Country Music History – Essential Releases of 1991, Part I
There are no references to a mulatto, an albino, a mosquito or Kurt Cobain’s libido in this article.
1. “Angels Don’t Fly,” George Jones. George Jones signed with MCA Records in 1991 and producer Kyle Lehning, who was on a hot streak working with Randy Travis, spent nine months recording the “And Along Came Jones” album. Despite the renewed corporate investment, radio wasn’t interested and the first single (“You Couldn’t Get the Picture”) stalled at #32 on the country charts. Two successive singles fared even worse. Still, the real gem is the album cut “Angels Don’t Fly,” where Jones revisits the theme of being unable to cope with his loneliness when his woman leaves – the tag line is “Angels don’t fly, they just walk out the door.” This number is performed at his tortoise paced, savor every note tempo.
2. “Don’t Rock the Jukebox,” Alan Jackson. While George Jones couldn’t get airplay in 1991, he was still a hip artist to name check. By osmosis, theft, or coincidence, Alan Jackson picked up the George Jones/Rolling Stones rhyme that the Bellamy Brothers had used on “Kids of the Baby Boom” to describe his sad sack music preference. The title phrase came when either bassist Roger Bob Wills (quite the name, eh?) or Jackson leaned on an unsteady jukebox while playing in a small town honky tonk. Jackson brought the title to Nashville songwriters Roger Murrah and Keith Stegall and left with the number one country song of that year. Smartest lyrical moment – the statement, “I ain’t got nothin’ against rock ‘n’ roll,” welcoming his audience to embrace both genres.
3. “God Will,” Patty Loveless. Patty Loveless went Top Five twice in 1991, first with the spunky “That Kind of Girl” (not the lady in red, not the girl next door) and the relationship rebound of “Hurt Me Bad (In a Real Good Way).” “God Will” had been a #18 single for Lyle Lovett in 1987 and Loveless began performing it in concert before she ever recorded it. From an attitude standpoint, Loveless sounds somewhat like her reported distant cousin Loretta Lynn on her version, letting her cheating man know that God has all the forgiveness in the world, but she doesn’t. Lovett, “Unconditional love and unconditional forgiveness are hard things for people to live up to.”
4. “The Heart that Love Forgot,” Kelly Willis. The daughter of an Army lifer, Kelly Willis moved to Austin after graduating high school, lured there by the vibrant music scene. Her good looks and her aching voice quickly attracted attention and she was signed by MCA Records in 1989. Her 1990 debut included a cover of John Hiatt’s “Drive South” two years before Suzy Bogguss went Top Five with her version. Her 1991 “Bang Bang” included the Tex Mex flavored “The Heart That Love Forgot,” penned by Kostas with Willis’s then husband Mas Palermo. With its theme of lonely suffering and the country meets Latin instrumentation, “The Heart That Love Forgot” sounds similar to the type of music that The Mavericks would popularize later in the decade.
5. “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares),” Travis Tritt. Georgia native Travis Tritt reportedly taught himself to play guitar when he was eight years old and then started writing songs when he was fourteen. After graduating high school and working odd jobs, Tritt spent most of the 1980s chasing a record deal and was signed by Warner Bros. Nashville in 1989. Tritt landed eighteen Top Ten singles and five #1 hits from 1990 to 2002. “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)” is a perfect kiss my backside lyric to an ex who doesn’t deserve another chance. Tritt wrote “Here’s a Quarter” after his second divorce. He was 22 years old at that time.
6. “Is It Raining at Your House,” Vern Gosdin. Vern Gosdin’s last Top Ten/last Top 40 country hit was written after Gosdin called Hank Cochran during a thunderstorm and asked, “Is it raining at your house like it is raining at mine?” Gosdin could sound a lot like George Jones (if you need further evidence, check out their 1979 duet “All That We’ve Got Left”) and he does on this gloomy weather number about pining for his former love. “Is It Raining at Your House,” a slow paced vocal showcase, has been covered by Brad Paisley, Jamey Johnson, and Lorrie Morgan. Gosdin suffered from a stroke in 1998, but remained an active performer until a few weeks before he passed away in 2009. Gosdin on his last few successful years, ““Out of everything bad, something good will come if you look hard enough…and I got 10 hits out of my last divorce.”
7. “Look at Us,” Vince Gill. Vince Gill released four singles from his 1991 “Pocket Full of Gold” album and they all found the Top Ten of the country charts. “Look at Us” wasn’t the biggest hit, that honor would go to Gill’s version of the Ray Price shuffle on the #2 hit “Take Your Memory with You.” Still, “Look at Us” is one of his most emotionally charged performances, a statement of pride and commitment about the type of long term love that everyone yearns to have. John Hughley, the master of the “crying steel” sound, kept the proceedings from getting too self-congratulatory. John Prine released a cover version of “Look at Us” on his 2016 duet album “For Better, or Worse,” harmonizing with Morgane Stapleton.
8. “Navajo Rug,” Jerry Jeff Walker. Folk/Americana/country artists Ian Tyson and Tom Russell wrote this tale of consummated lust in a Colorado diner. The lyrics involve the rug, a waitress, and her carnal ability to make a man see sacred mountains and the dance of the turtle doves. Tyson and Russell had individually recorded this whiskey toast, truck stop coffee tune in the 1980s, but Walker’s version wins in the production values and personality department. Another nice effort from this timeframe is “The Pick Up Truck Song,” Walker’s fond remembrance of Hondo Crouch, the man who bought the “town” of Luckenbach, Texas in 1970 for $30,000.
9. “One More Payment,” Clint Black. Clint Black was too much of a desperate puppy dog begging for love to ever sound like Merle Haggard, but the working class lyrics (“break my back to make those back notes”) and the Western swing sound of “One More Payment” reflect a Haggard influence. Empathy for the working man, once a calling card of the genre, starting to phase out of style during the 1990s. Although still a Top Ten hit, this was the lowest charting single during the first eight years of Black’s career.
10. “She’s in Love with the Boy,” Trisha Yearwood. Songwriter John Alms, “I think it’s really important to paint images in the minds of your listening audiences. They want to be put in a dream world…in a scene.” Trisha Yearwood, a Georgia native with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, went #1 with her first single, a John Alms’ composition about young lovers Katie and Tommy, a disapproving father, and a mom with a memory. Alms has stated that he re-wrote the lyrics about thirty-two times to include specific details and to tell a comprehensive, yet concise story. As for Yearwood, she deserves special recognition for having been a public figure for a quarter of a century and never uttering a single sentence that is remotely interesting.