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.
- 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.
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.