by Julian Spivey
I had never heard the name Jonny Whiteside before today. And, then upon reading two pieces of his music criticism he instantaneously became the first music critic I’ve ever wanted to punch in the face.
Whiteside is apparently a veteran music journalist out of Burbank, Calif. who has authored books on Rose Maddox and Johnnie Ray and writes articles for L.A. Weekly. I can’t speak for his books, but based on the two listicles I read on L.A. Weekly today, one published this morning and the other in mid-2014, prove to me he has no business in the music criticism world. The fact that he’s a “veteran music journalist” just makes it all the more worse.
Today’s “The 10 Lamest Americana Acts” made quite the hubbub in the world of Americana music websites and fans, many of which I follow on Twitter. When I saw one of these sites retweet the listicle I considered skipping it altogether, but it included with it a photo of Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, my absolute favorite Americana act, so already pissed off I decided to see how bad it would get. This was a major mistake.
The list included many of the Americana genre’s most regarded and critically-acclaimed artists like Lucinda Williams (who topped the list), Gillian Welch, Shovels & Rope and some more of my favorites: Jason Boland & the Stragglers and Robert Ellis.
The list was so bad that it had some thinking it was just an April Fool’s Day joke one day early, which I might have believed had I not done some research on Whiteside and saw another bullshit L.A. Weekly article from mid-July 2014 entitled “The 10 Biggest Classic Rock Douchebags.”
That list included legends like Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, John Fogerty and Jerry Garcia. In the listicle, Whiteside said all of these artists “seriously screwed up rock music.” Seriously? Without these artists, there might not be such a thing as rock music. Bob Dylan’s music has won a freaking Nobel Peace Prize. What has your writing accomplished, Jonny Whiteside? Who hates John Fogerty? That stick must be so far up Whiteside’s ass that his throat tickles.
The one thing all the writers ever run down by Jonny Whiteside have in common is they are all infinitely better writers than Jonny Whiteside. I wonder how much jealousy plays into who he includes on his lists?
Many more on social media were calling his listicle, which I refuse to tag here, “trolling” or “clickbait.” I can agree with these terms, but typically clickbait and trolling aren’t as thought out as Whiteside’s piece. More likely Whiteside is just a cranky old music curmudgeon who believes he and only he has his finger on the pulse of what is truly good in the world of music. Forget all the other music critics who love artists ranging from Bob Dylan to Jason Isbell. Forget all the fans that have made these artists the leaders of their respective genres. Forget the numerous awards they have won for their legendary output. Only Jonny Whiteside gets to dictate what’s cool and what’s lame or douchey. That’s the absolute worst kind of music critic. The one who feels he can only get his viewpoints out in the world if they’re so vastly different from everyone else’s as to piss the masses off to be noticed. It really makes you wonder if he even believes half of the tripe he’s writing. He can either only be making it up for the web clicks or he’s simply the utter worst in his field at recognizing terrific music.
In the last few minutes Whiteside changed his Twitter avatar to an image of the late, great Merle Haggard wearing a sweatshirt that says “I Heart Haters.” This would seem to be a good sign that he merely writes crap to intentionally piss people off, rather than to actually inform. Anyway, I’m sure L.A. Weekly lost themselves many more potential readers today than they have gained.
by Julian Spivey
Red Dirt country act Jason Boland and the Stragglers made their way to Little Rock’s Revolution Room on Saturday, March 25, a venue that’s basically become an annual stop on their touring schedule.
One of the most entertaining and best groups in the country music Red Dirt subgenre that features many acts from Texas and Oklahoma, where Boland and the Stragglers hail from, put on a terrific almost two hour set for the excited and energetic Rev Room crowd. The set featured fan-favorites, tracks from the group’s most recent album, 2015’s excellent Squelch and even a new song Boland said would be featured on their next album, which the band was going to enter the studio to begin recording the next day.
Boland and the Stragglers kicked off the fantastic night of true country music with “Break 19,” off Squelch, before embarking on numerous crowd favorites from the group’s nearly 20 years on the road like “Bourbon Legend,” “Comal County Blue” and “The Dark and Dirty Mile.”
Boland has a very energetic performance style bouncing around on stage, especially during solos from the incredibly talented Stragglers, especially fiddle player Nick Worley and lead guitarist/slide guitarist Cody Angel. Boland also doesn’t mess around too much between performances, going from song to song in rapid succession, never letting the crowd have time to escape from the moment of raucous honky-tonk music.
Boland is one of the best songwriters in the Red Dirt country subgenre, but always finds time to pepper his performances with songwriting idols of his like when he covers Danny Flowers’ “Tulsa Time,” popularized by Don Williams, and Tom Russell’s “Gallo del Cielo.”
Other originals the band performed on Saturday night at the Rev Room that pumped up the crowd were “Electric Bill,” “Pushin’ Luck” and “I Guess It’s Alright to Be an Asshole,” which really show that Red Dirt country can be at its best when influenced by a little rock ‘n’ roll. ‘Asshole,’ one of my favorites off Squelch, is really a punk-country song and you could tell Boland was greatly influenced by punk music, as well as his country idols, when he performed a new song “Dee Dee OD’d,” about The Ramones.
Despite the country-rockers there was plenty of room for hardcore, honky-tonk songs in Boland’s set like “False Accuser’s Lament,” a highlight off his 2011 release Rancho Alto, and slower country ballads like the beautiful “Somewhere Down in Texas,” from the group’s 1999 debut Pearl Snaps, and “Lucky I Guess,” written for and dedicated to his wife Mandy.
One of my favorite performances of the night, and one I hadn’t heard the two previous times I’ve seen Boland and the Stragglers, was “Fences,” from Rancho Alto. The song is about how immigrants came to the United States and essentially stole it from Native Americans, which is why it was unusual to see some couples slow dancing along to it.
I was happy to see numerous selections from Squelch performed throughout the night like “Heartland Bypass” and the bawdy “Fuck, Fight and Rodeo,” but would’ve loved to have heard “The First to Know” and “Lose Early” from the album, as well.
Anytime you see a Stragglers show you know you’re going to get Boland classics like “Pearl Snaps,” “When I’m Stoned,” “Drinkin’ Song” and “Blowing Through the Hills,” which fans seem to really enjoy every single time.
Boland and the Stragglers ended their set with the fitting “The Party’s Not Over,” and that proved to be true as the group stayed for a three-song encore that included “Hank,” about how today’s music just isn’t what country music is supposed to be, “Tennessee Whiskey” and “Outlaw Band.”
“Outlaw Band,” written by another of Boland’s idols and fellow Oklahoman Bob Childers, has become the group’s signature song, in my opinion, and is their frequent closer. If you haven’t heard Boland and the Stragglers perform this rip-roaring number than you simply haven’t heard one of the greatest country performances there’s ever been. The fiddle and mandolin, both played by Worley, alone on this song is enough to knock you right off your feet. This show closer is well worth the attendance of the entire night on its own.
There’s little doubt in my mind that Boland and the Stragglers is one of the most energetic and exciting acts in any subgenre of country music. They prove it every single time they take the stage.
by Julian Spivey
“If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’” – John Lennon
Elvis Presley is hailed as the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” but had he not have had Hollywood movie star good looks and had race relations not been what they were in the late ‘50s that title may likely have gone to Chuck Berry.
Presley took African-American rhythm and blues and made it suitable for white audiences or at least the young members of the white audience. Berry didn’t have to appropriate anything; he just was. And, while to some Elvis’ hip-shaking and lip curl may have signified what rock ‘n’ roll was all about to many others it’s the hard-charging electric guitar of Berry that is truly the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. Berry’s lyrics focusing on the rough and rowdy life of the ‘50s teenager and essentially his creation of the guitar solo truly helped the rock genre form its rebellious ways.
Berry’s career took off in 1955 less than a year after Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” essentially coined the term “rock ‘n’ roll” and shortly after Elvis debuted with “That’s All Right.” “Maybellene,” a cool-sounding talk-sing song about a street race and a broken relationship, reached the top five on the Billboard pop chart and Berry’s career took off like a Cadillac Coup DeVille off the blocks. Rolling Stone said of the song, “rock & roll guitar starts here.”
Berry would continue to fill the pop and R&B charts with hit after hit over the next decade including “Roll Over Beethoven,” “School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell),” “Johnny B. Goode,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Memphis, Tennessee” and “No Particular Place to Go.”
By the mid-‘60s his brand of rock ‘n’ roll was sadly out of vogue, much like other artists who came up in his era, including Elvis. But, his mark on rock ‘n’ roll led to inspiring the next generation of artists like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, etc.
Some artists of the next generation were even inspired a little too much, to the point of plagiarism. The Beach Boys’ 1963 hit “Surfin’ USA,” which became emblematic of the “California Sound,” was written to the music of Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen,” earning Berry a songwriting credit after some controversy. Berry would actually self-plagiarize later on with “No Particular Place to Go” being set to the exact music of “School Days (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell).”
Sometimes I feel Berry’s contributions to the genre he essentially created are too often ignored, but Seger summed his legacy up quite brilliantly in his 1981 song “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” with the line: “All Chuck’s children are there playing his licks/get into your kicks/come back baby/rock and roll never forgets.”
Berry would continue to play his hits for the next 50-plus years making him the longest tenured rock star in the genre’s history – a mark that likely will never be topped. Berry played a weekly show at a venue in his hometown of St. Louis all the way up until 2014, when he was nearing 90-years old. Playing and making music would continue to the very end for Berry, who died on Saturday, March 18 at 90. The rock ‘n’ roll pioneer and hall of famer announced on his 90th birthday last October that he would be releasing his first album of new music since 1979 sometime in 2017. Berry is survived by his wife Themetta, whom had he survived would’ve celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary together next year.
by Julian Spivey
Country songstress Sunny Sweeney put on one helluva true country music show at Stickyz Rock ‘N’ Roll Chicken Shack in downtown Little Rock on Saturday, March 11.
The show was fantastic from start-to-finish, as the Texan singer-songwriter was fresh off of her fourth studio album release, Trophy, the day before.
The crowd got their money’s worth no doubt from Sweeney who peppered her almost 20 song set list with tracks from all four of her albums, including eight of her new album’s 10 tracks. In fact, the new album was the focal point of the first part of the show with five of the set’s first six tracks coming from Trophy. Sweeney began her show with the rip-roaring “Better Bad Idea” from the album, which is sure to be loved by fans of “Bad Girl Phase,” from her previous album Provoked. She would also perform “Pills,” written by friend Brennen Leigh, “Nothing Wrong with Texas,” an ode to her home state, and the title track from Trophy, inspired by her husband’s ex-wife.
The best performance early on from Trophy was “Pass the Pain,” which she had written with Jay Clementi and Monty Holmes years before but had never recorded on an album, partially because she was told it was “too country.”
I don’t believe there’s such a thing as “too country,” but it could explain why Sweeney – who had a top 10 hit with “From a Table Away” in 2010 (a song she didn’t perform on Saturday, but I wish she had) – has sort of been relegated to the independent, red dirt Texas country genre. Her lovely Texan twang mixed with both beautifully written and tough songs just make her too country for the pop, rock, hip-hop infused “country” being played on popular country radio. She should be as big as Miranda Lambert, but it seems country radio only makes room for few of those types of artists.
The one song she played early on during the show that wasn’t off her latest release was a cover of Tom Petty’s “The Apartment Song” from his 1989 album Full Moon Fever. Sweeney said she performed the song with Reckless Kelly for a Petty tribute album and had cribbed it for her own set. Her cover was perfection.
It seemed one of Sweeney’s favorite performances of the night – and one of the crowd’s too – was the risqué “Whiskey Richard,” which she said was too bawdy to ever record, about a man who can’t make love when he’s under the influence.
One of Sweeney’s finest performances of the night was “Mama’s Opry,” off her debut album Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame from 2006. The cover of Iris DeMent’s song is another that likely would be considered “too country” by many. Sweeney told the crowd that she recently played the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville for the 48th time, an honor she couldn’t believe. She would also play “East Texas Pines” from her debut.
I particularly enjoyed Sweeney’s performances from her second album Concrete in “Staying’s Worse Than Leaving,” which she wrote with Radney Foster, and “Drink Myself Single,” both songs charted for her in 2011.
Sweeney would include more songs from Trophy in her set including the tragic “Bottle by My Bed,” written with recent Grammy-winning songwriter Lori McKenna, about wanting a child, but not yet having one. “Bottle by My Bed” is one of four co-writes with McKenna on Trophy.
My favorite performance off Trophy is Sweeney’s cover of Chris Wall’s “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight,” which I previously had heard in concert by Jerry Jeff Walker, a Texas country legend. The song is quintessentially country about nothing in this world is a better listen when you’re down than old school Hank. It’s truly an early front-runner for my favorite country song of the year.
Another highlight from the show was Sweeney’s performance of the comical “Backhanded Compliment,” from 2014’s Provoked, which was co-written with Natalie Hemby and Sweeney said that each line in the song was something previously uttered either to her or Hemby.
Sweeney would finish her near 90-minute set with “Bad Girl Phase,” one that seems to have kind of become her theme song. It was the perfect concert finisher.
I can’t stress enough how great Sweeney is – and you should definitely pick up a copy of Trophy – everything about her performance, even down to her style of chewing gum throughout her show and holding on to a beer bottle mid-song was perfectly country. As it turns out, she is as nice as she is talented hanging around the stage after the show to chat, take photos with and sign autographs for her fans.
by Julian Spivey
One of the most beautifully heartbreaking songs ever written was the result of a brief encounter between a songwriter and one of the biggest hitmakers of the 1950s.
Eddy Arnold was kind of the Bing Crosby of the Country & Western genre with his smooth vocals and pop-oriented country music that pioneered what would become known as “The Nashville Sound.” Arnold charted 147 songs on the Billboard country music charts, second only to George Jones, with 26 of them going to No. 1, including timeless classics like “Make the World Go Away” and “Take Me in Your Arms and Hold Me,” written by Cindy Walker.
While at an annual disc-jockey convention in Nashville in 1955 Arnold bumped into Walker as she was leaving the event and the crooner offered her up the song title “You Don’t Know Me.” Walker teased that she did know Arnold, per Michael Streissguth’s book Eddy Arnold: Pioneer of the Nashville Sound, but Arnold insisted he was being serious. He proceeded to outline his idea to Walker, who promised to mull it over a while. Eventually the lyrics suddenly spilled out of her brain and as she would say, “The song just started singing. It sort of wrote itself.”
Arnold would record the song the next year and it would go to No. 10 on the country music chart.
Anybody who has ever heard “You Don’t Know Me” in any of its many versions is probably struck by the beauty of the lyrics about unrequited love. The story of feeling something for another who doesn’t feel the same way about you is among the most tragic of storylines one can imagine – and a feeling a good number of the population has felt at least once in their lifetime. Many have since called it the ultimate “friend zone” song. And, if you haven’t ever felt this way, the best recorded version, in my opinion, Ray Charles’ from his innovative 1962 album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music can make you feel as if you have. I first heard the song in one of my favorite films “Groundhog Day” and it’s never left my head, leaving me humming the tune for hours on end every time I hear it.
Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music was such a milestone event in the world of country music, and music in general. Charles, an African-American R&B, soul, blues and jazz superstar, decided to turn his crisp soulful vocals to the world of Country & Western and folk music cutting standards like Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” Hank Williams’ “Hey, Good Lookin’” and “You Win Again” and The Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love.” His experiment with country music mixed lush strings and horn arrangements with heartbreaking ballads of lost and unrequited love. Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music also showed the world there wasn’t much difference in the roots music of black and white people at a time when the Civil Rights Movement was raging. Country music from the mouth of a black man was quite a revolutionary act in 1962, four years before future African-American country superstar Charley Pride made his debut.
Something about Charles’ achingly pining vocals mixed with this beautiful lush string arrangement and the choir in the background makes your heart break right along with the narrator’s as if you’re standing in his shoes. Charles had a great knack of putting you in his shoes as a master vocalist, just like “Georgia On My Mind” leaves you yearning for home.
Allmusic editor Bill Janovitz said of Charles’ version of the Walker penned song: “The genius, the pathos, and the soul that is Charles oozes into this recording … no matter how many times one hears the song, it still induces chills down the spine after the narrator blows any chance he might have had and is left alone at the end.”
Charles’ definitive version of the song would become the highest charting and best-selling version of it, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Top 40 chart in 1962. Since then the classic ballad has been covered by some of the world’s biggest names and greatest artists, more than 100 times, in fact. Among the covers includes Jackie Wilson, Roy Orbison, Kenny Loggins, Bette Midler, Mickey Gilley, Emmylou Harris, Van Morrison, Kenny Rogers and Ronnie Dunn. Elvis Presley would perform the song in his 1967 movie “Clambake.” Willie Nelson included the song on his album tribute to Cindy Walker, You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker, released just nine days before her death in March of 2006.
The song has most recently appeared on Alison Krauss’ exquisite new solo project Windy City, which sees the angelic-voiced country singer doing incredible justice to the song.
There’s no doubt “You Don’t Know Me” will live on forever as one of loveliest heartbreak songs ever written and recorded. Thank God Eddy Arnold bumped into Cindy Walker at that convention 62 years ago.
by Julian Spivey
The 59th annual Grammy Awards took place on Sunday, Feb. 12 and frankly seemed to shock many with Adele taking home the three biggest honors of the night – Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Song of the Year – over Beyoncé.
It maybe shouldn’t have been such a surprise considering the Grammy’s darling that Adele is, but Beyoncé’s Lemonade was hailed as such a major achievement in the history of music last year that it didn’t feel like anyone could ruin her night.
Here is a little recap of the 59th annual Grammy Awards:
Beyoncé performed “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles” on the Grammys as some sort of meditation on motherhood and people absolutely ate it up as they do with anything Beyoncé does, but I must tell you that I thought it was one of the worst performances of the night. Maybe I should have saved this for later? Oh well, if you’re still reading … I just prefer for my music award shows to be a little bit more about the music and this almost 10-minute performance came off as something more like performance art. I know that Lemonade was hailed as a “visual album” and this performance feeds into that, but it just didn’t do it for me. It really does bug me, as well, how everybody holds Beyoncé up as a savior of music. She just a pop singer. She may be a damn good one, but stop acting like she’s the second coming of Christ.
I’m a hardcore Sturgill Simpson fan, so I knew going into the show that his performance was likely going to be my favorite of the night and it turned out to be true with him performing “All Around You,” my second favorite song off of A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. Even though I knew going in A Sailor’s Guide to Earth would be a long-shot to win Album of the Year I was still disappointed when Adele’s 25 was called as the winner. I really did think, though, that if an album could upset Beyoncé’s Lemonade it might be A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. I was thrilled that A Sailor’s Guide to Earth took home the Grammy for Best Country Album, but was livid that the award wasn’t telecast on the primetime broadcast, but given out prior to the ceremony. Simpson deserved the opportunity to receive this honor in front of millions watching at home and not broadcasting the biggest award in the country music genre was highly disrespectful to the genre and its fans.
The Grammy tributes on Sunday night ranged from perfect to adequate, but it was really what wasn’t done that irritated me. Bruno Mars and Morris Day and The Time paying tribute to Prince was excellent. Mars performed Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” dressed as the late, great artist from “Purple Rain” and it was, without a doubt, one of the highlights of the entire night. Adele paid tribute to George Michael with a version of his song “Fastlove,” that started off with the artist stopping the song maybe 30 seconds to a minute into the performance, apologizing for not getting it right (though I’m not sure any of us really knew it) and began again. It was reminiscent of Adele’s rough Grammys performance from a few years ago, and I can’t help but wonder if she might have the Grammy yips or nerves going through her head because of it. What has me frankly pissed off at the Grammys this year is they didn’t do a tribute segment to Merle Haggard, who has influenced countless more artists in his genre than George Michael ever did. I feel like this omission was incredibly disrespectful to not only the legendary Haggard, but the entire genre of country music. It was made even more irritating by a multiple artist tribute medley to the Bee Gees because of the 40th anniversary of “Saturday Night Fever,” which CBS is airing a special for later this year – essentially this Grammys tribute was just a freaking commercial for that future event. The In Memoriam segment of the show was lovely with John Legend and Cynthia Erivo performing The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” my personal favorite of theirs. Though, it may have been best for the performance to not have been broken up with the In Memoriam video.
I understand that television networks want to stay on schedule, but when it comes to live award shows they really need to give it a rest. CBS and the producers of the Grammys were incredibly rude to multiple award winners on Sunday night, most notably “Hello” co-writer Greg Kurstin, who didn’t even get to make his acceptance speech after Adele made hers before being cut off. The “hurry up” music also played a few too many times during acceptance speeches, most notably twice for Chance the Rapper.
James Corden was really a no-brainer to host the Grammys, aired annually on CBS, as he hosts the network’s “Late, Late Show” and his music loving Carpool Karaoke sketch has become hugely popular. Corden’s Grammys opener was a mixed bag – the bit about the stage elevator not working and then falling down the stairs showed that the comedian is quite talented when it comes to physical comedy, but then his opening rap was kind of lame and unnecessary. Ultimate, as lovable as Corden is the Grammys don’t really need a host. Technically LL Cool J had been the show’s host of late, but he usually just said something quickly and let the show move along.
The Grammys love themselves some pop music and too often the procession of pop act after pop act (and I’m including “country” artists like Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerina in this discussion) can become too much. That’s why I loved three performances a little more than others on Sunday night – Sturgill Simpson’s Americana country-rock-gospel, William Bell and Gary Clark Jr.’s old school blues and A Tribe Called Quest’s politically charged hip hop. These performances were arguably the realest of the night and showed what real music is all about. The Grammys almost always become too much about flashy pop music and that’s fine for putting on a grand show, but it was the performances of Simpson, Bell, Clark and A Tribe Called Quest that truly remind us why we all fell in love with music in the first place – the actual music, the sounds, the words.
Ranking the 18 performances:
by Julian Spivey
The Grammy award for Album of the Year has fared a little better over the years than the category of Song of the Year, but it’s still honestly hit or miss when you look back through time at the winners.
Here are the 10 Grammy Album of the Year winners that I believe are the greatest of all-time:
10. “O Brother, Where Art Thou” by Various Artists
I’m not sure if I’m completely cool with movie soundtracks winning Album of the Year, but I do think it’s cool that the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers’ 2000 film “O Brother, Where Art Thou” briefly made bluegrass and other forms of music born out of Appalachia cool. The soundtrack featured performances from Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and mostly notably “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” by The Soggy Bottom Boys, which includes Union Station member Dan Tyminski on vocals.
9. “The Joshua Tree” by U2
I’m admittedly not a huge U2 fan and honestly believe a large portion of their discography is overrated, but The Joshua Tree doesn’t fall into that category. The only U2 album I’ve ever owned featured the group’s greatest song “With or Without You” and a couple of more solid singles in “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.” The Joshua Tree won Album of the Year In 1988.
8. “Supernatural” by Santana
Carlos Santana pretty much owned popular music in 1999-2000 with his Album of the Year winner Supernatural. The collaborative album between the legendary guitarist and many stars in a multitude of genres included the 12-week No. 1 smash “Smooth,” featuring Matchbox Twenty front-man Rob Thomas, and the 10-week No. 1 hit “Maria Maria,” featuring R&B group The Product G&B. Supernatural also featured collaborations with Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, Everlast, Lauryn Hill and more.
7. “Still Crazy After All These Years” by Paul Simon
The Grammys have loved them some legendary singer-songwriter Paul Simon over the years with him winning three Album of the Year awards between his solo career and time with Simon & Garfunkel. Spoiler alert: all three of those albums appear on this list. Still Crazy After All These Years took home the honor in 1976 and featured the terrific title track, the catchy “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and the excellent regrouping with Art Garfunkel on “My Little Town.”
6. “Unplugged” by Eric Clapton
I’m really not a huge fan of live albums consisting of mostly older material taking home the honor of Album of the Year, but in 1993 it was hard to deny Eric Clapton’s Unplugged, which was recorded as part of MTV’s acoustic concert series “MTV Unplugged.” The album featured Clapton’s tragic response to his young son’s death “Tears in Heaven,” plus a memorable (and somewhat unrecognizable) acoustic version of “Layla.” Unplugged also featured many great blues numbers: Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues,” Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me.”
5. “52nd Street” by Billy Joel
Billy Joel’s 1978 album 52nd Street, which took home the Grammy Album of the Year in 1979, is probably not Joel’s best album – many would say that would be The Stranger, which preceded it. However, the album featured some killer tracks in “My Life” and “Big Shot” and would see “Honesty” nominated for Song of the Year, losing to the Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes.”
4. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by The Beatles
I figure this placement will be controversial. Many believe The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to be the single greatest album ever recorded, including Rolling Stone magazine. However, I don’t even believe it to be The Beatles greatest album – I’m in the corner of Abbey Road. However, there’s no denying ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ is terrific and it does feature my favorite Beatles song in the album closing “A Day in the Life.”
3. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel
Simon & Garfunkel likely saved their best album for their last in 1970’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, that would win Album of the Year in 1971 after the duo’s breakup. The album’s beautifully soaring title track would also win Grammys for Song and Record of the Year. Bridge Over Troubled Water also featured “The Boxer,” which I consider to be the greatest Simon & Garfunkel recording, as well as “The Only Living Boy in New York,” which kind of foresaw the duo’s breakup.
2. “Rumours” by Fleetwood Mac
Oftentimes beautiful art comes from times of great pain and turmoil and that was certainly the case with Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 album Rumours, which would win Album of the Year in 1978. Fleetwood Mac contained two sets of couples within the group: Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks and John and Christine McVie with both breaking up before the making of the album leading to much angst and moodiness in tracks like “Go Your Own Way,” “Never Going Back Again” and “Dreams.”
1. “Graceland” by Paul Simon
I will make no apologies for my love of Paul Simon, who is a singer-songwriter legend and in some small ways underrated. His 1986 album Graceland, winner of Album of the Year in 1987, was a unique and wonderful mixture of sounds from all over the world including pop, rock, zydeco, a capella and African music like mbaqanga. Graceland is one of my favorite albums of all-time featuring terrific tracks like “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” “You Can Call Me Al,” “That Was Your Mother” and, of course, the title track.
by Julian Spivey
The Grammy Awards have handed out almost 60 trophies for Song of the Year in its history, but surprisingly many of these honored songs from the music industry’s biggest awards ceremony haven’t really stood the test of time as “all-time” greats. In fact, many of the winners are downright lame: Barry Manilow’s “I Write the Songs,” Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life,” USA for Africa’s “We Are the World” and Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” These aren’t exactly “Like a Rolling Stone,” which wasn’t even nominated.
Frankly, it was hard to even make a top 10 of the greatest Grammy Song of the Year winners. If I were to make a list of the 100 greatest songs of all-time there’s a good chance not even one of these songs would make the list. Here are the 10 I settled on as the greatest Song of the Year winners of all-time:
10. "Every Breath You Take" by The Police
The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” written by Sting, took home the Grammy for Song of the Year in 1984. More than 30 years later the song might feel more stalker-ish than romantic, but it’s still just as catchy as ever.
9. "Little Green Apples" by O.C. Smith
“Little Green Apples,” written by Bobby Russell, is a beautiful song that was the story of the 1969 Grammy Awards. O.C. Smith’s soulful R&B version went to No. 2 on the Billboard charts and won Song of the Year, while my favorite version Roger Miller’s, released the same year, took home the honor for Country Song of the Year. The song should not have won over The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” though.
8. "Don't Know Why" by Norah Jones
Time will not look kindly upon the Grammy’s Song of the Year award, but I do believe most would think the modern Grammys have done better when it comes to the honor. I don’t care for songs like Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” or Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab,” but most would agree they are worthy. My favorite modern-ish winner is Norah Jones’ piano ballad “Don’t Know Why,” written by Jesse Harris, from 2003. It’s one of the more soulful winners in recent history.
7. "Smooth" by Santana feat. Rob Thomas
The 2000 Grammy Awards absolutely belonged to Carlos Santana, who’s album Supernatural won nine awards including Album, Record and Song of the Year. “Smooth,” written by Matchbox Twenty vocalist Rob Thomas and Itaal Shur, felt like it would go down as one of the all-time great songs at the time. It’s still great to this day, but you’re probably not going to see it on too many “greatest songs of all-time” lists.
6. "Michelle" by The Beatles
If you were to rank the greatest Beatles songs of all-time I don’t believe “Michelle” would even be in the top 20, but it’s the only Beatles song to ever win the Grammy for Song of the Year. Better Beatles songs like “Hey Jude,” “Yesterday” and “Let It Be” were nominated, but beaten out by the likes of “Little Green Apples,” “The Shadow of Your Smile” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” It shouldn’t be any surprise that “Michelle” was the Beatles Grammy breakthrough though as the Paul McCartney penned song is a romantic love ballad even featuring a verse in French. That’s too sweet for the Grammys to ignore.
5. "Tears in Heaven" by Eric Clapton
The Grammys were really digging some Eric Clapton in the 1990s with “Tears in Heaven,” co-written by him and Will Jennings, winning in 1993 and “Change the World,” written by Wayne Kirkpatrick, Gordon Kennedy and Tommy Sims, winning in 1997. Clapton, no doubt, had better songs two decades prior, but his sweet and tragic ballad for his deceased son “Tears in Heaven” was a popular winner and kept Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart” (yes, it was nominated) from winning.
4. "Just the Way You Are" by Billy Joel
There’s a good chance if I were to rank Billy Joel’s greatest songs that “Just the Way You Are,” winner for Song of the Year in 1979, wouldn’t crack the top 10. In fact, I’m not even sure it’s one of Joel’s own favorites as he doesn’t perform it in concert near as much as his other hits. But, I could see how the cutesy love song would be hard to pass up by a Grammys committee that loved cutesy love ballads around this time.
3. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon & Garfunkel
Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was the big Grammys winner in 1970 taking home Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Album of the Year and three other awards. The sweet ballad featuring lovely vocals from Art Garfunkel was basically the definition of “Grammy Bait.” The song, considered by many to be Simon & Garfunkel’s best, wasn’t even the best track off the album (that would be “The Boxer”) and probably should’ve fallen to The Beatles’ “Let It Be” in hindsight.
2. "Streets of Philadelphia" by Bruce Springsteen
In typical Grammys fashion, a music legend like Bruce Springsteen won Song of the Year in 1995 for “Streets of Philadelphia,” a song that’s likely not even one of his 20 greatest recordings of all-time. The song, written for Jonathan Demme’s 1993 film “Philadelphia,” about a character (played by Tom Hanks) dying of AIDS would also win Best Original Song at the Academy Awards. Springsteen would be nominated for Song of the Year twice more for “The Rising” (losing to Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why”) and “Devils & Dust” (losing to U2’s “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own”).
1. "Always on My Mind" by Willie Nelson
“Always on My Mind,” written by Wayne Carson, Johnny Christopher and Mark James, was first recorded by Elvis Presley in 1972. Presley’s overdone version would reach the top 20 on the Billboard charts, but it’s Willie Nelson’s understated take, released in 1982, that has become the definitive version of the song. Nelson’s version would also win CMA Song of the Year in two consecutive years (because that used to be a thing). It’s not Nelson’s greatest song, in my opinion, that would be his 1975 single “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” but it’s right up there.
by Julian Spivey
Eric Church brought his epic Holdin’ My Own Tour to North Little Rock’s Verizon Arena on Saturday, Feb. 4. The tour which features Church performing two sets with an intermission in between is three hours of terrific music from mainstream country music’s finest modern performer.
Church fits almost 40 songs into his mind-blowing three hour set that really should have the CMA and ACM Award winner being compared as his genre’s Bruce Springsteen. This tour also goes to show how ridiculous and unbelievable it is that Church has never taken home an Entertainer of the Year honor at either major country music awards show.
Most artists don’t typically begin shows with something sort of quiet and easy-going, but Church made the brilliant decision to do just that in beginning his show with the fitting “Mistress Named Music” from his most recent album Mr. Misunderstood, released in late 2015. You could tell watching and listening to Church that he’s almost controlled by his music. It’s something he needs and his fans feed off it so nicely.
Church turned things up a bit following the opener with a couple of the loudest songs in his repertoire – “That’s Damn Rock & Roll” and “The Outsiders.” Neither are particularly favorites of mine, but it was a great way to get the packed Verizon Arena crowd into the show.
My favorite early segment performance came next with “Knives of New Orleans” off Mr. Misunderstood, which is a Springsteen-esque tale of a killer and the subsequent manhunt for him. It’s one of the great story songs in recent country music history and shows just why Church is ahead of the game as far as his genre is concerned.
The great thing about Church going out on tour by himself without any openers and being able to play two full sets is that he’s able to pepper his set list with all his hits, which have been mounting steadily since his first album was released just over a decade ago, and non-singles alike.
This luxury allows fans to hear hits like “Drink in My Hand,” “How ‘Bout You,” “Like a Wrecking Ball” and “Cold One” mixed in with deep record cuts like “Carolina,” “Lotta Boot Left to Fill” and “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag” that hardcore fans really love. In fact, “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag” performed late during the first set was one of my favorite moments of the night (I wore my Haggard shirt to the show) and Church paid tribute to Merle Haggard by showing his face on the big screen at the song’s completion. I’ve seen him perform the song in concert before, but this was the first time since Merle’s death last April, which made it even more emotional.
Among my other favorite performances during Church’s first set were “Talladega,” “Smoke a Little Smoke,” which he ended the set with, and “Mr. Misunderstood,” the title track from his most recent album. “Mr. Misunderstood” really speaks to me as both a music lover and someone who feels like an outcast, especially when it comes to my musical tastes. But, it was nice to be in a room seeing Church perform it with others who no doubt feel the same way.
This does bring me to my one complaint about the show and it has absolutely nothing to do with Church or his music. I don’t typically bring up concert issues that have nothing to do with the artist’s performance, but Verizon Arena has a bad reputation for me (mostly during the country music shows) of having frankly piss-poor audiences. Most of the crowd seemed to be having a blast, but unfortunately the section I was in was filled with people ranging from assholes who seemingly didn’t want to be there and were dragged to the venue by their significant others to people who just wanted to drink or spend time on their smart phones. If you don’t want to attend a concert for the music please don’t go and let the real music lovers among us enjoy it.
Anyway, back to the amazing show.
The second set of the concert featured a lot of great performances from Mr. Misunderstood, which Church performed every track of during the night, including “Chattanooga Lucy,” the beautiful “Three Year Old” and “Mixed Drinks About Feelings,” with excellent help from backup singer Joanna Cotten.
Cotten also provided stellar backing help on Church’s most recent single “Kill a Word,” which he forgot some of the words to during the performance, which you can’t really blame him with the song being as wordy as it is. His performance of “Record Year,” the previous single off Mr. Misunderstood, was another great highlight of the second set.
The second set, which featured at least 20 songs, included terrific performances of hits like “Give Me Back My Hometown,” “Creepin’” and “Homeboy,” which all seemed to be fan-favorites. Another great moment was the non-single “These Boots,” from Church’s 2006 debut Sinners Like Me, which has become a staple at his live shoes with longtime fans taking off their boots and hoisting them into the air for the entirety of the performance.
Church finished his second set with my favorite song of his “Springsteen,” with an intro of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” before it. Not only do I love the song as a huge fan of Springsteen, but the fact that he often intros or outros it with Springsteen songs (last time I saw him do it with “Born to Run”) is a cherry on top.
Church left the stage to uproarious applause, before returning a few moments later for a terrific, mostly solo three song encore of “Holdin’ My Own,” “Sinners Like Me” (another personal favorite of mine) and “Those I’ve Loved” as his fitting finisher to a great night of at times raucous and at times introspective music.
Church proved in Little Rock on Saturday night why he’s one of the few greats currently in the genre of country music. His songwriting and music is just a cut above the rest.
by Julian Spivey
Outstanding Americana singer-songwriter Parker Millsap made his “Austin City Limits” debut on Saturday, Jan. 28 on the long-running PBS music program. Millsap was included on an episode with indie rock group Band of Horses.
Millsap’s brand of Americana features a mixture of country, gospel and folk with some of the best lyrics in the genre and passionate vocals that really resonate with his fans. Millsap credits growing up in a Pentecostal Church and listening to his parents’ blues record collection with influencing his one-of-a-kind sound.
His third studio album The Very Last Day was my second favorite release last year after Sturgill Simpson’s excellent A Sailor’s Guide to Earth and his ‘ACL’ debut featured about half of the album’s tracks.
Millsap began his set with the excellent title track from his recent record, which has him foreseeing his response to the end of days. This led brilliantly into another raucous performance in “Hands Up,” about a down on his luck vet from a war in the Middle East holding up a gas station clerk just so he can afford to feed his babies at home.
Millsap slowed things down a bit for his third performance on “Austin City Limits” with “Pining,” a beautiful vocal about absolutely needing to be with someone.
The highlight of Millsap’s ‘ACL’ debut was his performance of “Heaven Sent,” which absolutely floored me the first time I heard it performed at last year’s Americana Honors & Awards, where Millsap was nominated for Album of the Year. The song features Millsap in the shoes of a gay son of a preacher who struggles with his dad not accepting him, even though he always said Jesus would love him through the flame. “Heaven Sent” topped this website’s list of the 100 best country/Americana songs of 2016.
Another highlight of Millsap’s performance on the PBS program was the incredibly fiddle playing of band member Daniel Foulks on virtually every single song.
Millsap kept the gospel flavor going after “Heaven Sent” with the song that first put him on the Americana map in 2014 “Truckstop Gospel,” the only performance during his set that wasn’t off The Very Last Day. It’s a raucous tune about a truck driver spreading the word of the Gospel on the road.
Millsap finished his terrific set up with a couple more songs from The Very Last Day in the blues flavored gospel of “You Gotta Move” and the incredibly infectious “Hades Pleads,” about the Greek God of the underworld pleading for love. “Hades Pleads” is the perfect song for Millsap’s fiery brand of singing.
If you’ve never heard of Parker Millsap I can’t stress enough how much you’re missing out. I’d start with catching his performance on “Austin City Limits” and then checking out the entirety of The Very Last Day.