by Tyler Glover
In 2007, I had fallen in love with one of my best friends. I had never met someone who I felt I was more compatible with and I felt like we should give a relationship a shot. I finally worked up the courage to share my feelings with her. It led to a conversation about how she did not want a relationship because she valued our friendship too much. I was absolutely heartbroken. I got into my car driving home devastated. I turn on the radio and hear the lyrics, “He’s the reason for the teardrops on my guitar.” I immediately began crying listening to this song because it completely described the situation I was going through. When I got home, I looked up the song and saw that it was by an artist I had never heard of named Taylor Swift. The next day, I went to the store and bought her debut album. As I listened, I heard her describe so many experiences that I had gone through in the last several years of my life. I immediately became a Swiftie and looked forward to any album that she would ever put out.
The incomparable Taylor Swift would continue to deliver and surpass expectations for many years and is continuing to do so. I found the words to my enemies in “Mean,” the words to describe the love for my wife in “You Belong With Me,” the delight in shaking off the haters in “Shake It Off,” and songs that describe many of my exes in “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Swift has written these songs about her life experiences but managed to give a voice to a generation in helping them validate their experiences. Yes, I have gone through this and this is how I felt about it. Swift has declined to ever publicly voice who her songs are about in part because she wants her fans to let the songs represent the people this relates to in their own lives. By keeping it confidential, we don’t think of Gyllenhaal, Styles, Jonas, Mayer, or Kennedy, it represents John Doe or Jane Doe.
As Taylor has released her nine albums over the years, she has ushered in new eras: each with their own look, sound and genre. Swift has journeyed from country to pop to indie folk with even some rock influences in her work. Trying to rank her albums is almost near impossible because they are all so different and each have something that makes them special. Even what might be last on my list in ranking her albums is still better than a ton of music out there. Keeping that in mind, here is how this Swiftie ranks her nine albums, thus far:
9. “Taylor Swift” debut album (2006)
Swift’s debut was a solid first album from an up-and-coming country artist. It managed to successfully establish what kind of artist she was going to be. She was going to write her own songs about her experiences with life, love, heartache, anger, happiness and joy. This album has some amazing songs that I continue to go back to often even after 15 years and eight more albums: “Our Song,” “Teardrops On My Guitar,” “Tim McGraw,” and “Should’ve Said No.” After the release of this album, Swift was nominated for the Grammy for Best New Artist and won the Horizon Award at the 2007 Country Music Association Awards. This album was also nominated for Album of the Year at the 2008 Academy of Country Music Awards. Swift made a huge impact on the country music scene almost instantaneously with the release of this album. Little did we all know, this was just the tip of the iceberg to how brilliant of an artist Swift would eventually become.
8. “reputation” (2017)
The fact that “reputation” could be placed at number eight on this list just shows how insanely talented Swift truly is. This album’s themes of having people turn their back on you but finding someone special who loves you despite your reputation truly speaks to me. This album came after Kim Kardashian leaked a PARTIAL clip of a phone call that seemingly “proved” Swift had lied about giving Kanye West permission to write a song that she had denounced. Swift had spoken out against him during a Grammy speech and when this clip got released, Swift truly believed she would be canceled especially since there was a trending hashtag at the time to make her believe this was the case. During this time, Swift met her boyfriend Joe Alwyn and this album details her emotions going through the fallout but also falling in love with Joe, who didn’t care about others’ opinions about her. This is my go-to album when I am dealing with depression, anger, or wanting to feel free from what others think about me. The highlights on this album are: “Getaway Car,” “Delicate,” “Look What You Made Me Do,” “King of My Heart,” and “New Year’s Day.” My favorite lyric from this album is: “My reputations’ never been worse so you must like me for me.”
7. “Lover” (2019)
Taylor’s seventh album was a return to the “Daylight” after the dark album, reputation. This album truly celebrates love in all its forms and complexities. She explores the love for parents in “Soon You’ll Get Better,” love for our significant others in “Lover,” love for our friends in “It’s Nice To Have A Friend,” a love for ourselves in “ME!,” and wrote an anthem that combines several of these in “You Need To Calm Down.” This album has so many fantastic songs. One of the highlights is “The Man.” In this song, Swift examines how her career would be different if she did everything the exact same way but was a MAN. This album would go on to be nominated for three Grammys, including Song of The Year for “Lover.” While this album isn’t the best work she has ever done, it showcased many of the reasons we all “Love-her.”
6. “Speak Now” (2010)
Swift’s third album was her first and only album thus far that is completely and entirely written only by her. This could be the reason some of the best lyrics from her entire career are on this album. The album is inspired by the notion that we all have things we hold back and don’t say but Swift is encouraging us all to “Speak Now.” The song the album is named after tells the story of a girl who goes to a wedding to interrupt it and tell the groom that she has feelings for him. The whole album encourages us to say how we are feeling just in less grandiose forms. This album has so many great songs: an annual fourth of July song for my family: “Sparks Fly,” “Back to December,” the first time Taylor Swift openly admits the ending of a relationship is her fault, “Dear John,” a song sang so beautifully that calls an ex out, and “Mean,” a song which won Swift two Grammys! Speak Now is also really special to me because this was the tour that I saw Swift for the first time. When she came into the audience, we had floor seats and my wife even got to hug her before the security ushered her towards the stage. This is a very empowering album that still means so much to me even a decade later.
5. evermore (2020)
When the news first broke that Swift was releasing a sister album to the critically acclaimed and beloved folklore, I was excited but also a little worried. I was worried these were the songs not chosen to be on folklore and would not be as great in quality. I could not have been more wrong. evermore continues the brilliant storytelling that folklore starts by telling us stories from multiple intriguing and complex points of view. We get to hear from a con artist in love (“cowboy like me”), someone wanting to reunite with an ex for the holidays (“‘tis the damn season”), a woman in a forbidden romance (“ivy”), a friend who kills her friend’s husband after she goes missing (“no body, no crime”), and from a woman in a loveless marriage (“tolerate it”). This album is almost certain to get several Grammy nominations when the nominations are released in a week. This album showed us that while we thought folklore was complete, we still had some captivating stories to hear on this sister album.
4. “Fearless” (2008) and re-recorded (2021)
With Fearless, Swift became the youngest winner ever of the Grammy for Album of the Year. This was a record she would hold up until two years ago when Billie Eilish broke it. This album had the widely successful singles: “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me,” which would solidify her as a dominating country artist with possible pop crossover potential. Fearless would not only be the Album of the Year at the Grammys but also at the Academy of Country Music Awards and at the Country Music Association Awards. Fearless was already an incredible success in Swift’s career but when she re-released her album this year including some previously unreleased tracks, the album would become even better. With the inclusion of “You All Over Me,” “Don’t You,” and “Mr. Perfectly Fine,” in particular, this album soars to new heights!
3. “Red” (2012) and re-recorded (2021)
Swift’s fourth album introduced us to a whole new Taylor. With Red, Taylor really started to experiment with her music. With the help of producer Max Martin, her career started to embrace the country-pop genre and seemed to be following the trajectory of Shania Twain’s career. Red would give Swift her first No. 1 Billboard Hit: “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” It would also feature many incredible songs, such as “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “22,” “Begin Again,” and features the BEST song of Swift’s entire career: “All Too Well.” When Swift re-released this album last week, she included the original 10-minute version of this song fans had known about for years and were eager to one day hear. Swift released it as one of the vault tracks and made a song that was already brilliant to something nothing short of a masterpiece. This song became a self-proclaimed Swiftie favorite despite never being released as a single. Swift has said she realized how popular this song was with fans when playing it at one of her concerts and realizing how fans were shouting the lyrics in a way she did not expect. This song examines how sometimes we do not know how to feel after a breakup but we do remember it … all too well. Swift has always said she wants her music to sound like how she feels and this one successfully does that. The first five minutes, we feel a state of numbness as she remembers, then anger as she explores her feelings, and then to a state of sadness as she asks if he remembers it all too well the way she does. Red was a fantastic album that explored the many aspects of love and how red can symbolize anger, love and just all the emotions surrounding those. Red would be nominated for four Grammys including Album of the Year. This album is the only time she lost so far when nominated and with the re-release she is showing the Grammys they made a mistake.
2. folklore (2020)
With this album, Swift became the first woman to win the Grammy for Album of the Year three times, following her wins for Fearless and 1989. It is no surprise because this album showed us that Swift could not only do country and pop but also indie-folk music. This album’s best songs are the ones that tell the love triangle story of Betty, James and “Augustine” in “betty,” “cardigan” and “august.” James is in love with Betty but after a falling out, he has a summer fling with Augustine but eventually reunites with Betty. The admirable part of the song “august” is that we see how complex Augustine’s feelings for James were and that for her, this wasn’t a summer fling instead of painting her as the villainous other woman. One of my personal favorites that is criminally underrated is “this is me trying.” In her film, “folklore: the long pond sessions,” (available on Disney+), she explains that sometimes, people are trying their best but not getting credit for it. Some people need that validation that people acknowledge they are doing their best and they don’t always get it. It is so difficult for me to pick between the correct order for the top three because folklore really showcases Swift’s songwriting capabilities at its best. However, the top choice I feel is the correct one.
1. “1989” (2014)
With the release of 1989, Swift proclaimed her transition from country to pop music. Inspired by 1980s’ synth-pop, Taylor named the album after the year she was born to signify a “re-birth” to her career. This album would go on to win three Grammys, including her second win for Album of the Year. It would be a blockbuster commercial and critical success! It would go on to have three Billboard No. 1 songs: “Shake It Off,” “Blank Space” and “Bad Blood.” With this album, Swift was everywhere! To me, it was the peak of her career. However, she would go on to show that you can have more than one peak. A really underrated song on this album that I listen to very regularly even today is “Clean.” This song compares love to like an addiction that she is trying to shake. It deals with the different emotions involved in that as well. You even miss it sometimes even knowing it is bad for you. This album showcases everything we love about Taylor perfectly: incredible storytelling, marvelous lyrics, infectious tunes, bops and heartbreaking songs. This is the album that a lot of my friends became Swifties on. There are 1,989 reasons to love this album and that is why in my opinion, it is her No. 1 album!
by Tyler Glover & Julian Spivey
Favorite: Taylor Swift for Album of the Year for “evermore”
Almost everyone that knows me knows that Taylor Swift is my favorite artist! Last year was a highlight for all of us Swifties when Swift became the first woman to win Album of the Year three times for folklore, following her previous wins for Fearless and 1989. My biggest Grammy wish for the 2022 honors was that she would at least be nominated in this category and my wish came true! I will love this artist for “evermore” and I am so excited for this nomination for her! TG
Snub: Taylor Swift...everywhere else!
While Taylor Swift was rightfully nominated for Album of the Year, she was snubbed everywhere else. I was not expecting her to lead the nominations this year, but felt she would make it in for Pop Vocal Album, Song of the Year for “Willow” and for Best Music Film for “folklore: the long pond sessions.” It is insane to me that she has THE album of the year but cannot be nominated in her genre categories. This is something that is not uncommon for many artists but in the case of a popular artist like Swift, this is extremely rare. TG
Favorite: Brandi Carlile
Brandi Carlile’s most recent album In These Silent Days, which was released in October, wasn’t eligible for the 2022 Grammy Awards, but it didn’t stop the lead single “Right On Time” from receiving nominees for Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Pop Solo Performance. She’s up against better known and major acts in all three categories, so probably unlikely to win – but I’m glad folks are going to continue to find out the great talent she is through these nominations and hopefully another performance on the telecast. JS
Snub: “Save Your Tears” by The Weeknd feat. Ariana Grande for Record of the Year
The big story when the Grammy nominations were announced last year was the complete snub of The Weeknd. To me, it is probably the most shocking and criminal shutout of an artist in all my years of following the Grammys. Last year, The Weeknd was everywhere with his album, After Hours. He should have easily been nominated for Album of the Year and “Blinding Lights” was THE Song and THE Record of the Year last year regardless of what won at the ceremony. Due to these snubs, The Weeknd has vowed to never submit his work for consideration at the Grammys. However, he was nominated this year for three nominations due to collaborations. This is THE ONE that he should have gotten for sure! It would have been great for the Academy to nominate this wonderful song for “Record of the Year” as kind of a Grammy IOU, especially since it is such a great song that also has the star power of Ariana Grande to it. It still wouldn’t have made it up to him but would have been a start in the right direction, but the Grammys just seemed to be blinded by the lights where he is concerned. TG
Favorite: Foo Fighters
The Foo Fighters, who were recently inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, are still top of the rock game after 26 years and received three Grammy Award nominations. The band was nominated for Best Rock Album for the excellent Medicine at Midnight, for Best Rock Performance for “Making a Fire” and Best Rock Song for “Waiting on a War.” The band is up against Paul McCartney in the album and song category and against the late Chris Cornell, who could easily win a posthumous performance Grammy for his memorable cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U.” JS
Snub: Foo Fighters in General Field Categories
It was nice to see the Foo Fighters nominated multiple times in the rock music categories for their excellent Medicine at Midnight album, but it was a disappointment that the group couldn’t crack the general field categories, which are increasingly becoming more and more pop oriented. Not only were the Foo Fighters snubbed in the Album, Record and Song of the Year categories, but so were all rock artists in general. The general field categories should be for the best in all genres and honestly the Recording Academy should set aside a spot for all the major genres of music to have at least one nominee in each general field category. JS
Favorite: The Marfa Tapes by Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram and Jon Randall
I was thrilled to see The Marfa Tapes, a collaboration between songwriter friends Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram and Jon Randall, nominated for Best Country Album – it might be my favorite album of 2021. The Marfa Tapes is filled with terrific songs recorded in intimate outdoor settings and everything country music should be about in a time when much of the genre has gone wayward. It’s likely going to lose to Chris Stapleton’s Starting Over, but kudos for the nomination. JS
Snub: Chris Stapleton for “Starting Over” for Album of the Year
Chris Stapleton is a huge country artist that seems to always be an award magnet. In fact, this month at the CMAs, he won five awards: the most of anyone. He has even been nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys before for his album, Traveller. He was nominated for Country Album of the Year as well as for Country Song and Country Solo Vocal Performance. He is a powerhouse in the country genre categories and that should have crossed over into the Album of the Year category as well. TG
Snub: Country Music in General Field
The general field categories (Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist) at the Grammy Awards have 10 nominees in each category and of the 40 nominees across those categories for the 2022 honors was only one single country music nomination – Jimmie Allen for Best New Artist. This is just inexcusable, and I feel like it’s become more and more of a thing in recent years as the general field categories are skewing more and more toward pop only genres. Chris Stapleton’s Starting Over would’ve been the most obvious choice for an Album of the Year nomination or some songs in the Record or Song of the Year categories, but I also would’ve loved seeing The Marfa Tapes by Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram and Jon Randall up for Album of the Year. The major music genres must be included in the general field categories! JS
Favorite: Carrie Underwood for Best Roots Gospel Album for “My Savior”
Many country artists eventually release a gospel album later in their careers. I have never looked more forward to an artist releasing one until the release of My Savior from Carrie Underwood. From the moment I heard her sing “Jesus, Take The Wheel,” I always looked forward to this day. Her powerful and beautiful voice truly lifts me up when singing about Jesus. I hope she pulls off a win in this category. The Grammys have underappreciated Underwood’s talent. She should have easily broken into the general field with her smash hit “Before He Cheats.” I am glad to see her recognized here. TG
Favorite: Ed Sheeran for Song of the Year for “Bad Habits”
Ed Sheeran has a way of writing hit after hit that tops the charts and has all his fans hitting repeat. I felt that Sheeran’s Divide album should have easily won Album of the Year at the Grammys several years ago. In fact, before the nominations came out, Goldderby.com had him as the frontrunner to win the category. However, the Grammys have given him Song of the Year before for the smash hit, “Thinking Out Loud.” His album = wasn’t eligible for Album of the Year since it was released after the eligibility period ended. However, hopefully, this is a sign that next year, the Grammys will make it up to Sheeran. This nomination is a step in the right direction. TG
Snub: Gabby Barrett for Best New Artist
With 10 nominations for Best New Artist, the fact that Gabby Barrett was left off the list is not only shocking but appalling. Barrett was everywhere with her hit single, “I Hope.” Every time I turned on the radio, I heard this song and sang at the top of my lungs. The song has a plot twist by the time it gets to the chorus that is very intriguing. We are led to believe this woman is wishing her ex well and for a happy relationship but learn that she wants it all to be set up so that it crashes even harder the way it did when he cheated on her. Barrett even won the equivalent of Best New Artist at the ACM Awards earlier this year and with 10 nominations for Best New Artist, I hope the Academy realizes that they cheated Barrett out of this nomination. TG
Favorite: Kacey Musgraves for Country Song and Country Solo Performance for “camera roll”
Following her win a few years ago for Album of the Year for Golden Hour, Musgraves released her follow-up called star-crossed. While Golden Hour was about falling in love, star-crossed navigates all the different aspects of a divorce and moving on. One of the best songs on the entire album is called “camera roll.” The song talks about the pain in looking back at the pictures of a relationship that is over but how even though you may not want to look at them, you cannot bring yourself to delete them. It is a heartbreaking song that showcases Musgraves’ Grammy-winning songwriting at its best. I hope the Grammys will agree and not regret the decision when they go back through their camera roll in years to come.
Snub: Kacey Musgraves for Album of the Year for “star-crossed”
While Musgraves’ follow-up break-up album may not have lived up to the expectations of many, it was a fantastic album. It offered some interesting perspectives that made it an album I feel everyone should hear. My favorite song on the album is “hookup scene.” The song talks about someone who has a one night stand looking to be fulfilled but cannot replace the love that is gone. Likewise, the song, “camera roll” explores how we don’t always want to delete photos no matter how painful the memories are. We also get amazing songs like “breadwinner,” “simple times,” “star-crossed,” and “angel.” While the album may not fully live up to Golden Hour, it is a fantastic album and I feel it should have been in this category especially since there were ten slots.
Favorite: Sturgill Simpson
It’s not often you’ll see an artist receive album of the year nominations in two different genre categories (mostly because artists rarely release more than one album in the eligibility timeframe these days), but that’s exactly what Sturgill Simpson did receiving a Best Bluegrass Album nomination for Cuttin’ Grass – Vol. 1 (Butcher Shoppe Sessions), an album of some of his best career songs redone as bluegrass versions, and a Best Country Album nomination for The Ballad of Dood and Juanita, a traditional sounding concept album telling the story of a love on the Kentucky frontier. He’s probably not the favorite in either category, but this is quite the feat.
Snub: James McMurtry
I’m willing to bet singer-songwriter James McMurtry likely doesn’t give a single goddamn about the Grammy Awards. There’s a good chance his recent album The Horses and the Hounds, which might be the best album of 2021 for my money, wasn’t even submitted for nomination. But for McMurtry’s latest work – truly a masterclass in songwriting – to not be among the albums in the Best American Roots Album category is just jaw-droppingly bad.
Favorite: All Black Best American Roots Song Category
It wasn’t that long ago when there was a controversy within the Americana genre of music about how white it was and how there weren’t many artists of color breaking through. All five nominees in the Best American Roots Song category for the 2022 Grammy Awards are black, showing a huge growth for the genre. Congrats to Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi for “Avalon,” Valerie June feat. Carla Thomas for “Call Me a Fool,” Jon Batiste for “Cry,” Yola for “Diamond Studded Shoes” and Allison Russell for “Nightflyer” on the nominations.
by Julian Spivey
The Drive-By Truckers returned to The Revolution Room in Little Rock, Ark. on Monday, Nov. 15 for a show of career-spanning songs that rocked the house, even if Monday nights are the least rock & roll night of the week.
The Drive-By Truckers, carrying on their special brand of Southern alternative rock, are now more than 20 years into being one of the best and last original groups in rock music.
If you’ve never been to one of their shows it’s done with original members Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, the two songwriters and vocalists of the group, switching off on song after song all night long – something you rarely see these days from any artist.
The show began with Cooley’s “Slow Ride Argument” off the group’s 2020 album The Unraveling and Hood began his portion of the set with “Heroin Again” off the same album.
I enjoy both songwriters immensely, but I think I’ve come to find over the years that I connect with Cooley’s songs a bit more both on the group’s records and in their live shows (though I do believe both were at their peak on 2016’s American Band).
My favorite performances of Monday night were Cooley’s “Gravity’s Gone,” off 2006’s A Blessing and a Curse, “Ramon Casiano,” off American Band and “Marry Me,” off 2003’s Decoration Day.
Among Hood’s best offerings of the evening were “Thoughts & Prayers,” off The Unraveling, and “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy,” from Decoration Day.
One of the night’s most interesting moments came at the end of Hood’s “Lookout Mountain” late in the show when he noticed a bit of a ruckus going on. I had noticed a bit of a tussle near the front of the stage, some heated conversation and then a man get hit in the head with what looked like the slowest punch I’ve ever seen in my life. Hood asked the audience if everything and everyone was OK and had the guilty party ejected from the Rev Room with some colorful language.
The band played a jam-packed 26-song setlist and I must admit for me personally the show began to drag a bit toward the end, but I must add I don’t feel most of the packed audience felt this way. I think they were into it from start-to-finish. I was more into the set the band performed the last time I saw them at the Rev Room in 2018. I’m also kinda bummed the group hasn’t performed my favorite song of their repertoire “Zip City” both times I’ve seen them, despite it being a frequent addition to their set list.
Drive-By Truckers finished out their performance with a three-song performance of “Let There Be Rock,” “Shut Up and Get on the Plane” and “Angels and Fuselage,” from their 2001 double-album Southern Rock Opera, which is in part about the final moments of the original Lynyrd Skynyrd before the 1977 plane crash.
Buffalo Nichols, an extremely talented blues-rock guitarist from Milwaukee, Wis., opened the show for the Truckers with a combination of blues covers and original stuff from his new self-titled album, including “These Things” and “Living Hell.”
by Julian Spivey
1. American Pie – Don McLean
I understand why some might cringe upon seeing Don McLean’s epic “American Pie” top this list of greatest songs from 1971 as it’s been overplayed throughout the years and for McLean’s belief that rock music died basically in its infancy, but it’s such a brilliantly written song with so much symbolism that it’s basically a study in pop culture from 1959 throughout the ‘60s. Everything in the pop music world is in this song: Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones Altamont concert, Woodstock and so many people have so many different interpretations for the symbolism. One could literally spend half a day discussing this song and all its meanings.
2. Imagine – John Lennon
I know Gal Gadot and a bunch of Hollywood A-listers tried to kill this song last year, but we shouldn’t forget how great of a song John Lennon’s “Imagine” is. Probably the best post-Beatles song any of the Beatles would release solo, “Imagine” is an encouragement as to what the world could look like if we forgot about the things that separate us as humans like war, religion and materialism. Sure, the sentiments behind “Imagine” are a pipedream and for that reason some might also be rolling their eyes at its high placement on this list, but isn’t the sentiment of the song such a wonderful dream?
3. John Prine’s Entire Debut Album
OK, this is cheating, and I know it. When preparing songs for this list I realized I had at least half of singer-songwriter John Prine's self-titled debut album from 1971 on my list and felt it was unfair to other artists to feature so many songs from one guy on the list and frankly I couldn't cut any of the songs because they're too damn good. Few songwriters have ever spoken to me as beautifully and eloquently as Prine and his album just really hits the spot for me with stories of real life issues, especially the loneliness in "Angel from Montgomery" and "Hello in There" and the tragedy of "Sam Stone" and "Six O'Clock News." There's also the greatness of "Paradise," "Far from Me," "Spanish Pipedream" and "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore." It's truly a perfect album and I couldn't piecemeal it.
4. Me & Bobby McGee – Janis Joplin
"Me & Bobby McGee" had been around for a bit. The first release of the song was a rather unmemorable one by country singer Roger Miller in mid-1969. Kenny Rogers and the First Edition also recorded it in '69, but it wasn't released as a single. Folk singer Gordon Lightfoot had a minor hit in his home country of Canada with it in 1970 and Kris Kristofferson, who wrote the song, put it on his debut album in 1970 (and it's a performance that's dear to me). But the ultimate recording of "Me & Bobby McGee" is the one on Janis Joplin's final album Pearl, which would be released following her death of a drug overdose in October of 1970. Joplin had recorded the song, which tells the tale of two drifters hitching a ride across the country, just a few days before her death. Her bluesy take on the song is iconic and it would posthumously become her only no. 1 hit.
5. Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
I know the fact that this isn't no. 1 is likely going to turn a lot of people off, but I must admit Led Zeppelin isn't really my bag. "Stairway to Heaven" would probably be the consensus choice for the greatest classic rock song of all-time mixing Jimmy Page's brilliant hard rock guitar playing with Robert Plant's mysterious lyrics and one of a kind vocal. "Stairway to Heaven" wasn't a huge hit right away, partly because Zeppelin didn't buy into the single thing, but became a rock anthem after a couple of years being played by the band on tour.
6. Tiny Dancer – Elton John
Watch the "Tiny Dancer" scene in director/screenwriter Cameron Crowe's excellent 2000 film "Almost Famous" and try to tell me this isn't a powerful song. The song, with music by Elton John and lyrics by Bernie Taupin, appeared on John's fourth album Madman Across the Water, released in late 1971. Taupin's lyrics were inspired by his first trip to America the year before and meant to capture the spirit of California and women, whom he found completely different than those back home in England. He also told Rolling Stone in 1973 that the song was about his wife at that time, Maxine Feibelman. The mixture of Taupin's lyrics with John's beautiful piano playing is entrancing.
7. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Last year Rolling Stone magazine named Marvin Gaye’s album What’s Going On as the greatest album of all-time. The title track is certainly one of the all-time great songs, as well. “What’s Going On,” the lead single released in early 1971, was inspired by police brutality in Berkeley, Calif. witnessed by Obie Benson, a member of the Four Tops, in mid-1969 and upset by what he saw said “What is happening here?” to author ben Edmonds. Benson later discussed what he has seen with songwriter Al Cleveland and from that conversation came one of the great protest songs in the history of pop music. Gaye was inspired by conversations shared between him and his brother, Frankie, who had returned home from three years of service in the Vietnam War. When Gaye told Berry Gordy, found of Motown Records, he wanted to record a protest record, Gordy responded with: “Marvin, don’t be ridiculous. That’s taking things too far.” Luckily, Gaye had enough guts to go that far.
8. Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who
I believe The Who’s 1971 album Who’s Next to be the best the band ever recorded. There are three tracks from that album that made this very list, but I believe “Won’t Get Fooled Again” to be the best of them. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is an eight-and-a-half minute epic rocker about how revolution can be unpredictable and as soon as one government or group or faction is defeated there’s just going to be another one in its place. The song culminates in one of the all-time greatest final lyrics ever: “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
9. Man in Black – Johnny Cash
“Man in Black” essentially became Johnny Cash’s theme song giving reasons for why the country performer almost always dressed in dark colors. The song, which would become a no. 3 country hit in 1971, is essentially a protest anthem for many of the wrongs facing the country at the time like the poor treatment of poor folks by wealthy politicians, the treatments of soldiers fighting for their country in Vietnam and having to fight the war in the first place, for those facing mass incarceration in the country. Cash was truly a man of the people, and this might be the song that summarizes that best.
10. Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers
One thing I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know ... is that everyone loves Bill Withers' 1971 No. 3 hit "Ain't No Sunshine." One of the all-time great R&B/soul classics, "Ain't No Sunshine" finds Withers crooning about a woman who completely alters his life for the worse when she's gone. The song has an interesting inspiration - the 1962 Jack Lemmon film "Days of Wine and Roses," with Withers telling Songfacts.com: "They [characters played by Lemmon and Lee Remick] were both alcoholics who were alternately weak and strong. It's like going back for seconds on rat poison. Sometimes you miss things that weren't particularly good for you. It's just something that crossed my mind from watching that movie, and probably something else that happened in my life that I'm not aware of."
11. If You Could Read My Mind – Gordon Lightfoot
I think Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” is one of the most beautifully written and sung songs of all-time. It’s the kind of song I probably would’ve felt was corny when I was younger but carries such a powerful punch now that I’ve matured. It’s a devastating look into a failed relationship that Lightfoot cites his divorce as inspiration for. As a writer I absolutely love the imagery of relationships as told through images of paperback novels or old-time Hollywood movies.
12. Mr. Bojangles – Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
This is maybe a controversial inclusion because The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band releases “Mr. Bojangles” as a single in September of 1970, but it was still on the charts and became a top-10 Billboard hit in early 1971 – so it’s the age old debate on whether a song should be included on a list in the year it was released, the year it peaked on the charts or both. I’ve always loved “Mr. Bojangles” and feel like it is the epitome of folk-country-rock. Songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker was inspired by a street performer in New Orleans he encountered in a local jail for public intoxication. Walker released his version of the song in 1968, but it became a hit for The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on their album Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy.
13. Baba O’Riley – The Who
The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” is one of the most famous songs in which the title does not appear in the lyrics. It was named for songwriter and guitarist Pete Townshend’s philosophical and musical mentors, Meher Baba and Terry Riley respectively. Because of the song’s famous “teenage wasteland” lyric the song is often erroneously called “Teenage Wasteland.” Featuring one of the most famous guitar riffs of all-time and one of vocalist Roger Daltrey’s finest vocals “Baba O’Riley” has become one of The Who’s most beloved tracks over their almost 60-year career.
14. Behind Blue Eyes – The Who
I seriously believe one could argue that the three best songs of The Who’s legendary career all come from Who’s Next and here is the third track from that album just within the top 15 on this list. “Behind Blue Eyes” is one of The Who’s softest sounding songs, but with some of the group’s angriest lyrics – which has always been interesting to me. The song was originally intended for Pete Townshend’s rock opera “Lifehouse,” which never came to fruition, and was to be sung by the villain of the piece as a first-person lament from a guy believing he’s forced into being the bad guy.
15. Wild Night – Van Morrison
Few songs have ever made me want to get off my butt and dance like Van Morrison’s “Wild Night.” The lead single off his Tupelo Honey album, the song peaked at No. 28 on the Billboard chart. It’s just such a blissful song about a night of fun out on the town and truly a tribute to the terrific R&B coming out of a studio like Stax Records in the ‘60s.
16. Levon – Elton John
“Levon” was the first single off Elton John’s Madman Across the Water and peaked at no. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100. I’ve always loved this song since I was a young lad, but the lyrics, written by John’s longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin, have always been a bit mysterious to me and I’m sure many others. In Susan Black’s book Elton John in His Own Words John said of the song: “It’s about a guy who just gets bored with blowing up balloons and he just wants to get away from it, but he can’t because it’s family ritual.” That’s doesn’t quite nail it down all the way though, does it?
17. Willin’ – Little Feat
Little Feat’s “Willin’” might be the most obscure song on this list, but it’s one of the all-time great trucking songs in any genre of music. The track, off the band’s 1971 self-titled debut album, is about a trucker just doing whatever he can to make end’s meat, even if it means smuggling drugs or people into the United States from Mexico. It’s a brilliant lyric by band leader Lowell George and “Willin’” actually appeared on the group’s first two studio albums with a re-worked slower version on 1972’s Sailin’ Shoes.
18. Let’s Stay Together – Al Green
Do you want to know how cool Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” is and remains to this day? How many Presidents of the United States have crooned hit songs on camera? Not many, but President Barack Obama memorably sang a bit of “Let’s Stay Together” during a fundraiser featuring Green at the Apollo Theater in New York in 2012. “Let’s Stay Together” is simply one of the smoothest and most romantic vocals ever laid down and probably Green’s finest song. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971 and was the top R&B song according to Billboard of the year.
19. Kiss An Angel Good Morning – Charley Pride
Simply one of the greatest love songs in the history of country music, Charley Pride’s “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” a no. 1 hit on the country chart that crossed over and almost hit the top 20 on the pop chart, showcases the wonderful voice of Pride, an important figure in the history of country music as its first major African-American star.
20. Have You Ever Seen the Rain – CCR
There have been many theories as to what Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” off the best penultimate album together Pendulum, with some claiming it to be about Vietnam or the ending of the idealism of the ‘60s, but songwriter/vocalist John Fogerty has said it was truly about rising tension within the band and the imminent departure from the band of his brother. “Have you ever seen the rain coming down on a sunny day” was about how high the band was when it came to their successes, but how depressing things were behind the scenes.
21. Dead Flowers – Rolling Stones
“Dead Flowers” is my favorite Rolling Stones deep cut. It wasn’t a single off Sticky Fingers, one of the few non-singles to make this list. The song is essentially a kiss-off to an ex-lover and one of the Stones best forays into a country music sound, which was influenced by guitarist Keith Richards friendship with Gram Parsons.
22. Maggie May – Rod Stewart
How great is the piano intro to this song? I don’t even think it appears often on classic rock format radio. Rod Stewart, hot off his time with the group Faces, really broke out as a solo artist with this terrific ballad about a boy’s first experience with love with an older, more mature woman. “Maggie May” would top the Billboard Hot 100 becoming the first of three solo no. 1 hits for Stewart. If only Stewart had kept recording music like this and not tripe like “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.”
23. Help Me Make It Through the Night – Sammi Smith
Sammi Smith’s version of “Help Me Make it Through the Night” is listed as the greatest country song of all-time in David Cantwell and Bill Friskics-Warren’s 2003 book Heartaches by the Number: Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles and while I believe that’s far off from the truth there’s no doubt it’s a classic. The song, written by Kris Kristofferson (who one could argue is the greatest in country history), is about someone just needing someone to love and lean on to make it through the night. Kristofferson told Esquire he was inspired from a Frank Sinatra quote where “Ol’ Blue Eyes” said: “Booze, broads or a bible … whatever helps me make it through the night.” Smith’s version is pure, smooth country Neapolitan. Frankly, I prefer Kristofferson’s own stripped down version from his 1970 debut.
24. Black Magic Woman – Santana
“Black Magic Woman” was written by Peter Green during Fleetwood Mac’s blues-rock era before Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham would come along in the ‘70s and change the group’s sound. The original version is just fine, but when Santana brings that Latin Rock flavor to it in late 1970, with it peaking on the Billboard chart at no. 4 in early 1971, the song just absolutely comes alive. It would be Santana’s highest charting song until his collaboration with Rob Thomas on “Smooth” in 1999 topped Billboard and went through the stratosphere.
25. Proud Mary – Ike & Tina Turner
I will admit that Creedence Clearwater Revival’s original version of “Proud Mary,” released in 1969, is my favorite version of the song – I’m just a major fan of CCR – but Ike & Tina Turner put their own flavor on the song in 1971 and really gave the song another life. CCR’s is bayou rock. Ike & Tina Turner make it a funk-soul classic. It’s one of the most memorable tracks of Tina Turner’s rock hall of fame career and earned the group a Grammy in 1972.
26. So Far Away – Carole King
There’s so much desperation and longing in Carole King’s “So Far Away” off her award-winning and epic 1971 album Tapestry. I think it’s her best recording as a performer. I think anybody who’s ever been in a relationship and away from the one they love has experienced this feeling. It’s such a simple performance, but King’s vocal with her piano playing is chef’s kiss.
27. The Year Clayton Delaney Died – Tom T. Hall
Tom T. Hall can weave a short story in song like nobody else and one of his greatest hits is 1971's "The Year Clayton Delaney Died," which topped the country chart and was ranked as the fourth biggest country song of the year by Billboard. 'Clayton Delaney' is a bit fact and a bit fiction. The titular character of a terrific guitar picker who mentors the song's narrator isn't real but was based on Hall's childhood neighbor and boyhood hero Lonnie Easterly.
28. Coat of Many Colors – Dolly Parton
The best songwriters can capture moments from their lives and turn them into great art. That’s exactly what Dolly Parton did with “Coat of Many Colors,” which tells the story of how her mother stitched together a coat for her out of different color rags given to the family. While sewing the coat together her mom would tell her the biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. It’s a beautiful memory that Parton has shared with us for half a century now.
29. California – Joni Mitchell
Blue is considered not just Joni Mitchell’s magnum opus, but one of the greatest albums anybody has ever recorded. Surprisingly though the album didn’t have any hits. My favorite track from Blue is “California,” a stream of consciousness travelogue, which showcases Mitchell’s breathtaking vocals beautifully and a longing to get back home to California while living in France. Mitchell plays an Appalachian dulcimer on “California,” which truly gives it a unique sound.
30. Take Me Home, Country Roads – John Denver
I can say with almost 100 percent certainty that John Denver’s crossover hit “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is the only song on this list that would become the official state song for one of this nation’s 50 states – having been named to that honor by West Virginia in 2014. The song was a no. 2 pop hit for Denver in ’71, but surprisingly wasn’t much of a hit on country radio – where it’s almost exclusively played today on classic country radio formats. It only peaked at no. 50 on the country chart. It’s now considered one of the 100 greatest songs in that genre’s history by many.
31. A Good Year for the Roses – George Jones
Here’s another potential cheat on this list as it was released late in 1970, but still appeared on the country music charts in early 1971. “A Good Year for the Roses” is one of George Jones’ finest songs and vocals in his legendary country music career that’s filled with tender and sad ballads. The song was written by Jerry Chesnut and describes the thoughts of a man who’s being left by his wife and the only thing he can muster to say as she walks out the door is, “it’s been a good year for the roses.” It’s beauty in its sadness.
32. Wild Horses – Rolling Stones
While “Dead Flowers” is my favorite country-flavored Rolling Stones track off Sticky Fingers, the more known country influenced track was “Wild Horses,” a top 30 hit for the band on Billboard in ’71. In the liner notes to Jump Back, a 1993 compilation album, Jagger wrote: “I remember we sat around originally doing this with Gram Parsons, and I think his version came out slightly before ours. Everyone always says this was written about Marianne [Faithfull] but I don’t think it was; that was all over by then. But I was definitely very inside this piece emotionally.”
33. L.A. Woman – The Doors
“L.A. Woman” was the title track off The Doors sixth and final album during Jim Morrison’s life (they would release one posthumously years later with previously recorded vocals). The song, which LA Weekly called “the best song about the city of Los Angeles,” is just the great, almost eight minute long epic that truly sounds better when flying down the highway than any other time listening to it. Many consider it Morrison’s farewell to L.A. before leaving for Paris, where his life would tragically end less than three months after the album’s release.
34. Going to California – Led Zeppelin
I’ve always really enjoyed Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California,” probably because it sounds so different from much of the band’s hard-rocking tracks. “Going to California” is an easy-going folk tune that Robert Plant just absolutely kills the soft vocal on. Plant told a Berkeley, Calif. concert audience in September of 1971 the song was dedicated to “the days when things were really nice and simple, and everything was far our all the time.”
35. I’m Eighteen – Alice Cooper
Few songs have ever adequately explained the period from going from childhood to adulthood and the awkwardness of it as Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” from the group’s first major-label album Love It to Death. It’s a song that truly captures the anguish of this period in one’s life and Cooper’s raspy vocal really gives it the edge the song needs. The song became a no. 21 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971 and essentially introduced Alice Cooper to the world.
36. Signs – Five Man Electrical Band
Some people prefer Tesla’s 1990 live cover of “Signs,” which I’ll often hear on my local classic rock station, but those people are just wrong. Originals are almost always better, and this song just belongs in its time when you still had hippies. “Signs” would be a no. 3 hit for Five Man Electrical Band in 1971, one of only two top 40 hits in the Canadian rock band’s discography. The song was written by the group’/s lead vocalist and guitarist Les Emmerson when he was road-tripping down the famous Route 66 and noticed a lot of the beautiful scenery was blocked out by billboards.
37. Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves – Cher
Cher’s record studio at the time, Kapp Records, wanted something more mature for the artist to perform and sought out producer Snuff Garrett for the task. Garrett chose songwriter Bob Stone to write something with more maturity and what came from it was “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves,” one of the great story songs of its era and for my money the best song Cher has ever released (I know many would debate that). “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves” tells the tale of a young girl living a gypsy life and doing what it takes to survive and with its themes of racism, teenage pregnancy and prostitution surely found the mature themes the record company was looking for.
38. Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me) – The Temptations
Motown is considered such a ‘60s thing that some may not remember The Temptations had one of their biggest hits with the no. 1 (the third of their career) in 1971 with the soulful “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me).” It’s a lovely sounding daydream of a relationship the narrator imagines with a beautiful woman who passes him by. This was basically the last single for the original Temptations unit with Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams leaving the group shortly after.
39. Brown Sugar – Rolling Stones
"Brown Sugar" almost certainly couldn't be recorded and released today with its content that includes references to slavery and sex that may not be consensual. Chicago Now's Howard Moore wrote an interesting piece on the song in April for the 50th anniversary of Sticky Fingers, the album it's featured on, about whether it's still OK to like "Brown Sugar." It's a decision everybody must make for themselves but remains a staple on classic rock radio and one of the Stones biggest hits.
40. Black Dog – Led Zeppelin
I have Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” and “Rock and Roll,” both off Led Zeppelin IV, back-to-back on the list because they’re basically interchangeable to me – great driving rockers. “Black Dog” opens Led Zeppelin IV and does so by kicking the door open on what many consider the band’s greatest album. The song was ranked no. 1 on the U.K. magazine Q’s list of the 20 Greatest Guitar Tracks showing off the massive talent of Jimmy Page (though the riff was written by bassist John Paul Jones) and features a brilliant blues-rock vocal by Robert Plant.
41. Rock and Roll – Led Zeppelin
While “Black Dog” shows off a bit of Led Zeppelin’s blues-rock side, “Rock and Roll” features more of the hard rock jamming that has many claiming the band to be one of the forefathers of heavy metal. Guitarist Jimmy Page told The Times British newspaper in 2011 that “Rock and Roll” came from a spontaneous jam session between the band while working on the song “Four Sticks.” Drummer John Bonham began playing the introduction to Little Richard’s “Keep A-Knockin’” and Page added a Chuck Berry-esque guitar riff and after about 15 minutes the basis of the song was complete.
42. Walk Away – James Gang
1971 was a good year for burgeoning hard rock groups with perhaps Led Zeppelin’s finest album, Black Sabbath’s beginning and Alice Cooper’s main-label released breaking through. There was also James Gang, with its leader on vocals and guitar Joe Walsh, who had a moderate hit with “Walk Away” in ’71. “Walk Away” combines hard rock with funk and soul music with Walsh incorporating multiple types of distortion on the track about the end of a relationship. The year before the band had another moderate hit with “Funk #49,” which along with “Walk Away” would see bigger fame in the years to come with airplay on classic rock radio stations.
43. River – Joni Mitchell
“River” has become something of a Christmas tune because it begins with a “Jingle Bells”-esque piano opening and it’s set during the holiday season, and I think it’s great to play around the holidays because they aren’t always a fun time of year for everybody, and this is a rather depressing tune about a romantic breakup. It feels simple, but you simply can’t go wrong with Mitchell’s voice and piano playing.
44. Sunshine – Jonathan Edwards
One of my all-time favorite one-hit wonders is “Sunshine,” a no. 4 country-flavored folk hit for Jonathan Edwards in 1971. Many people have different interpretations for what the song means, and Edwards told songfacts.com in 2013, “Everyone’s interpretation is way more creative and interesting than my original impetus for the song. So, you go with it.” Edwards would explain to the website it came from his constant questioning of authority. Maybe that’s why I’ve always enjoyed it so much?
45. I’d Love to Change the World – Ten Years After
Sounding like a holdover from the late ‘60s, “I’d Love to Change the World” would become the blues-rock group Ten Years After’s only top 40 hit when it peaked at no. 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971. Vocalist Alvin Lee wrote the song about the confusing state of the world at the time with the war in Vietnam, inequality, pollution, overpopulation, etc. The song is memorable for its chorus: “I’d love to change the world/but I don’t know what to do/so I’ll leave it up to you.” So often rock stars and celebrities think they have the power to change the world – and some honestly do – but it’s also interesting to hear the rarity of one saying, “I don’t know what to do about all of this.”
46. Iron Man – Black Sabbath
One of the most important songs in rock history as it truly ushered in what would become heavy metal rock music, “Iron Man,” off Black Sabbath’s 1970 sophomore album Paranoid, would be released as a single in 1971. Featuring one of the most memorable guitar riffs in rock history, vocalist Ozzy Osborne initially said it “sounded like a big iron bloke walking about.” Geezer Butler wrote the lyrics around that thought.
47. It’s Too Late – Carole King
My mom, and I know a lot of other people – especially women who grew up in the early ‘70s, would be very disappointed that Carole King’s classic “It’s Too Late” is placed this low in the list. The smooth soft rock classic about the ending of a relationship truly is perfect, it’s just there were so many perfect songs in 1971. It’s my second favorite track off Tapestry.
48. Stay With Me – Faces
Did you know Rod Stewart could rock this hard? For many years I didn’t realize it until I heard “Stay with Me” from his group Faces with Ronnie Wood, Ian McLagan, Ronnie Lane and Kenney Jones. “Stay with Me,” written by Stewart and Wood, is the story of a terrific one-night stand with a lovely lady named Rita. The song would peak at no. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971. Later in the year Stewart would become a household name as a solo artist with his more folk-pop flavored “Maggie May,” which has already appeared on this list.
49. Theme from Shaft – Isaac Hayes
Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft” is still one of the coolest sounding songs to this day. It made history for Hayes when it won the Oscar for Best Original Song for the film “Shaft,” directed by Gordon Parks and starring Richard Roundtree, as he became the first African-American to win that honor. He was also the first winner of the category who both wrote and performed the song. Roundtree’s character John Shaft, a private detective, is one of the coolest mother shut your mouths in film history and this soulful jam mixed with Hayes’ smooth spoken-word vocal really represents the character and film perfectly.
50. Wild World – Cat Stevens
Cat Stevens’ No. 11 hit “Wild World” off his Tea for the Tillerman album is smooth folk-rock perfection from the very start with the “la la las.” It’s so sweet in its sound you must listen closely to get that it’s a breakup song, though one of fond remembrance. The song is about Stevens two-year relationship to actress Patti D’Arbanville.
by Julian Spivey
Elvis Costello and the Imposters kicked off the Hello Again tour at the Soundstage at Graceland in Memphis, Tenn. on Wednesday, Oct. 13 with a fantastic show that featured many of Costello’s classics, some deep cuts, stuff from his most recent album Hey Clockface (2020) and some new stuff that hasn’t yet been released.
The show began with “Big Tears,” which was a bonus track on the 1993 re-release of 1978’s This Year’s Model. What followed were mostly tracks from Costello’s career that I’m not remarkably familiar with or haven’t hears thus far at all. I have to say as much as I admire Costello I’m admittedly more of the “greatest hits” fan than a deep-diver, which I do hope to fix one day because I’m sure I’m missing a ton of great songs.
The first song that really got me into the show on Wednesday night was “No Flag,” which I thought was the best track on his 2020 release Hey Clockface, it’s just an all-around great rocker the like you don’t hear too much from Costello in his later career. The first of what I would consider his “greatest hits” was “Everyday I Write the Book,” off his 1983 album Punch the Clock. The arrangement of the song in concert was different from the recorded version, but I really dug it.
One of the wonderful things about seeing Costello right now is two of The Imposters on stage with him are in fact original members of his first and iconic backing group The Attractions: Pete Thomas on drums and Steve Nieve on keys. The only thing really differentiating The Imposters from The Attractions is Davey Faragher on bass. Charlie Sexton has joined The Imposters on guitar for at least the first part of the Hello Again tour. The Imposters were utterly amazing all evening long.
One of the highlights of the show was a song that I don’t believe was planned – someone from the audience shouted out “Stranger in the House,” which seemed to catch Costello by surprise, but he launched right into the song, which truly proves Costello can write a country song with the best of them when he wants.
It’s always hard to really make out lyrics to new songs you’re hearing for the first time at a live show so I can’t say a whole lot about the three songs that Costello debuted on the Soundstage at Graceland, but from the music alone I think they’re all going to be promising and I look forward to hearing recorded versions.
The second half of Costello’s performance was certainly my favorite of the concert as this is when most of his “greatest hits” or classics came in the set. From “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea,” off This Year’s Model, through the end of the show it was a lot of old school Costello jams like “Watching the Detectives,” “High Fidelity” and then the absolute perfect one-two punch of “Radio, Radio” and “Alison” back-to-back, which truly made for one of the all-time great 10 or so minutes of any concert I’ve ever attended as those are my two favorite Costello tracks. Judging on the reaction from the Soundstage at Graceland audience many felt this way about the second half of the set.
Costello ended his set with “Farewell, OK,” a song I’m not familiar with that doesn’t seem to be on an album yet, and “Newspaper Pane” from Hey Clockface. It was an interesting way to end the main set coming off “Radio, Radio” and “Alison” back-to-back, but we all knew he’d be returning to the stage for an encore.
The encore was a thrilling three-song performance of “This Year’s Girl,” “Pump It Up” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” that had the entire ground, which had sat for most of the evening, on their feet and rocking along. I genuinely enjoyed belting ‘Peace, Love and Understanding’ at the top of my lungs with a crowd full of people, even if it undoubtedly would’ve been better without having to do so with a protective mask on my face.
I’ve always found Costello to just be an absolute cool person and I’m happy to have had the opportunity to have seen him perform twice in concert now. Both times have been fun and memorable shows.
I write to you today on behalf of extraterrestrials in all galaxies and universes both near and far to share our gratitude for your Demi Lovato, pop singer extraordinaire and all-around good Homo sapien.
We read in your magazine of tumbling rocks about Lovato’s feeling that us extraterrestrials are offended by the term “alien.”
While some of us simply do not care, most of us, in fact, do view the term “alien” to be derogatory and a means to scare earthlings of our existence – of which is simply not necessary. Being greater and smarter beings than most earthlings trust me when I say we could have conquered and enslaved you centuries ago if we pleased, but only Homo sapiens have the capacity for that type of hatred and need for control.
I’m sure you have read in your books and publications and seen on your movie and television screens the cliché extraterrestrial phrase, “we come in peace.” We would indeed come in peace if we ever felt the need to come at all, which we do not. You have much unnecessary strife on your planet Earth and it’s a dying planet for many reasons, primarily your lack of belief in science.
It has come to our attention that many have laughed at Lovato for their kind words about this horrid slur some refer to us as, but I assure you Lovato is among the kindest of your kind.
We look forward to Lovato’s upcoming Peacock docuseries “Unidentified with Demi Lovato,” in which they explore what life there may be beyond Earth. While we do anticipate many laughs and inaccuracies with this series, we know their heart is in the right place.
Thank you for your time.
by Julian Spivey
“Austin City Limits,” the wonderful PBS music program out of Austin, Texas, premiered its 47th season on Saturday, Oct. 2 with country music singer-songwriters Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram and Jon Randall performing selections from their album The Marfa Tapes, one of the best releases of 2021 thus far.
The episode, which was taped in late April, was the first performance on the show since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020 and you could tell Lambert, Ingram and Randall were all thrilled to be performing music in front of a live (and masked), audience once again.
Lambert said on the program that the trio have been friends for more than 20 years (which means going back to her teenage years) and began getting together to write songs about six years ago. Their first foray into writing together led to “Tin Man” off Lambert’s critically-acclaimed 2016 album The Weight of These Wings, which would go on to win Song of the Year at the 2018 ACM Awards. A version recorded specifically for The Marfa Tapes appears on the trio’s album, as does the song “Tequila Does,” which they all wrote together that appeared on Lambert’s 2019 album Wildcard.
Both songs were performed on “Austin City Limits,” with an even different performance of “Tin Man” with Randall taking lead on the first verse.
The trio got to perform almost the entirety of The Marfa Tapes on ‘ACL,’ with the only two tracks from the 15-track album they didn’t get around to (or at least didn’t make the cut on the episode) being “Breaking a Heart” and “Homegrown Tomatoes,” which is likely the most fun song on the album but would’ve required some censoring of the “F-word” on the chorus by PBS.
The almost hour-long performance kicked off with “Two-Step Down to Texas,” a highly appropriate song to get the first performance back on “Austin City Limits” in more than a year started with. From that point Lambert, Ingram and Randall took turns on lead songs, as they do on their exquisite album, in what felt like an old-fashioned Saturday night guitar pull.
Lambert blew the audience away with leads on “In His Arms,” “Waxahachie” and “Ghost,” which is likely the best song on the entire album. The trio’s excellent three-part harmonies coming off nicely on the chorus of “In His Arms.”
Ingram took lead on the emotional “Anchor,” “I Don’t Like It” and “The Wind’s Just Gonna Blow.”
Randall’s finest performance on the show and on the album was “Amazing Grace (West Texas),” which could easily wind up on my year-end top 10 list (in addition to Lambert’s “Ghost”).
Other tracks that really energized the audience were “Am I Right or Amarillo” and “Geraldine.”
These three songwriters really mesh well together both when it comes to writing these terrific songs and performing live and I’d love to see another collaboration down the line, of course it may take some time to write this many great songs together again.
The rest of the 47th season of “Austin City Limits” will continue on your local PBS station on Saturday nights and feature such performers as Jade Bird and Dayglow (Oct. 9), Jon Batiste (Oct. 16), Sarah Jarosz and Billy Strings (Oct. 23), Brandy Clark and Charley Crockett (Oct. 30), Leon Bridges and Khruangbin (Nov. 6), Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Jackson Browne (Nov. 13) and Brittany Howard (Nov. 20).
by Julian Spivey
John Prine’s 1971 self-titled debut album is not only one of my all-time favorite albums, but also, I believe one of the most underrated albums of all-time and likely the greatest debut album of all-time.
Today is the 50th anniversary of the release of John Prine.
From Maywood, Ill. Prine learned how to play the guitar when he was 14, attended Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music and served a stint in the U.S. Army in West Germany. After his time in the Army, he returned to Chicago where he took a job as a mailman and spent his free-time writing songs and then performing them as a club performer. It was performing in these clubs where he caught the eye of two soon-to-be very famous men – film critic Roger Ebert who’d write a rave review of one of his shows for the Chicago Sun-Times and songwriter Kris Kristofferson, just breaking out with songs like “Me & Bobby McGee,” “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” and “For the Good Times.”
The raves from these men helped get Prine a record deal with Atlantic Records and John Prine would be released on Sept. 23, 1971.
Rolling Stone magazine would review the record with: “This is a very good first album by a very good songwriter. Good songwriters are on the rise, but John Prine is differently good. His work demands some time and thought from the listener – he’s not out to write pleasant tunes, he wants to arrest the cursory listener and get attention for some important things he has to say and, thankfully, he says them without falling into the common trap of writing with overtones of self-importance or smugness. His melodies are excellent.”
In 2012 Rolling Stone would rank John Prine as the 452nd greatest album of all-time on its list of the top 500, but in the updated list just eight years later in 2020 it would climb all the way to 149th.
The fact that John Prine, the album, and John Prine, the songwriter, have been held in such high esteem by the Americana music community over the last decade-plus likely led to the album’s reconsideration and there’s no doubt Prine has been a large impact on such stars of today like Brandi Carlile, Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson and many others.
Here is a track-by-track look at John Prine …
1. Illegal Smile
“Illegal Smile” is an interesting way to get into your debut album. It starts out with this quintessential folk finger picking on the guitar before going into quick depression with the lyric: “when I woke up this mornin’/things were lookin’ bad/seemed like total silence was the only friend I had” and then quickly into “a bowl of oatmeal tried to stare me down and won” – the first display of Prine’s curious wit and wordplay on record. But our narrator has the key to escape reality – and the song goes into a chorus on what many listeners over the years believes to be a paean to marijuana. Prine at least once confessed the song wasn’t actually about smoking pot, telling Performing Songwriter “The song was not about smokin’ dope. It was more about how, ever since I was a child, I had this view of the world where I can find myself smiling at stuff nobody else was smiling at. But it was such a good anthem for dope smokers that I didn’t want to stop evert time I played it and make a disclaimer.” Smart move on his part. “Illegal Smile” is a nice way to enter John Prine. It’s nice and loose and followed by another nice and loose track before incredible seriousness takes way for a while.
2. Spanish Pipedream
“Spanish Pipedream,” which many will remember for the memorable chorus extolling listeners to blow up their televisions and throw away their newspapers, is fun and loose and tells the tale of a soldier meeting a stripper who gives him some of the best life advice you’ll ever hear. The song takes on a country twang with Leo LeBlanc’s nice pedal steel guitar playing throughout and certainly includes one of Prine’s most memorable choruses ever written. It makes for a great sing-along.
3. Hello in There
There are a few devastating masterpieces on John Prine that show Prine was a master lyricist and storyteller with empathy many years beyond his 24-years of age at the time of the album’s release and the “Hello in There” is the first example. “Hello in There” is the tale of an elderly couple lonely with retirement and their kids all having moved away or died in war. It begins with a beautiful 30-second guitar intro before getting into the couple’s story of their kids and then the desolation of the chorus: “Ya know that old trees just grow stronger/and old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day/old people just grow lonesome/waiting for someone to say, ‘hello in there, hello.’” It’s the specificity of the same old, same old life that just hits me like when the narrator calls up his old factory worker buddy and the only answer for “if he asks what’s knew” is “nothing, what’s with you, nothing much to do.” It’s a slice of life that rarely gets covered in music of any kind – the old and weary of this country who are just kind of wasting away and don’t have to do so – and it’s just mesmerizing to have come from someone younger than 25 years old. What’s truly amazing is Prine captures a similar feeling again on side two of his debut.
4. Sam Stone
I believe whole heartedly that “Hello in There” is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard, despite its incredible sadness, but it may not even be the most depressing track on side one of John Prine, as it’s immediately followed by “Sam Stone,” a tale of a war hero who comes home with a heroin addiction that ultimately ends his life. America was embroiled in the Vietnam War at the time of the release and “Sam Stone” is a stark tale of what was happening to so many of American’s fighting men when they returned home, often unpopular with fellow Americans for fighting in an unpopular war unwanted by many. It’s fitting that the track opens with a church-like organ from the legendary Bobby Emmons that really hits the dirge-like quality of the song. The final line of the chorus: “sweet songs never last too long on broken radios” will rip the heart right out of your chest. A Rolling Stone reader’s poll in 2014 ranked “Sam Stone” as the eighth saddest song of all-time (no. 1 on the list was Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven”).
“Paradise,” which is probably the countriest and certainly bluegrassiest track on John Prine, is quite possibly the best known track on Prine’s debut album. It’s a bit peppier than the two excellent tracks that precede it in “Hello in There” and “Sam Stone,” but still a downer when listening to the lyrics. “Paradise” tells the toll that strip mining for coal took on Appalachia and essentially ruined the homeland of his ancestors. But with the incredibly catchy chorus of “daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County/down by the Green River where Paradise lay/well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking/Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away” the pain of the story goes down a bit easier.
6. Pretty Good
“Pretty Good” isn’t a track I always listen to when spinning John Prine, but I think it’s placement as the final track on side one of the record is crucial for helping bring the listener out of the emotional spiral that was the previous tracks. “Pretty Good” gets back to some of Prine’s sly wit that he started the album off with in “Illegal Smile” and “Spanish Pipedream.” The lyric “pretty good, not bad, I can’t complain/but actually everything is just about the same” isn’t a bad way to go about living your life.
7. Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore
Side two of John Prine begins with “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore,” which makes for a great bumper sticker slogan (though I see “blow up your TV” from “Spanish Pipedream” more often on them), a witty protest anthem of nationalism or over-patriotism in the style of stuff like Woody Guthrie or early Bob Dylan may have written, but with a little more sarcasm included. It was a popular track amidst the Vietnam War. I’m not sure how relevant it’s been in much of the half-century since it’s release, but I do have to say it got quite a few spins and in-car shouts from me during the last President’s term in office.
8. Far From Me
“Far From Me” is the breakup track of John Prine and, boy, it’s just as heartbreaking as Prine’s tales of elder loneliness, drug-addled heroes and the loss of Americana. Prine puts himself in the narrator’s shoes waiting on a small-town waitress finishing up her shift and every little thing about him getting on her every nerve, despite not even trying. It’s the chorus that really tears me up: “and the sky is black and still now/on the hill where the angels sing/ain’t it funny how an old broken bottle/looks just like a diamond ring/but it’s far, far from me.” The absolute most devastating lyric in the song though is: “we used to laugh together/and we’d dance to any old song/well, ya know, she stills laughs with me/but she waits just a second too long.” The song is the perfect encapsulation of a relationship ending and knowing there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
9. Angel from Montgomery
“Angel from Montgomery” is likely the greatest song off John Prine, but most of the album could easily be considered a “greatest hits” of John Prine which mind-boggling for a debut record. On “Angel from Montgomery” Prine’s narrator is probably a middle-aged woman (though she refers to herself as “old”) wanting to escape a boring, monotonous life. Again, Prine was merely 24-years old when this album was released, and he was writing life stories decades ahead of his time and capturing these moments and feelings with the deftness of literature’s best. “Angel from Montgomery” has some of my all-time favorite lyrics ever written, especially “if dreams were lightning and thunder were desire/this old house would’ve burned down a long time ago.” This quote is hanging above the entrance to a local music venue in Little Rock, Stickyz Rock ‘N’ Roll Chicken Shack, and I absolutely love that. I also really appreciate the verse: “how the hell can a person go to work in the morning/then come home in the evening and have nothing to say?” The whole song captures this mood of tedium that makes you feel for this character who desperately wants a reprieve. I believe Prine’s version to be the definitive one, but Bonnie Raitt released a version on her 1974 album Streetlights, that many heard first and associate more with her.
10. Quiet Man
“Last Monday night I saw a fight between Wednesday and Thursday over Saturday night/Tuesday asked me what was going on, I said, ‘Sunday’s in the meadow and Friday’s in the corn.” I don’t have a damn clue what that means but it’s just so absolutely John Prine and I can’t help but smile when hearing it. As a writer I fully believe that sometimes other writers, especially songwriters or poets will just put words and phrases together because they sound fun or nice or beautiful together and I think “Quiet Man” may have been one of those moments for Prine. Maybe there’s some deep meaning there, but I don’t know that I really want to know it.
11. Donald and Lydia
“Donald and Lydia” is such an interestingly written song. It’s kind of written like a play where the playwright sets up the characters one by one and when Prine sings the song he begins each portrait of the characters with their name and then describes them to the audience. The titular characters are both lonely people seemingly meant for each other, but mostly just fantasize about loving each other. I’m honestly struggling to think of another song I’ve ever heard that’s set up quite like “Donald and Lydia.”
12. Six O’Clock News
From the first time I listened to John Prine when I was in college (more than a decade ago now) until recently when I feel it’s been surpassed by both “Angel from Montgomery” and “Hello in There” my favorite track was “Six O’Clock News,” which seems beloved by Prine fans, but not necessarily a go-to favorite of many. I think as a young twentysomething I was mostly drawn to the macabre, dark side of a tale of a young man who kills himself upon finding out he’s illegitimated. I still love the song – particularly Prine’s uber-twangy take on the vocals – but I think some of the more mature mastery of lyrics on those other songs have led to it falling backward a couple of spots. I’m not sure if the suicide is realistic, but the boy in the song was based on a neighborhood child friend of Prine’s who eventually found out who he thought was his oldest sister was, in fact, his mother.
13. Flashback Blues
“Flashback Blues” is a fun little ditty to end John Prine. There’s not a whole lot to be found about the song online, but in her original December 1971 review of the album for Rolling Stone Karin Berg said: “’Flashback Blues’ is an up-tempo farewell lament that’s a poetic tumble of keen nostalgia, insights to loneliness and isolation, the pain of seeing oneself in emotional nakedness and the running ahead of that pain – but it sometimes catches up.” Damn. Even when Prine’s up-tempo, it’s thought-provoking and a bit down. “Don’t you know that I hate to leave here/so long babe, I got the flashback blues” is a pretty great way to end one of the all-time greatest albums though.
by Julian Spivey
One of the greatest songwriters in the history of modern music, but specifically country music, Tom T. Hall died at 85 on Friday, August 20. Hall was nicknamed “The Storyteller,” as he was known for his prowess at writing songs that told a complete story from start to finish and weren’t your typical verse, verse, chorus, verse format.
10. “America the Ugly” (1970)
This tenth spot on this list is interchangeable for me. It could change depending on the day, but today I’m feeling 1970’s “America the Ugly” because it still feels so relevant today. “America the Ugly” proves that Hall wasn’t against making a point in his songwriting as it tells the story of a photographer from a foreign land who comes to capture the realities of America, including poor people and hungry children, and elderly given up on by later generations. I just wish it wasn’t relevant today.
9. “I Love” (1973)
This one is just precious. “I Love,” which was Hall’s only crossover hit (as a performer) onto the Billboard Top 40 getting all the way to No. 12 in 1973, is just about loving the simple things in life. It’s so sweet it would be saccharine if most attempted it, but there’s enough sly humor in it to make it work for me – I’m talking about the squirrel line. There’s no rhyme there. I just love that he throws squirrels in randomly. It was a no. 1 on the country charts, one of seven in his career as a performer.
8. “Faster Horses (The Cowboy and the Poet)” (1975)
Sometimes in Hall’s best songs he puts a writer or performer in conversation with a regular Joe, in the case of “Faster Horses (The Cowboy and the Poet)” it’s an old cowboy, who departs wise wisdom on the writer/performer. In this song a young, idyllic poet encounters a hard-worn cowboy at a bar, who tells him there’s only four things in life worth a damn: faster horses, younger women, older whiskey and more money. The poet says he doesn’t have any interest in those things and is called out for being a liar. By the end of the song the poet has realized there’s an awful lot of truth in what the old cowboy has to say.
7. “A Week in a County Jail” (1969)
In perhaps Hall’s most humorous tune, “A Week in a County Jail,” his first no. 1 as a performer in 1969, the protagonist is pulled over in a small town for speeding and must spend time in a jail cell until a judge can lay down the law. It takes a full week, and our narrator is forced to spend his time eating hot bologna, eggs and gravy and making eyes at the jailer’s wife.
6. “Tulsa Telephone Book” (1971)
I probably heard “Tulsa Telephone Book” for the first time less than a year ago thanks to randomly hearing it on a local radio station that lets DJs play whatever they want. The song, off 1971’s In Search of a Song, was never released as a single – so it’s my favorite Hall deep cut. “Tulsa Telephone Book” tells of a man who’s had a one night stand and only knows the woman’s first name, but desperately wants to see her again so he’s read through the Tulsa telephone book 13 times without any luck. It’s such a great idea for a song, while being both catchy and having a wry sense of humor.
5. “The Year Clayton Delaney Died” (1971)
“The Year Clayton Delaney Died” is probably Hall’s most known hit as a performer – of course he wrote “Harper Valley P.T.A.” which Jeannie C. Riley topped both the country charts and the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968 – which tells the story of a guitar picker who liked his booze and wasn’t a parent’s idea of a good role model and how he taught the song’s narrator had to play guitar (and drink booze). The song was inspired by Hall’s boyhood hero Lonnie Easterly. “The Year Clayton Delaney Died” was a no. 1 country hit in 1971 and I have to wonder if it inspired the similarly themed “The Ballad of Curtis Loew” by Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1974.
4. “That’s How I Got to Memphis” (1968)
“That’s How I Got to Memphis” is the Tom T. Hall song that’s been in my head ever since the moment I learned of Hall’s passing on Friday. It’s just a perfect song. “That’s How I Got to Memphis” tells the story of a man’s search for his lost love, who’s doesn’t want to be found, and how he followed her trail to Memphis. Hall didn’t release the song as a single, but a version recorded by Bobby Bare in 1970 hit no. 3 on the country chart. The song was also memorably performed on the series finale of HBO’s “The Newsroom” in 2014 being played by the show’s lead character portrayed by Emmy-winner Jeff Daniels.
3. “Old Dogs, Children & Watermelon Wine” (1972)
Hall’s 1972 no. 1 country hit “Old Dogs, Children & Watermelon Wine” is one of those songs I mentioned earlier where the narrator, in this case Hall himself, is given wise advice from a regular Joe, in this case a janitor at a Miami bar. The song is a true account of Hall’s experience at the 1972 Democratic National Convention and a conversation he had with a janitor at a Miami Beach hotel. In the janitor’s mind there’s “only three things in this old world worth a solitary dime: old dogs, children and watermelon wine.” It’s one of the ultimate country story songs and Rolling Stone magazine listed it as one of country music’s 100 greatest songs of all-time in 2014.
2. “Homecoming” (1969)
“Homecoming,” a no. 5 hit for Hall in 1969, should be a movie. It basically is a movie in song form in just over three minutes. Hall was great at penning songs about writers and performers – proving the adage “write what you know” – and “Homecoming” is the best of these as it features a traveling musician passing through his hometown on the way from one performance to another who stops at home for a brief conversation with his dad. It’s perfection.
1. “Ballad of Forty Dollars” (1968)
“Ballad of Forty Dollars,” a no. 4 hit in 1968, has been my favorite Hall song from the moment I heard it – it’s a perfect story song and features the greatest punchline of any punchline that’s ever been written in a song. The narrator is a cemetery caretaker observing the funeral of a man he somewhat knew and essentially giving the play-by-play of it before ending the song with the all-time great: “the trouble is the fella owed me 40 bucks.” In an interview with CMT.com in 2005 Hall revealed that his first job as a young man was mowing the grass at a cemetery and how he’d have to shut down his mower during funerals and just observe them, including conversations being had by the gravediggers.
by Julian Spivey
I was just thrilled to be seeing a concert on Saturday, Aug. 14 after having it postponed more than a year due to Covid-19 and then once again about a week before it’s new date for reasons that were never truly announced. Then less than a week before the new, new date the musician Jason Isbell announced he wouldn’t perform at venues that didn’t require vaccination cards or a negative Covid test within 72 hours of the event and I felt because I lived in the far from progressive Arkansas that the venue might try to prove a dumb point and the show might get canceled.
Luckily the venue accepted the vaccination policy, and Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit went on to put on an incredible show on Saturday night at the First Security Amphitheater in Little Rock, Ark. It was the seventh time I’ve seen the band live (the fourth as the main attraction) and it was one of the best I’ve seen as the band performed a lot of tracks from its 2020 release Reunions and past fan-favorites.
The venue was also packed for the two postponements and uproar that Isbell’s vaccine policy (which is being adopted by many other artists and venues) in the days leading up to the event.
President of River Concerts (which runs shows at the venue) Dan Fife told KATV Channel 7 that only 10 percent of ticket buyers requested a refund.
Isbell & the 400 began their set with “Overseas,” my favorite track off Reunions, which includes one of the best guitar solos of Isbell’s career to date.
Other terrific tracks from that album the band would play over the span of the evening were “It Gets Easier,” no doubt inspired by Isbell’s now decade-long sobriety, “Letting You Go,” dedicated to his five-year old daughter Mercy who is traveling on tour with him, “Be Afraid,” “What’ve I Don’t Help,” “Dreamsicle” and “Only Children.”
Of Isbell’s terrific output over the past decade, I’d have to say Reunions was my least favorite, but these songs just go to show how great of a singer-songwriter he is because they’re still top notch.
Isbell does a terrific job at spreading great songs from his entire career throughout his set. There was “Last of My Kind” and “If We Were Vampires” from 2017’s The Nashville Sound, “Something More than Free” and “24 Frames” from 2015’s Something More Than Free and “Super 8,” “Elephant,” “Stockholm” and “Cover Me Up” from 2013’s Southeastern. These are all essentially “greatest hits” for the songwriter from the Muscle Shoals, Ala. region.
Perhaps my favorite performance from Isbell & the 400 Unit’s set was “Outfit” from his days with the Southern rock group Drive-By Truckers that I hadn’t seen the band play in concert the last few times I’ve attended their shows. It had been replaced a lot in 400 Unit sets by “Never Gonna Change,” also from his days with the Truckers. Isbell dedicated the song to his father, who has also been tagging along on tour with his son.
One of the funnier moments of the show was when Isbell played the classic “Oh Well” from the Peter Green days of Fleetwood Mac for his daughter Mercy, early on in his set before her bedtime, as its one of her favorite songs he plays, despite not being his own. He’s a multiple-time Grammy Award winning artists and his own daughter would rather he play covers. It was a fantastic performance by the entire band that includes Sadler Vaden on guitar, Jimbo Hart on bass, Chad Gamble on drums and Derry DeBorja on keys and occasionally accordion and anything else necessary.
After a terrific 18-song set, Isbell would return to the stage for an encore, at first just with Vaden as the two performed an excellent acoustic version of “Tour of Duty,” from the band’s 2011 album Here We Rest. The two were then joined by the remainder of the band for a rip-roaring performance of “Never Gonna Change” that truly brought the house down.
Sometimes postponements can bring about great opportunities and that’s what happened when this show was moved from 2020 to 2021 as legendary singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams was the opener on Saturday but wasn’t going to be in 2020. It’s truly a miracle Williams was able to perform as she’s less than a year removed from having a stroke in November of last year. She was helped to a seated stool on the stage for her performance and is still unable to play guitar, but she sounds terrific. She thrilled the audience, the part of the audience that arrived early enough to see her set (come on people, enjoy the openers, especially when they’re this notable), with performances like “Bad News Blues,” “Pineola,” “Drunken Angel” and “You Can’t Rule Me.” Toward the end of her set she stood up, while leaning on her seat, to pay tribute to recently departed ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill with an excellent cover of that band’s 1973 song “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” and remained on her feet to finish with “Righteously,” “Honey Bee” and “Get Right with God.”
As I previously wrote on this website, I am 100 percent thrilled with Isbell’s decision to enforce a vaccination policy for his show and I’m happy to see other artists and venues and concert promoters doing the same. I love live music and the only way for live music to continue now is to ensure the safety of the concert goers and those artists performing, their crews behind the scenes and those who work at the venues. I wondered if having to show vaccination cards at the entrance would make the process of entering the venue take longer – it didn’t add any time whatsoever to being able to get into the venue on Saturday night. So, I have to say any venues or people complaining that they can’t do it are just plain wrong or inept.