Country Music History – Essential Recordings of 1993, Part I
NRBQ, The Carpenters, Michael Jackson.
1. “Ain’t That Lonely Yet,” Dwight Yoakam. The first single from Dwight Yoakam’s 1993 multi-platinum “This Time” album, “Ain’t That Lonely Yet” sounds positively Spectorian in its production values as compared to Yoakam’s previous neo-traditional approach. Co-written by Kostas and James House, who scored his own Top Ten hit in 1995 with “This Is Me Missing You,” Yoakam compares a woman to a spider while deciding that his loneliness is better than a reconciliation. The first three singles from the “This Time” album – “Ain’t That Lonely Yet,” “A Thousand Miles from Nowhere,” and “Fast as You” – all went to #2 on the country charts. After those releases, he never had another Top Ten hit.
2. “Broke Down South of Dallas,” Junior Brown. It was a slow path to fame for country guitar wizard Jamieson “Junior” Brown, who toiled in obscurity and taught guitar lessons for decades before becoming a recording artist. Relocating to Austin raised his profile and he was a member of Asleep at the Wheel for a short time period during the 1980s – Ray Benson still hasn’t forgiven him for quitting the band during a gig. His debut album, “12 Shades of Brown,” was released in the U.K. in 1990 and in the U.S. in 1993. Brown’s use of “My Baby Don’t Dance to Nuthin’ But Ernest Tubb” as the lead track was a smart way to emphasize his honky tonk roots. Brown mixes humor, transportation issues, and romantic worries on “Broke Down South of Dallas,” while displaying his dexterity on his “guit-steel,” a double neck six string and lap steel guitar. Brown also released his signature song in 1993, his country meets boogie woogie cover version of Red Simpson’s “Highway Patrol.”
3. “Chattahoochie,” Alan Jackson. Huntsville, Alabama native Jim McBride got discouraged about his potential for writing hit songs during the 1970s and spent several years working for the postal service. After co-writing Conway Twitty’s 1981 #3 single “A Bridge That Just Won’t Burn,” McBride moved to Nashville to become a full-time songwriter. McBride wrote four Top Ten singles with Alan Jackson, including the beer drinking, foggy window making, river nostalgia of “Chattahoochie.” Jackson, “Jim McBride and I were trying to write an up-tempo song and Jim came in with the line ‘way down yonder on the Chattahoochee’.’ It kind of went from there. It’s a song about having fun, growing up, and coming of age in a small town – which really applies to anyone across the country, not just by the Chattahoochee. We never thought it would be as big as it’s become.”
4. “Drive South,” Suzy Bogguss. Fourth time was the charm for“Drive South,” first released by songwriter John Hiatt in 1988, then by Kelly Willis in 1990, The Forester Sisters in 1990, and it became a #2 hit, her highest charting release, for Suzy Bogguss in 1993. Does part of my love this song because it contains possibly the filthiest lyric to ever slip by country radio programmers? Color me guilty. Bogguss on her take, “I had to sing that thing a million times to come up with a melody line for some of the high parts because John Hiatt is completely fearless. He’ll just screech out whatever he wants to, but I don’t sing like that. So, I had to just sort of make stuff up to take it where I needed to take it.” This was the last of Hiatt’s three Top Ten country credits as songwriter, following Rosanne Cash’s 1987 #1 hit “It Hasn’t Happened Yet” and the Desert Rose Band’s 1989 #3 release “She Don’t Love Nobody.”
5. “Easy Come, Easy Go,” George Strait. Dean Dillon was going through a divorce when he met Aaron Baker for a songwriting session. Dean’s divorce was acrimonious, as they generally are. The two men starting laughing about the concept of an amicable divorce and their conversation resulted in the George Strait #1 hit. Dillon, who was still a recording artist in 1993, originally thought about keeping the composition, but a Strait rendition made too much sense. Dillon, “Why do I go out here and lose $30,000 a year of my songwriting money working dates on the road, feeding a band, when I can sit back and write songs for this guy and everybody else, and make a great living and not have to go out there and be the road warrior.”
6. “Every Little Thing,” Carlene Carter. What’s that famous Carlene Carter quote? She was going to put the bunt back in baseball? No, wait, the punt back in football? The affront back in country? Well, never mind. The daughter of June Carter Cash and Carl Smith, the stepdaughter of Johnny Cash, and the one-time wife of Nick Lowe, Carlene started releasing solo material in 1978, but didn’t have her first hits until Tom Petty’s bassist Howie Epstein produced her 1990 “I Fell in Love” album. The neo-rockabilly title track and the long suffering “Come on Back” both peaked at #3 on the country charts. Carter had her third and last Top Ten hit with “Every Little Thing,” an upbeat if-you’ve-got-an-itch-scratch-it look at romantic obsession. This was the first major country hit for songwriter Al Anderson, who made a lot more money in Nashville than he did during the two decades when he was the lead guitarist for NRBQ.
7. “Heartland,” George Strait. George Strait decided to give acting a try in 1992, after being encouraged to do so by “Colonel” Tom Parker, and took a star turn in the 1992 dramatic Western/music flick “Pure Country.” The movie didn’t do great box office, but the soundtrack moved over six million units. The country meets hard rock bombast of “Heartland” was written by Nashville vet Steve Dorff, who has credits on crossover MOR hits by Kenny Rogers and Anne Murray, along with John Bettis. Bettis has quite a resume, having credits on many of the early hits by The Carpenters (he’s sometimes referred to as “The Third Carpenter”), as well as writing pop smashes for The Pointer Sisters (“Slow Hand”), Michael Jackson (“Thriller”), and Madonna (“Crazy for You”). “Heartland,” a lyric with the usual moral condescension of rural based county music, is Strait going for the rare anthem treatment. This song and the unconditional love tune/wedding number “I Cross My Heart” were both #1 singles from the movie soundtrack.
8. “It Sure is Monday,” Mark Chesnutt. Mark Chesnutt had a simple formula for success – uptempo music, downbeat lyrics. As far as Monday material, less depressing than The Carpenters (“Rainy Days and Mondays”), not as good as The Bangles (“Manic Monday”) or The Boomtown Rants (“I Don’t Like Mondays”), better than Jimmy Buffet (“Come Monday”) and Duran Duran (“New Moon on Monday”). However, as Fats Domino and New Order new, the best Mondays were painted blue. One of Chesnutt’s eight #1 singles and twenty Top Ten hits during the 1990s.
9. “It’s a Little Too Late,” Tanya Tucker. After more than a decade of writing country music hits, as well as Al Jarreau’s “We’re in This Love Together,” Roger Murrah started his own publishing company in 1990. One of his employees was songwriter Pat Terry, who lead a Christian group as a bad Cat Stevens imitator during the 1970s. Murrah on the Nashville songwriting process, “Our writers will come in about 10 a.m. and work away on their songs until 4 or 5 o’clock. Just like a person working on the assembly line!” That assembly line process gave the increasingly husky voiced Tanya Tucker “It’s a Little Too Late,” one of her thirteen Top Ten hits during the 1990s. Weird coincidence – the chords right before the bridge sound just like the intro to Brownsville Station’s “Smoking in the Boys Room.”
10. “Let Her Fly, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette. Dolly Parton worked as part of a second famous trio in 1993, teaming up with legends Loretta and Tammy on the “Honky Tonk Angels” album. Most of the album was covers of 1950s and 1960s country material (such as “Wings of a Dove,” “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know,” and “Please Help Me, I’m Falling,”). “Let Her Fly” is a slow bluegrass/gospel number, written by Dolly and the vocals sound like Parton being multi-tracked instead of being backed up by her superstar peers. Thematically, Dolly doesn’t question for a second whether the circle will be unbroken.