Country Music History – Essential Recordings of 1993, Part II
I got bruises on my memory. I got tear stains on my hand.
1. “Live Forever,” Billy Joe Shaver. Billy Joe Shaver has always embodied the concept of the unregenerate hell raiser who also happens to be a God fearing Christian. By 1993, he had found one of the hottest guitar slingers in Texas, his son Eddy, and had moved further into the realm of outlaw country. (Byproducts of this lifestyle including Eddy dying of a heroin overdose and Shaver infamously shooting a man in the face). However, the subject matter at hand is “Love Forever,” the most beautiful song about the Christian ideal that I’ve ever heard. The verse about parenting becomes even more poignant when you consider Eddy’s fate. There have been several covers of “Live Forever,” Billy Joe recorded the song again in 1995 with chart hotshots Big & Rich, with Joe Ely’s 2011 release being among the best.
2. “Money in the Bank,” John Anderson. Songwriters Mark D. Sanders, Bob DiPero, and John Jarrad have their names on forty #1 country singles. Sanders, the product of a “prototypical, dysfunctional alcoholic” family in Los Angeles, was a school teacher before moving to Nashville. His first songs were about his personal demons, “Every time I would write about my dad, I would kill him. There was something psychological there.” However, DiPero loosened him up, “There’s a fine line between ‘just stupid’ and $100,000. That’s what we called ‘the DiPiero line.’ We wrote a whole slew of songs like that. It was simple stuff. Bob basically taught me how to be a hillbilly.” John Anderson had his fifth, and last, #1 hit with this droll love over lucre outing.
3. “No Time to Kill,” Clint Black. Clint Black’s 1989 debut album was titled “Killin’ Time,” but he flipped his own script with the “No Time to Kill” record in 1993. Like Pink Floyd on “Dark Side of the Moon,” Black is pondering the undefeatable power of the clock on “No Time to Kill,” one of the more philosophical moments in country radio history. Black resolves to lead a life free of worry and hurry, knowing his days are numbered no matter how they are spent. Also, Jerry Douglas, one of the most talented session musicians in the genre’s history, deserves a round of applause for the outro dobro solo that heightens the emotional weight of the lyric.
4. “Nobody Wins,” Radney Foster. Foster had his biggest hit, a #2 single, with “Nobody Wins,” an argument that love is more important than pride, but reconciliation doesn’t seem likely. Foster, “‘Nobody Wins’ was written with Kim Richey. I think both of us were going through really bad relationships, but unwilling to talk about it at the time, but willing to at least talk about how you hate it when you have a fight with your spouse, and how awful that is. And I was like, ‘Yeah, nobody wins those things.’ And that’s just how it was born. Neither one of us are with the person that we were with when we wrote the song, obviously.” Country music was the source for confessional singer/songwriter material during the early 1990s.
5. “Santa Fe Thief,” Jimmie Dale Gilmore. After twenty plus years of recording, Jimmie Dale Gilmore had his first major label album with 1993’s “Spinning Around The Sun.” Over two decades later, he noted that he stilled owed Elektra Records money from recording and tour support. Artistically, he took the opportunity to relocate Elvis to West Texas with his cover of “I Was the One,” and included songs by his long time Lubbock associates Jo Carol Pierce and Harry Porter (“Reunion,” a duet with Lucinda Williams), Butch Hancock (the dismissive “Just the Wave, Not the Water”), and two selections from A. B. Strehli, Jr. (“So I’ll Run” and “Santa Fe Thief).” I have no idea what the lyrics to “Santa Fe Thief” might mean, but sonically and vocally, it’s one of the best representations of Gilmore’s beautiful, almost ghostly, cosmic Texas twang tenor sound.
6. “A Thousand Miles from Nowhere,” Dwight Yoakam. One of popular music’s hardest hitting songs about heartbreak, Dwight Yoakam doesn’t go for self-pity while describing his loneliness on “A Thousand Miles from Nowhere.” The impact is even greater because he is simply resigned to his hopelessness as being a permanent reality. As a producer, Pete Anderson’s wide open spaces arrangement reinforces the theme of displacement. As a guitarist, Pete Anderson’s solo reinforces that he was always the unsung hero in the Dwight Yoakam phenomenon.
7. “Walls Can Fall,” George Jones. Being moved to the buggy whip/dodo bird section of the country music airwaves was bruising to George Jones’s ego, but he still went gold with his early 1990’s albums “Walls Can Fall” and “High-Tech Redneck.” MCA shoehorned every hot young Nashville act (Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Travis Tritt, Alan Jackson, etc.) into the call and response versus of the 1992 single “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair” and still couldn’t push the song past #34 on the country charts. The 1993 non-charting single “Walls Can Fall” is a mixture of country and gospel music, with a lyric about change, hope, and love that has more impact considering the recovering alcoholic who is doing the singing.
8. “Workin’ Man’s Ph. D.,” Aaron Tippin. Aaron Tippin worked as a commercial pilot before trying his luck in Nashville, working as a staff songwriter during the day and at an aluminum factory at night. He broke through in 1990 with the generic “You’ve Got to Stand for Something” (no particulars given), then topped the charts in 1992 with the nasal twang of “There Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong with the Radio.” You can hear the shift in country radio towards arena rock bombast in his 1993 Top Ten hit “Workin’ Man’s Ph. D.,” a salute to people who sweat on their jobs and work with their hands. No argument for extra compensation or benefits. No mention of overbearing bosses. It does take a swipe at freeloaders. That’s a “working class” as country music would ever get during the 1990s.