Showing posts with label hal ketchum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hal ketchum. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Reviewing The Top Ten Country Hits From This Week In 1992


I maintain that music of a certain era was never as great as we like to remember it, nor was it as bad as we sometimes claim. Exceptional tracks were (are?) released every single year, and real dogs also inexplicably become hits. The truth is, though, the vast majority of single releases are mediocre; forgettable. How could it be otherwise? The sheer number of releases guarantees that most will rate a C at best. It's the law of averages ~ and perhaps the dearth of skilled writers and/or artists and producers who are really, really bad at picking songs.

I don't know anything about today's country hits except that every one I've sampled (with one or two exceptions) is really, really bad. They're bad because of bad writing, questionable production, the fact that they're not actually country, and the artists themselves are dull.

But were yesteryear's hits that much better? That's what we're about to find out.

To review the top ten, I transport myself back to that particular year and review each single as a first-time listener. I listen to the entire track before critiquing. 

Additional notes:

  • I stick with the Top Ten only, because this is exercise is more time-consuming than one might imagine.
  • I do my best to find music videos. If all else fails, I use a video of the recorded song.

My source 

Okay, here we gooooooooo...... 

#10 ~ Neon Moon ~ Brooks and Dunn


The only performance video available on YouTube is a rendition that doesn't capture the magic of this song. Immediately, I am struck by the ringing steel guitar, which signals "here's a country song". Then the vocalist steps in. The mark of a true country singer is that catch in the voice. This guy, Ronnie, has it. As the song moves along, it only gets better. A true classic song paints a picture. I'm seeing this guy sitting in a dim-lit corner nursing a beer as happy couples two-step across the dance floor. His lament is pure heartbreak. He might even be wiping away a tear for the girl he lost. The singer, Dunn, knows how to build drama. The way his voice rises at the start of the final chorus signals his anguish. This one sounds like a timeless classic.



#9 ~  Papa Loved Mama ~ Garth Brooks

Hmmm. Well, this isn't exactly relatable, but good to know that mama loved men, I guess. Points awarded for the high energy. This will probably go over big in concert. The musicians are phenomenal. This is one of those songs that crams as many words into a line as humanly possible ~ kind of a sore spot with me ~ but it works here because it's simply a performance song. I definitely wouldn't buy it and would probably get sick of hearing it after about three plays. But one must give the artist props for selling it and selling it hard. 



#8 ~ Is There Life Out There ~ Reba McEntire

It's difficult to absorb the song with all the clatter going on in this video. It's like a mini-series. (Oh, that's Huey Lewis!) I think the song is an excuse to put on a little play, which honestly detracts from my ability to review it. Plus it's another one of those (yawn) female empowerment songs. As a listener, I don't like being played, so I'm just going to dismiss this one.



#7 ~ Past The Point Of Rescue ~ Hal Ketchum

This track grabs the listener's attention immediately. I like the use of minor chords, which is unusual in country music. And I like the high violin scrape that signals the start of the song. Good use of the Telecaster as well. Clearly this is a songwriter who isn't afraid to stray from the trodden path. He's a journeyman in the way he tells a story and the way he wraps it neatly inside a moody melody. I like it.



#6 ~ Today's Lonely Fool ~ Tracy Lawrence

Lawrence is a singer who folds neatly into stone country, not so much into overly-produced tracks like this (and I hate recitations). This single is utterly forgettable, and the storyline is trite. Points for the singer, although he's seriously miscast in this song. I hope he didn't write it, and I hope his producer talked him into (reluctantly) recording it.


#5 ~ Some Kind Of Trouble ~ Tanya Tucker


I'm a big fan of Tanya Tucker and I like her sassy songs. This track, however, isn't pleasing to the ear, perhaps because the melody is too one-note. If the songwriter had worked on this one a bit more, he or she might have come up with a better representation of the lyrics, such as they are. I would not buy this; I could hardly bear to listen to it once.



#4 ~ She Is His Only Need ~ Wynonna Judd


The chorus saves this, although the track is pretty forgettable and barely country. I guess Wynonna is trying to branch out from her Judds legacy, and she's certainly fallen far from that tree. In listening to this, I keep asking myself what the point of it is. 



#3 ~ The Tips Of My Fingers ~ Steve Wariner

Wariner does a good job on this, although I'm not sure what the point is of redoing a classic country hit. Maybe he just really really likes the song. Props for being a good singer, though. Other than that, this offers nothing new.



#2 ~ Take Your Memory With You ~ Vince Gill

I like this. It's true classic country, and so unlike the ballads Gill is famous for. It's kind of in the vein of an old Ray Price song. That said, it doesn't offer anything new, and was basically written by rote. What amateur songwriter hasn't written a song like this? (I have.) For nostalgia's sake and for the fact that Vince Gill is a really good singer:



#1 ~ There Ain't Nothin' Wrong With The Radio ~ Aaron Tippin

Aaron Tippin is an acquired taste, and this track is another of those paint-by-number songs. But it went to number one, so what do I know? There's a market for banal ditties performed with attitude. I don't hate this as much as I despise other songs reviewed here, but nor do I like it ~ at all.



All in all, not a good week in country music, but there's one A+ and there's nowhere higher to go, unless you want to topple off a mountain.

And Hal Ketchum is damn good, too. I've got my eye on that artist.






Sunday, December 6, 2020

Hal Ketchum

The 1990's was a sublime decade in country music. Aside from the sixties, which few people, alas, remember, the late eighties to mid-nineties were the most consequential years in country's history. It took a great talent, or at least a sit-up-and-take-notice track to cut through the deluge of astounding, now-classic singles that hit the radio waves. One could flip on their car radio and invariably hear a good, nay, damn good song. 

While the music was great, for the most part the lyrics weren't exactly poetic (not that poetic lyrics are a prerequisite -- I love music because it's music.) I do, however, admire a songwriter who can actually say something in very few words. It's not easy. A song obviously has limited it has to rhyme! Writing a song is a skill that can be learned, but writing one that isn't a cliche requires natural talent.

I grew up in a small town, where as teenagers our entertainment options were limited. We didn't necessarily care, because we didn't know any better. Yes, Friday nights were spent "dragging Main", as we called it. Main Street was miles long, so we traveled up and back, up and back; met other travelers in the Big Boy parking lot at the edge of town; sometimes hopped into their car (or more likely, their pickup) and traversed the trail a few more times; drank a few Old Milwaukees that the one guy who was twenty-one had earlier picked up at the liquor store; made out, maybe made a date for the following weekend; eventually climbed back into our own car and made a couple more passes down Main before heading home.

So, for a guy who grew up in Greenwich, New York to write a song that captured our lives and our sensibilities was a revelation:

There's an Elvis movie on the marquee sign
We've all seen at least three times
Everybody's broke, Bobby's got a buck
Put a dollar's worth of gas in his pickup truck
We're going ninety miles an hour down a dead-end road
What's the hurry, son... where you gonna go?
We're gonna howl at the moon, shoot out the light
It's a small town Saturday night
It's a small town Saturday night


(And yes, we did stop along the way and put a dollar's worth of gas in the car.)

If one was cynical, they might view the song as ridiculing a certain way of life, but I don't think that was Hal's intent. To me, the song is a mini-screenplay; a slice of life, one that fewer and fewer people can now relate to; and apparently Bobby was precociously aware:

Bobby told Lucy, the world ain't round
Drops off sharp at the edge of town
Lucy, you know the world must be flat
'Cause when people leave town, they never come back


Hal Ketchum's career spanned the nineties, racking up five top-ten singles (Small Town Saturday Night peaked at number two). Here is another nice track that reached number two on the charts:

Another #2 hit apparently has no official video (record companies don't believe in "over-investing" in artists):

In country's heyday I purchased two or three CD's a week, and I bought the "Past The Point Of Rescue" album. In hindsight I bought a lot of "one-album wonder CD's", and that's not a knock on Hal or on any of the other artists of that time. And Hal had other albums besides this one; it's just that the artist choices throughout the decade were overwhelming, and my criteria was, the album had to at least contain one song I was familiar with. Hal's biggest hits were pretty much bunched onto that first CD.

I will posit, however, that if you write one great song in your life, you have accomplished more than what 99.9 per cent of other so-called songwriters have. 

And you gotta be a poet to do that.

Hal Ketchum passed away on November 23. He was only sixty-seven years old.


Friday, April 19, 2019

Solitary Music

My musical tastes are, to an extent, eclectic. I appreciate genres that would have many of my generation shaking their heads (and wagging their finger at me, no doubt). From my perspective, a person who only likes, say, classic rock, is inflexible and missing out on some of life's musical joys. How many times can you listen to "Walk This Way"? Even if you happen to like it?

I've also come to like things I used to hate. When I was a kid, I thought Sinatra was putrid. Really putrid. Actually, however, he's not bad!

I always loved big band music. Give me a Glenn Miller tune any day.

I like roots rock 'n roll (a lot). And don't even get me started on '80's MTV-era tunes!

I grew up during arguably the best era for music ~ the sixties. Those hundreds (or thousands) of tracks will always claim a ventricle of my heart.

But, all in all, I'm a country girl. Country has always been the ugly stepchild in the eyes of the masses. I grew quite used to that when I was a teenager in love with country music. I actually hid the fact that I loved country ~ I was uncool enough already; I didn't need any extra help in that arena. Outside my immediate family, it wasn't until the nineties that I found simpatico people ~ suddenly I was surrounded by folks who only liked country music. Maybe it was a measure of the musical times. Country was pretty good back then. Every single person I worked with (save two or three), and I worked with a lot of people, listened to country exclusively. It was nice to have people to talk to about songs and friends who frequented concert venues with me. Granted, they didn't know country music history, but how many people did? My high school best friend (who'd reintroduced me to country) had moved on with her life, and we no longer spoke. That's why I rather consider country solitary music. I don't have anyone to which I can say, "Ooh, remember that one?" Because nobody would.

I was thinking about that as I read the autobiography of a former pop star who began a second musical career in Nashville. I'm skeptical that this guy would have recognized George Strait's name in the eighties, much less someone like Tracy Lawrence or Clay Walker or Mark Chesnutt (I bet he knew Kenny Rogers, though ~ which proves my point). I'm not calling this person an interloper...just naive. I sort of like that he suddenly realized country music is good, and he's definitely not someone who claims a verse in this song:

I also thought about how singular and solitary country music is when I read that Earl Thomas Conley had passed away. I don't understand why there isn't a music video, or at least a performance video of this song ~ it's one of my all-time favorites. Is it just me? I can't believe that. In the mid-to-late eighties this was the ultimate slow-dance song in honky tonks:

Throughout his career, Earl Thomas Conley charted more than thirty songs. How many artists can claim that? And yet, few people even know who he was. I miss my friends from the nineties ~ at least they'd know who I was talking about. 

Too, I was sad to learn that Hal Ketchum has retired from performing because he's been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. When buying CD's was a thing, I bought "Past The Point of Rescue", which featured this song that people wouldn't know was rather cynical unless they listened closely:

How many people recognize Hal Ketchum's name? Alzheimer's hits too damn close to home for me ~ Hal doesn't even know that he was once a country star. But I (we?) know. 

It scares me that we're going to lose more people and hardly anyone will notice.

That's kind of why I do this blog ~ so someone, at least, remembers. And acknowledges. 

Even if no one but me cares, these are artists who touched me.That counts for something in my musical world.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Small Town Life

If you come from a small town, that doesn't automatically make you a rube. It's not Mayberry RFD, after all.

I always sort of resent the way people make fun of people from a small town. It's as if "population equals intelligence".

Well, I came from a town of about 50,000 residents, and moved to an area of about a couple of million, and I'll attest to the fact that the intelligence level has only diminished as the population has soared.

Yea, maybe we didn't have a lot of stuff to do in our small town, but what do you do? Do you go out to dinner once in awhile? Well, hey! We could do that, too! Do you go to concerts? Or is it just too much hassle to maneuver through the traffic, pay for parking, fight the traffic on the way home; so much so that you figure it's just not really worth it?

Well, I lived about 6 blocks from our concert venue. I could walk there, if I wanted to. If I chose to drive, the parking was free. There wasn't a lot of entertainment options, so I saw a lot of acts that I wouldn't normally have seen. I can count on one hand the number of concerts I've been to, here in the "metro".

Do you go out to happy hour with your co-workers? Or is it just too far to drive? I drove 3 blocks to get to Paradiso. We all met up there. We had free appetizers, a bunch of laughs, and a short drive home.

How long does it take you to get to work? Do you take the freeway? It took me 10 minutes, maybe 15, if we'd had a snowstorm.

What did you do for fun as a teenager? Did you go to parties? Guess what; we had parties, too!

How's the job market? In my town, even someone like me (a rube with no education) managed to work my way up. I started out as a motel maid. I ended up being a manager of a department with 150 employees.

They were willing to give people a chance, because the talent pool was smaller. The experience and knowledge I gained in that small town enabled me to get a job here in the "big city", albeit for less pay.

How often do you visit friends? Do you choose your friends based on the suburb in which they live? Well, we all lived within 15 miles of one another, so we could intermingle at will. Going to someone's wedding dance didn't require making umpteen arrangements. We just went. It was basically 5 to 10 minutes to get home, after all.

When you're out and about, do you ever run into anyone you know? I could go to Kirkwood Mall at any time of the day or night, and always run into a familiar face.

Where do you shop? Target? Home Depot? Wal-Mart? Guess what! We had those, too!

Do you ever go out for a late-night breakfast, after your night on the town? How much does it cost you? Where do you go? Denny's? Perkins? We had a place called the Drumstick Cafe. It was off the beaten path. You got home-made meals there. I think the pancakes were something like 89 cents. Two people could stuff themselves for less than $5.00. Their hot turkey sandwiches, with mashed potatoes, were real turkey! You know, not that pre-fab sliced stuff, but actual turkey carved from an actual bird.

Do you worry about crime? I could walk around in the dead of night and never have to worry about my personal safety. We had a little neighborhood bar that was about 3 blocks from my house. It had a juke box and sometimes some karaoke stuff going on. We'd sit there and make fun of people, and have a few drinks, then walk home. I didn't worry about the number of drinks I'd had - I wasn't driving.

The Dakota Lounge had live acts. I saw some great bands there. One of them went on to get a major label recording contract. But I knew them first. The Dakota Lounge was a half-mile from my house.

And you know what? Everybody who lives in a small town isn't itching to get out. Get out to what?

Don't get me wrong. I love where I live. I actually have one or two people who I would actually consider "friends". But we don't socialize outside of work. One of them lives in St. Paul, the other one in Richfield. Sorry, it's just too far to drive.

I like my little neighborhood. I live here with my husband and my "kids". I drive to work and I drive home. A couple times a week, we stop at Holiday in the morning to fill the tank, and I get a nice cup of coffee. On the weekends, I sometimes go to Target or to PetSmart. They're close by. I don't go to malls. Too far; not worth the bother.

It's an insulated life, really. I think my world was larger when I lived in a small town.