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.
#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.
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.
#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...
#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...
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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:
#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.
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?