by Aprille Hanson
When Carrie Underwood stepped into the “American Idol” audition room in the summer of 2004, the country music genre would never be the same. Not only did her clear, strong voice make her an early favorite to win the competition, she even got the cynical Brit Simon Cowell, a famed early judge on the show, to predict she’d win and outsell all previous show winners.
A bold prediction? Perhaps, as there were still 11 contestants competing for the title when he said it, but ultimately, he was right. She is the biggest earner out of all the ‘Idol’ winners.
Underwood has been on the music scene now for 10 years and when you think of her as a performer, her ‘Idol’ past is likely not even a passing thought. What speaks volumes are her honors -- her seven Grammy awards, 17 Billboard Music Awards, 11 Academy of Country Music Awards, her 2008 induction into the Grand Ole Opry, etc., etc., etc.
She is one of the most successful female country artists to ever grace the genre and bring in a new wave of pop-country sound, while also making great songs. As of now, her vocal talent is unmatched in country music. One of her greatest strengths as an artist is to add hope to so many of her songs without making them hokey. Here is a list of what I believe to be the greatest and most influential hits of her career thus far:
10. “Temporary Home” (Play On, 2009)
Carrie Underwood co-wrote “Temporary Home” after being inspired by Pastor Rick Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Life,” which talked about how this life is just our temporary home. But rather than just keeping it about our next life, Underwood shares three stories: a foster boy being shuffled around; a mom and her daughter trying to get back on their feet and leave their halfway house; and then the most poignant, the man surrounded by friends and family on his deathbed. It’s a song that lists despairing situations, but at the same time is filled with so much hope that there is a better tomorrow and life waiting for us. While Underwood might be known for religious-based songs, this was her first real message song.
9. “All-American Girl” (Carnival Ride, 2007)
Going from a farm girl in Checotah, Okla., to a country music superstar, Underwood is living the American dream. In “All-American Girl” she tells the story about a father who prayed for a baby boy, someone “he could take fishing,” but of course, God had other plans. His little girl soon became wrapped around his finger and then one day, captured the heart of the high school football star. They later marry and all the boy wants is a “sweet little beautiful … all-American girl.” It’s a sweet story without being overly girl-powery or patriotic. It’s a perfect mix from country music’s all-American girl.
8. “Wasted” (Some Hearts, 2005)
Despite reaching No. 1 on the country Billboard charts, “Wasted” always seemed like a song that fell under the radar for Underwood. It’s a shame because the song is one of her best, tackling the heavy topic of addiction with this ray of hope. It’s centered on a couple who each have a burden – the woman finally leaves their relationship, which has become an addiction. The man finally pours his alcohol down the drain. Both come to the conclusion that they don’t want to spend their life wasted. It’s a song about endings and beginnings. The best lyrics (though not written by Underwood) are, “For one split second she almost turned around / but that would be like pouring rain drops back into a cloud.” Lyrically, it’s one of the best songs in Underwood’s repertoire.
7. “Last Name” (Carnival Ride, 2007)
“Last Name” is billed in the music video as the prequel to her smash hit “Before He Cheats.” It’s a pretty bold statement because ‘Cheats’ just changed the game for Underwood’s career, meaning ‘Last’ better be an awesome song … and it is. It’s about a girl who is partying in Vegas and a man catches her eye. One thing leads to another and she wakes up thinking about Elvis and Vegas and realizes there’s a ring on her left hand. So here’s the kicker – she doesn’t even know her last name.
6. “Blown Away” (Blown Away, 2012)
Underwood had two pretty dark singles right in a row in “Two Black Cadillacs” and then “Blown Away.” The first is about a man who has been seeing two women for years and when they find out, they kill him. But “Blown Away” makes this list for combining both the revenge and awesome symbolism of a storm. A daughter decides to end her father’s abuse once and for all as a tornado fast approaches their home while her father is passed out on the couch. She locks herself in the cellar and leaves her father there to die. Every brick, every board, every slammin’ door will be blown away. It’s dark but the pain and anguish that Underwood sings about is eerie and powerful. This song could easily be lame or far-fetched but in the hands of Underwood, it’s downright scary.
5. “Something in the Water” (Greatest Hits: Decade #1, 2014)
It’s been nine years since “Jesus Take the Wheel” and while “Something in the Water” isn’t her only religious song, it’s one that shows she could have wild success as a Christian artist. It’s really a pop song that is fast-paced, about a person who is all out of fight, and realizes to turn their life toward God and gets baptized. It’s at this point that the chorus slows as Underwood sings, “I am changed / now I am stronger / it must be something in the water.” Later in the song, “Amazing Grace” is sung in a round between the lyrics of ‘Water.’ Her voice makes this song magical, powerful and an instant classic in her discography. It’s already a crossover hit on the Hot Christian Songs charts as well as the country charts.
4. “Just a Dream” (Carnival Ride, 2007)
“Just a Dream” has become Underwood’s most heart-wrenching song. At the beginning, we believe this young girl is off to her wedding, which is how it was supposed to be. We soon learn, she’s in a black dress and veil, heading off to her fiancé’s funeral. He was a soldier killed in action. The girl is living a nightmare and there’s not a better artist out there to convey the kind of heartbreak needed for this song. The creativity of the song alone – going from the happiness of a wedding to the sadness of a funeral – alone makes it a hit, but add Underwood’s voice and it’s becomes one of the genre’s best.
3. “I Told You So” (Carnival Ride, 2007)
You can’t get much more country than Randy Travis. So, when Underwood decided to cover his hit “I Told You So,” one of her favorites, it quickly became Underwood’s most country-sounding single ever released. It remains that way, as her style has always incorporated a bit of pop. The song is about, in Underwood’s case, a woman who leaves her man, but decides she made a mistake. Well, it’s likely too late. While the song is pure and amazing with Underwood, it’s better when she and Travis released a duet version in 2009.
2. “Before He Cheats” (Some Hearts, 2005)
It’s hard to believe that “Before He Cheats” was the fifth single released from her debut album “Some Hearts.” This song about a woman who takes out her revenge on her cheating boyfriend’s truck is the most important song of Underwood’s career. She was willing to push the limits and be a badass in her songs and it was wholeheartedly believable. To go from ‘Idol’ winner who released the wimpy/pretty “Inside Your Heaven” to “Before He Cheats,” which has become one of the genre’s greatest revenge songs, right off the bat in her career was remarkable. In three minutes and 19 seconds, she became a superstar.
1. “Jesus Take the Wheel” (Some Hearts, 2005)
For as much as “Before He Cheats” launched her superstar status, “Jesus Take the Wheel” became her song – her first song, her best song, the one she’ll forever be known for and the one that won over country listeners. It was the perfect first release from her debut album. It chronicles a woman who is traveling to see her family and accidentally slides on a sheet of black ice, with her baby nestled in the back seat of her car. She pleads for Jesus to take the wheel and later acknowledges he needs to take the wheel in her life. For Christians, you can’t get much more powerful than this song, because we need Jesus to take control of our lives when we’re spinning out of control. It’s the basis of our faith. For her to release such a powerful and important song right out of the gate was truly remarkable. It is not only her classic song; it’s a classic for the entire country genre.
by Julian Spivey
CBS aired the much-talked about ACM Superstar Duets special on Friday, May 15 that has drawn a mixed response from country music fans since it was announced a few months back. Some country fans were excited to see today’s modern country stars perform with legends from the past, while other fans were irritated from the very beginning that their favorite country legends would be performing duets of their classics with certain artists clearly beneath them.
The special turned out to be a mixed bag with performances of legends pitted with today’s biggest stars that honestly had no business singing country classics and other performances that worked remarkably well. Pretty much the performances you thought would be good on paper were and those that you thought were odd pairings, like Dwight Yoakam with Sam Hunt were as disappointing as expected.
The performance that drew my ire the most was the one between Yoakam and Hunt doing his 1993 hit “Fast As You.” The reason why it bothered me so much is Yoakam is one of the great country music traditionalists who’s music will stand the test of time and Hunt, though widely popular now, is a hopefully flash in the pan who’s currently one of many artists doing their best to destroy country music. Yoakam and Hunt’s voices did not mesh well at all on this song. Whoever thought to pair these two together really must have been out of their mind.
The other performance that really bothered me was Alan Jackson and Cole Swindell doing Jackson’s 1993 classic “Chattahoochee.” Swindell claims that Jackson was a huge influence on his music, but you wouldn’t know it by listening to it. The performance wasn’t as off-putting as that of Yoakam and Hunt collaborating, but Swindell prancing around the stage like a punk during an Alan Jackson song was indicative of what modern country music has become.
The rest of the duets weren’t really disappointing, but at the same time few of them were really anything to get worked up over.
The best duets were Miranda Lambert and Patty Loveless doing Loveless’ 1993 hit “Blame It On Your Heart” (1993 must have been a huge year for these younger artists) and Clint Black and Joe Nichols doing Black’s 1997 hit “Nothing But the Taillights,” but you could pretty much tell on paper that those performances would be great. Lambert and Nichols are two of the few modern country artists who actually seem to fit with the greats of the era before.
Another good duet was that of John Anderson and Keith Urban doing Anderson’s 1982 classic “Swingin’,” though I would have preferred the two share another one of Anderson’s great tunes. This gets me to one of my biggest problems with the duets special … I thought many of the duet choices were too predictable. Some of these artists should’ve ventured outside of the box slightly and possibly have done other songs in these legend’s repertoires.
Other decent performances during the ACM Superstar Duets special included Dierks Bentley, Kip Moore and Ashley Monroe doing a medley of Waylon Jennings’ hits “Good Ol’ Boys,” “Lonesome, On’ry & Mean” and “Ain’t Living Long Like This” as well as Kenny Chesney going solo on a tribute to the great George Jones doing his “One Woman Man.”
The final highlight of the evening came in the form of Brooks & Dunn reuniting five years after they broke up to perform their last truly great single together “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” with Reba McEntire, who was the inspiration behind the song.
The ACM Superstar Duets special was a good idea, but with some of the duets being too obvious and other pairings frankly being disrespectful to the legends involved (I really wish Yoakam had refused to do a song with Hunt) it definitely proved to be a mixed bag throughout.
by Julian Spivey
Country music today is at a crossroads. If you solely listen to country music radio you’d think that the genre was dying, if not completely dead. But, there’s still an awful lot of great country music being made – it’s just not pop or rock or hip hop enough to be played on mainstream country radio. I got to thinking that there’s really nothing that I love that also irritates me as much as country music, which led to the idea of doing a segment for this website on My Love/Hate Country Relationship. Every so often I will compile I list of things within the country genre that I absolutely love and hate and give a little reason behind it. I hope you enjoy, and would love to read your feedback.
Reba McEntire Stands Up For Gay Rights
One of the problems with country music is that its fans aren’t always the most open in the world to certain things like gay marriage or homosexuality in general. A lot of this ignorance stems from the base’s largely conservative politics, and we’ve seen any time a country star comes out in support of gay marriage and gay rights that a lot of hatred can fly their way. This occurred a couple of years back when Carrie Underwood announced that she supported gay marriage. Now living legend Reba McEntire has done the same thing and it’s a truly important moment for country music and hopefully a great learning lesson for its fans. McEntire said: “You gotta love people for who they are. Accept them, and then go on with life.” This is a great sign for country music that some of its artists aren’t as ignorant about life as many of those who listen to them. Hopefully fans of McEntire instead of turning their backs on her, as I’m sure some have, will understand that she’s living life the way real Christians should.
Americana Awards Nominations
You wonder where all the real country music has gone these days because you can’t actually hear it on modern country radio? Well, it’s being called Americana now and it’s still kickass, if not better than ever. The Americana Awards & Honors is the very best music award show around in terms of both winners and live performances, but unfortunately it can only be seen streaming online. The nominations for the 2015 Americana Awards & Honors were announced this week and there was a three-way tie between Sturgill Simpson, Lucinda Williams and Shakey Graves for the most nominations. Those artists all received three noms. The three biggest awards of the night are Artist of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year and those nominees are as follows:
Artist of the Year:
Lee Ann Womack
Album of the Year:
And the War Came by Shakey Graves
Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone by Lucinda Williams
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music by Sturgill Simpson
The Way I’m Livin’ by Lee Ann Womack
Tomorrow is My Turn by Rhiannon Giddens
Song of the Year:
“Dearly Departed” by Shakey Graves
“East Side of Town” by Lucinda Williams
“Terms of My Surrender” by John Hiatt
“Turtles All The Way Down” by Sturgill Simpson
“You’re the Best Lover That I Ever Had” by Steve Earle & The Dukes
If I had a vote I would give Sturgill Simpson all three of these awards for the absolutely spectacular year and album that he had. The 14th annual Americana Awards & Honors will be held on Sept. 16 and hopefully you will find it wherever it may be streaming this year.
Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen
The best country music today isn’t just in the Americana genre though, but the red dirt subgenre of country music, as well. This is being proven frequently by artists such as red dirt superstars Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen. Rogers and Bowen have collaborated on one of the very best country albums of the year thus far called Hold My Beer, Vol. 1. Hold My Beer, Vol. 1 contains real and traditional country music both in new songs written by Rogers and Bowen and some country covers like Merle Haggard’s “It’s Been a Great Afternoon.” The highlight of this album is the song “Standards” in which Rogers and Bowen poke fun at modern country music artists selling out for hits and recording crap. The hilarious refrain of the song is “I don’t have hits, I’ve got standards.” It’d sure be nice if the artists you heard on country radio cared more about standards than hits.
Reckless Kelly’s “American Blood”
This entry might seem incredibly odd for anybody who knows Reckless Kelly’s song “American Blood,” because the song is actually seven years old. It appears on this list because here in 2015 I’m just now hearing this absolutely badass song for the very first time. It came on the Texas/Red Dirt Radio station that I frequently listen to on Pandora and I was immediately blown away by the statement. “American Blood” from Reckless Kelly’s 2008 album Bulletproof came out during the very end of President George W. Bush’s second term in office and this anti-war song, which is almost unheard of in country music, absolutely obliterates Bush’s pointless war in Iraq with hard-biting lyrics like: “But George is a real go-getter and he’s running the show/And he should have known better but his old man told him to go/He sits at home with his feet on his desk/While the boys got theirs in the sand/A million miles away with American blood on their hands” and the terrific chorus: “Black gold for silver stars/Cold hard cash for armored cars/The brass ain’t fighting but they’re sure as hell taking a stand/And they’ll have to live with American blood on their hands.” Country music is known as the patriotic music genre and that’s great, but it fails to take both sides of the situation too often and Reckless Kelly did this brilliantly with “American Blood.” Unfortunately, few have heard it because you don’t get red dirt country on mainstream radio, not that mainstream radio would have ever played this anti-war song anyway.
Zac Brown Band’s “Dress Blues”
This one might not seem so much loved by the time I’m through. I’ll try to explain. Jason Isbell’s beautiful “Dress Blues” from his first solo album Sirens of the Ditch in 2007 is also a song critical of pointless war. Zac Brown Band has covered a version of “Dress Blues” on their recently released Jekyll + Hyde album and I’m thrilled that one of the most popular groups in modern country music will bring more attention to Isbell’s fantastic songwriting through their release. I’m also thrilled by the potential prospects of “Dress Blues” being released as a single to country radio, even though that’s not been announced yet. Brown’s version of the song is perfectly fine, even though it might make too much of a spectacle in its production than such a song needs. It’s a quiet and contemplative song about tragic death at an early age through horrible circumstances and thus might not need the elongated guitar solo they throw on it. This is where my “love” for this ends. Isbell’s “Dress Blues” is quietly critical of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with the lyric: “What did they say when they shipped you away to fight somebody’s Hollywood war?” Before I ever heard Brown’s version of the song I had a feeling he would alter that lyric, which I consider to be the most important one of the entire song, in some way. Sure enough he did. Brown somewhat neuters the meaning of “Dress Blues” by switching that line to “What did they say when they shipped you away to give all in some God awful war?” I’m thrilled that the underrated Isbell will get some more recognition like he deserves, but I also wish Brown would have had the guts to record the song as intended. How about just listening to Isbell’s far superior version instead?
Brantley Gilbert is one of the most ignorant singers currently in mainstream country music and he’s seemingly proving that daily, especially of late. Gilbert has not just done one thing to get himself on the ‘hate’ side of this editorial this week, but two. We’ll start with the fact that he’s using his entire back as a political message. Much was made of the fact that Gilbert got a pro-second amendment tattoo on the entirety of his back recently. Gilbert was hailed as some sort of goddamn American hero for doing it too. That’s the part that bothers me. Gilbert can do what he pleases with his body, even though his tattoo makes him look like the huge douche he really is. I also don’t oppose the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution, despite the fact I do believe it shouldn’t apply to any weapon you want and I do believe most people’s defense of the amendment is over the top and makes them look ignorant. Turning your back into a political statement as Gilbert has done is one of the ways a person might take their defense for the second amendment too far. Making his body a political billboard is only the second dumbest thing Gilbert did of late though. The dumbest thing he did was release a pro-bro-country song, which will likely end up as the No. 1 worst song of the year come December when I compile my annual list. His “Same Old Song,” an unapologetic anthem for the good of bro-country, will be the first single off of his extended Just As I Am Platinum Edition and includes the utterly jaw-dropping lyrics that you can find HERE. But, if you want an example of how stupid this song is just read the chorus: “Ride with us on Friday night/See if we ain’t jacked ‘em up/See if we ain’t settin’ it on fire/See if we don’t burn it up/See if we ain’t crankin’ Hank/Sippin’ on a little somethin’ strong/Hey man, you’ll see why we can’t/Quit singin’ that same old song.” There are a ton of horrible performers currently in country music, but with this piece of bullshit Gilbert has just surpassed Florida Georgia Line as Enemy of the State of Country Music No. 1.
Billboard Music Award Country Song Nominees
And the nominees for Billboard Music Awards Country Song of the Year are … utter bullshit. Those nominees are, in fact:
“Burnin’ It Down” by Jason Aldean
“Play It Again” by Luke Bryan
“Leave the Night On” by Sam Hunt
“This Is How We Roll” by Florida Georgia Line feat. Luke Bryan
“Dirt” by Florida Georgia Line
If you want to see what’s wrong with modern country music you simply have to look no further than the nominees for Best Country Song at tomorrow night’s 2015 Billboard Music Awards. These four artists nominated for this “honor” are the biggest offenders right now for the impending death of country music. They may be popular among listeners, but they’re simply a cancer causing true country music to fade into the black and painfully so. These nominees further prove that the Billboard Music Awards are a complete joke. While the CMA and ACM Awards at least continue to nominate some of the better modern country songs for their Song of the Year honors and the Grammy Awards always do the best job of nominating Song of the Year, the Billboard Music Awards have just taken a huge shit on what that category truly means.
Last night’s (May 15) ACM Superstar Duets special wasn’t a complete waste of two hours and I must admit that some of the pairings were actually pretty cool (Miranda Lambert/Patty Loveless and Clint Black/Joe Nichols), but it simply wasn’t worth the absolute damnation that was having to see the legendary Dwight Yoakam have to perform his hit “Fast As You” with uber-douche Sam Hunt and seeing Alan Jackson, one of the truly perfect country voices, have to perform “Chattahoochee” with country punk Cole Swindell jumping all around the stage. Whoever decided it was the right plan to match Yoakam and Hunt together should really be stripped of their position and the announcer claiming Hunt to be a rebel was really a puke inducing moment from the special – almost as bad as him also calling Luke Bryan a “legend” before his performance of “Stranger In My House” with Ronnie Milsap.
Tyler Farr’s newest single “Damn Good Friends,” written by Brent Anderson, Chris DuBois and Neil Medley, actually has lyrics about drunk driving in its first verse and when people were critical of those incredibly dangerous and potentially lethal lyrics he responded in print by calling those people pansies. Classy move, Tyler Farr. The first verse of “Damn Good Friends” contains these lyrics that are obviously a reference to drunk driving, despite the fact Farr says they are not: “You’re drivin’ back home down 246/You almost hit a deer and you end up in a ditch/You can’t pull forward and you can’t back out/You’re sittin’ there thinkin’ whatcha gonna do now/You’d be a little nervous if a cop showed up/’Cause you drank a little maybe just a little too much/Waitin’ on a tow truck takes too long/It’s two in the mornin’ … who you gonna call?” Farr was asked about these lyrics in Rolling Stone magazine and took offense saying, “Shit, I mean we all were in high school, we all drove. I drove with a pony keg in the bed in my truck with a damn hose through the sliding [window].” Today is so censored, and you wonder why kids turned out pansies. Because everybody’s a winner. He got sixth place? Tell him to run faster. You have to learn from your mistakes — nowadays you’re not allowed to make mistakes to learn from.” So, if you don’t like a song that seems to be perfectly fine with the illegal and deadly act of drunk driving ladies in gentleman you are a pansy. But, it’s better than being an ignorant dipshit like Tyler Farr.
Zac Brown Band’s “Beautiful Drug”
“I love Luke Bryan and he’s had some great songs, but this new song is the worst song I’ve ever heard. I know Luke, he’s a friend. ‘My Kind Of Night’ is one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard. I see it being commercially successful, in what is called country music these days, but I also feel like that the people deserve something better than that. Country fans and country listeners deserve to have something better than that, a song that really has something to say, something that makes you feel something. Good music makes you feel something. When songs make me wanna throw up, it makes me ashamed to even be in the same genre as those songs.” That was Zac Brown on Luke Bryan’s 2013 hit “That’s My Kind of Night” during a radio interview in September of 2013. It seemed that Brown was advocating for the death of crappy country music and sticking up for traditionalism. Well, less than two years later he’s released a song on his new album Jekyll + Hyde that honestly rivals “That’s My Kind of Night” in the utter shit department. “Beautiful Drug” sounds absolutely nothing like a country song and it’s not the only one on his album. “Heavy is the Head” a collaboration with Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell was released to rock radio, but a song being unapologetically rock isn’t nearly as bad as the tripe that is “Beautiful Drug,” a song that uses electronic music to get across the disgustingly sappy and horrid lyrics about a woman’s drug-like effect on a man. With “Beautiful Drug” Zac Brown has lost any right he ever had to criticize other “country music” and it’s a big sign that he’s sold out to mainstream country. Brown says he wanted songs to make you feel something, well “Beautiful Drug” makes me feel enraged.
by Julian Spivey & Aprille Hanson
1. The Thunder Rolls
Choosing the greatest Garth Brooks song of all-time is certainly no easy task. Fans of Brooks are likely to have any one of a dozen songs listed as their favorite. Many would say that his signature tunes are “The Dance” and “Friends in Low Places,” but when Aprille Hanson and myself divvied up our favorite Brooks tunes (her favorite is “Friends in Low Places” and mine is “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” the one that ended up averaging out to being his greatest song (using our formula of combining our lists together) was “The Thunder Rolls” (which we both listed as number two behind our personal favorites). “The Thunder Rolls” is one of the most interesting songs in the history of country music for many reasons. One, it’s just an all-around great song. Two, it’s one of the most censored songs in country music history due to its subject matter which was considered highly controversial when it was released in 1991. The song is about a man who’s cheating on his wife on a stormy night while she waits at home worried about him. When she realizes the bastard has been cheating again she decides it’s the last time he’s going to do it to her and she kills him. Now, those who’ve only heard the radio single may not even realize this, because the final verse of the song in which the wife shoots her husband was omitted from the final cut. The “lost verse” is frequently performed by Brooks in concert and on his live albums. In my opinion, the radio version without this final verse is severely castrated so you can bet the version that ranks number one on our list is the way the song was intended to be. The decision by Brooks and co-writer Pat Alger to place the man’s transgressions on a stormy night and equate his infidelity to it was supreme genius on their part. – JS
2. Friends in Low Places
Just a few strums from a guitar and people know — they’re about to hear Garth Brooks’ biggest hit, “Friends in Low Places.” It’s not his best song, but it’s one of the best in the genre’s history and that’s saying something in the sea of traditional heartbreak and drinking songs. What makes ‘Friends’ stand out so much is Brooks’ performance. The song, written by Earl Bud Lee and Dewayne Blackwell (on a napkin during a party – couldn’t be more appropriate), was released by artist Mark Chesnutt a month after the song appeared on Brooks’ “No Fences” album in 1990. It wasn’t a single for Chesnutt, but even if it had been, it wouldn’t be a hit. Not a slam on the talent that is Chesnutt, but Brooks brings the grit. You can imagine this man walking into his ex’s engagement party and just letting it rip, with a little boozy stammer and grabbing that glass of champagne from her new love. It’s the ultimate “screw you” song with the best third, only-heard-live verse you’ll hear. Brooks wrote the third verse because it’s more realistic and how a scene like that would unfold: “Just wait til I finish this glass / Then sweet little lady, I’ll head back to the bar / And you can kiss my ass.” - AH
3. Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)
Sometimes an artist gets something so right the first time out that nothing he ever does can be comparable. I know that Garth Brooks has had songs comparable to his debut single “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” from 1989, but in my opinion this is and has always been his very best song. ‘Much Too Young’ is, in my opinion, the traditionally countriest sounding song that Brooks ever did and I think that plays a factor into my love of it, but it’s also a song that speaks to me on an emotional level. There’s times where I’m the narrator of the song feeling much older than I should for my age. I think that’s the genius of this song, co-written by Brooks and Randy Taylor, in that even though it’s about a rodeo cowboy whose life is so hectic that he has absolutely no time for anything else it literally can be about anybody who feels the pain of a life passing them by way too fast. Not only is this my favorite lyric of Brooks’ career, but I’d say the music that backs it up, particularly that screeching fiddle and whining steel guitar, is the best of any that Brooks has ever recorded. The music just fits the lyrics like a glove. - JS
4. The Beaches of Cheyenne
The history of country music is filled with countless story songs that stand the test of time like Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue,” Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” and nearly anything written by the terrific Tom T. Hall … and I think Garth Brooks’ “The Beaches of Cheyenne” should been mentioned in the same breath as those and the many others. It might, in fact, be Brooks’ best story song. The number one hit from 1996 tells the story of a woman who’s driven to suicide after the death of her lover in a rodeo mishap. She feels guilty for his death because when he chose the rodeo over her one last time she told him “I don’t give a damn if you never come back from Cheyenne.” In addition to being a great story song it’s also one of the best rodeo songs in country music history, something that artists like Brooks and one of his heroes George Strait have in common. The song’s fascinating lyrics are matched beautifully by the crying fiddle in the background. This is definitely one of Brooks’ saddest songs and one of his most beautiful performances all at the same time. - JS
5. That Summer
Simply put “That Summer,” Garth’s number one hit in 1993 from his album The Chase, is one of the sexiest country songs of all-time. Brooks really channeled Conway Twitty on the ballad of a teenage boy losing his virginity to a “lonely widowed woman” one summer while he worked as a farmhand for her. It’s one of the truly great “coming of age” songs in any musical genre and has one of the best choruses in Brooks’ iconic discography with the perfectly written: “She had a need to feel the thunder/To chase the lightning from the sky/To watch a storm with all its wonder/Raging in her lover's eyes/She had to ride the heat of passion/Like a comet burning bright/Rushing headlong in the wind/Now where only dreams have been/Burning both ends of the night.” Interestingly enough Brooks’ wife at the time Sandy Mahl helped co-write the tune with him and Pat Alger. I believe “That Summer” is really one of the most underrated classics in Brooks’ repertoire that is right up there with stuff like “The Thunder Rolls” and “The Dance.” - JS
6. The Dance
I believe if you polled many people on their all-time favorite Garth Brooks song that the most common answer might actually be “The Dance” – even ahead of “Friends in Low Places” and “The Thunder Rolls.” In fact, we might be slightly discounting it with the number six position on our list, but the song like many other ballads of its ilk (Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying” comes to mind) actually gets slightly old once you hit so many listens. That’s not to take away from the beauty of the track, which became Brooks’ second career number one single from his debut album. The song, written by Tony Arata, has a dual meaning according to Brooks’ introduction of his music video, which has become one of the most famous in country music, as a song that can stand for the end of a great relationship or somebody dying after living their dream. The video goes on to show many legendary Americans who lived triumphantly before dying young like rodeo star Lane Frost, country music legend Keith Whitley, actor John Wayne, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy. The additions of Frost and Whitley were especially touching as both died less than a year before this video was released. - JS
7. If Tomorrow Never Comes
“If Tomorrow Never Comes” off of Garth Brooks’ debut, self-titled album has the great honor of being the first number one in Brooks’ career and the first of many great love songs in his discography. Written by Brooks and Kent Blazy the song is a beautiful reminder to tell the ones you love that you love them every single day because you never know when you’re going to see them for the final time. The narrator of the song comes to this realization late one night while watching his wife sleeping when the thought of how much he loves her and how rarely he tells her this comes across his mind. Brooks said in the liner notes to his compilation The Hits that “If Tomorrow Never Comes” is his “signature song” and while that’s debatable no one can debate the power of Brooks’ vocal right from the start as he captures you from the first line “Sometimes late at night …” and doesn’t let go until the song finishes. - JS
8. Papa Loved Mama
For as jovial and upbeat as Garth Brooks is, his ability to perform a dark song with such passion to rip at the listeners soul rather than just their heart is a testament to him as a performer. His fast-paced, bouncy melody in “Papa Loved Mama” that is ultimately about a trucker killing his wife for sleeping around is testament to this.
It was only his fourth single, released in 1992 on his album Ropin’ the Wind, and according to Brooks’ commentary on his 1994 album The Hits, it was a last minute add on. ‘Papa’ is sung from the perspective of the kids, starting out with Brooks’ low voice in the opening line: “Papa drove a truck nearly all his life / you know it drove Mama crazy being a trucker’s wife …” and it’s on from there. Papa comes home one night to find his kids alone and his wife gone. He finds her at a motel and here comes the real punch in the song, “The desk clerk said he saw it all real clear / he never hit the brakes and he was shifting gears.” And as we find out in the chorus, “Papa loved Mama / Mama loved men / Mama’s in the graveyard / Papa’s in the pen.” It could be considered Brooks’ most sinister song, written by Brooks and Kim Williams, because you can jam out to it, sing along happily and then you realize – wow, this is about a man ramming into a hotel with his rig, killing his cheating wife. It’s twisted stuff because it’s so fun. - AH
9. Callin’ Baton Rouge
If a young person today hears Garth Brooks’ 1994 hit “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” they’ll be scratching their head – why would he be stopping every hundred miles and what is with the dimes just to make a call? An operator? For the generation without cell phones and even the 20-somethings out there, this song is pure fun. While it’s not totally clear, most people can assume it’s a truck driver who is stopping to call the love of his life, a woman he just met named Samantha in Baton Rouge. With Brooks’ signature energy and shouting “here we go,” the song has an uptempo, almost auctioneer feel to it. The anticipation builds until the trucker sings, “Hello Samantha dear I hope you’re feeling fine …” and you know that he’s got her on the line … finally! It’s a very simple concept song, originally sung by the Oak Ridge Boys, but it’s Brooks’ style that makes it truly catchy. - AH
True fans of Garth Brooks know his unfailing respect for rodeos and the whole culture that surrounds this dangerous sport. “Rodeo,” the first single off his 1991 album Ropin’ the Wind, would be one of the many times he’d make reference to the sport – think “Beaches of Cheyenne” and “Wild Horses.” But it’s “Rodeo” that truly encapsulates what a rodeo is, from “bulls and blood” to the “dust and mud and the roar of a Sunday crowd,” as the chorus points out. This song is so Garth and it’s hard to imagine he spent so much time and energy trying to get a female artist to sing it. Larry Bastian wrote the tune originally called “Miss Rodeo” but after years of trying to market it and begging his now wife Trisha Yearwood to sing it, she helped him see the light – he was born in Oklahoma and the rodeo culture was familiar to him, he should sing it. Even if you don’t get excited about rodeos, it’s hard not to want to go check one out after hearing the dirty grit of Brooks’ song. - AH
11. Unanswered Prayers
Christians thank God for answered prayers. Songs about blessings and miracles are a dime a dozen in gospel and country music, but what about the prayers that go unanswered? It’s Garth Brooks that helped us see how much better we are for some unanswered prayers in his 1990 single of the same name. It’s such a purely relatable song for anyone who has had a young love, in this case a high school sweetheart that just didn’t work out. The song follows a man who runs into his “old high school flame” at a football game with his wife. Nostalgia comes back, as he remembers how much he wanted to marry and be with this woman for the rest of his life. But obviously, God had other plans. Time changes people and the two former flames realize just how different they are now. Looking at his wife, he thanks God for unanswered prayers. The song is such a powerful reminder that just because life doesn’t grant you what you’ve wished, hoped and prayed for, doesn’t mean there isn’t something better waiting just around the corner. It’s easily one of his most poignant, heartfelt songs. - AH
12. Wild Horses
I believe my favorite type of Garth Brooks song is his rodeo songs. A good rodeo song is something country music is desperately missing these days, but I guess rodeos just aren’t that cool among the young country music demographic anymore. Garth has a bucket full of great rodeo songs. One of the saddest is “Wild Horses,” written by Bill Shore and David Wills, about a man struggling to keep up between his love for a woman and his love for the rodeo. It’s a common theme in a rodeo song; Garth even revisits it in “The Beaches of Cheyenne,” but it works for me every single time and every time the rodeo seems to win out. Even if you don’t know much about a rodeo the song can still hit you in the heart if you’ve ever been forced to choose between a good woman and a life’s dream. “Wild Horses” is an interesting song for Brooks in that it was featured on his breakthrough 1990 album No Fences, his second album, but wasn’t released as a single until a decade later in 2000. The song went to number seven on the chart in 2000, but I think it could’ve been a number one had it been released earlier. - JS
13. Longneck Bottle
As far as toe-tapping songs go, Garth Brooks’ “Longneck Bottle” from his 1997 album Sevens is high on the list. It’s a fun little ditty about that longneck bottle that just won’t “let go” of this man’s hand. The jukebox is playing that song again and here is this man glued to the seat of his barstool instead of home with the girl who loves him and “she won’t understand.” The best line of the song: “I oughta waltz right out of them swingin’ doors / But that’s a step I just can’t learn.” It’s upbeat and while simple in theme, lyrically creative for the short song that it is. - AH
14. Ain't Going Down (Til The Sun Comes Up)
If you’ve ever seen Garth Brooks perform live there’s no denying – the man is seriously hyper. He’s all over the stage, sweating, giving it his all. If there was ever a song that really captures what he truly is as a performer it’s 1993’s “Ain’t Going Down (Til The Sun Comes Up).” The song is about two young lovers out for a night of honky tonks, line dancing and a little back seat dancing. It’s performed at lightning fast speed and suddenly as the listener you’re hanging on for the ride. Brooks co-wrote the song and explained it was just a song about fun. Party songs nowadays can’t compare to this wild ride of a song. - AH
15. Standing Outside The Fire
Garth Brooks’ 1993 album In Pieces featured some of his best work including the powerful “Standing Outside the Fire.” ‘Fire’ was released in 1993 and its lyrical brilliance thanks to Brooks and Jenny Yates, who wrote it in about an hour and a half. At its core, it’s about striving to shoot for the stars in life, take chances and above all, has this universal truth in the chorus: “Life is not tried it is merely survived if you’re standing outside the fire.” On its own, the song is great, but cue up the music video and it’s pure magic. The video centers around a Down Syndrome athlete named Brandon who instead of entering the Special Olympics race at his high school, decides to enter the regular running event. His mother is supportive, but his father does not want him to do it, causing a rift with the parents. The song plays as Brandon trains hard and finally culminates at the competition. As he’s running down the track, he trips and falls hard. Instead of giving up, his father is there cheering him on to continue. Brooks has said the most letters he receives about the song are from parents with children who participate in Special Olympics. He made a powerful song into an anthem to never, ever give up. - AH
16. What She’s Doing Now
I can’t believe this one somehow slipped past me; after all, it was a number one hit in 1992. But, until rather recently I had never heard Garth Brooks’ “What She’s Doing Now.” I guess it was because my only Garth Brooks album was basically the greatest hits recorded on his excellent Double Live album and this wasn’t one of the songs recorded on that album. But, one day I was listening to the local classic country station and this came on. Imagine how excited I was to hear a Garth song I’d never heard before – and it was terrific. “What She’s Doing Now,” written by Brooks and Pat Alger, is a simple heartbreaker about a man wondering where his former lover was and what she’s been up to since they broke up. But, just because the topic is simple doesn’t mean this song doesn’t pack a wallop. It bowled me over the first time I heard it and I haven’t even been in a similar situation to the narrator. For those who have they must understand this feeling all too well. - JS
17. Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy
It must have been such an honor for Garth Brooks to record a duet with his hero Chris LeDoux. On the other hand it might have been a way for LeDoux to thank Brooks for bringing his career to the forefront of the country music industry. LeDoux was a little known rodeo cowboy/singer whose name Brooks dropped in his first ever single “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old),” which helped to gain him notoriety. Their 1992 duet about what happens when a woman wants a one-night stand with a cowboy, but he doesn’t ride away in the morning would become LeDoux’s biggest career hit and only top 10 single. The song was actually co-written by Brooks along with Mark D. Sanders and is the perfect tune for these two country legends to duet on. “Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy” is pure fun and you can tell these two friends are having an absolute blast performing it together. It’s just a shame the two only recorded this one duet. - JS
18. Good Ride Cowboy
Garth Brooks’ hero Chris LeDoux died on March 9, 2005 after a battle with liver cancer. LeDoux had been diagnosed with liver disease five years earlier and needed a transplant. Brooks actually offered part of his liver, but he wasn’t compatible. After LeDoux’s death Brooks briefly came out of retirement, he had retired in 2001, to pay tribute to his hero a few months later in song with “Good Ride Cowboy.” Most song tributes are soft, sad ballads. “Good Ride Cowboy” was a raucous, three and a half minutes of pure fun. Just the way LeDoux would’ve wanted it. Brooks told CMT of the song: “I knew if I ever recorded any kind of tribute to Chris, it would have to be up-tempo, happy ... a song like him ... not some slow, mournful song. He wasn't like that. Chris was exactly what our heroes are supposed to be. He was a man's man. A good friend.” In addition to being a fantastic tribute to his friend the song skyrocketed to the top five on the Billboard country charts and proved that Brooks still had it sparking fan interest that he would one day return to recording music. - JS
19. Beer Run
In 1992 Garth Brooks got the honor to perform with his hero Chris LeDoux on the duet “Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy,” but in 2001 came the opportunity of a lifetime to perform a duet with everybody in country music’s hero … George Jones. The song is “Beer Run” and it’s an absolute riot from beginning to end. The song has become a modern classic, but believe it or not wasn’t a huge hit when released to country radio failing to crack the top 20 on the charts. That was dumbfounding considering Brooks and Jones are two of the 10 greatest, maybe even five greatest recording artists in the history of country music. The song is the tale of a group of friends making a run to the nearest wet county for their weekend’s supply of alcohol. It’s simplistic, which is why it’s amazing it took five people to write it, but it’s one of the most fun tracks in both Brooks’ and Jones’ discographies. - JS
20. Two of a Kind, Working On a Full House
Garth Brooks has a way of singing cover songs and making them massive hits. Remember “Friends in Low Places”? Mark Chesnutt recorded it first. Then you have “Two of a Kind, Working On a Full House,” originally recorded in 1987 by artist Dennis Robbins, who co-wrote the song. In a repertoire of love songs, this one will always stand out for Brooks because it’s fun at its finest. Unlike the pop-catchy tunes on country radio today, it’s creative in that it’s a bit of a double entendre about this Southern couple living this fun hard-working country life while wanting to expand the cards they were dealt – i.e., add some children to the mix. If you’re a fan of Blake Shelton’s “Honey Bee,” this was the original … and it was better with lyrics like: “Lord I need that little woman / Like the crops need the rain / She's my honeycomb and I'm her sugar cane / We really fit together / If you know what I'm talkin' about / Yea, we're two of a kind / Workin' on a full house.” Just like with “American Honky-Tonk Bar Association,” it’s a perfect example of Brooks knowing his down-to-earth audience and never becoming too big in his stardom to be disconnected from reality. It’s a song you could easily envision Brooks singing to his extremely talented country singer/wife Trisha Yearwood. - AH
21. Two Pina Coladas
Garth Brooks is best known for his drinking/“screw-you” song “Friends in Low Places,” where the narrator crashes his former love’s engagement party, but you could classify “Two Pina Coladas” as the follow-up to ‘Friends.’ It’s doubtful it was intended to be a continued storyline, but it’s fun to ponder after the man gets his anger out that he finds some peace with his Pina Coladas. Released in 1998 off Sevens, the song, on its surface, is about a man who is “feelin’ the blues” and wants to leave his heartache behind. Luckily, while watching the news, learns that “heartaches are healed by the sea.” It was the boost he needed to head out on the town and sail away with Captain Morgan despite never leaving “dry land.” It’s as beachy as you’ll ever hear from Brooks, but it’s more than just a fun drinking song — it’s an escape … that made it all the way to No. 1 on the Billboard Country Charts. The song was written by Shawn Camp, Benita Hill and Sandy Manson and made it to No. 29 on CMT’s “40 Greatest Drinking Songs: Morning After.” - AH
22. Wrapped Up In You
When Garth Brooks’ eighth studio album Scarecrow, the last before his retirement, came along, he already cemented his place in country music history. Here’s a man with hits like “The Thunder Rolls,” “Friends in Low Places” and “The Dance” under his belt. You’d think his career would cool off at some point right? Well, it sort of did — the 2001 album singles didn’t gain much traction when you compare them to his repertoire, except for “Wrapped Up in You.” The song is cutesy but manly — something that few male artists can achieve well and Brooks is certainly one of them. He can sing lines like, “How do I love you? / Well let me see / I love you like a lyric love a melody / Baby, completely wrapped up in you,” and sounds actually wrapped up — not cheesy or whipped as they say — in the love of his life. Though the song is almost five minutes long, lyrically it’s very short; first verse, chorus, a few more lines, chorus, few more lines. When you see the words laid out, you might be shocked at how short it is because as a listener, you don’t even notice. It’s bouncy beat and manly sweetness makes it so catchy, you’re just, well … wrapped up in it. - AH
23. To Make You Feel My Love
It’s kind of unbelievable to think that Garth Brooks could outdo the legendary Bob Dylan and Billy Joel at something, but he did. All three performers released the Dylan written “To Make You Feel My Love” within a year of each other and I believe Brooks’ version, which was recorded for the 1998 “Hope Floats” movie soundtrack, to be the best version. Interestingly enough Brooks’ future wife Trisha Yearwood, whom he would marry in 2005, also recorded a version of the song for that soundtrack. The song is easily one of Brooks’ sweetest tracks and one of his best vocals, in my opinion. It shows that Brooks has a crooner quality about him that doesn’t come through in much of his countrier songs. The backing music is far from country-esque, with its beautiful piano accompaniment, but that actually helps set the song apart from others in his catalogue. “To Make You Feel My Love” had pop crossover written all over it and actually became a top 10 hit on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. It was number one on the country chart. - JS
24. The River
One of Garth Brooks’ music idols has always been the introspective, mellow James Taylor. So it’s easy to see where Brooks gained stylistic inspiration for “The River,” his fifth single from Ropin’ the Wind. Co-written with Victoria Shaw, the song is symbolism at its finest, comparing a dream to a river. It was this song along with other later inspirational tunes like “Standing Outside the Fire” that really made Brooks more than just a cowboy — he was ready to show the world he was a philosopher with a Southern accent, who wanted to inspire people. - AH
25. American Honky Tonk Bar Association
Throughout his career, Garth Brooks broke the mold on how he chose to sing about common country themes like heartache, love and when love goes wrong. But, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t go all-out country boy and did so with “American Honky-Tonk Bar Association.” The song, written by Bryan Kennedy and Jim Rushing, was released in 1993 as the second single from In Pieces. It was originally titled the “American Redneck Bar Association” and if it was released today, you can bet that would be the title. But if you notice, it doesn’t include a single reference to dirt roads, pickup trucks, tailgates or girls in cut-offs, so it’d never get on country radio. But what it did include was hard work and that’s country for many people. At the time when honky tonks still dotted the streets of little towns where communities worked from sun up to sun down, the song celebrated Southern culture while throwing in a fun ditty for the working man and woman. When Brooks sings about the “hardhat, Gunrack, achin'-back / Over taxed, flag-wavin', fun-lovin' crowd” it just shows how in tune he was with the way country fans in the ‘90s were. If you look at his repertoire, it’s one of his weakest classics in terms of content, but a perfect example of a catchy, fun country song. - AH
by Aprille Hanson
The closest thing to tropical sounding music Blake Shelton has done would be one of the classics in his repertoire “Some Beach.” It was a funny, cute song. But he takes a stab at it again with his latest “Sangria.” No, it’s not a funny song, but rather a romantic song that basically could highlight any couples beach getaway. The descriptions are what make the song sexy. “You’re crashing into me like waves on the coast” or “We’re buzzing like that no vacancy sign out front” are just a few of the awesome visuals in the song. But my personal favorite would be in the chorus, “Your skin is begging to be kissed by a little more than the sun.” That line with Shelton’s smooth Southern drawl will make your heart melt into the song. The song is filled with easy images to picture but when he sings about the woman’s lips tasting like Sangria, he just opens up a whole new sense into the song. It’s a tasteful, sensual, summer song that’s a nice break from all the party/drinking summer hits out there. He’s going to make the ladies swoon and the men want to reenact that song on their summer getaway. It’s nice to see him break off a little from the bro-country with a song like this. “Sangria” tastes pretty good thanks to Shelton.
by Julian Spivey
Million Dollar Quartet, the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, brought its touring company to the Ed Coulter Performing Arts Center on the campus of Arkansas State University-Mountain Home on Thursday, April 30th for a fantastic performance that left the packed crowd fascinated.
Million Dollar Quartet tells the story of that faithful night on Dec. 4, 1956 when four future legends Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins all met up at Sun Records in Memphis for an impromptu recording session. The quartet would be dubbed the “Million Dollar Quartet” by a journalist who happened to be there that night and the photograph of the four of them around a piano is quite possibly the most iconic photo in music history.
Sun Records founder and record producer Sam Phillips (played by Andrew Frace) is manning the recording booth for a Carl Perkins (played by H. Bradley Waters) recording session in hopes of finding the scuffling performer a second hit after “Blue Suede Shoes.” Phillips is incredibly excited because he’s invited Elvis Presley (played by Jacob Rowley), whom he made a star before selling to RCA to keep his doors open, back to the studio. Elvis is hoping Phillips will join him at RCA. Phillips is doubly excited as he’s also invited Johnny Cash (played by Scott Moreau) to the studio this night in hopes of signing him to a contract extension. Tension ratchets up that night when a youngster out of Louisiana shows up hoping to make a name for himself and that name, as he frequently lets you know, is Jerry Lee By-God Lewis (played by Colte Julian).
Million Dollar Quartet is mostly performance with a storyline mixed in and that’s just fine. The cast is able to fit 23 performances into an hour and a half performance, while also telling the story of Sun Records, which is truly an amazing accomplishment. I’d personally love to see Million Dollar Quartet adapted into a motion picture version, but for that to happen there would definitely have to be a lot more story added to it and a little less on the performance side. However, you could really tell the audience was digging the fact that the show was jam-packed with performances.
The greatest thing about Million Dollar Quartet is the actors aren’t just impersonating Presley, Cash, Lewis and Perkins, but they actually have to perform all of their instruments live. There’s no faking it on the Million Dollar Quartet stage, which is truly fascinating especially when you see Julian play the piano as Lewis or Waters’ fantastic guitar playing as Perkins.
There wasn’t really anything I didn’t care for in the musical, however I do wonder if the character of Dyanne (played by Laura Obenauf), a fictionalized take on Elvis’ then girlfriend Marilyn Evans, wasn’t just inserted into the musical for sex appeal. The character of Dyanne doesn’t impact the musical really in any way, but Obenauf’s performances of “Fever” and “I Hear You Knocking” are certainly enough to keep the men in the audience’s attention.
All of the performances in Million Dollar Quartet are incredibly entertaining with Julian’s performance as Lewis perhaps being a highlight because of the energy/personality that the real Jerry Lee Lewis brought to his music. I found Waters’ performance as Perkins to be really talented, as that accompanied with the storyline really hit home the true story of Perkins getting a raw deal from Phillips and Sun Records, despite giving the company its’ first ever hit.
If you’re into great, old school rock & roll music I highly recommend finding Million Dollar Quartet when they come to a city near you. It’ll truly take you back to that unbelievable night in 1956.