My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Anita Cochran

Week ending 3/3/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales):  Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1968: Skip A Rope — Henson Cargill (Monument)

1978: Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys — Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (United Artists)

1988: I Won’t Take Less Than Your Love — Tanya Tucker with Paul Davis and Paul Overstreet (Capitol)

1998: What If I Said — Anita Cochran with Steve Wariner (Warner Bros. Nashville)

2008: Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy) — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Five More Minutes — Scotty McCreery (Triple Tigers)

 

When the dead roam the country charts: posthumous hits and manufactured “duets”

brad paisleyWhen Brad Paisley’s Wheelhouse was released last week, everybody was talking about “Accidental Racist”, the controversial duet with LL Cool J. Late night shows like Saturday Night Live and The Colbert Report were merciless in taking apart the song’s misguided message. And the discussion isn’t likely to be over anytime soon.

Another track on the album stood out to me too. “Outstanding In Our Field” features guest vocals from Dierks Bentley and the late Roger Miller, and Hunter Hayes on guitar. Miller’s contribution is used mostly to beef up the rhythm section of Paisley’s latest loud party anthem list song.  Paisley’s track rips off the entire ten-second opening of Miller’s “Dang Me” – the part where Roger sings  “boo doo boo ba ba bum bom” – but any similarities between the two songs ends with that sampling. If Paisley’s song charts, it could be Miller’s first showing on the Country Songs list since 1986.

Country music has a long history of singers hitting the charts after their deaths, with solo hits and with “duets” pieced together using studio master tapes. Hank Williams had 4 #1 hits and a handful of top 10’s after his death on New Year’s Day 1953. (Even though it was on the charts in 1952, because “I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive” hit the top shortly after the singer’s death it is counted in Billboard as a posthumous hit.) In 1989, Hank Williams Jr. took a demo recording of his father singing “There’s a Tear In My Bear”, beefed up the production and added his own vocals to create a top 10 hit single, which would go on to win both Williamses a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Collaboration. The music video for that song featured old television footage of Hank Sr. performing merged with Hank Jr. and made for a cool illusion of the two singing together. It took home Video of the Year awards from the CMA and the ACM’s that year.

In May 1989, country music lost another great talent when Keith Whitley died. He too would hit the top spot after his death, with “I Wonder Do You Think of Me” and “It Ain’t Nothin'”. Whitley charted two more top 20 releases as a solo artist after his death, and two more in duets with wife Lorrie Morgan – “Til a Tear Becomes a Rose” – and with Earl Thomas Conley, on “Brotherly Love”. Unlike the duet with his widow, Whitley and Conley had recorded their song two years before, so it’s not an example of an electronic duet.

Gentleman Jim Reeves is country music’s biggest posthumous hit-maker. His string of hits after death is as impressive as what he charted during his lifetime. Reeves racked up 6 #1 country hits after he died in 1964, as well 13 top 10s, and over two dozen total country top 40 chart outings stretching to 1984 – two full decades later. He also consistently hit the top 10 on the charts in Norway and the U.K., Reeves even topped the U.K. singles chart with “Distant Drums” in 1966. Partly because of his continued popularity on the radio and in the record stores, Jim Reeves was also one of the first artists to have his vocals isolated and then remixed with another singer’s to form a duet. In 1979, Deborah Allen kickstarted her short solo career when she contributed to RCA’s unfinished master tapes of Reeves – which resulted in  3 consecutive top 10 hit duets. The Gentleman was then paired with his contemporary Patsy Cline – the two had recorded a number of the same songs – for a pair of albums on MCA and RCA, and they hit the top 5 with “Have You Ever Been Lonely” in 1982.

Those are just some highlights in country music’s history of posthumous duet creations. There are lots more, and some weren’t as well-received. Anita Cochran controversially added Conway Twitty to her “I Wanna Hear a Cheatin’ Song” in 2004. Several other artists and even the late singer’s family spoke out when Twitty’s vocals were spliced from former performances and interviews and added to the song, in what has correctly been called a case of “musical necrophilia“.

roger millerIs Paisley guilty of the same musical necrophilia? I say he is. Unlike all the hit duet creations I mentioned above, Conway Twitty and Roger Miller didn’t record a version of either “I Wanna Hear a Cheatin’ Song” or “Outstanding In Our Field”. These are songs that were written years after their deaths. And while Brad Paisley’s sampling of Roger Miller’s distinct and well-known song opening  works better as an homage than Anita Cochran’s creepy robotic-sounding creation, it still seems like a cutesy way of paying tribute to Miller. How about covering “England Swings” or “Old Toy Trains”? Or better yet, why not write an original song that sounds like it was inspired by Roger Miller?

Roger Miller is not here today to say whether or not he’d like to add his trademark scatting to a song all about a party in a field, with a tractor tire as a cooler for the beer and a bonfire to light up the night. A song with all the subtlety and charm of a drill sergeant at six a.m.  Roger Miller – a man renowned for his quick wit and quips like “Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.” – would likely object to it. But that’s not really my call to make. None of us – music blogger or platinum-selling country star – should be making that call for Roger Miller.  Dang you, Brad Paisley. Dang you.

Classic Rewind: Ty Herndon – ‘What Mattered Most’ (ft Anita Cochran)

Album Review: Steve Wariner – ‘Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down’

By the mid-90s, Steve Wariner’s commercial success had begun to wane, causing him to take a hiatus from recording and touring, to concentrate instead on songwriting. He experienced a considerable amount of success during his “down time”, beginning when “Longneck Bottle”, a song he’d written with Rick Carnes, was recorded by Garth Brooks. Garth asked Steve to lend his voice and guitar-playing skills to the record and when it was released as a single, “Longneck Bottle” quickly shot to the top of the charts, spending three weeks in the number one spot. A few weeks later, Clint Black took “Nothin’ But The Taillights”, a song he’d written with Steve, to #1. A month after that, “What If I Said” , his duet with Anita Cochran also reached the top of the Billboard chart. By 1998, these successes caused record executives to take another look at Steve, resulting in a new contract with Capitol Records, and an unexpected late-career resurgence.

His first release for the label was “Holes In The Floor Of Heaven”, which Steve had written with Billy Kirsch. The sentimental ballad struck a chord with radio programmers and listeners, becoming Steve’s career record, some 20 years after he’d released his first record. It peaked at #2, his highest chart performance as a solo artist since “I Got Dreams” reached the top spot nine years earlier. It was also awarded the Single of the Year and Song of the Year awards by the Country Music Association in 1998, marking the first time Steve had won any awards from that organization.

Steve’s debut album for Capitol was Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down, which he produced himself. It consisted of 11 new tracks written by Steve with a variety of co-writers, along with “What If I Said”, which had been originally been included on Anita Cochran’s album. Although there were no huge radio hits to follow “Holes In The Floor Of Heaven”, the album is one of the stronger entries in the Wariner discography. For the title track, a lively Western swing number, Steve reunited with Garth Brooks, but even Garth’s tremendous star power couldn’t propel the record into the Top 20. Too retro for country radio, it stalled at #26 despite top-notch performances from both Steve and Garth. The more contemporary “Every Little Whisper” was chosen as the third single. Though it was more radio-friendly than “Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down”, it is not one of the stronger tracks on the album. It was possibly chosen because like “Holes”, it was written with Billy Kirsch, and the label may have thought they would strike gold a second time. It peaked at #36 and no more singles were released.

There are several excellent tracks — and a few mediocre ones — among the album cuts. My favorites are “I Don’t Know How To Fix It”, which was written with Bill Anderson, “A Six Pack Ago”, which was written with Jim Rushing, and “Big Ol’ Empty House”, which was written with Mac McAnally. “Road Trippin'”, written with Marcus Hummon is a lightweight tune with fluffy lyrics and catchy beat that seems like it would have been a good choice for a single release. “Big Tops”, a circus-themed number which was also written with Hummon, has a folk feel to it and sounds like something Nanci Griffith might have released a decade earlier. The two tracks that fail to deliver are “Love Me Like You Love Me” and “Smoke From An Old Flame”, which are pleasant but slightly dull.

The inclusion of “What If I Said” as a bonus track, under license from Warner Bros., was a pleasant surprise. Though thoroughly contemporary in style, the Anita Cochran-penned and produced track is beautifully written and beautifully sung by both performers. It was Cochran’s first record and only Top 40 country hit, and is on my short list of favorite Steve Wariner tracks.

Though Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down only spawned one big radio hit, it did quite well at retail. Peaking at #6, it was his highest-charting entry on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. It also went on to become his second gold album. I don’t like it quite as much as I Am Ready, but I would rank it a close second.

Grade: A

Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down is available from Amazon and other major retailers.

Spotlight Artist: Steve Wariner

This month’s Spotlight Artist is a multi-talented performer who has been neglected in recent years. Armed with a fine tenor voice, impressive guitar skills lauded by his peers, and no mean songwriting chops, Steve Wariner was one of the few artists to move successfully from mid 80s pop-country to the neo-traditional period, and across several major label deals.

Steve was born in Indiana on Christmas Day, 1954 (hence his seasonal middle name, Noel), and paid his dues playing in his father’s band. By the time he was 17 was working as Dottie West’s bass guitarist, and made his first appearance on record playing on her 1973 hit ‘Country Sunshine’. After three years with Dottie, Steve then worked with rockabilly-turned-country performer Bob Luman. Both sideman jobs helped him develop his performance skills and at just 21 he signed to RCA on a singles basis. The label was patient developing him, and it was another five years before he began to break through, during which time he also played bass guitar for guitar maestro Chet Atkins in the latter’s personal band. Atkins was later to name him one of a mere handful of musicians worthy of his own nickname CGP (Certified Guitar Picker).

The early 80s saw Steve’s first #1 hit single and a couple of modestly selling albums, before he moved to MCA in 1984. This was a canny move, as with MCA’s support, Steve became a mainstay of country radio, scoring a series of hits, many of them hitting the top of the chart. He won his first Grammy nomination at the same time for his hit duet with Glen Campbell, ‘The Hand That Rocks The Cradle’. In 1991, he made another decisive move when he signed to Arista and released his first platinum-selling record, I Am Ready, perhaps his finest artistic achievement, which bridged the shift from 80s pop-country to more traditional sounds.

For some years Steve’s public persona had concentrated on his vocal prowess and, to a lesser extent, his songwriting, but during the Arista years, his instrumental gifts came once more to the fore. He was one of the artists selected to guest on fiddler extraordinaire Mark O’Connor’s New Nashville Cats album, which celebrated the instrumentalists of Nashville, and this earned him a shared Grammy for ‘Restless’, where he, Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs shared vocals as well as playing on the track. He has subsequently won Grammy’s for instrumental collaborations with Asleep At The Wheel and Brad Paisley. His final release for Arista was his own first instrumental album, No More Mr Nice Guy.

After his exit from Arista in 1996, Steve concentrated on songwriting for a while, penning hits for Garth Brooks (‘Longneck Bottle’) and Clint Black (‘Nothing But Taillights’) among others. Labelless, he even helped Anita Cochran to her only chart hit by duetting on ‘What If I Said’, which went all the way to #1. He was rewarded by his fourth major label deal, with Capitol, where he scored another brace of hit singles around the turn of the millennium.

The 21st century has been less successful commercially, but Steve is still active, releasing music on his own label, including another instrumental album, a tribute to his mentor Chet Atkins, in 2007. A third instrumental record is due out this month. He has also continued writing, and was responsible for Keith Urban’s 2001 hit ‘Where The Blacktop Ends’.

We hope to share some of the highlights of Steve’s career with you over the next month.

10 things I hate about CD liner notes

The CD may be a dying format, but it’s still my personal preferred way to buy music. Partly that’s because I like having proper printed liner notes to refer to and keep physically with the music they refer to. But I often have cause to complain. Here are my top ten peeves with unsatisfactory liner notes:

10. Songs not listed in the correct order (most recently I found this on Marty Raybon’s religious album from 2008). This is deeply confusing when you’re listening for the first time and aren’t yet familiar with the material. You wonder why a song has the apparently dissasociated title it appears to, before you realize they’ve had a last minute change in the sequencing, after the liner notes were printed. Not a frequent error, but really annoying when it happens. It’s more common for the songs to be listed in order, but only if you unfold the paper in just the right way.

9. Print too small to read without a magnifying glass or a torch. What’s the point of printing it if no-one can read it?

8. Text and background in a color combination too faint/dark to read ever.

7. Mis-spelling songwriters’ or musicians’ names. This looks embarrassingly amateur as well as being disrespectful to the person in question. On Brandon Rickman’s very good album last year, for instance, fiddle player Jenee Fleenor’s name was spelt correctly twice and incorrectly three times. Misspelt sogwriters’ names are even more common.

6. Mis-spelt words on printed song lyrics or in commentary. There is no excuse for this on a high-budget release. If the person responsible for putting the notes together can’t spell, employ a proofreader.

5. No lyrics at all.

4. No songwriter credits – not common these days, but some low-budget releases do omit them; this is an economy too far for me. I want to know who wrote the songs.

3. Your liner notes are printed on a glossy, multi-page brochure with room for dozens of fetching pictures of the artist in various outfits, holding instruments, posing with pets, etc, but somehow they still have no room for the lyrics. (Okay, I like the odd picture of a dog. I’d stil rather have the lyrics, though.)

2. You can’t be bothered to print the lyrics in the liner notes, but tell buyers you can see them on the label or artist website. Websites are transitory. I hope to still be listening to your album in 10, 20 or more years’ time: is your website still going to be there?

1. A note saying lyrics (or credits) are available on the label website, when they aren’t, at least when the album is released (Anita Cochran’s Serenity and Randy Kohrs’ Quicksand are recent guilty parties here). This is extremely frustrating.

What are your pet peeves?

Album Review: Anita Cochran – ‘Serenity’

SerenityFormer Warner Brothers artist Anita Cochran achieved one #1 hit, ‘What If I Said’, in a duet with Steve Wariner, in 1997. None of her solo singles came anywhere near the top of the charts, and it’s not as if her label didn’t persevere – they released two albums and nine singles over a seven year period. She is a talented musician and multi-instrumentalist, and has been touring as part of Terri Clark’s road band. She also produced an album for the unrelated Tammy Cochran in 2007. After several years’ silence on her own account, Anita re-emerges with a new album on her own Straybranch Records.

Her distinctive swooping voice sounds as good as ever, and this is an example of contemporary country which is not over-produced (an example her current boss might have profited from). Anita wrote every song and plays a long list of instruments on the album, including electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, banjo and harmonica. She also arranged the strings (which feature talented Terri Clark bandmate Jenee Fleenor) which are used on several tracks, and produced the set with co-label-owner Mark Thompson.

The controversial former single ‘I Wanna Hear A Cheatin’ Song’ (the last time we heard from Anita) is included here (at least on the physical CD), although no doubt due to licensing issues, it is not available on the digital version on the album. It is actually an excellent song with a lyric about longing for more sad songs which is easy to relate to, as a heartbroken caller to a radio show appeals:

All I hear in this day and time
Are fairy tales and pretty words that rhyme
Everybody’s lovers, everybody’s friends
Same old thing over and over again

I wanna hear a cheatin’ song
About somebody done somebody wrong
A story that’s about my life
With a simple melody

Forget about the I love yous
They weren’t for the heartbroke fools
I wanna hear a cheatin’ song
Dedicated to me

The DJ agrees, and so does a listening Anita. So far, so good, but 2:50 into the song some tacked together segments from old Conway Twitty recordings are incorporated. I appreciate that it was done out of respect for Conway and his musical legacy, but this musical necrophilia makes me cringe. This could have been a standout track if Anita had only decided to rerecord the song solo (as she does with her hit ‘What If I Said’, which sounds great here, with a lovely emotion-infused vocal and some tasteful strings), or using a living partner. If no one was available, she could have used Ty Herndon, who helps out on a couple of the other tracks here, but who seems underused.

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Album Review: Bobby Marquez – ‘Bobby Marquez’

bobbymarquezTexan country singer Bobby Marquez’s debut album on independent label Grande Star is a good example of solid country music with a Texas feel, underpinned with generous helpings of fiddle and steel. Bobby has quite a light voice but a very listenable one, and he is a very promising songwriter, having contributed to half the tracks on this album, collaborating most often with the album producer Gerald Smith. Smith worked with other writers on a further three tracks. All the material is at least decent, with a few standouts.

It opens with one of the two wholly outside songs (the other being a cover of Jim Lauderdale’s swooping ‘Whisper’), the western swing ‘She’s Not From Texas’, a lyrically slight but cute Karen Staley/Anita Cochran song about falling for a girl the protagonist meets on a Beaumont dancefloor: the payoff being “she’s from heaven”. Karen Staley also helped Bobby to write ‘That’s Life’, which hit #1 on the regional Texas country chart. Bobby’s sincere delivery lends a warmth and authenticity to this charmingly nostalgic and ultimately touching song as it imparts some small-town fatherly philosophy (admittedly the latter is a little cliche’d, but it feels churlish to dwell on that when the feel of the song is so endearing). Staley (a fine singer in her own right) also sings harmony vocals on the album.

Smith wrote the plaintive lost love ballad ‘Just Look At Me’ with Curtis Wayne, and this is another highlight with some lovely yearning fiddle and some very retro backing vocals towards the end of the song:

I’m still your fool
One look at you
And just look at me
Still under your spell so helplessly

Steve Frame wrote the very best track with Bobby and Smith, the cautionary tale of the ‘Marlboro Man’, about a girl who hooks up with a nameless guy in a bar, set to a classic country tune:

She wrote her number on the back of his Marlboro pack
He gave her his too but so much for that
The number he gave her was as fake as his name
So she named him the Marlboro man

Naturally it doesn’t go well:

He had her heart in the palm of his hand
In the morning she awoke to the mirrors and smoke
And just the memory of the “Marlboro man”

So don’t strike a match with a cowboy
He’ll only put out your plans
And all you’ll have left are the ashes
Where there once was a Marlboro man

I love this one.

Written by Bobby, Smith and Donna DeSopo, ‘Neon Tan’ is an amusing Caribbean style song with a difference as Bobby forsakes the beach for the bar:

I won’t have to worry about those UV rays
Burning my skin and peeling for days and days
No sand in my pants
No oil on my skin
From the glow on my face you’ll know I’ve been
Working on my neon tan
If you’re wondering where I am
Holding an cold one in my hand

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