Saturday, November 12, 2022

Reviewing The Top Ten Country Hits From Today In 1988

 

1988 was a time of change for me. In May I'd left my eight-year job at the hospital, a job I actually loved, but felt forced to abandon. In retrospect, I made a rash decision on a particularly chaotic night. The medical floor was hopping with new admissions and our staffing consisted of generally one RN and two LPN's at each of the three stations the floor supported. I did my best to distribute new patients equally, but circumstances were such that one of the stations became overloaded. An RN I considered a friend dressed me down in front of the other nurses, and I felt put-upon and humiliated. I went home that night dejected. I began to question my ability to handle my job, a job I'd excelled at for eight years; and I began to question my so-called friendships. I honestly didn't want to leave, but I couldn't conceive of another option. I searched the job openings and found one downstairs in the Admissions Department, which would still allow me to maintain my second shift status. I applied and was accepted. I hated (hated!) it. Downstairs was eerily quiet and dark; one tiny light barely illuminating each of the three check-in windows. My responsibilities essentially consisted of spelling the new patient's name correctly and verifying his or her religion.

I lasted about two weeks. Instead I scoured the want ads and found one for a Farm Records Secretary at the local PCA office on the far edge of the neighboring town. I applied and was accepted. It was a true demotion. And truly desultory. My tasks included serving as a de facto receptionist, transcribing my Oklahoma boss's twangy dictation, and making copies ~ reams and reams of copies. My boss didn't particularly like me, nor did I particularly like her.  I'd descended from the heights of intensity to the bowels of gloom. 

My only redemption was listening to my portable FM radio during the quiet times, as I typed up yet another address label on my IBM Selectric. I was still mostly into rock, so my dial was tuned to Y93 and its morning show that at least offered a laugh or two with its song parodies and its droll DJ, Bob Beck. I had only recently dipped my toe back into country music, accidentally, when I flipped the car dial over to the country station during a particularly boring Y93 track. I don't remember who I heard, but whoever it was piqued my interest. It was then that I ventured out to purchase two country cassettes ~ random choices ~ The Sweethearts Of The Rodeo and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band ~ and I played those two tapes over and over on Saturday mornings while I dusted furniture and scoured the bathtub.

Thus, I generally didn't recognize any of the artists in the Top Ten, except one or two carryovers from the seventies. They were completely new to me.

Here I am, about to relive a not-so-fun time in my life and review the top ten charting country singles from this day in 1988. 

Here are the rules: 

  • I review each single as a first-time listener (sometimes I truly am).
  • I must listen to the entire track before offering my critique.  
  • I stick with the Top Ten only, because this is exercise takes far more time than one can imagine).
  • I do my best to find music videos. If all else fails, I use a video of the recorded song

Let's get it on!

 

#10 ~ Desperately ~ Don Williams


Random question: Did Don Williams have a disability? Every video I've seen of him has him perched on a stool, strumming his guitar.

Be that as it may, this is truly a new song to me. I'll wager that I've never once before heard it. The good: Don Williams. The bad: a commonplace melody. And the lyrics strike me as an exercise in finding rhymes. 

Don Williams is an artist who inhabits his own niche, that being a semi-comatose singer who occasionally sprouts a spurt of energy and chooses a song that hits the sweet spot. This song isn't that.

C-

 

#9 ~ That's That ~ Michael Johnson


Excuse me ~ who? What? I have zero cognizance of Michael Johnson. Nor of this song. 

Ahh, Google tells me that he's famous for Bluer Than Blue. That song I actually remember. 

 (This doesn't even look like the same guy.)

Well, "That's That" is just a terrible track. It has a schizophrenic beat that leaves the listener cranky. And a dissonant instrumental accompaniment. This is akin to the very worst song an amateur songwriter ever scribbled and can't even bring himself to listen to in the confines of his room.

F

 

#8 ~ Chiseled In Stone ~ Vern Gosdin


I like Vern Gosdin, but I was deflated hearing the opening verse of this track. It's sing-songy, and not in a catchy way. Thankfully (mercifully) the chorus saves it. Gosdin has a bit of George Jones in him, but he is a more soulful and skillful singer. 

Based solely on the singer and the chorus, this rates a...

B

 

#7 ~ I Wish That I Could Fall In Love Today ~ Barbara Mandrell 


Barbara Mandrell's career is rather quizzical. When she first appeared on the radar in the early seventies, she struck gold with cosmopolitan country that still heavily featured steel guitar, like Standing Room Only and The Midnight Oil. I was an immediate fan; this gal had it all. Musician, great entertainer, good singer,
cute as a button. I bought every new album release. 

Then she landed her network television show and became "show biz". Subsequently, she released some truly awful singles, like "Sleepin' Single In A Double Bed" and "Crackers". I was disappointed. I think she did a concert in my town, but I didn't go. I'd heard it was quite a production, with multiple costume changes; everything I hated about music (country music, at least). So, like other singers who'd sold out, I forgot about her.

Then in the late eighties, she began recording actual country songs again, like this one. I don't know what prompted the change. Maybe simply a desire to return to her roots.

This song was written by the great Harlan Howard and was originally recorded (in 1960) by Ray Price. Thus, it's unfair to critique it as a new song. That said, Mandrell does the song proud and shows the Barbara Mandrell of old. A solid...

A


#6 ~ If You Ain't Lovin' (You Ain't Livin') ~ George Strait


I don't know this George Strait, but he has a true country voice and he seems very traditional: two things I like. I think this might be the same guy my mom and dad were watching on their VCR when I stopped over the other night. I didn't pay a bunch of attention to him, but I did notice that his band was top-notch. Some new guy, I mused ~ I'll catch up with his music at some point, if he hangs around long enough. (I also like that he wears a hat, as all good country artists should.)

I remember this song from watching one of those filmed (actually filmed; not taped) country music shows from the fifties that my local TV station slotted in sometimes on Saturday afternoons. It was recorded by one of my all-time favorite singers, Faron Young, which again gives this new guy cred for his good taste.


So, it's impossible for me to review this as a new song, since I have heard it before. I will say, that Strait's arrangement is excellent, not to mention his delivery. Now that I think about it, maybe this new guy will stay around for a while.

A-


#5 ~ I Know How He Feels ~ Reba McEntire


Much like my initial reaction the first time I heard Barbara Mandrell, I became a fan of Reba McEntire upon hearing her first charting single, You Lift Me Up (To Heaven). This was an original singer, especially with the melodic twist she employed in every song. I even talked my mom into attending a rodeo with me, simply because the featured singer, between the bulldogging and calf roping, was Reba. She performed from a reinforced cage high above the rodeo arena, with just one or two guys backing her up. I think Mom wondered for a long time afterward why I dragged her to that event.

But again like Barbara Mandrell, fame went to her head. I liked Whoever's In New England and Little Rock, but then she made some bad song choices, particularly ballads that said absolutely nothing. Like this one. I can guarantee that I won't remember this thirty-odd years in the future, because it's a little bit of nothing.

D-

 

#4 ~ I've Been Lookin' ~ Nitty Gritty Dirt Band


Hey! This is from one of those two country cassettes I bought! I only knew The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band from that awful hit, Mister Bojangles, and that one good one that featured Linda Ronstadt, An American Dream. But these guys are great! If they keep recording songs like this, I will be a forever fan. 

What this band has going for it, aside from an appealing lead voice and top-shelf musicians, is excellent taste in choosing songs. There's a place (a big place) for uptempo, fun songs that can't be mistaken for anything but country. If all country music is like this, I just might abandon MTV.

A


#3 ~ I'll Leave This World Loving You ~ Ricky Van Shelton

 

I know this song is a remake, but I can't place it. (Oh wait, my future look-up machine tells me that one of the co-writers, Wayne Kemp, released it in 1980.) 

Much like so many debut artists, I became intrigued with Van Shelton upon his first album release, which included Wild-Eyed Dream and Crime Of Passion. I loved his stone-country arrangements and the originality of those songs. Then he immediately turned to cover songs, and I didn't get it. Couldn't he get his hands on good originals? I like old songs as much as the next country fan, but old recordings have a built-in advantage ~ they're originals. I admit I'm disappointed in a singer with this much potential. 

C


#2 ~ New Shade Of Blue ~ Southern Pacific


This isn't bad, but will no doubt sound dated in say, a decade or so. I don't know anything about this band, except that it was formed by a couple of former Doobie Brothers (who were always kind of country, if you think about it).

As for the song itself, it's got well-written lyrics and a pleasing melody, but it's a little nothing tune; one of those "hear it once and forget it" singles. It has nothing to cement it in one's memory.

As talented as the band is, though, I'm hoping they release something better; maybe in 1989. Something like this:


As for New Shade Of Blue:

C


#1 ~ Runaway Train ~ Rosanne Cash


Rosanne Cash is a good singer and an accomplished songwriter, and her partnership with husband Rodney Crowell is gold. I fear, however, that her career, and their musical pairing, will be of a time that fades like the mist.

This track is no Seven Year Ache or I Don't Know Why You Don't Want Me. It's missing that one thing that I keep harping on, a memorable chorus. It's nice; benign, but comparing it to her earlier hits, as a fan inevitably does, it just doesn't cut it.

B-


Summing up 1988, for me personally, it was a time of disruption and change; and musically, likewise. I gradually returned to country music, pretty much due to The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and a fortuitous Musicland cassette purchase. There were some new artists who showed promise and one older one who at last grasped onto her roots.

If country music can start again, who knows where my own future might take me?

 



 






 


 

 

Friday, November 11, 2022

Jeff Cook


It was once a running joke in my household. "Oh, Alabama is coming to town!" 

My hometown was small, about 40,000 souls, and while we had a brand new civic center, it took a few years for major country acts to catch wind of it. But Alabama found it right away. In fact, the first country concert I attended in that new building was by those four guys. It was around 1980, and they had no opening act that I can recall. I wasn't a big fan or really even a medium fan, but I craved the concert experience. We sat in the upper tier of seats and thus the band was but a speck. 

I heard them play songs like this:




The band wasn't my style. They played a lot of Southern Country Rock, arguably my least favorite sub-genre. But at least they showed up. In fact, if there was ever a harder touring country band than Alabama, I can't name it.
 
And they continued to show up, year after year. Thus the running joke. And I went a few more times, during which their music got better.
 



I never bought an Alabama album, but I bought the two singles above. It seemed they'd drifted further from their Lynyrd Skynyrd selves and toward a more commercial sound. Which to my ears was a definite plus. 
 
And boy, once Alabama took off, it took off. The band won Entertainer Of The Year at the CMA's three years in a row, not to mention the roughly 200 other major awards bestowed upon them. It's difficult to recall a time when Alabama didn't exist. 
 
In all four of the above videos, it's not actually Randy Owen who stands out, but Jeff Cook ~ Cook sawing the fiddle, Cook playing the double neck guitar. Jeff Cook singing harmony.
 

Maybe it was due to the years slipping by (both theirs and mine), but my favorite Alabama tracks are those the band released in the 90's.
 

 

The band, such as they are (sans the ailing Jeff Cook and the long-ago discarded Mark Herndon) appeared recently at an outdoor venue this summer not far from where I live. Did I go? No. Did I consider going? No. "Alabama is coming to town!" belongs to a time that no longer exists.

Nevertheless, everybody knows there would be no forty-year Alabama legacy if there hadn't been a Jeff Cook.

Rest in peace.






 
 

 




Friday, November 4, 2022

Reviewing The Top Ten Country Singles From This Week In 1980

 

I didn't get out of the house much in 1980. I had a two-year-old and a four-year-old at home and up 'til May I was working part-time at a retail store ~ and by "part-time", I mean three or so hours a few weeknights and six hours on Saturdays. We needed to supplement our meager income, yet I wasn't comfortable leaving my children in the hands of a stranger. Thus, I found an evening job at a recently-erected catalog store located approximately one minute away from my house. Looking back, the pay was barely worth the gas fumes it took to motor there, and while I did get a ten per cent discount on merchandise, I really couldn't afford to buy anything. Like every job I've ever had, I only landed this one because I possessed one (just one) of the skills listed on the job description ~ I knew how to run a cash register. Thinking back over my long and varied career, if I had (or could bullshit through) at least one of the required competencies, I was pretty good at glossing over the ones I didn't have**.

**Note to job-seekers: Learn how to type. 

By May I'd landed a high-paying (for my town and my skill set) job as a Communications Clerk at the hospital where I'd delivered my boys. I think my success lay again in my typing skills, plus I was interviewed by a lovely, compassionate lady, who may have noted my earnestness (I really needed to make more money). My shift was from 3:00 to 10:00 p.m., which eliminated the need for paid child care, although my live-in caretaker wasn't necessarily vigilant. I loved that job. It was right up my alley. I worked on the medical floor, transcribing doctors' orders, getting the necessary forms ready for each patient, scheduling surgeries for the next day, preparing menu orders, assigning rooms to new admissions. I was often called upon to help lift or reposition patients due to staff shortages. I found the entire medical world fascinating. Plus, I even managed to sock a little money away every two weeks in my hospital credit union account to save up for a yearly vacation. 

Occasionally, my mom invited me to see a movie with her, which was odd because she and I weren't the best of friends. I guess my older sister must have been busy. We saw Coal Miner's Daughter together that year, and in 1977 Saturday Night Fever, which made me slink down in my seat when I got to witness the "sex in a car" scene with my mom. In 1980 (again for unknown reasons) my dad and I saw Ordinary People together. The film was great, but afterward I had to listen to Dad enumerating the many ways the film's cold mother reminded him of Mom. All in all, my movie outings with my parents were uncomfortable. But Mom and I also caught Urban Cowboy, which began with an uptempo Charlie Daniels song accompanying the scene of a black pickup barreling down a dusty country road.  The film was mediocre at best, and the music mostly ehh. But, oh, what a fad that movie wrought.

I'm curious as to whether any of those Urban Cowboy tracks made the top ten this week. My source is the American Country Countdown Wiki.  If you've been reading along, you know my rules:

  • I review each single as a first-time listener.
  • I must listen to the entire track before offering my critique.  
  • I stick with the Top Ten only, because this is unbelievably time-consuming.
  • I do my best to find music videos. If all else fails, I use a video of the recorded song

 

Grab that mechanical bull by the horns! Let's go!

 

#10 ~ Pecos Promenade ~ Tanya Tucker

As 1980 songs go, this is okay. I like the fiddles and the two-step beat and (of course) the singer has plenty of chops and attitude. The familiar voice of her (reputed) boyfriend can be heard singing one line ~ "needs a cowboy". This track would be a great one to dance to in a country bar, if I ever had the chance to dance in a country bar, though it doesn't match the quality of Tanya's earlier hits. People Magazine tells me she's apparently going through a period of abandon right now. I hope she gets her mojo back in the future.

B

 

#9 ~ Steppin' Out ~ Mel Tillis


I'm willing to bet that the 2022 me will have no recollection of this track, even though I apparently own the album from which it came. For some reason this song reminds me of something a future country star who I'm imagining is named George might record. It's got a nice shuffle beat and the requisite country instrumentation. I don't even have to guess whether Mel wrote it, but it's a filler song. It really says nothing new and worse, doesn't say the old in an interesting way. I'm a huge Mel Tillis fan, but it's no wonder I won't remember it.

B-


#8 ~ Hard Times ~ Lacy J. Dalton


I don't know this gal, but I'm not a fan of the tremulo. For my musical taste, this track has nothing to recommend it. It seems important to the singer to belt out those lyrics, but she slaps on a nothing tom-tom accompaniment. Apparently Bobby Braddock, who is a much better writer than this song demonstrates, penned the tune. And unfortunately, it's so unremarkable that I've already forgotten it.

D


#7 ~ Lady ~ Kenny Rogers


Oh, is this the one written by Lionel Richie? That explains a lot. Kenny has apparently been able to hustle the country music charts, I guess on the strength of his actual country hits. 

Disclaimer: I saw Kenny Rogers in concert one summer on vacation with my immediate family and my parents. We were in Duluth, Minnesota, and there are only so many times one can traverse the boardwalk and wave at the ore ships that breach the harbor. My mom learned from the local paper that Kenny was appearing at the waterfront arena, so we purchased last-minute tickets. I honestly wouldn't even remember the show except for that white suit.

I don't hate Kenny Rogers, but I can't say I'm a fan of even his country tracks. It's just that "you gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em" is so ubiquitous that's it's turned into an earworm. 

And I certainly am not a fan of this. The Commodores probably could have done it better, and at least they'd stay in their lane. I'm a country fan, so...

D

 

#6 ~ Old Habits ~ Hank Williams, Jr.


 Was this melody cribbed from Merle Haggard?

 

I fully admit my bias. I rarely like anything Hank does, and yes, I did walk out on his concert once in the 70's. That said, his uptempo songs are far better than this. It's dull and not in his wheelhouse. I don't know what else to say about this. It's a nothing.

D


#5 ~ I Believe In You ~ Don Williams


Don Williams is kind of the Perry Como of the eighties. He's impossibly laid back, which is actually a nice contrast to the more bombastic tracks spun by local DJ's. And Don picked a good one to record, written by Roger Cook and Sam Hogin. It definitely confers a vibe, a "snuggle under a blanket", "sip hot cocoa" ambience, and what's wrong with that? 

What the song has going for it: First, melody, Second, singer. Third, memorable chorus. Fourth, a nice warm feeling. I think this is one that will be remembered.

A


#4 ~ Could I Have This Dance ~ Anne Murray


Ahh, Urban Cowboy weighs in.

I read somewhere that Anne recorded this in a lower register because it was supposed to be a duet with Kenny Rogers. I like it as it is.

The first thing one can say about this track is that it is country. The second thing is, Anne Murray is one of the seminal voices of her generation. Thirdly, I'm a sucker for waltzes. This could and most likely will be the first wedding dance of just-married couples everywhere. The lyrics are lovely and the melody hits the sweet spot. Good songs don't have to be complicated; just honest.

A


#3 ~ I'm Not Ready Yet ~ George Jones


Like the Mel Tillis track, I'm willing to bet that I'll have zero recollection of this forty years in the future. It's got the required Jones recitation, which is kind of a lazy affectation, unless the song is Detroit City. The melody is pedestrian, the sentiment has been recounted countless times, in much better ways. Granted, unlike other die-hard country fans, I don't think George Jones is the best thing that's ever happened to country music, but I like a ton of his songs. Just not this one.

C-

 

#2 ~ On The Road Again ~ Willie Nelson


The first two or three times one hears this song, it's fine. Pedestrian, but fine. The third through the nine hundred and ninety-ninth time, it becomes grating. For a master songwriter, this must have been a throwaway written for his bandmates on the bus. A lark. Then somebody hollered out, "Hey! You should record this!" And the rest is history. I imagine that Willie will collect tons of future royalties from all the future commercials that'll use this track. Everything from cars to first-aid kits (?) to probably dog food. An amateur songwriter could pen something like this, but he'd be afraid everyone would laugh at him. Kudos, though, Willie, for your success!

C


#1 ~ Theme From The Dukes Of Hazzard (Good Ol' Boys) ~ Waylon Jennings

 




I have a four-year old this year (1980) who somehow knows when it's Friday, at which time he plops himself on his stomach in front of the TV, his chin propped on his hand, to watch his favorite show of all time, The Dukes Of Hazzard. He, of course, doesn't know whose hands on the guitar are being shown on the screen, but his mom does. He's far more interested in Luke and Bo and the General Lee, which magically flies through the air in every episode. He knows all the characters, including the one he refers to as "Roscoe Peeko Train". 

I'm assuming most adults are like me, and only tolerate the goofy show for their kids, but I do appreciate hearing Waylon Jennings on my TV once a week.

Waylon wrote the song, and it's got something that the monotonous On The Road Again doesn't. Number one, it's got Waylon Jennings, one of country's legendary singers; but it's also got changes, appealing instrumentation, and creative lyrics. It's far more interactive than simply snoring along the highway on cruise control. This one is barreling down the road, feeling every bump, offering a wave (or the finger, depending on the situation) to fellow travelers.

Sure, the lyrics don't exactly relate to the average man's or woman's circumstances, but it still makes them feel good when they hear it.

A


Much to my surprise, only one track from Urban Cowboy appears in this week's Top Ten. I'm not dumping on the movie's soundtrack. There were actually several good songs inserted into the film; not just Could I Have This Dance. "Darlin'" by Bonnie Raitt, "Look What You've Done To Me" by Boz Scaggs, Charlie Daniels' "Devil Went Down To Georgia", and even "Love The World Away" from Kenny Rogers and "Here Comes The Hurt Again", a Mickey Gilley tune. 

Unfortunately, of those, only Charlie Daniels hit the jackpot. Instead we got Johnny Lee's "Lookin' For Love" ad nauseum. And it beget an unsavory fad that eclipsed more quality country songs. 

Still, this week included three A's. I think that's a record. Sometimes we forget that certain musical times were better than our cluttered brains recall.

 





 





Monday, October 31, 2022

The Killer


I was a little young to appreciate Jerry Lee Lewis in his rock 'n roll heyday. All I knew about music was that I loved it, it filled me with inexplicable joy, and that one never knew what song would explode from my mom's kitchen radio next. I knew the names of the artists on my sister's 45's (yes, I was a prodigious reader), but they didn't seem to own any records by Jerry Lee Lewis. I don't know why, but I don't think they purchased many new records, instead assembling their odd collection from neighborhood rummage sales. Our family wasn't exactly flush with cash.

In my pre-kindergarten years the artists I heard most on Mom's radio were The Everly Brothers, Johnny Preston, Bobby Rydell, and Connie Francis. Oh, and Elvis. Not exactly cutting edge. But while my sisters' tastes in music were relatively staid, their one-year-younger brother was much more eager to listen to something wild. It must have been my brother who introduced me to The Killer. He owned the album, "The Golden Hits Of Jerry Lee Lewis that included such fiery tracks as Whole Lotta Shakin', Great Balls Of Fire, Breathless, and High School Confidential. All I'd known to date about piano music was Floyd Cramer. This wasn't that. This was something completely new and exciting.


Eventually I caught Jerry Lee on a few TV shows, like Shindig and Lloyd Thaxton. I'd never in my nine years of life seen anything like him. In 1964 my preference was the British Invasion ~ The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, Manfred Mann; but I loved seeing American artists, too ~ Roy Orbison, The Righteous Brothers...and Jerry Lee Lewis.

(Not the best video, but better than the lip-synced one)

 




(my favorite)

I'm a big proponent of "joy" in music. Listeners find musical joy in various ways ~ maybe a symphony makes them cry, maybe ambient music puts them in a Zen state. Perhaps a dramatic film score makes their muscles pulse. For me "joy" comes down to a thumping rhythm. I don't care if it's a country rhythm or a rock rhythm, but a feel-good song, for me, requires one. Who was the king of rhythm? I say it was the guy who knew how to pound it out on a keyboard.
 
But it wasn't simply that. Artists (especially now) are timid. Granted, some may just be naturally laid back, a la Alan Jackson, but too many play it safe. Jerry Lee wasn't Elvis shaking his hips or his leg in some rehearsed pseudo-choreography. JL was natural. He drank in the audience's excitement and responded with pure abandon. Yes, he kicked over his piano stool and one time allegedly set his piano on fire ~ all the better for the show. Shoot, if you paid your hard-earned money to see an artist, even if it was a dollar in 1957, you wanted to see a show. You didn't want to mumble to your date, "Okay, here comes the part where he..." You wanted to be surprised, knocked over. You wanted joy.
 
It seemed like just as soon as I got to know Jerry Lee Lewis, he was gone. I was a kid. I read gossip magazines like all good pre-teens do, but I don't remember reading anything about what happened to him. So I moved on, like a mercenary. I'd never purchased any Jerry Lee Lewis singles anyway ~ I saved up my weekly allowance to buy the latest Beatles 45.
 
Then around 1967 I became willingly indoctrinated into country music. Here I was, busily playing catch-up, figuring out which country artists were worth my time and which were corny relics. I tuned in to every country TV show available, which pitifully consisted of Hee Haw and a few syndicated programs like That Good Ole Nashville Music, and the Bill Anderson and Porter Wagoner shows. I think it was on Hee Haw where I first caught this:
 

 

"Oh, there he is! Jerry Lee Lewis!" I might have said inside my head. "He looks different, but wow! Listen!"

Let me say this about Another Place, Another Time ~ Yes, it is a superb country song. However, in different hands, it would most likely score a top ten single, but would eventually be lost to time. Performed by Jerry Lee, however? With that combustible combination of regret and bravado? Just the flick of his hand on the piano keys tells you he might be down, but he sure as hell isn't out. 

Some will argue that Jerry Lee was always a country artist at heart. I don't dispute that, but it sure took him long enough to fully embrace it. And yes, country was his way of coming back from scandal, but one thing country fans do is embrace the music. Hell, ninety per cent of country songs are about imperfection; you know, the actual human condition. And yea, you bet your life we embraced him.

He followed that hit up with this:


Note that he doesn't cast out the Jerry Lee of old, simply modifies it. He still has that rebellious spark in his eye.

 "If I'm going to Hell, I'm going there playing the piano."

 

In 1970 he released this, kind of a nod to his past style with his head planted firmly in the present:


 And don't forget this:


Once I (and I alone) got Bobby Bare inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame, my new passion became seeing Jerry Lee finally (finally!) get his due. Not to praise the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, but at least they had the good sense to induct him way back in 1986, along with Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. My fear was that the gatekeepers at the Country Hall Of Fame would deny him his due until it was too late, just as they had with Faron Young. But at last, this year, at Jerry's ripe young age of 87, the powers-that-be finally relented. Those anonymous birds at the HOF are enigmatic figures, but perhaps peer pressure at long last shamed them. And Jerry Lee got to witness the announcement while he was still on Earth.

There are few, very few, artists who can legitimately be called "original". In country, I might bestow that moniker on two, maybe three. In rock, I can count them on one hand. 

Jerry Lee Lewis was one of a kind. There never will, never could be, anyone like him. 

Rest in peace, Killer. 

And damn! 


 

Friday, October 28, 2022

Reviewing The Top Ten Country Singles From This Date In 1994



My record reviews somehow seem to zero in on certain years. I actually prefer more variety, but I'm dependent on the charts that are available. Google isn't a "magic answer machine", as my computer-illiterate husband seems to believe.

These lookback posts may seem quirky, but I still love music; just not today's music. When one reaches a certain age, they enjoy revisiting the past; probably for the same reason my dad thought Dean Martin was the shitz and my mom loved Ray Price well past his time.

Plus, our memories are selective. If someone was to spit out 1994 to me, I'd say, well, yes, that was a great year for music. But was it? Revisiting the past informs today. For example, it's an accepted fact that today's country reeks, but does it reek more than yesteryear? That's what I'm here to find out.

Where was I in 1994? Well, I hadn't yet turned forty and I'd just begun to find my niche in the corporate world. I'd barely landed a job at a health insurance company (because someone else dropped out) and had risen in the ranks to a supervisory position, when my obsequious boss called me into his office and presented me with a proposition ~ lead a new, experimental division that consisted of data entry, a mindless pursuit that struck me as a blow to my intelligence. He wanted me to abandon all the knowledge I'd gained and teach people how to fill in little computer boxes? Granted, he and I weren't best friends, but I didn't deserve to be punished this way.

"Can I think about it overnight?" I asked.

"Sure. Come back tomorrow and tell me you accept," he said.

Faced with no choice (I surmised), I came back the next day and accepted. And that supercilious asshole actually opened up a whole new world for me. I learned how to interview prospective employees, how to train them, how to troubleshoot a wobbly system, how to talk back to a vociferous VP a thousand miles away. I learned that I liked this "being in charge" schtick. And I was good at it. My (now) former boss would stop by from time to time just to shoot the breeze. I'd gone from peon to princess in the course of a few short months. In time my unit expanded into a second shift and I had to choose supervisors and assistant supervisors. I was never awarded with the title of "manager", but I was a de facto one. I earned a manager's salary and even landed a corner office.

My oldest son was about to graduate from high school and my youngest was only two years behind. They were self-sufficient enough to allow me to indulge in this new world. I spent hours at work and too many hours at home planning for the next day. And I never once felt stressed. 

Music was my primary release and the country world obliged. The bulk of my employees loved country, too, so we could always chat about the latest hits on my walkabouts. 

All this would eventually end explosively, but in 1994 I didn't know that.

So, this review has resonance for me and I'm looking forward to finding out if this is my version of dad's Dean Martin or if I've completely hallucinated the year's musical events.

 

I've repeated this ad nauseum, but if you're a new reader, these are my rules:

  • I review each single as a first-time listener.
  • I must listen to the entire track before offering my critique.  
  • I stick with the Top Ten only.
  • I do my best to find music videos. If all else fails, I use a video of the recorded song.

Let's go!

 

#10 ~ Man Of My Word ~ Collin Raye 


To be honest, I've only ever liked two releases by Collin Raye, but one of those was so good I think I elevated this singer in my mind. This track is so formulaic that only the singer saves it. I guess I see now why there is no official video. This is completely forgettable, even though ballads are Raye's strength.

The song has a nice sentiment, but the track has nothing to distinguish it. It's a poor man's Love, Me, which also wasn't too great.

The 2022 me would hear this as a completely new single because I would have zero recollection of it.

C

 

#9 ~ Shut Up And Kiss Me ~ Mary Chapin Carpenter


This singer started off with a bang in '89, with original, emotional releases. Her first album was delirious. Even 1991's Down At The Twist And Shout stirred a sense of abandon.
Then at some point fame seemed to jade her. This track may have been her swan song, at least at the top of the charts. I get it. It's a craggy mountain to topple from. Only the best can top themselves. Mary CC didn't do it here. It may be that it suffers by comparison to her meatier songs and even her "fun" songs, like Down At The Twist And Shout and The Bug. She still has the discordant piano kicking it off, and her songwriting chops are intact, but the song itself is a feather.

I can't put my finger on why this one doesn't work. My go-to theory is that a song needs a memorable chorus, and this track doesn't even have a chorus, just a repetition of the title. That may account for my shrug. Three decades in the future when I think about Chapin Carpenter songs, this one won't even cross my mind.

C+

 

#8 ~ The City Put The Country Back In Me ~ Neal McCoy

 


I'm trying hard to remember which song put Neal McCoy on country's radar, but in the early 90's he was always there. I'm going to venture that the song was The Shake, but only because he called out my hometown in the lyrics. 1994 me is going to guess that McCoy is but a flash in the pan. He fills a certain niche, a pre-Achy Breaky Heart vibe.

As for the track itself, points for the crunchy Telecaster at the beginning, which will draw couples to the dance floor. I would have done verse-chorus, rather than verse-verse chorus, for better flow; since the narrative itself isn't all that interesting. The back story could have easily been condensed into one verse. Really, what gives this song any energy at all is the chorus ~ emphasize that. I get it; this is a barroom song, and there's nothing wrong with that. Everything in music doesn't have to be super-serious.

B-

 

#7 ~ I Try To Think About Elvis ~ Patty Loveless

If a singer is going to stray from weighty songs, this is the way to do it. (Lookin' at you, Mary Chapin Carpenter.) Patty Loveless is one of country's unsung royalty, who doesn't get the plaudits she deserves. And while I love (love!) Don't Toss Us Away, I'm also a big fan of her sassier singles, like A Little Bit In Love and Timber, I'm Falling In Love. This single is cheeky and rather goofy. It's nothing but pure enjoyment

A

 

#6 ~ Callin' Baton Rouge ~ Garth Brooks


 


Most people don't realize this track is a remake. That's okay. I barely remember the original, but I do remember it ~ recorded by New Grass Revival. On the other hand, I have no recollection of the Oak Ridge Boys having recorded it, even though it was included on an album I bought, Room Service. (I sampled both versions on Spotify and can report that Garth's version is a near-replica of the original and the Oak's version is pale and pallid. No wonder I don't remember it.)

This is one of those songs that just grabs you. If you're driving when it blasts out of your radio speakers, you can't help but stomp your foot down on the accelerator. It's best consumed on a moonlit night on a rural highway. 

I would like more Garth Brooks tracks if he recorded better songs. I've got nothing against him as a singer. Sure, he's not the best country singer of all time, but he's certainly not the worst. 

This one, though. Genius choice.

A

 

#5 ~ Third Rate Romance ~ Sammy Kershaw


While Nashville songwriters are starving, everybody's busy recording remakes. Of course, this song was made famous by the Amazing Rhythm Aces. 

Sammy Kershaw just keeps hanging in there, but has never once managed to record a song I like. As a singer, he's a solid C-. Maybe that's why I've never given him a second thought.

This song has that Jamaican rhythm I like, but the original wins, especially since Kershaw's version is a note-by-note replication.

I give the original a B, but Kershaw's version a...

C-

 

#4 ~  Watermelon Crawl ~ Tracy Byrd


As ambivalent as I am toward Sammy Kershaw, I absolutely detest Tracy Byrd. I can't explain it, but he strikes a repellent chord in me much like Conway Twitty does. Maybe it's his face...or his voice. Or a fusion of both. 

And what exactly is a watermelon crawl? I don't know and I don't give a damn.

The song itself? Putrid. Were the songwriters drunk when they penned it? A memorable song needs to be universal. The fact that 99.9% of country fans have no idea what this is even about is the kiss of death. 

F

 

#3 ~ She's Not The Cheatin' Kind ~ Brooks And Dunn


Ronnie Dunn wrote this. He also wrote Neon Moon, Boot Scootin' Boogie, My Next Broken Heart, and (my sentimental favorite) Red Dirt Road. 

Ronnie Dunn is a helluva songwriter. This one is essentially a throwaway. Hey, you write a lot of songs, you're gonna have a couple of clinkers.

I see where he's going with it. The long drawn-out "sheees", but the beginning doesn't lead to anything but mush.

This track is simply not one to list on Ronnie's CV. I doubt I'll even remember it in, say, 2022.

C-

 

#2 ~ When You Walk In The Room ~ Pam Tillis


Oh, look songwriters ~ another remake!

This song was, of course, written by Jackie DeShannon (what the world needs now...) That said, it's almost the perfect pop song. Can one blame Pam for recording it?

I can't critique the song itself. That's not why I'm here. But let me say, this is the quintessential sixties pop composition, and I'm partial to those.

Pam Tillis, while not possessing the strongest voice in country, knows how to accentuate her talents. Any girl of a certain age would find herself dancing The Jerk to this.

A-

 

#1 ~ Livin' On Love ~ Alan Jackson


Alan Jackson has never received the respect he deserves as a songwriter. He gets it. He knows how to write a country song. Short, pithy verse, sock-you-in-your-gut chorus. I think if I was to choose one single co-writer, it would be him. Of course, he'd get all the credit, but I could insert a couple of words somewhere.

If one is looking for the essence of country songwriting, you can stop here.

A+

 

So, what do I know about October, 1994? Well, a lot of artists, sans Alan Jackson, thought old hits were their ticket. Some succeeded; most faltered. I'm not averse to remembering the past ~ the past was sometimes great ~ but you just can't beat a timeless talent.

Good on you, Alan Jackson.




 

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Concert Ticket Prices

 

I paid $4.00 to see Merle Haggard, plus opening acts, in 1968. In 1996 my ticket to see George Strait cost $25.00. Four dollars was doable for a thirteen-year-old, and twenty-five dollars was a bargain for forty-ish me.

In 2001 I saw Dwight Yoakam for $43.00 and Gordon Lightfoot in 2007 for $10.00.

Today I read that George Strait tickets for his upcoming mini-tour average around $492.00 for floor seats and about $337.00 for upper deck (binoculars not included).

I love George Strait, but come on! A couple paying $800.00 - $1,000.00 for a concert? In this economy? Not to mention parking (and forget concessions, I guess).

Can you imagine a first date negotiation? 

"Where should we go?"

"Well, I'm a huge fan of King George!"

"Uh, how about a second-run showing of Top Gun at Half-Price Movie Palace? By the way, George doesn't even play that guitar he's holding." 

One has to wonder about the motivations of super stars. Mick Jagger is 79 and he's still touring. Paul McCartney is 80. Google tells me that George Strait's net worth is 300 million dollars. Three hundred million. How much gold does one person need? Let these guys' kids make their own way in life! Unless these artists are planning to be entombed inside a sarcophagus molded out of greenbacks.

George is not coming to my town, so all the corporate CEO's will have to private-jet over to Las Vegas or Tampa to see him. A painful sacrifice, I know. 

I guess one should feel fortunate that Strait is touring at all. If I lived close to a concert venue, I could maybe press my ear up against the stadium wall and at least get an echo of the bass. 

These stars don't owe me a thing ~ except a thank you for helping them become stars in the first place. I bought every CD, I traveled to far-flung locales, rented hotel rooms, bought gas for my car, to support them in their quests to become multi-zillionaires. Yes, the George Strait concert was a highlight of my musical life, but I also had a family to feed. My kids couldn't survive on concert memories. 

I quit attending concerts ten or so years ago. My closest city is dangerous and the drive is nerve-wracking, with high and drunk motorists weaving haphazardly across freeway lanes. And the hype never matches the reality. Add to that the outlay of my entire monthly check? Thanks. It was nice knowin' you.

If these guys truly love making music, maybe they need to re-find the love. Book themselves into smallish towns like they used to. Charge Garth Brooks prices. 

Like I said, I love George Strait.

But I can't get on board with this.

There's a difference 'tween livin' and livin' well.








 

Monday, October 24, 2022

Reviewing The Top 10 Country Singles From This Week In 1973

 

Why 1973? Why not? 

I enjoy reviewing country music's changes across the decades, and frankly my resource only lists a finite selection of October country music charts. Plus, 1973 was a seminal year for me. That was the year I graduated from high school, which makes me approximately 132 years old. 

What was I doing in '73? Well, by October I was ensconced in my first "real" job (defined as a job that didn't involve my parents as employers). My years-long best friend and I had drifted apart, since I had a serious boyfriend and she had a bar band. At my job, though, I made a new friend who shared her name with my now-distant compadre. Thenceforth, I only made friends with girls named Alice (not really). 

I was still living at home, mooching off my parents. I suggested to my mom that month that I would move in with New Alice, but Mom threw a fit and decreed that I most certainly would not be moving out. I didn't argue, because nobody argued with Mom. I guess I saved money by living at home, though I never seemed to have any money because I got paid a pittance. 

I was a Clerk Typist II (the "II" being absurdly important because it conferred a lofty status that a measly "I" could only hope to attain). I worked the front desk of the Division Of Vital Statistics for the State Health Department, on the seventeenth floor (the top floor of the Capital Building if one didn't count the mechanical room on Floor Eighteen) and waited on the occasional visitor who needed a certified copy of a birth or death certificate. I'd dutifully type up the document, then toddle over to my scary director, Elna Kavonius, to scribble her signature and clamp her official stamp atop it. The remainder of my day was spent filing documents ~ climbing up on a rolling step stool and yanking heavy folders out of their slumbering cocoons. It wasn't the worst job in the world; it was undemanding. It sure beat cleaning motel rooms. And anyway, I wasn't demanding much. 

Friday and Saturday nights were date nights, but the rest of the week wasn't all that different from when I was a school girl. My parents never made me pay rent because they didn't need the money, and I barely ate anything, so I wasn't a drain on my mom's grocery tab. I essentially had my own "apartment" at home, having claimed Motel Room #1 years before, when I became too damn old to share the second bedroom with my little brother and sister (for God's sake). My older brother cut a hole in the wall leading from our industrial garage and installed a door leading to my new room, but I found a chain lock among the junk littering the garage and screwed it in myself to keep out unwanted visitors (which included my entire family.) Eventually Mom moved my little sister into my room, so we squeezed another bed inside, but my sister was a gadfly and seldom home anyway, and surprisingly my new roommate became welcome company. I still had a mostly private bathroom and a little black and white TV beside my bed and a long cubby to house my polyester dresses. Thinking back, it was probably the richest I'd ever been and I failed to appreciate it.

I still bought the occasional '45, but I'd mostly graduated to LP's. Most every track that appeared on the charts was contained within an album I'd already bought. Scanning the Top 40 chart from October 20 of that year, I don't recall purchasing any of them as singles. To be frank, there were few worth laying down ninety-nine cents for.

Regardless, I am primed to review the Top Ten. As usual, my rules are thus:

  • I review the single as a first-time listener.
  • I must listen to the entire track before offering my critique.  
  • I stick with the Top Ten only.
  • I do my best to find music videos. If all else fails, I use a video of the recorded song. (Since this is 1973, performance videos may be difficult to find.)

Let's look back! 

#10 ~ Don't Give Up On Me ~ Jerry Wallace


Immediately I'm reminded of Mickey Gilley, sans piano. This track is but one of the treacly country-pop singles emanating from Nashville around this time. It's not horrible; just not memorable. Wallace had a single that went to Number One last year (1972) ~ If You Leave Me Tonight I'll Cry ~ that my parents loved, and I will admit it outshines this one, but neither are exactly to my taste. Perusing Jerry Wallace's discography, it seems that he makes a good living recording songs that sound like 50's pop hits (a la Perry Como), but aren't actual remakes, but rather "sound-alikes", with only enough country touches to endear him to the charts. I don't want to be cruel, yet I really don't consider this country, so...
 
C


#9 ~ Sunday Sunrise ~ Brenda Lee


If this track is even remembered, it will be as an homage to early seventies cookie-cutter country pop. I get it; an artist needs to stay relevant, but Brenda Lee is so much better than this. Utterly forgettable.

D

 

#8 ~ The Midnight Oil ~ Barbara Mandrell


One thing I've always admired about Barbara Mandrell is her hair. And her petite frame. Oh, and her voice. I don't know where her career will take her, but I like the hard country tilt of her singles. Maybe she's not the preeminent country singer of her era, but her producer certainly knows what works. And there is maybe only one other female singer filling the vacuum in 1973. I like this; I like her. 

A-

 

#7 ~ Blood Red And Goin' Down ~ Tanya Tucker


For someone three years younger than me, I hate her....for being so damn good. I hated her when I first heard Delta Dawn on the radio and found out she was only thirteen. Well...just wait until she's sixty-four...then we'll see. 

Back to the song, however. This is so unlike the other songs in the Top Ten that I'd rate it as stellar, just for that fact alone. But this track is about the stars aligning ~ writer Curly Putman (Green, Green Grass Of Home, He Stopped Loving Her Today), producer Billy Sherrill, and naturally that Texas Tanya twang. Tanya is hard-core country, and just my cup of...beer.

A

 

#6 ~ Can I Sleep In Your Arms ~ Jeannie Seely


As a natural talent, Jeannie Seely is vastly underrated. She has just the right amount of cry in her voice to fit right into the sweet spot of country. I don't know if her producer just isn't a good song-picker (although Owen Bradley is no slouch) or exactly what derailed this promising career, but as a songwriter and singer, I think she's top-notch. 

That said, clearly this is Red River Valley, but I guess if you find a melody that works, why deviate? I hate to be a purist, but this track gets knocked down a notch simply for its unoriginality. 

C+ 

 

#5 ~ Rednecks, White Socks, And Blue Ribbon Beer ~ Johnny Russell

I know a person who's really taken with this track...freakishly taken with it...but musical taste is personal. I'm more interested in seeing the writer of Act Naturally in the flesh. As a simple country song, one can't argue with this, and I do appreciate Russell's nod to the working man. It's difficult to rate "meh" songs. I can't picture myself ever deliberately listening to it, but still it's fine for what it is.

 

#4 ~ Ridin' My Thumb To Mexico ~ Johnny Rodriguez



This singer's on my list of "new guys to watch in '73". Heaven knows, country has been in a drought. I am a booster of Rodriguez, ever since he released Pass Me By earlier this year. Shoot, I rushed out and bought his debut album. This one was written by Johnny himself, unlike his debut single, penned by his mentor, Tom T. Hall. This guy has something special. If he doesn't squander it, he can have a career in country for years to come. Nice, excellent track.

 

#3 ~ You've Never Been This Far Before ~ Conway Twitty

Well, what the hell is this? Buh-buh buh? Is it just me, or is Conway Twitty just...icky? I feel myself shivering (and not in a good way) as I write this. I wish I knew what this guy's deal is. He needs some beta blockers or something else created in a future lab to decrease his libido. At the very least, he needs to stop foisting it on innocent radio listeners. As a recording, this doesn't have a terrible melody. Twitty probably could've come up with better subject matter if he wasn't such a horn dog. And let's face it, he's no Chad Everett.

Simply for the shudder alone...

D-

 

#2 ~ Kid Stuff ~ Barbara Fairchild
 


My initial thought is, what's with the hand claps? Were they just thrown in as an afterthought? I have not been a fan of Fairchild since that horrendous hit from 1972, "The Teddy Bear Song". Please, artists, have mercy on fans who aren't a hundred and seven years old. My mom probably liked How Much Is That Doggie In The Window, but we're more sophisticated in the seventies. I believe that if Fairchild embraced her country roots, she could have a substantial career. She's a fine singer, just out of her realm. 

C-

 

#1 ~ You're The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me ~ Ray Price


As a life-long Ray Price super-fan, I can't tell you how much I hate this track. Oh, the singing is fine. But if this is country, so is Tony Bennett. Guys who abandon their roots lose a modicum of respect with me. Truth be told, I kind of gave up on Ray Price around 1965, when his Texas drawl disappeared and he embraced the singing book, Bel Canto. I can only hope that a few years into the future, Ray will reclaim his first love; maybe move back to Texas and remember the guy he used to be. As for this Tonight Show affect, consider me gone.

D

 

As an eighteen-year-old, if I was to guess based on this chart alone, I would put my money on Tanya Tucker and Johnny Rodriguez withstanding the vagaries of the recording world. Perhaps Barbara Mandrell. But life is funny. Who knows what events, twists in the road, might intrude. Patsy Cline was inducted into the Hall Of Fame this year. Could Tanya Tucker someday be likewise honored? Stay tuned.

Conway? Maybe if there's an Oily Pervert Hall Of Fame.