My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Lee Greenwood

Album Review: Sawyer Brown – ‘Somewhere In The Night’

When discussing country music released in the late 1980s, it’s almost customary to frame it within the context of the new traditionalist movement. But it’s easy to overlook the fact that not every artist releasing albums at that time adhered to the sound ushered in by Randy Travis on Storms of Life. Acts like Alabama, K.T. Oslin, Rosanne Cash and others were sticking with the pop-country sound that had dominated the better part of the decade. These artists were not only going against the trend, they were dominating at radio alongside everyone else.

You can easily add Sawyer Brown to this category, as well. Their fourth album, Somewhere In The Night, arrived in May 1987 under the direction of Ron Chancey. He had taken over for Randy Scruggs who wouldn’t produce a Sawyer Brown album until The Boys Are Back, two years later. Many know Chancey’s son Blake from his notable production work with David Ball, Dixie Chicks, Montgomery Gentry and Gretchen Wilson in the 1990s-2000s.

Sawyer Brown wasn’t exactly dominating at this point in their career. When Somewhere In The Night was released, the band was on a streak of six consecutive singles missing the top 10. Their most recent, “Savin’ The Honey for the Honeymoon” has petered out at #58. They needed a reverse in fortunes, and while this wasn’t the album to get them there, it did give them a slight reprieve with radio.

The title track, co-written by Don Cook and Rafe VanHoy, had originally appeared on the Oak Ridge Boys classic Fancy Free six years earlier. Sawyer Brown’s version retains a 1980s sheen, complete with dated harmonies and synth piano, but is otherwise an excellent and restrained ballad. The track peaked at #29.

The album’s biggest success came when second single “This Missin’ You Heart of Mine” peaked at #2. The ballad, co-written by Mike Geiger and Woody Mullis, is a wonderful example of the other side of late 1980s country music. While it might sound a bit dated today, the production is nicely restrained with Chancey framing their harmonies beautifully.

Kix Brooks, Kenneth Beal, and Bill McClelland are responsible for the album’s final single, “Old Photographs,” which stalled at #27. The lush ballad isn’t a strong one, a bit of filler that never would’ve made it as a single in any other era.

“In This Town,” co-written by Tom Shapiro and Michael Garvin, would’ve made a fantastic choice for a single, and probably would’ve sailed up the charts behind “This Missin’ You Heart of Mine.” Everything about the ballad is on point, from the melody to the harmonies.

Somewhere In The Night contains its share of uptempo material, so it’s curious why the label didn’t see fit to break the ballad fatigue with one of these tracks. Two such songs were solely penned by Dennis Linde. “Dr. Rock N. Roll” is a slice of catchy slick pop while “Lola’s Love” is a nice dose of country-rock. The latter is the better song, and as a single for Ricky Van Shelton from his 1994 album Love and Honor, it peaked at #62. Linde also wrote “Still Life In Blue,” a mid-tempo ballad with dated accents of synth-pop.

The percussion-heavy “Little Red Caboose” was written by Steve Gibson and Dave Loggins and recorded by Lee Greenwood on his 1985 release, Love Will Find Its Way To You. The results are catchy and brimming with personality.

“Still Hold On” was originally released by its co-writer Kim Carnes in 1981 and Kenny Rogers in 1985. The ballad soars, thanks to Mark Miller’s vocal, which is an outstanding example of pathos that hints at the gravitas he would bring to the band’s 1990s hits “All These Years” and “Treat Her Right.”

The final track, “A Mighty Big Broom” was written solely by Miller. It’s the album’s most adventurous track, with a rock-leaning arrangement and a silly lyric.

When approaching Somewhere In The Night, I fully expected not to be able to pick out the Sawyer Brown I know from this set of songs. I came to the band like all my country music, in 1996, long after “The Walk” had revolutionized their sound and grounded them with depth and substance. So I was surprised I could hear subtle hints of what the band would eventually become, on this album. It’s a stellar project through and through, with a nice batch of above average material.

Grade: A

Week ending 3/11/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales):Young Love — Sonny James (Capitol)

1957 (Jukebox): There You Go/Train of Love — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Young Love — Sonny James (Capitol)

1967: Where Does The Good Times Go — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1977: Heart Healer — Mel Tillis (MCA)

1987: Mornin’ Ride — Lee Greenwood (MCA)

1997: Me Too — Toby Keith (A&M)

2007: Ladies Love Country Boys — Trace Adkins (Capitol)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): Better Man — Little Big Town (Capitol)

Album Review: Lorraine Jordan and Caroline Road – ‘Country Grass’

country-grass-2016If you like real country music, the kind that was played before 2005, with meaningful lyrics written by master craftsmen like Dallas Frazier, Cindy Walker, Harlan Howard, Hank Cochran, Merle Haggard and Tom T Hall, where do you go to hear it live?

Unless you live in Texas, your best choice is to visit a bluegrass festival. Today’s bluegrass acts are vitally concerned about finding good songs, regardless of the copyright dates. They are not concerned about the feeding and watering of mediocre songwriters simply because they are part of the pool of co-writers. A typical bluegrass group will include anywhere from 20% upwards of classic country songs in their repertoire.

Exhibit number one is the most recent album, Country Grass, by Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road. This album is a bit of an outlier, because all of the songs are classic country, but one listen to this album and you will plainly hear that the legacy of 60s-90s country music is in good hands.

Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road are a veteran act, having performed at the bluegrass festivals for over fifteen years. Lorraine plays mandolin and handles most of the lead vocals. She is joined by Ben Greene (banjo), Josh Goforth (fiddle), Brad Hudson (dobro) and Jason Moore (upright bass).

In putting this album together of classic country songs, Lorraine assembled a fine cast of guest stars, obtaining the services of the original artist where possible.

The album opens up with the Kentucky Headhunters’ song “Runnin’ Water”, a track from the Kentucky Headhunters’ fourth album. Doug Phelps of the Kentucky Headhunters sings lead on this entertaining track with bandmate Richard Young contributing harmony vocals. This track is straight ahead bluegrass.

Eddy Raven had a #1 record in 1984 with “I Got Mexico” and he chips in with the lead vocals on a track that is more bluegrass flavored than actual bluegrass.

“Darned If I Don’t, Danged If I Do” was a Shenandoah song. Shenandoah’s lead sing Marty Raybon has spent much of the last decade on the bluegrass circuit performing bluegrass versions of Shenandoah hits with his band Full Circle. The song is done in overdrive, but Marty remains one of the premier vocalists.

John Conlee is a long-time Opry veteran who had a decade (1978-1987) long run of top ten hits, including his 1983 #1 hit “Common Man”, taken at about the same tempo as his 1983 hit. Brad Hudson takes a verse of the lead vocal.

country-grass-2015Crystal Gayle had a #1 Country / #18 Pop hit in 1978 with “Waiting For The Times To Get Better”. Crystal and Lorraine trade verses on this one, an elegant sounding song and arrangement.

Lee Greenwood had a #1 record with “Dixie Road” in 1985. Unfortunately, Lee’s voice has eroded over the years so having Troy Pope sing a verse is welcome.

Jim Ed Brown has a top twenty recording of “You Can Have Her” back in 1967. This was probably one of Jim Ed’s last recording before his recent death, but he was in very fine voice indeed. Tommy Long takes part of a verse and harmonizes on this jazzy ballad.

“Boogie Grass Band” was a big hit for Conway Twitty in 1978, the title explaining the feel of the song completely. Unfortunately, Conway has been gone for over twenty years so Lorraine simply got everyone involved in this project to take short vocal turns, preserving the original tempo.

Randy Travis was in no shape to perform so Tommy Long handles the vocals on “Digging Up Bones”. Meanwhile T. G. Sheppard is still with us, so he and Tommy Long handle the vocals on “Do You Want To Go To Heaven”. The instrumentation here is bluegrass, but the tempo remains that of the country ballad that T.G. took to #1 in 1980.

Jesse Keith Whitley is the son of Lorrie Morgan and the late great Keith Whitley. Jesse sounds quite similar to his father and acquits himself well on “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. Jeannette Williams contributes gorgeous harmony vocals to this track which is taken at the same tempo as Keith’s original.

It would be hard to conceive of a bigger country/pop hit than Joe South’s “Rose Garden”, taken to the top of the charts in 1970-1971 by Lynn Anderson. Not only did the song top the country and pop charts in the USA, it went top four or better in nine foreign countries. Lynn Anderson and Lorraine Jordan share the lead vocals on this song, which probably sounds the least similar to the original of all the tracks on this album. Lynn passed away last summer, so this is one of the last tracks (perhaps the last track) she ever recorded.

Lorraine’s band shines on the last track of the album “Last Date”. Although there were several sets of lyrics appended to Floyd Cramer’s piano classic, I don’t really like any of the lyrics I’ve heard, so I appreciate that this was left as an instrumental.

I picked up this disc about a month ago and it has been in heavy rotation in my CD player since them. I was inspired to write this when Jonathan Pappalardo posted a video of John Anderson singing with Lorraine and Carolina Road. John is not on the original (2015) version of the album, but his performance can be purchased on Lorraine’s website http://www.carolinaroadband.com/, and is on the new re-released version.

Even if you do not particularly care for bluegrass you might really like this album, chock full of solid country gold songs, fine vocals and exquisite musicianship. I give it an A-, docking it very slightly for the eroded voices of a few of the guests.

Week ending 7/16/16 – #1 singles this week in country music history

hqdefault-71956 (Sales): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

1966: Think of Me — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1976: The Door Is Always Open — Dave & Sugar (RCA)

1986: Hearts Aren’t Made to Break (They’re Made to Love) — Lee Greenwood (MCA)

1996: No One Needs to Know — Shania Twain (Mercury)

2006: Summertime — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2016: H.O.L.Y. — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2016 (Airplay): Wasted Time — Keith Urban (Capitol)

Week ending 4/2/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

grenwood1956 (Sales): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): I Forgot to Remember to Forget/Mystery Train — Elvis Presley (Sun)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Heartbreak Hotel — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1966: Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line — Buck Owens & The Buckaroos (Capitol)

1976: ‘Til the Rivers All Run Dry — Don Williams (ABC/Dot)

1986: Don’t Underestimate My Love for You — Lee Greenwood (MCA)

1996: You Can Feel Bad — Patty Loveless (Epic)

2006: Living In Fast Forward — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2016: You Should Be Here — Cole Swindell (Warner Bros.)

2016 (Airplay): Beautiful Drug — Zac Brown Band (Southern Ground/Republic)

Week ending 12/12/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

images-81955 (Sales): Love, Love, Love/If You Were Me — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): Love, Love, Love/If You Were Me — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): Love, Love, Love — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: Make the World Go Away — Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1975: Secret Love — Freddy Fender (ABC/Dot)

1985: I Don’t Mind the Thorns (If You’re the Rose) — Lee Greenwood (MCA)

1995: Tall, Tall Trees — Alan Jackson (Arista)

2005: Come a Little Closer — Dierks Bentley (Capitol)

2015: Die a Happy Man — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

2015 (Airplay): I’m Comin’ Over — Chris Young (RCA)

Album Review: Kevin Moon – ‘Throwback’

throwbackWhen reviewing the year’s releases for my end of year lists, I realised that I never reviewed this album properly. As the album’s title hints, Alabaman Kevin Moon is a thorough going traditionalist who could have been a big star if he had been around in the late 80s or early 90s – the era of most of the songs on this album. He has a fabulous country voice with rich tones and characterful inflections, and he stands up well against the stars who guest on this album.

He teamed up with Ken Mellons (who he sounds very like) to rework the latter’s ‘Honky Tonk Teachers’. It’s an appropriate choice with its loving tribute to the great country singers of the past, and this version is great.

Kevin pays tribute to the late Keith Whitley a number of times, starting with a nice version of ‘Til A Tear Becomes A Rose’, with Rhonda Vincent taking Lorrie Morgan’s duet part. This is one track where the original is better, but it is a beautiful song with a lovely melody. Whitley wrote ‘Hopelessly Yours’, recorded by John Conlee, George Jones, and Lee Greenwood/Suzy Bogguss. Moon’s cover is an emotional duet with young singer Mary Sarah. The heartbreaking ‘Tennessee Courage’ serves as tribute to both Whitley and to Vern Gosdin, and is performed with two artists who should have been stars, Wesley Dennis and Kevin Denney, and a younger singer I hadn’t previously come across but who bears further investigation, Billy Droze.

Another star not currently available to help out is Randy Travis, so Travis’s one-time protégé Daryle Singletary helps out on an excellent version of ‘The Storms Of Life’. Conway Twitty’s son Michael assists on the sentimental ‘That’s My Job’.

John Anderson guests on his early 90s comeback hit. ‘Straight Tequila Night’ – again, I prefer the original, but this is still good. Marty Raybon’s voice blends beautifully with Moon’s on a lovely version of Shenandoah’s ‘Moon Over Georgia’. Doug Stone still sounds good on a version of his ‘I’d Be Better Off (In A Pine Box)’. ‘You’ve Got To Stand For Something’ features Aaron Tippin, but is less forceful than the original.

A couple of new songs are included. ‘Low Key’ dreams about a much-needed beach vacation, mixing a steel guitar dominated arrangement with Spanish-influenced guitar, and is nicely done. The title track strings together quotes from a selection of great country classics and calls for some throwback country, “with some drinkin’, cheatin’ lyin’, leavin’”, and is quite clever.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable album from a young man with a lot of talent. The lack of originality in making most of the material cover songs is ameliorated by making them duets with, in most cases the original stars.

Grade: A

Week ending 7/25/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

images-41955 (Sales): I Don’t Care/Your Good For Nothing Heart — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): A Satisfied Mind — Porter Wagoner (RCA)

1965: Before You Go — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1975: Touch the Hand — Conway Twitty (MCA)

1985: Dixie Road — Lee Greenwood (MCA)

1995: Any Man of Mine — Shania Twain (Mercury)

2005: As Good as I Once Was — Toby Keith (DreamWorks)

2015: Girl Crush — Little Big Town (Capitol)

2015 (Airplay): Love You Like That — Canaan Smith (Mercury)

Week ending 3/15/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

Rich_Charlie_002_c_MOA.jpg1954 (Sales): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: Saginaw, Michigan — Lefty Frizzell (Columbia)

1974: There Won’t Be Anymore — Charlie Rich (Epic)

1984: Going, Going, Gone — Lee Greenwood (MCA)

1994: Tryin’ To Get Over You — Vince Gill (MCA)

2004: American Soldier — Toby Keith (DreamWorks)

2014: Bottoms Up — Brantley Gilbert (Valory)

2014 (Airplay): When She Says Baby — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

Week ending 11/16/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

marie1953 (Sales): I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know — Davis Sisters (RCA)

1953 (Jukebox): I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know — Davis Sisters (RCA)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know — Davis Sisters (RCA)

1963: Love’s Gonna Live Here — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1973: Paper Roses — Marie Osmond (MGM)

1983: Somebody’s Gonna Love You — Lee Greenwood (MCA)

1993: She Used To Be Mine — Brooks & Dunn (Arista)

2003: I Love This Bar — Toby Keith (DreamWorks Nashville)

2013: That’s My Kind Of Night — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): Mine Would Be You — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

Album Review: Suzy Bogguss – ‘Aces’

acesThe first time I heard Suzy Bogguss sing, I was sure that she was on the verge of becoming country music’s next big female superstar. It was, therefore, both surprising and disappointing when her first two albums and the singles released from them all performed poorly on the charts. Her commercial fortunes began to change in 1991 when she teamed up with her Capitol labelmate Lee Greenwood for a duet, the Keith Whitley, Curly Putman and Don Cook-penned “Hopelessly Yours”, which rose to #12, her best performance to date on the Billboard country singles chart. The record’s success proved to be the breakthrough she needed and paved the way for her subsequent solo recordings.

Suzy was always a bit of a folkie at heart, as opposed to a hardcore country traditionalist, and the song selections on Aces, her third album for Capitol Nashville, reflect that preference. The album’s advance single was a revival of Ian & Sylvia Tyson’s “Someday Soon”, which had been recorded numerous times by a number of artists, including Judy Collins and Moe Bandy. Suzy’s excellent version reached #12, matching the success of “Hopelessly Yours.” Suzy and co-producer Jimmy Bowen slowed down the tempo ever so slightly on Nanci Griffith’s “Outbound Plane”, giving the song more mainstream appeal than Griffith’s original and more quirky recording from a few years earlier. “Outbound Plane”, which peaked at #9, found Suzy cracking the Top 10 for the first time. Recognizing that the folk connection was proving successful, Capitol selected the album’s title track, written by folk singer/songwriter Cheryl Wheeler, as Suzy’s next single. Like “Outbound Plane”, it reached #9 and is one of the songs for which Suzy is best remembered today.

The album’s fourth single — and its most successful was the more conventional “Letting Go”, written by Suzy’s husband Doug Crider and Matt Rollings. A tale about leaving home and the adjustments required by both parent and child, it peaked at #6 in the fall of 1992 and made an appearance on Suzy’s next album Voices In The Wind.

More often than not, I find that there are always one or two songs on every album that should have been a single, but for one reason or another, was not. Tony Arata’s “Part of Me” falls into that category this time around, although for the most part, Capitol showed good judgement in its selection of singles. There’s nothing particularly memorable about “Yellow River Road”, which is noteworthy only because it is the album’s only song in which Suzy had a hand in writing. The bluesy numbers “Save Yourself” and “Let Goodbye Hurt” require more soulful performances than Suzy was able to provide, and her version of “Still Hold On”, though good, cannot compare with Tanya Tucker’s grittier performance from a few years earlier.

Aces was the best and most successful of Suzy’s major label albums, and the only one to earn platinum certification. Inexpensive copies are easy to obtain.

Grade: B+

Spotlight Artist: Suzy Bogguss

Suzy BogusAledo, Illinois native Susan Kay “Suzy” Bogguss was born on December 30, 1956. She was performing in a hometown church choir by age five and playing piano, drums, and guitar by the time she was a teenager. In high school Bogguss was active in the theater program and was crowned homecoming queen in her senior year. She would go on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in metalsmithing from Illinois State University.

Bogguss played guitar and drums in Quad City area coffeehouses during her college years and began touring the United States after graduation in support of Suzy, a now rare LP she sold at her shows. She moved to Nashville in 1985 where her work as a demo singer landed her a job as feature female performer at Dollywood. The high profile gig encouraged Bogguss to record a demo cassette of her own that she sold at the theme park. The cassette caught the attention of famed record exec Jim Foglesong, who quickly signed Bogguss to a recording contract with Capitol Nashville.

Three singles were released in the late 80s, although none managed to make a mark on the charts. Somewhere Between, Bogguss’ first album for the label, came in the winter of 1989 and included the top 20 single “Cross My Heart” as well as a cover of Patsy Montana’s anthem, “I Wanna Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart.”

Now under the direction of Jimmy Bowen, a more refined sound followed. Her second album yielded no hits, but a guest appearance on labelmate Lee Greenwood’s album resulted in a top fifteen duet. By her third release she was finally making major headway. Aces, released in 1991, had four hit singles including the mesmerizing tile track and career hits “Someday Soon,” “Outbound Plane,” and “Letting Go.”

At the 1992 CMA Awards Bogguss was given the Horizon Award, an honor she no doubt richly deserved. At the time it was viewed as a shocking upset because she was nominated against Trisha Yearwood, whom the industry deemed the frontrunner and only winner. It got so bad that Yearwood went into the ceremony thinking there was no way she could lose. Then Naomi Judd called Bogguss as the winner and that was that (She and Yearwood were nominated against Brooks & Dunn, Pam Tillis, and Billy Dean).

Two more highly successful albums followed. Voices in the Wind brought Bogguss her highest charting single with the #2 “Drive South.” Something Up My Sleeve brought her two more big hits with “Just Like The Weather” and her signature tune “Hey Cinderella,” which began a friendship with her co-writer Matraca Berg that continues to this day.

Bogguss changed directions in 1994 opting to release a subtle album of duets with Chet Atkins entitled Simpatico. None of the singles charted nor did the record become the commercial success all involved were hoping for. This could’ve been due to a management shift at Capitol or the lingering effects of an ongoing feud with her labelmate Garth Brooks (between him and the label). I’ve also heard that Capitol was accused of spending too much of their promotional muscle on Brooks, thus leaving their ‘quieter’ artists (i.e. not global superstars) in the dust.

In the wake of her declining commercial fortunes, Bogguss retreated from the spotlight in 1995 to begin a family with husband (and songwriter) Doug Crider. Her next release Give Me Some Wheels came during a changing landscape for females in country music and proved her undoing. Her next album, Nobody Love, Nobody Gets Hurt would be her last for Capitol. An eponymous album was released on Platinum Records in 1999, but it didn’t fare any better.

For the better part of the last decade, Bogguss has been recording passion projects. A dream about Asleep At The Wheel vocalist Ray Benson producing a western swing/Jazz album led to their collaborative effort Swing. The more contemporary Jazz infused Sweet Danger followed shortly thereafter. The latter included “In Heaven,” one of the best singles of her career and a stunning return to form. Her latest project, American Folk Songbook was born out of inspiration Bogguss gleamed while on tour with Garrison Keillor. It’s her way of exposing new generations to that catalog of music, including such classics as “Shenandoah,” “Wayfaring Stranger,” “Red River Valley,” and “Ol Dan Tucker.” The album was met with glowing reviews upon release in 2011.

While she doesn’t have any new music on the horizon, Bogguss continues to keep a heavy touring schedule, opting for small intimate venues and even performing at some restaurants off the beaten path. She’s been one of my favorite vocalists since I was a kid and I’m over the moon to join my colleagues in spotlighting her music for the next month.

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.

Country Heritage Redux: Dick Feller

An expanded and updated version of an article originally published by The 9513.

About eight years ago I was attending a performance by the late great Vermont singer/songwriter Bernie Whittle when he launched into “I Just Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore.” I wasn’t familiar with the song but it seemed to me that it could have come from the pen of only one writer – Dick Feller. A little research confirmed my assumption.

Dick Feller was never a big recording star, but during the 1970s he provided numerous hits for other people. Possessed of rare wit and sensitivity (a product of his rural Missouri upbringing), Feller could write poignant ballads and novelties with equal facility. For a period of time, he was a staff writer for Johnny Cash. Prior to that, he was the touring band leader/lead guitarist for Warner Mack. He even played lead guitar on most of his own recordings and appeared as guitarist on sessions by a number of other artists, including Mel Tillis and Mike Auldridge. From my exposure to Dick’s guitar playing, I rate him just barely below the Chet Atkins class as a fingerpicker guitarist.

Among Feller’s serious songs, John Denver hit with “Some Days Are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stone)” (#10 Country / #36 Pop), Johnny Cash had success with “Any Old Wind That Blows” (#3 Country) and “Orleans Parish Prison” (#52 Country), and Ferlin Husky recorded “A Room For A Boy – Never Used,” (#60 Country) a song that should have been a much bigger hit than it was.

I’m not sure whether to classify Dick’s biggest copyright as serious or humorous, but there are few songs more familiar than “East Bound and Down,” a huge country hit (#1 Cashbox /#2 Billboard) for co-writer Jerry Reed that was featured in the 1977 film Smokey and the Bandit, and received continuous play by country bands everywhere for at least the next 25 years. I know of at least 33 cover versions, most recently by the Road Hammers.

Despite his facility with the serious songs, Dick Feller seemed to prefer looking at the humorous side of life with his music. Songs such as “Lord, Mr. Ford” (a #1 Country hit for Jerry Reed) and “The Night Miss Nancy Ann’s Hotel For Single Girls Burned Down” (a minor hit for Tex Williams) seemed more in keeping with that outlook.

He issued three albums during the 1970s with four songs charting on Billboards Country charts : “The Credit Card Song” (#10), “Makin’ The Best of A Bad Situation” (#11), “Biff, The Friendly Purple Bear” (#22 – a song that appeals to all ages), and “Uncle Hiram and the Homemade Beer” (#49). The first three saw some action on Billboards Pop charts, as well.

Feller mostly wrote on his own, but when he did co-write, it was usually with writers who shared his humorous outlook on life, such as Sheb Wooley (a/k/a Ben Colder), Jerry Reed and most notably the late, Atlanta humorist Lewis Grizzard. Dick toured with Grizzard and was the opening act for the “Evening With Lewis Grizzard” stage show. Their most notable musical collaboration was “Alimony,” a subject Grizzard knew well.

In addition to the aforementioned artists, Dick Feller’s songs have been recorded by a diverse group of artists that include Bobby Bare, The Kingston Trio, Ray Stevens, Earl Scruggs, Mac Davis, Lee Greenwood, Ed Bruce, Burt Reynolds, Julie Andrews, Arthur Godfrey, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Aaron Tippin, June Carter Cash and countless others.

Wouldn’t you love to hear Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley or George Strait tackle these lyrics:

I stepped out of the shower and I got a good look at myself
Pot bellied, bald-headed, I thought I was somebody else
I caught my reflection in the mirror of the bathroom door
I just don’t look good naked anymore!

So… I’m goin upstairs and turn my bedroom mirror to the wall
I hung it there back when I was trim and tall
I’d stand there and smile and flex and strut until my arms go sore
But I just don’t look good naked anymore!

From “I Just Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore”, available on Centaur Of Attention.

Discography

The Dick Feller discography is pretty slim but each album is filled with wry (and sometimes silly) humor, clever lyrics and songs full of profound thoughts, sometimes disguised as humor

VINYL
All vinyl, of course, is out of print but worth hunting down. To the best of my knowledge Dick Feller issued only four vinyl albums

Dick Feller Wrote… (United Artists, 1973)
No Word On Me (Elektra, 1974)
Some Days Are Diamonds (Elektra/Asylum, 1975)
Audiograph Alive (Audiograph, 1982)

DIGITAL
Centaur Of Attention (Cyberphonic, 2001)
Although originally released as a CD, it currently is available only as a digital download from http://www.cdbaby.com. The album contains versions of all four of Dick’s charted hits, plus some other humorous songs

Check out www.dickfeller.com for more information on Dick Feller.

The Blue Against The Grey: Remembering the Civil War

150 years ago today, Confederate troops attacked Fort Sumter near Charleston, South Carolina, marking the first military action in the bloodiest conflict in American history. From 1861 to 1865, the Civil War divided the nation, states and even family members, and its repercussions are still felt to the present day. It has been romanticized like no other era in US history — particularly in the South — having been the topic of countless novels, films and songs over the years. Country artists in particular have frequently commemorated it.

Johnny Cash, one of country music’s greatest storytellers, told of how the war divided families and pitted brother against brother when he offered up this medley in a 1969 installment of his ABC variety show:

The First Battle of Bull Run, fought on July 21, 1861 resulted in a humiliating defeat for the Union Army and quickly laid to rest any hopes harbored by either side that the conflict would be over quickly, as Johnny Horton recalled:


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Week ending 2/26/11: #1 albums this week in country music history

1966: Eddy Arnold – My World (RCA Victor)

1971: Lynn Anderson – Rose Garden (Columbia)

1976: Various Artists – Wanted: The Outlaws (RCA)

1981: Dolly Parton – 9 to 5 And Odd Jobs (RCA Victor)

1986: Lee Greenwood – Streamline (MCA)

1991: Garth Brooks – No Fences (Capitol)

1996: Shania Twain – The Woman In Me (Mercury)

2001: Various Artists – O Brother Where Art Thou (Official Soundtrack)

2006: Carrie Underwood – Some Hearts (Arista)

2011: Jason Aldean – My Kinda Party (Broken Bow)

Album Review: George Jones – ‘Wine Colored Roses’

Released in 1986, The Possum’s 18th solo outing for Epic is another stellar entry in his extensive catalog that generated a pair of top 10 hits and earned him the third gold album of his career. The title track, written by Dennis Knutson and A.L. “Doodle” Owens, tells the unlikely story of an alcoholic who sends a bouquet of wine colored roses to his ex, as a not too subtle way of letting her know that he still hasn’t cleaned up his act. In real life, however, Jones had begun to get his life on track, and the album’s next single, “The Right Left Hand”, also written by Knutson and Owens, is likely a tribute to his wife Nancy, whom he credits as the one who helped him reform his ways. A third single, the beautiful “I Turn To You”, from the pens of Max D. Barnes and Curly Putnam, fared less well at radio, peaking at #26.

Billy Sherrill’s production is firmly in the new traditionalist style, likely a result of the massive success that both Dwight Yoakam and Randy Travis had experienced at country radio that year. Jones sounds more relaxed and content than he had on previous albums. “Don’t Leave Without Taking Your Silver” is sort of “A Good Year For The Roses” revisited, though the newer song lacks the intensity of the 1970 classic. This time around George doesn’t make any attempts to stop his wife from leaving, blaming her for the silver in his hair. The light-hearted “The Very Best Of Me” provides a well-timed change of pace as George reveals to his wife what he plans to leave to whom, when his time comes to meet his maker:

Give my dry lips to Jack Daniels
Give the jukebox both my ears,
Plant one foot in Texas, one in Tennessee.
Send my backside to my ex-wife,
Tell her, seal it with a kiss,
Girl, I’m leaving you the very best of me.

My favorite song on the album is “Hopelessly Yours”, a beautiful ballad written by Don Cook, Curly Putnam, and Keith Whitley, that became a hit for Lee Greenwood and Suzy Bogguss a few years later. A close second is a track contributed by Max D. Barnes and the great Harlan Howard. “Ol’ Frank” tells the story of a May-December romance:

She was just seventeen but she was all woman
When Ol’ Frank slipped the ring on her hand
My God, he was wealthy, owned half the county
But he’d never see sixty again.

After ten years of heaven and long nights of love
His ol’ heart couldn’t keep up the pace.
But friends you can bet that he had no regrets,
Ol’ Frank ran one hell of a race.

She cried all the way to the chapel,
Like she really cared for Ol’ Frank
She cried all the way to the grave where he lay,
But she smiled all the way to the bank.

Slightly disappointing is “You Never Looked That Good When You Were Mine”, on which Jones is joined by pop singer Patti Page. The song itself is good and both Jones and Page are in good vocal form, but together they lack the chemistry that made George’s duets with Melba Montgomery and Tammy Wynette so memorable. Weaker still is “If Only Your Eyes Could Lie”, which would have been better suited for Jimmy Buffett than George Jones.

The album closes on a poignant note with “These Old Eyes Have Seen It All” in which an old man reminisces about seeing Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley onstage, as well as recounting memories of his service in World War II, the moon landing in 1969, and his fifty year marriage to his now-deceased wife.

Though Wine Colored Roses didn’t produce any classic hits of the caliber of “The Grand Tour” or “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, it is still a solid collection of songs that hold up well nearly a quarter century after its release, and it is well worth adding to your collection.

Grade: A-

It is currently out of print in CD form; used copies are available, but they are a little more expensive than usual. It is also available digitally from Amazon and iTunes.

Head to head: rival versions of the same song

LeAnn Rimes has elected to premier her upcoming covers album Lady And Gentlemen by releasing a ramped-up version of John Anderson’s 1983 smash hit ‘Swingin’’ as the lead single. Self-evidently, covering another artist’s signature song means you have to bear comparison with the original. Unfortunately for LeAnn, she also has to compete with a much better cover getting attention at the moment in the form of Chris Young’s fresh acoustic take on the same song on his excellent new EP Voices (reviewed here recently by Razor X). Admittedly Chris’s version is not being promoted as a single, but it’s certainly the version I would prefer to hear on the radio.

LeAnn has of course been in a similar position before. As a teenager she was at the center of a public rivalry, when her recording of ‘How Do I Live’, intended for the soundtrack of the 1997 action movie Con Air, was rejected by the producers in favor of a version by Trisha Yearwood. As well as its appearance in the film, Trisha’s version was a big country hit single, reaching #2 on Billboard, and won a Grammy. LeAnn arguably got the last laugh that time, as her rival cut was a massive international pop hit and sold three million copies.

In fact, rival versions of the same song competing for sales and airplay, are something of a tradition. In the singles-dominated 1950s and 60s it was commonplace for artists to cover current hits, either as direct competition or as easy choices of popular songs to fill out an album. In an era when country fans had less disposable income, it made sense for an artist to record the most popular songs out there, so that if someone liked a particular song they might choose to buy the version by their favorite singer. Successful artists who sold well were almost unbelievably prolific, typically releasing several 12-track albums a year – George Jones, for instance, recorded over 150 songs when he was signed to United Artists, over the period 1962-1964. There was thus great demand for good material, even by singer-songwriters who simply couldn’t write enough on their own.

Merrle Haggard, for instance, wrote much of his material, but also included covers of contemporary hits. His 1968 album Mama Tried supplemented his own classic title song with covers of recent hits ‘The Green, Green Grass Of Home’, ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, Dolly Parton’s ‘In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)’ , and the now-forgotten ‘Little Old Wine Drinker Me’. In turn, ‘Mama Tried’ and the previous year’s hit ‘Sing Me Back Home’ were covered by the Everly Brothers on their own 1968 release Roots.

It was also often common for singers in other genres to cover country hits, and vice versa. An early example is Hank Williams’ Cajun-styled ‘Jambalaya (On the Bayou)’. Hank’s original was a 14-week #1 in 1952; a cover by singer Jo Stafford saw top 10 success on the pop charts the same year. Stafford had quite an eye for country hits which could be brought to a new audience – she also covered Hank Snow’s 1952 country hit ‘A Fool Such As I’ in 1953, and had duetted with Frankie Laine on Hank Williams’ ‘Hey Good Lookin’. Laine also covered ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’, but the biggest pop version was by Joni James, who recorded it the day Hank died. Patti Page’s 1950 country-pop crossover smash ‘Tennessee Waltz’ was another to see off several rival versions.

A decade later, nothing had changed. John Hartford’s ‘Gentle On My Mind’ won him a folk Grammy in 1968; Glen Campbell’s cover of the same song won the country Grammy the same year. Patti Page charted a pop version that year, and Aretha Franklin gave it an R&B twist the following year, while Rat Packer Dean Martin had an easy listening international hit, and Elvis Presley also covered the tune on an album. The Kris Kristofferson classic ‘Me And Bobby McGee’ was a top 20 country hit for Roger Miller in 1969, who recorded it before the Statler Brothers (who had been offered the song) could get into the studio. The same year a rival version by Canadian Gordon Lightfoot was a pop hit, and it was also an album track for Kenny Rogers. A year later it was a rock smash for Janis Joplin. ‘Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town’ was a top 10 country hit for Johnny Darrell, and covered the same year by Waylon Jennings, Roger Miller and the Statler Brothers, before Kenny Rogers’ #1 a few years later displaced all previous versions.

Even as late as the 1990s, genre reinventions were bringing songs to new audiences. 90s country star Mark Wills saw his 1998 country hit ‘I Do (Cherish You)’ (written by Keith Stegall and Dan Hill) covered the following year by pop group 98 Degrees. He then covered R&B artist Brian McKnight’s 1999 pop hit ‘Back At One’, getting a country hit for himself in 2000. Weirdly, both versions of the latter got to #2 on their respective charts.

In more recent years, competing cuts tended to mean that one artist got the hit, and the other was forced to release another song instead. In some cases that changed the course of country music history.

1983 saw rival versions of the inspirational ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings’. The earliest cut was actually by English MOR singer Roger Whittaker in 1982, but in 1983 two pop-country stars went head to head. Actor-singer Gary Morris enjoyed a top 10 hit but it might easily have been Lee Greenwood, who included the song on his album Somebody’s Gonna Love You released the same year. In 1985 the fast-rising Reba McEntire’s recording of the lively ‘She’s Single Again’ was not released as a single – because Janie Fricke got there first, and enjoyed a #2 hit.

Keith Whitley saw his big breakthrough delayed when he was unable to release the two best tracks on his 1986 album LA To Miami as singles, due to rival versions getting to radio first. He might have had a big hit with Dean Dillon’s ‘Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her’, but George Strait‘s cut went to #1 instead, and is one of Strait’s most fondly remembered singles. ‘On The Other Hand’ was to become the signature hit for Randy Travis in 1986 – but it might so easily have served that function for Keith instead. Incidentally, a third recording of the song was also made by veteran Charley Pride on After All This Time, his 1987 album for independent label 16th Avenue. All three versions are good enough to have been hits.

George Strait also potentially stymied the chances of his favorite songwriter when his choice of Dean Dillon’s ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’ as a single in 1993 – a song Dillon had earmarked for his own next shot at the charts. Even our current Spotlight Artist Mark Chesnutt has drawn the short straw a couple of times. As Razor X mentioned in yesterday’s review of Too Cold At Home, that album featured a version of ‘Friends In Low Places’ – only to be forestalled when Garth Brooks had a smash hit with his version of the song. More recently, Joe Nichols recorded ‘Don’t Ruin It For The Rest Of Us’ on his Revelation album in 2004, the same year Mark recorded the song on his first independent release Savin’ the Honky Tonk, although in this case neither artist selected the song as a single.

I’ve only scratched the surface here – what rival versions can you think of? Did the best cut always win the chart battle?

Looking for the saviour of country music (again)

New Mercury artist Easton Corbin, whose single ‘A Little More Country Than That’ is heading up the charts and whose debut album was released earlier this week, has been touted by some as the latest great hope for a revival of more traditionally rooted music on country radio. He has a pleasant voice and I like his general approach, but I think he is going to need stronger material if he is to fulfil the hype; these are heavy expectations on any young artist in his circumstances in any case.

The last person to bear that mantle, Ashton Shepherd, has been pretty quiet lately, after her first (and so far only) two singles both stalled around #20 in 2008. I still hope to hear more, and better, from Ashton, who is reportedly currently working on a new record, although I felt that her debut album showed promise more than a full achievement of her potential. Earlier in the decade similar hopes were placed on singers like Joe Nichols and Josh Turner, neither of whom has quite fulfilled their potential, although both are maintaining a chart presence. Jamey Johnson, another figurehead for non-pop country (although in his case a little more on the ‘Outlaw’ line of descent) had a really big hit with ‘In Color’, and sales of the acclaimed That Lonesome Song were unexpectedly good, but subsequent singles were a little too much for country radio. His new album is one which I am eagerly awaiting, but it remains to be seen whether it will have another mainstream hit to keep his profile high.

In some ways, the state of commercial country music is not unlike that of the mid 1980s. 25 years ago, pop-influenced sounds had largely ousted more traditional country music from the airwaves, with a sprinkling of more traditional artists to leaven the dough. The big stars of the day were mainly pop-influenced artists like the smoky voiced Earl Thomas Conley, Lee Greenwood, Gary Morris, and former pop group Exile. When a new Warner Brothers artist named Randy Travis released a classic almost-cheating song, ‘On the Other Hand’, in 1985, it was deemed far too country for country radio.

It wasn’t all bad news, though, with a handful of older stars still active; George Jones and Merle Haggard were still having #1 hit singles. Their closest equivalents today would be George Strait and this month’s Spotlight Artist Alan Jackson. Other traditionally-rooted artists were still getting played too, alongside the pop-country, although some had compromised their sound to stay competitive, most notable Dolly Parton, whose music was at its most pop at this date. Even someone like John Anderson who had emerged in 1980 as a hard country act had moved to a poppier sound by 1983. A handful of younger artists including Strait (then at the start of his career), Ricky Skaggs, and Reba McEntire were signs of things to come. Because what few would have predicted in, say, 1984, was the emergence of the neotraditional movement and the way it briefly dominated country music.

The rise to stardom of Randy Travis in 1986 was the real catalyst for that movement. He was certainly not the first – Strait and Skaggs had been around since the start of the decade, and Reba, whose early records were more pop-country had defiantly recorded a selection of older songs on her breakthrough My Kind Of Country album in 1984, and they were all highly successful. But they were exceptions.

Once radio had accepted his single ‘1982’, the now-classic ‘On The Other Hand’ was re-released, and went to #1. Randy’s album Storms Of Life was one of the first country albums to go platinum, thanks to a combination of high quality material, a classic country voice, and strong marketing across genres, and that commercial success encouraged Warners and other labels to sign more young but definitely country artists. Other young singers who had previously recorded more pop-country material, like Steve Wariner and Kathy Mattea, began to sound more traditional or rootsy.

The sea change of the late 80s in fact was not restricted to reviving traditional honky tonk style music; Mattea, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Nanci Griffith all brought folk-rooted music to the major labels. Even Dolly – her finger always on the pulse – abandoned her flirtation with pop and returned to very traditional sounding music with her acclaimed Trio collaboration with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt in 1987 and then asking Ricky Skaggs to produce her White Limozeen album in 1989. Those who had struggled to break through because they were “too country” , like Randy himself, and Keith Whitley, were finally accepted. Even 50-something Vern Gosdin, who had had some hits earlier in the decade, enjoyed a late flowering boom and his greatest period of sustained success in the last few years of the decade.

It is probably unrealistic to expect a similar transformation today. What I think would make a difference would be if one of the younger traditional artists were to start selling well – as well or better than the pop-inspired artists. The music business is just that – a business, and the bottom line has often been more important than artistic merit in Nashville. It is dispiriting to realise that if the genre as a whole is not selling as well as it used to, traditional country is on the whole selling even less. We can’t blame Nashville’s woes solely on the poor quality of many major labels’ output, tempting though that is. If someone is to break through like Randy Travis did, it would almost certainly have to be someone good looking as well as talented. Today youth and beauty are even more important than they were in the 80s, when videos were in their infancy as a marketing tool.

There certainly seem to be few signs of hope for those disenchanted by country radio’s latest lurch popwards. Taylor Swift’s sweep of recent awards shows and domination of the country charts is showing no signs of having run its course yet. The latest country awards nominations (the ACMs) show a predominance of pop-country artists with the melodic but not-very-country Lady Antebellum leading the charge. But the mid 80s were little more promising either. Maybe all we need is that one extraordinary talent to lead the way back.

Returning to Easton Corbin, he is certainly showing signs of appealing to country radio, which is encouraging, as (at last) is Chris Young, who has a great voice and all the right musical instincts but mediocre material. But is either of them a new Randy Travis who can cross over while not compromising? I’m not so sure. Vocally, Easton is being compared most to George Strait, and emulating his career would certainly be no bad thing. Strait’s long career has been remarkably consistent, while Travis’s star burned more brightly for a while before fading in commercial terms. But without that star, the history of country music would have been very different.

Do you think the current direction of country music could be reversed if the right artist came along, or have the changes been too fundamental?

Keith Whitley the Songwriter

In addition to being an exceptional vocalist, Keith Whitley was also a very accomplished songwriter. He didn’t record very many of his own songs, but a handful of them went on to become hits for other people. Here’s a sample of some of the songs he wrote or co-wrote:

Looking For The Stone — Tim & Mollie O’Brien

I Love You Enough To Let You Go — Chely Wright

It’s All Coming Back To Me Now — Keith Whitley