Saturday, May 2, 2020
I long had a love-hate relationship with Alabama. My hometown was relatively small and while we were initially visited by country stars (who traveled everywhere), by the nineteen seventies our concert options were paltry. We had a brand new venue and nothing to see there. Residents of big cities in the nineteen seventies wouldn't understand why someone would venture out to see Barry Manilow or Jay Leno. I saw them both. I saw lots of acts I wouldn't ordinarily choose because they were my only options for live entertainment.
But God bless Alabama. Alabama showed up a couple times a year. They must be more traveled than even Bob Dylan. That might be why I dismissed them -- they were so prevalent. It became a joke -- "Are you going to see Alabama...again?"
I never saw Alabama up close. I was always high up in the bleachers and I didn't fuss with binoculars. The band consisted of tiny claymation figures with big amps. But the Civic Center was packed to capacity.
Alabama was a new strain of country -- not really country; not rock. I really liked some of their tracks and I really hated others.I was still buying singles and "The Closer You Get" was one I plucked from the Woolworth bin:
Play me....I liked this one, too. although this video edit would not be my choice :
Like all of us, Alabama matured. Once their initial flame began to flicker, they produced their best work: They'd become arrogant after winning all those CMA awards, and pretty much unbearable.It's not that they hadn't worked awfully hard for their success, but nobody likes a braggart.
There are some artists who stick around so long, one takes them for granted. Most stars burn out relatively quickly. Even those you think had a years' long string of stardom in actuality simply had several mega-hits clustered together. And frankly, few artists are able to maintain a label contract for more than a few years, especially now. In the so-called modern era of country music, those enduring artists include Alan Jackson, Merle Haggard, George Strait, and surprise! Alabama. While Merle kept recording hits into the eighties, after a time one did not jump with excitement at a new Haggard release. The same can be said for Jackson. George Strait remained the exception well into the 2000's.
Then there was Alabama. I don't recall ever buying an Alabama album, and after the seventies I no longer spent money on singles. In the eighties and even the nineties, radio was the means by which most people caught new songs. I heard Alabama on my car radio throughout those decades and their songs barely registered beyond background music. It really wasn't until I was able to revisit some of their tracks via SiriusXM that I realized some of them were quite good.
Admittedly, I like this one because it has a classic country vibe, but there's nothing wrong with that:
I can't find a performance video of this song that I like, so look at the pretty pictures instead. This might be my favorite Alabama track:
The cool thing about the next track, to me, is the subtle background vocals that add a touch of spice to the recording:
For many years the band personified the southern rock aura; the Lynyrd Skynyrd, Hank Williams, Jr. mien. Many people worship that. I'm not one of those people. That may have been why I casually tossed off their live performances. I wouldn't mind seeing the more mature Alabama, though.
I chuckled when in my research I learned that Alabama performed their final show in October, 2004 in Bismarck, North Dakota. That's about thirty years after I first saw them live -- in Bismarck, North Dakota. I wonder how many class of '73 country-hating gray hairs were in the audience that night. Maybe they went because there weren't any other entertainment options in town.
Or maybe they went to show appreciation for a thirty-plus year career.
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