Prior to this, Eddie was known, if at all, as a songwriter. This record got to #12, but did better than that in some markets, and gave Rabbitt his first significant hit. The next song “I Should Have Married You” got to #11; after that the next 33 singles would crack the top 10 with 19 of them getting to #1 on either Billboard and/or Cashbox.

Ladies Love Outlaws” – Jimmy Rabbitt and Renegade (1976)

The title track of a 1972 Waylon Jennings album, for some reason RCA never issued the song as a Jennings single, although it got considerable airplay (it didn’t chart because Billboard did not track non-singles airplay at the time). Jimmy’s version was good (Waylon’s was better) and got to #80, his only chart appearance.

Ain’t She Something Else” – Eddy Raven (1975)

Eddy’s second chart single reached #46 and became a #1 record for Conway Twitty in 1982. It took Raven eight years and 16 singles to have his first top 10 hit. Can you imagine any artist being given that much slack today

“Whatcha Gonna Do With A Dog Like That” – Susan Raye (1975)

Susan Raye had the Buck Owens organization behind her, was very pretty, and sang well. Despite those advantages, she never really became a big star, probably because her heart wasn’t in it. This song got to #9, one of six solo top tens she was to enjoy. In theory “(I’ve Got A) Happy Heart” was her biggest hit, reaching #3, but she got so much pop radio action on “L.A. International Airport” that it sold a million copies.
Read more of this post