Showing posts with label reba mcentire. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reba mcentire. Show all posts

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, October 14, 2022

Reviewing The Top 10 Country Singles From This Week In 1992


 

Ahh, where did the last three decades go? The first Bush was president, the Mall of America opened a few miles away from my home (I've been there once, which was more than enough), Seinfeld was a hit, George Jones was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame, and at the CMA's it was Garth Brooks' year.

I was fully ensconced in country music, and music-wise I remember it as a happy time.

Well, let's see, shall we?? 

I've done a few retrospective chart reviews before, and it's always a fun, and generally surprising exercise. (See this, this, this, this, and this.)

The 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 10, because dang, this takes a long time!
  • I do my best to find music videos. If all else fails, I use a video of the recorded song.

I'm using the American Country Countdown wiki as my reference.

Okie doke! Let's go!

#10 ~ Lord Have Mercy On The Working Man ~ Travis Tritt

The track begins as kind of an homage to Jimmie Rodgers and the Dust Bowl years, with a dobro and a slide guitar, which sets the downcast mood. Then the chorus kicks in with more modern accoutrements to bring us into the singer's present circumstance. This song offers probably the most important component of a memorable composition ~ a singalong chorus. I like the group of background singers punching up the last chorus, signaling that many people are drowning. I can imagine this one going over HUGE at the artist's concerts thirty years in the future.

A- 

 

#9 ~  Cafe On The Corner ~ Sawyer Brown


Honestly, from these first two tracks one would think that 1992 was an awful year. I don't remember it that way. I and my family were doing fine. My career was humming along, my kids had new clothes, I didn't worry about paying the bills. Was I living in some kind of alternate universe?

Anyway...

Despite the rather jaunty instrumentation, this song is a downer. It's well-written, no question, but I question whether anyone will remember it thirty years hence. My impression of this group is that they whirled around from performing goofy little ditties to morose "message" songs in a flash. I do appreciate their foray into serious music, but my optimistic nature prefers one of their earlier hits, The Walk. And songs do need to match the times. Who knows? Thirty years in the future, this might fit right in. Nevertheless, societal realities aside, this ranks a strong...

B

 

#8 ~ The Greatest Man I Never Knew ~ Reba McEntire


I'll just be upfront ~ I don't care for this...at all. Ballads really need to be majestic to succeed. This one isn't. Reba is a great singer, but it sounds like she's straining to hit the high notes on this one. I get that this is about her dad, and I loved my dad, but that love would impel me to write him a better song. Nobody will ever remember this. I've almost forgotten it already.

D

 

#7 ~ Wrong Side Of Memphis ~ Trisha Yearwood

One immediately has to acknowledge the singer's superb instrument. But this song's structure is too repetitive, and has nothing for the listener to latch onto. It seems this is a case of a great singer searching for a style. I hope she finds it. I wouldn't purchase this, and if it were included on a greatest hits CD, I'd skip it.

C-

 

#6 ~ Seminole Wind ~ John Anderson


Few singers are truly original; John Anderson is. One can never mistake him for someone else. The production on the track is outstanding, but a memorable song generally can't be all mood. It would benefit from some change-ups. The track benefits from the singer and from the production.

B-

 

#5 ~ Going Out Of My Mind ~ McBride And The Ride


 

My first thought upon hearing this is Little Texas. The two groups could be interchangeable. I don't know if this one will stand the test of time. It has an unmistakable nineties vibe. That's not to knock it. I like it for what it is. And not to beat this issue to death, but a memorable chorus is key, and this song has one. As a moment stuck in time, this isn't bad.

B

 

#4 ~ Jesus And Mama ~ Confederate Railroad


I have a natural antipathy to songs with Jesus and Mama in the title, unless it's Mama Tried. It seems this group tried to branch out from its rowdy reputation, but sometimes you just gotta stick with what you know. This is certainly not I'm The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised, unfortunately. It's cloying and pandering ~ an automatic letter grade deduction from me.

D

 

#3 ~ In This Life ~ Collin Raye 


This is how a ballad is done. I can't find a single thing to criticize here. What a universal message. Singer, production, song ~ all superb. Instant classic. This makes me not even want to listen to the others remaining on the chart.

A+

 

#2 ~ No One Else On Earth ~ Wynonna

Fans will probably remember this one, but more for the singer than the song. Frankly, there's far too much going on in it. It's like it has to check every box, which in the end turns it into one sloppy mess. Hopefully Wynonna as a singles act will discover her actual sound.

D

 

#1 ~ If I Didn't Have You ~ Randy Travis (official video only watchable on YouTube)


 

I kept looking for something to say that'd boost this one. I really like the singer, but this is by far not his best effort. I guess the chorus is pretty good, but to be frank, only the singer saves it.

C+

 

So, there you have it ~ a snapshot of the top ten singles from thirty years ago today.

 

My report card:

In This Life ~ Collin Raye: A+ 

Lord Have Mercy On The Working Man ~ Travis Tritt: A-

Cafe On The Corner ~ Sawyer Brown: B

Going Out Of My Mind ~ McBride And The Ride: B

Seminole Wind ~ John Anderson: B-

If I Didn't Have You ~ Randy Travis: C+

Wrong Side Of Memphis ~ Trisha Yearwood:  C-

The Greatest Man I Never Knew ~ Reba McEntire: D

Jesus And Mama ~ Confederate Railroad: D

No One Else On Earth ~ Wynonna: D

 

I believe that if you find one gem, all is right with the world.

I definitely found one.

 

 

 



 

 


 



 

 

 

Friday, November 22, 2019

"Women of Country" ~ 2019 CMA Awards

I'd read that the Country Music Association had summarily dismissed Brad Paisley from his regular hosting gig in order to "highlight women". While the sentiment may have been laudable, when one thinks about it, it is rather an insult to female country singers. In what alternate universe were women artists not recognized? I've listened to country since sometime around 1967, which is more than fifty years, and I distinctly remember female singers getting tons of exposure, from Patsy to Loretta to Tammy to Lynn to Connie to Dolly; Tanya in the seventies; Reba McEntire, Pam Tillis, Rosanne Cash and Paulette Carlson in the eighties; Mary Chapin Carpenter, Holly Dunn, Shania Twain, The Judds. The Dixie Chicks in the nineties. But somehow women got short shrift?

Regardless, if 2019 wanted to "right wrongs", there are several issues with this performance:



Number one, if you're "celebrating women", you might not want to have your three stars perform a song written by a man. "Those Memories Of You" was written by Alan O'Bryant and originally recorded by Bill Monroe. You know, women have written songs, too ~ take, for instance, Dolly Parton.

My second impression of this opening is that Carrie really needed to let her seamstress finish adding a skirt to that glittery gold blouson.

The harmonies weren't quite pitch-perfect, but since it was a live performance, a little slack should be granted.

Number three:  Is that Angelina Jolie in the audience, and if so, why?

Four:  Dolly Parton is the ultimate performer. She carried this.

Loretta Lynn is an icon. The gals (whoever they were) who sang "You're Lookin' At Country" are not good singers. Don't they make 'em anymore? I guess, nice hair, though. It seemed that Loretta was in the audience as a prop. One of her twins, Patsy or Peggy, had to whisper in her ear and tell her what was happening. That's sort of disrespectful. New gals, you need to thank your lucky stars Loretta Lynn plowed a path for you.

Some indiscriminate bad singers tackled Tammy's "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad" next ~ poorly. The camera honed in on Natalie Maines in the audience, who could blow all these gals out of the water, even the obviously gay one. I'm not on board with The Dixie Chicks' politics, but talent doesn't belong in the peanut gallery.

Reese Witherspoon? Is this the CMA's or a Hallmark Channel marathon?

Thank goodness for Tanya Tucker. She's younger than me, and showing her age as all of us do, but she can still belt it out. Tanya is an actual star.

Is that goofy Billy Ray Cyrus the camera panned to? If I recall correctly, he hasn't been relevant since 1982, and the mullet, bad as it was, was preferable to...this. And did Billy Ray sire any offspring who aren't crazy?

Pam Tillis is also in the audience, as opposed to on-stage. WTF? Ran out of time?

Gretchen Wilson represented the nineties. Kudos. Not a big splash in the pantheon of country history, but each decade deserves representation.

I'll admit, my curiosity regarding Crystal Gayle was whether she'd kept her freakishly long hair. It seems she has.

Terri Clark, who is an actual bad-ass hat-wearing guitar strummer, is next, and aside from the producers making her sing her song in the wrong key, she is a reminder that some country girls at one time had balls.

Next, Sara Evans does "Born To Fly", irritatingly interspersed with some girl in the audience over-emoting for camera time.

Martina McBride appears onstage to sing a bit of "Independence Day". It is, admittedly, nice to see a few artists who actually impacted country.

Yep, there's Trisha Yearwood in the audience, kept under wraps lest she put the prancers on stage to shame. Kathy Mattea, too. Dang, I guess neither of them fit the predetermined song key.

If Patsy were alive today, she'd sit these ladies down and explain to them the facts of life. "Do you want pity or do you want to sing?" she'd ask. Loretta might talk to them about baking bread with one baby on her hip and three more chasing each other around the kitchen table; and then climbing into a '59 Ford with a guitar bigger than she was and driving fifteen miles on rutted roads to belt out two songs in a smoky dive bar. "What, now, are you squawkin' 'bout?" she might ask.

Dolly should know better. Reba should know better. Spare me the self-indulgence. Either you can compete with men for radio play or you can go sob in a corner. Better still, you can stand up on your own two feet and get judged on your merits.

No time in country music were female artists overlooked. It's a 2019 fiction.

It's admittedly nice to see remnants of the past. That's not a gender thing. For all its imperfections, I enjoyed this video. I personally would have nixed the nondescript artists and focused solely on the stars, but...ratings.

Thanks, CMA's. Next, let's do Clint and Travis and Randy and Alan and George.












 

















Saturday, March 30, 2019

Music Has Turned Bad ~ And Why Should I Care?


So Reba's coming back, and this time she really means it ~ she's doing a country album. She's also bemoaning the turn that country music has taken. Oh, okay, Reba. I really do appreciate that she is speaking out about how she'd like country to get back to its roots, but let's be real. In 1991, when Pam Tillis was admonishing, Don't Tell Me What To Do, and Diamond Rio was meetin' in the middle and Brooks and Dunn were down to their next broken heart, Reba was remaking an old Bobbie Gentry song:


I remember someone (I think it was my hairdresser) raving to me about Reba McEntire's live show ~ she changes outfits on stage! She's got backup dancers! Uh, that's okay; I'll skip it, thanks. I hear Alan Jackson's coming to town, so...

In 1980 I talked my mom into attending a rodeo with me (yes), because this new singer I really liked was going to be performing. Mom had never heard of her, but she was game. I'd heard a couple of the gal's singles on the radio and really liked her voice ~ it was different, in a good way. So, between the barrel racing and the bronc riding, this redhead got up on a makeshift stage in the corner of the arena and sang:


Once again, I was right. 

In the eighties Reba had a few nice singles, like this one:


And she showed a flare for acting:


Then something happened. I'm not sure what. Reba claims that some of her career moves weren't her decision, but nevertheless, she definitely milked it. 

And that's when I lost respect for her as an artist. She sold out.

Some (like my hairdresser) enjoyed the spectacle. I liked my concerts flat-out country. Yea, George Strait stood in front of the mic and strummed a guitar off and on, but it was the voice, stupid. Alan Jackson would never claim to be the world's most exhilarating performer ~ he didn't need to be. Merle didn't dance around the stage. The only exhibition that floored me was Garth Brooks, but he also brought the goods.

In '98 Reba had the last single of hers that I had actually liked since the eighties:


So now she wants to come back. I'm good with that. It's funny how once an artist is past her prime, she starts remembering what she liked about the music she started out with. If this new album is truly country, I'll buy it (and I don't buy albums anymore). I would love to be taken back to the Reba that was, when I introduced my mom to her at the beginning of the ninth decade.

Reba is right about a few things. Here's my take:

Today's Country™ is made by artists who don't like country music.

The only radio I listen to nowadays consists of political talk. Tuning the dial to an actual music station would be proof positive that dementia had settled in. I love music almost as much as I always have. It's just that I have options. Sirius is a revelation. I can tune in to whatever I choose. I also have about a thousand tunes on my computer, but I rarely listen to any of them, because I like to be surprised and Sirius provides that unexpected jolt. I've forgotten more music than a human brain can hope to retain.

Ten years from now will the now thirty-five-year-old catch a 2019 song on "oldies" radio and rhapsodize about how classic it is? Which song exactly? It's not as if creativity has died. It never dies. But it's gonna take an eighties-style renaissance to shake out the drudgery that music has become. Country music in the seventies turned putrid. We had Crystal Gayle and Sylvia and Dave and Sugar, and Charley Pride doing remakes of pop songs. The seventies drove me away from country. When I came back, I found that I'd missed everything good. I'd missed George Strait and Dwight and Clint Black and Randy Travis.

My philosophy used to be that the tide turns every ten years. I stuck by that until I was proven wrong. I stopped listening to country around the year 2000, when Faith Hill released "Breathe". Faith was the final straw. It's not necessarily her fault ~ maybe she was just the conduit. I hung on for the Dixie Chicks, and Dwight was still releasing decent tracks. But around the Breathe year, country became interminable. I tried; I really did. I found a Texas radio station that played roots music and that sustained me for a while. But imperceptibly, as time wore on, I gave up.

Maybe there should be separate genres ~ you know, how they've relegated Dwight and Rodney Crowell to "Americana", which translates to "Not Selling Records". But call it something cooler. I bet there are young would-be artists out there listening to their dad's (or grandpa's) old records and experiencing an epiphany. "Where did that come from??"

I don't necessarily care. I have old songs I can listen to. If I didn't happen to stumble on the Saving Country Music website, I wouldn't even have thought about it. But it seems there are still people out there who love (and remember) the same country music I do.

And maybe the wardrobe-mutating, vaudeville exhibitionist can bring it back. Stranger things have happened (as Ronnie Milsap says). 

In the meantime, I won't be blue.










Friday, October 19, 2018

Yay For Women Artists?

So CMT (which used to be a network), in a shameless publicity grab, decided to anoint all women as "artists of the year". First of all, if you've got about twenty of them, that kinda dilutes the artist of the year moniker. Secondly, who is CMT to decide anything? The only admirable thing CMT has done in the past thirty years is pick up the series Nashville after ABC canceled it.

I remember CMT when it was actually watchable. That's when the great Ralph Emery had a nightly talk show that featured real country artists, and when videos were broadcast that one could distinguish from crappy pop. Everything doesn't get better with age.

Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris, Kelsea Ballerini, Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum, and Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman of Little Big Town were the honorees. I know what you're thinking ~ who now? I know Carrie Underwood from watching American Idol all those years ago, and I know Miranda from the tabloids. I didn't watch the telecast, but it seems that the gals honored those time-honored country artists Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight.

I understand that Carrie is a true country girl at heart, but she's a slave to radio and has to record the stuff that people (apparently) buy, but I don't really admire an artist who sells out. Doesn't she have enough cache now to record whatever the hell she wants? The gals paid lip service to Loretta Lynn and...apparently that's it....and sang a bunch of songs written by guys, which rather undermines the whole #women rule meme.

The problem I have with women who claim they're all powerful is that they seem desperate to prove it by whining a whole lot. That's not powerful; that's pitiful.

For those "artists of the year" who don't know country history (which seems to be all of them), here are some women who didn't whine:














The number one non-whiner was a broad who didn't give a damn that Roy Acuff and Faron Young were on the same bill. She knew she commanded the stage, and she didn't need a hashtag to tell the world she had arrived.

So, for all you Aretha and Gladys fans out there, here is some real country music:


But just keep thinking you're "all that". Those who don't know better will believe you. 

I am one who knows better.

 







 




Saturday, February 17, 2018

Did Country Music Die In 1998?


 (Somehow he got a record contract)

As stressful and time-consuming as my job was in 1998, at least it sheltered me from the tunes on the radio.

The last thing I wanted to do was give up on country music. I'd been drenched in country for thirty-odd years by then. That was a hard habit to break. I think country radio knew how bad the songs were, but they were slaves to programmers  -- no more would a disc jockey break a hit record -- there were no more Ralph Emerys or Bill Macks. Spinning records was akin to a job ringing up a cash register. 

The country landscape was barren. George was beginning to drift toward treacle (it would get worse). But he still had a couple of good tunes:




Diamond Rio was close to wrapping up. They'd had a phenomenal run, but I guess everything (except George Strait) comes to an end eventually:



 

Yes, this was an Aerosmith song, but Mark Chesnutt was always a good song picker. He would get better after this (believe it or not), and would go on to reach the pantheon of my all-time favorite country singers. This isn't my favorite, but hell, Mark was still keepin' on. 

 
Clint was back. He wrote this song with Steve Wariner. Aside from "Better Man", this is one of my favorite Clint Black songs:



 

I thought I would throw Reba in here, because she actually recorded a country song in '98. I wasn't a fan of Reba's theatrics. They were "tricks". I like a singer who sings.



 

Who was hot in 1998? Well, there was Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. There was Jo Dee Messina. There was the Dixie Chicks, who I liked a lot until they (Natalie) went nuts. A lot of my standbys had hits, but not hits that I liked -- Steve Wariner, Brooks and Dunn, Shania Twain, Randy Travis.

Somebody who didn't even reach the Top Country 100 had the best album of the year. I don't understand popular tastes. I don't understand why this wasn't one of the top hits of the year. But you know what? Quality survives. That's why Dwight Yoakam is still one of my all-time favorite singers. 

From "A Long Way Home":



 

Sometime in 1999 I abandoned country music all together. That's where it ended for me. I miss it, but it's not coming back. Now I listen to Sirius, when I listen to music at all. I don't listen to music much.

Things change, Dwight told me. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

1983 Was Not A Red-Letter Year In Country Music


In 1983 I was still driving my '76 Chevy Malibu. I liked it. It fit. It was also the first brand-new car I'd ever owned, so I felt like I had moved up in the world. I'd graduated from a used powder blue 1966 Chevrolet Impala to a they-saw-me-coming '74 Chevy Vega hatchback with the hue and texture of a can of Campbell's Cream of Tomato soup. Each of those cars had cost a couple hundred dollars at the most; the Malibu I had to finance! Sign papers for! The Malibu had a sometimes-it-works air conditioning system and tan folding faux leather seats. It was perfect, and it wasn't orange!

I didn't have far to travel in my tiny town -- my longest drive was north along Ninth Street to Mom and Dad's house; a fifteen-minute cruise if the stoplights didn't hit just right. I visited Mom and Dad a lot on sunny afternoons  -- my kids were in elementary school and I worked second shift. My days were free and Dad and Mom were my tether. Easing the Malibu into their driveway and spying Dad bent over in the front yard, yanking weeds from the flower bed, felt like home, even though I'd never ever lived in that house. I knew Mom would be upstairs in the kitchen, running a damp rag across the counter top, checking the Mr. Coffee to determine if it'd stopped dripping. I'd pull out a chair from the dining room table and Mom would offer me coffee and a slice of pie and we'd talk about nothing much. Dad would broach the stairs, swiping a handkerchief across his brow; pour himself a cup and ease his butt into an adjoining seat. I have no recollection of what those conversations entailed, but I remember that when I turned to go home, I always felt better -- stronger somehow.

Music was in the doldrums. I was on the verge of giving up on country, and soon I would. Shelly West was still basking in the after-glow of the Urban Cowboy fad and Crystal Gayle was a novelty, famous for her ridiculously long hair and the fact that she was Loretta Lynn's little sister. Sylvia was a producer's creation -- another try at Chet's Nashville Sound that was a long-time gone and hardly lamented. Alabama was still hanging around, as they were wont to do. Merle was on a down-slide; Charley Pride was still grasping onto the tattered shreds of his once-red-hot career. Even the artists I loved, like Ronnie Milsap and the Oaks, were looking at their careers in the rear-view mirror. John Conlee had exhausted his one big hit. Much like the late sixties, producers paired male and female voices, but the result was pop pap; as opposed to "After The Fire Is Gone". Country was lost and needed someone to save it. That someone hadn't yet ridden over the horizon.

Still, like any year in music, there were gems.

Alabama was on it's next-to-last gasp:


I think the first time I became aware of the Oak Ridge Boys was when they recorded Rodney Crowell's "Leavin' Louisiana In The Broad Daylight". Then I did a bit of digging and found that they were once a gospel band. As a Midwesterner, I was oblivious to gospel music. Alice and I, though, had seen the Statesmen as an opening act at one of the many country concerts we'd attended, and we'd gotten on board. The deep bass voice, the tenor, and the harmony parts had roped us in. The call and response.

For a time, country gospel became our new obsession. Of course, we were fourteen, so everything to us was brand new.

That history cemented my love for the Oak Ridge Boys, who had this hit song in 1983:


Along about July, a couple of old hands rode to the rescue:


Along about 1979, I talked Mom into attending an indoor rodeo with me. I told her that a new country artist would be performing in between the barrel racing and the calf roping. In the west, rodeos were not considered weird or corny. I'd been to lots of rodeos -- I was familiar with the eight-second rule for bull riders. It's not so much that I was a rodeo fan, but that live entertainment was sorely lacking in our town. We went to whatever the box office put forth. I was, however, enamored with Reba McEntire and had never seen her in person, so....


 Later, I would resent Reba for unnaturally expanding the boundaries of what could be called "country". She took advantage of her fame. She loved on-stage costume changes and male background dancers. But she was country once, and I'm happy I could introduce Mom to her voice.

The Number Eighty-Seven song of the year flew past me, because I'd by then long abandoned country music (as it had abandoned me).  It's funny how life works. Eighty-seven? Truly? This song rests firmly within my top twenty country songs of all time, and it only reached eighty-seven on the charts? Country fans needed a firm shake. (And speaking of rodeos):


The truth, though, sad as it may be, is that on my drive up Ninth Street to Mom and Dad's, with the seventeen-story Capitol Building casting its shadow across my sun visor, is that THIS is the song that 1983 will be remembered for. 

I remember that drive, and that day, so succinctly. I remember muttering to myself, "If I hear this song one more time, I'm going to stab my radio with a serrated carving knife."

Funny how time works. The song doesn't seem so bad now, thirty-four years after the fact. 










 










Wednesday, November 23, 2016

CMA at 50 - 1987...and Holly Dunn


Holly Dunn passed away this past Monday, November 14. She was 59; younger than me. Those things shouldn't happen.

I liked Holly's recordings -- she was a soprano, whereas I was always more drawn to more earthy voices like Patsy Cline's -- but Holly Dunn was country and that's what mattered. I've always liked my country to be...well, country...call me crazy; and 1987 was that kind of year. Holly fit right in.

At the CMA's that year, Holly won the Horizon Award, the award given to best new artist. She deserved it.




Holly wrote, produced, and performed her own songs, which was, in 1987, let's say unusual. As a pseudo-songwriter, I know how monumental that is.

“I think this gives me a real legitimacy, a genuineness,” she told The Associated Press in 1990. “I’m not just up there standing where they tell me to stand, singing what they tell me to sing.”  (source)

In 2003 Holly retired from recording, just like that. She said that country no longer wanted what she had to offer, and she was right. Country music gave up the ghost somewhere around 2001 and it's never come back. I once thought it would -- everything being cyclical -- but I was wrong. It never came back. Nineteen eighty-seven was a watershed year. Let's revisit it...

Horizon Award
T. Graham Brown
The O'Kanes
Restless Heart
Sweethearts of the Rodeo
Holly Dunn 

Female Vocalist of the Year
Emmylou Harris
Kathy Mattea
Rosanne Cash
Dolly Parton
Reba McEntire

There was no denying that the late eighties was Reba's time. It was before she went off on her costume-changing frenzy (although I never actually witnessed it in concert, it made all the popular publications, like People Magazine) and while she still had the frizzy perm and an iota of country in her blood. Like this:

If I'd still been a CMA member in 1987, though, I would have voted for this:


You tell me which song holds up better. It's not even a fair contest.

Male Vocalist of the Year
George Strait
Randy Travis
George Jones
Ricky Skaggs
Hank Williams, Jr.

I'm not going to quibble with this one, although my heart lies with George. Randy Travis was and is a voice beyond measure.




Single of the Year
The Right Left Hand - George Jones (I have no recollection whatsoever of this song)
Walk The Way The Wind Blows - Kathy Mattea
All My Ex's Live In Texas - George Strait
Forever And Ever, Amen - Randy Travis
Can't Stop My Heart From Lovin' You - The O'Kanes

Nineteen eighty-seven was a great year! I'd forgotten how good it was. In the interest of diversity and fairness, I'm going to include one of the singles that didn't win:


Song of the Year (award to the songwriter)
Forever And Ever, Amen - Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz
All My Ex's Live In Texas - Lyndia Shafer and Sanger D. Shafer
Can't Stop My Heart From Lovin' You - Kieran Kane and Jamie O'Hara
Daddy's Hands - Holly Dunn
On The Other Hand - Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz

To be different, here's:


Vocal Group of the Year
Asleep At The Wheel
Exile
Restless Heart
Alabama
The Judds

This is a tough category. I would have given it to The Judds in 1985, and maybe they did win it then. I don't have photographic memory! (A-Ha! They did! I just checked!)  I love The Judds, especially for their early hits, but sadly, I find that Restless Heart never won the vocal group of the year award. That's shameful. Since they never won, I guess I can pick any song, from any year, I want. I pick this one:


Randy Travis won Album of the Year (naturally); fiddler Johnny Gimble was Instrumentalist of the Year; Vocal Duo of the Year was a bust (for the record, it was Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White); the Music Video of the Year was "My Name is Bocephus" by Hank Williams, Jr.; which leads me to the strangest award of the night:

Entertainer of the Year
The Judds
Reba McEntire
George Strait
Randy Travis
Hank Williams, Jr.

I'm not sure what happened. Perhaps it was a nod to an era that was ending. I'm not proud of it, but the only concert I ever walked out on was Hank's. I liked him once; thus, I bought a ticket to see him. This, unfortunately, was the time when Junior decided to "become his own man". The people who liked Lynryd Skynyrd, I'm sure, loved this concert. I hated it. Hank's thing was writing and singing songs about...Hank. Listen to any of his songs, and they're all egocentric. All good, if you like that sort of thing.

I checked Hank's discography, trying to discern which record, exactly, earned him the award. I'm truly perplexed. So, I'm just going to guess this one...




So, 1987 was a tremendous year in country music -- not necessarily a tremendous year for the CMA's. They got some things wrong and some things right. But I'm sure it was hard, with so much talent to pick from.

And God bless you, Holly Dunn. Thank you for the music.














Friday, August 5, 2016

My Random Number Generator Gave Me....


1985 in country music!

I'm not thrilled with my generator's random number, because 1985 was not a banner year for country. Country music was in that awkward stage -- between utter crap and greatness. There were some glimmers of hope, though. If one wants music that's really bad, they could pick basically any year between the late seventies and...well, 1985.

As the picture above denotes, however, ooh yes, there were glimmers.

I could waste yours and my time doing a corny countdown, but let's just start with the number one single of the year, shall we?


The deep, complicated reason why I love this song:  IT'S COUNTRY.

"Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind" is essentially the perfect country song. But, oh, it's not just the song -- it's the sublime performance, from the tiny yodel in George's delivery to the heart-thumping twin fiddles to the four-four shuffle beat to the just-right steel guitar riff.

Readers of this blog know how I feel about George Strait. George, along with Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam, saved country music. It was almost dead and mercifully begging to be buried, and then George came along, like a vision.

I've told the story before of how I'd given up on country music; switched the dial on my radio in disgust; became enamored with MTV and real true (not facsimile) music. Then I happened to take the kids over to Mom and Dad's one evening and Mom popped in a VHS tape (yep!) of some hillbilly singer performing live somewhere in Texas. I thought, "What's this crap?" I didn't know any of the songs (they weren't being played on MTV). The singer was a "pretty boy" in a big cowboy hat -- no doubt another imposter trying to grab Merle Haggard's mantle. I went home that night more puzzled than impressed. But though I was loathe to admit it, this guy had something. And gradually, I began alternating between the rock station and the country station that I had to reprogram into my car radio.

So, yes and thank you, George Strait. Even hard-headed goofballs like me can learn something.

I wish I could say 1985 turned out to be a great year for my rediscovery of country music, but alas, it wasn't.

There was this girl singer that I'd first noticed a few years before. She wasn't hitting it big, but I liked her. I actually talked my mom into going to an indoor rodeo with me because I'd heard this gal would be performing...I guess in between the bulldogging and the steer wrestling competitions. (In a small town, we took our entertainment where we could find it.) Mom was about as impressed with Reba McEntire as I was the first time I saw George Strait. I, though, liked her because she was authentically country. That would sadly change later. Some musical lifespans are short.

Here is how she once was:


I am perplexed that the next song was released in 1985. It seems to me to be a latter Judds hit, because once again, the Judds I first discovered were singing "Mama He's Crazy", but maybe I just have time muddled in my brain. I apologize for not being able to find a better video -- I would love to know what happened to all the eighties music videos that were played on CMT, because they sure are nigh impossible to find. So, here's the best I could find:


Ricky Skaggs was a bluegrass artist who wanted to become a country star. And he did. But he's still a bluegrass artist. Be proud of who you are! I like bluegrass. 1985 could stand an infusion of bluegrass. Here's some:


Here's something good. Good. I love Rosanne Cash's voice; not crazy about her politics, but that's neither here nor there in the music realm. Rosanne Cash is how would-be singers would like to sound. That's damn high praise.


I really dislike Marie Osmond. I suppose it's not her fault, per se, but she signed on to do those weight loss commercials, where she poses in her deceptively slimming dress and looks down her nose at us, because she lost fifty pounds, because some big company gave her their program for free. Nevertheless, this is a good song -- mostly because of Dan Seals:


Not to be redundant, but c'mon. This, again, is a perfect country song. If you've ever spent a night out at a honky tonk and you hear the opening strains of this song, you're gonna go out on the dance floor and two-step -- it's decreed. Yep, this is George again:


I do believe that Alabama is the act I've seen live more times than any other. It's not that I'm a great Alabama fan; it's just that they toured incessantly and they kept showing up in my town. Again, we grabbed our entertainment where we could find it. I like them -- they're okay -- they certainly were a staple of my local country music station for about a decade. So, here they are:


It's a myth that The Highwaymen were a big phenomenon in 1985. But myths are okay. As long as we know the truth. And face it, here are some country music giants.


I love Ronnie Milsap -- is he still performing? I'm thinking 1975 was the first time I heard him, so he had a great run.  There are those artists you just want to tuck inside your pocket and reach for them when you need a musical lift. You don't necessarily think about them very often, but they're there.


Woefully, I didn't see many of these artists live. I saw Ronnie, Alabama (three frickin' thousand times), Reba; and it was an unbelievable quest, traveling all the way to Montana only to find that the artist's bus got mired in a snowstorm in Wyoming and his Montana show was canceled; then a few months later, to a city much closer to home -- Fargo, North Dakota -- to finally, FINALLY! see George Strait in concert. I have no regrets -- I can at least say I saw George Strait live. 

1985 wasn't that bad. One great song can make up for a year's worth of crap. And there was more than one good song that year.

It's kind of unreasonable to expect more than that.