Country Music History – Essential Releases of 1991, Part II
They took the credit for your second symphony, rewritten by machine on new technology.
1. “Small Town Saturday Night,” Hal Ketchum. Hal Ketchum’s life journey took him from upstate New York to Austin to Nashville, where a former cabinet worker released his major label debut album at the age of 38. Music City writers Pat Algers, who wrote several hits with/for Garth Brooks, and Hank Devito penned “Small Town Saturday Night,” a song with a theme and a melody reminiscent of “Midnight Girl – Sunset Town” by the Sweethearts of the Rodeo. The lyrics chronicle the type of small town boredom where you have to “be bad just to have a good time” and when people leave, they never come back. Ketchum, “I didn’t want to cut ‘Small Town Saturday Night.’ The demo was kind of like this reggae, funky, folky kind of thing. (Producer) Allen Reynolds just took me aside and said, ‘Hal, I’m afraid I’m gonna have to insist. You’ll thank me for it.’ I can’t thank him enough!”
2. “Someday Soon,” Suzy Bogguss. Homecoming queen Suzy Bogguss is a native of Aledo, Illinois, a small town close to the putative “Quad Cities” of Iowa and Illinois. After graduating from Illinois State University, with the unusual degree of metalsmithing (she would later make jewelry), Bogguss started working as a traveling folk singer. Bogguss eventually set her sights on Nashville, not before being hired as a singer at the Silver Dollar City theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, a tourist destination that later morphed into Dollywood. She had her first hit with the 1989 #14 single “Cross My Broken Heart,” but her 1991 platinum album “Aces” was her true breakthrough effort. “Someday Soon” was written and released by Ian and Sylvia Tyson in 1964 and had been covered over a dozen times before 1991, including a #21 country hit for Moe Bandy in 1982. It’s a tale of young love, tinged with sadness – the man who has Suzy’s heart loves that damned old traveling rodeo circuit as much as he loves her. Bogguss is a smart singer, she hits the right emotional notes with her clear soprano voice but never oversells the material.
3. “Somewhere in My Broken Heart,” Billy Dean. All long term pop music fans are familiar with the concept that video killed the radio star. It happened in Nashville as well, but the process was slower. As the cable channels CMT (Country Music Television) and TNN (The Nashville Network) became more video driven entities, Nashville started signing young talent who looked like soap opera stars. This timing was fortuitous for Billy Dean, who had been looking for a break in Nashville since the early 1980s. Dean wrote “Somewhere in My Broken Heart” with Richard Leigh, who is best known for penning Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” “Somewhere in My Broken Heart” is more of a folk ballad than a country song, a tale of hoping that love turns from unrequited to mutual. The fact that I like this song makes me question my own manhood, but that’s my personal cross to bear. Dean had eleven Top Ten hits from 1990 to 2004 and has been a fixture on the Branson, Missouri entertainment scene for the past several years.
4. “Tempted,” Marty Stuart. A child prodigy, Marty Stuart escaped from Philadelphia, Mississippi at the age of fourteen, getting a regular gig as a member of Lester Flatt’s backing band. He was a member of Johnny Cash’s band during the early 1980s, then received his first major label deal in 1986. A diminutive, strutting peacock of a man, Stuart had his brief time as a solo star in the early 1990s, having six Top Ten hits between 1990 and 1992, two of those being duets with Travis Tritt. “Tempted,” Stuart’s biggest solo hit, was penned by the singer with Paul Kennerley, who was married to Emmylou Harris at the time. Although not produced with a retro style, the record sounds like Buddy Holly chords paired with Roy Orbison production values. Stuart didn’t hide the influences, stating years later, “I heard it the first time on the radio when I was in Lubbock, Texas, which was Buddy Holly’s hometown. I’d gone to the local station to do a radio interview to promote the show that evening. And I said, would you do me a favor? And I handed him a test pressing of the song “Tempted,” – and the record company didn’t think it was a single – I said, would you play this for me so I could hear it in the car on the way back to the hotel? And he did and when he got through, he said, I believe that’s a hit song and I think Buddy Holly would be proud to endorse that song himself.”
5. “The Thunder Rolls,” Garth Brooks. Pat Algers had co-written Kathy Mattea’s “Like a Hurricane” and Garth Brooks picked up on the lyric “in my heart there’s a thunder rollin’” from that record. Brooks went to Algers with the concept of a cheating song titled “The Thunder Rolls.” Brooks and Algers wrote the sinning turned revenge domestic violence number, but it was originally pitched to Tanya Tucker to record. Tucker delayed releasing the song and Brooks received permission to record his own version after becoming a star. Brooks, not known for his subtlety, was built to deliver this type of melodramatic scenario. The Dixie Chicks had a lot more fun with the spousal homicide concept when they recorded “Goodbye Earl” later in the decade.
6. “Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown,” Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Jimmie Dale Gilmore wrote “Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown” with his Lubbock buddy John Reed and it was originally included on the 1972 “The Flatlanders.” Joe Ely and Nanci Griffith had released cover versions before Gilmore included it as the lead track on his 1991 “After Awhile” album. A lyric of complete emotional despondency, Gilmore sings about losing the love of his life and trying to cope with a world with a lost sense of reality. His quavering voice isn’t typical of the genre, but it is particularly effective on sad ballad material. Gilmore would get his biggest gig as an entertainer later the decade, landing a role as the “Smokey” in the Cohen Brothers cult classic film “The Big Lebowski.” The Seattle band Mudhoney released an “interesting” cover of “Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown” in 1994.
7. “Two of a Kind, Working on a Full House,” Garth Brooks. Guitarist Dennis Robbins became a member of the popular Detroit hard rock band The Rockets during the mid-1970s, a group that spun off from Mitch Ryder’s Detroit Wheels and hit the Top 40 in 1979 with their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well.” After The Rockets imploded, Robbins moved to Nashville and was signed as a country act by MCA Records. He released “Two of a Kind, Working on a Full House” in 1987, reaching #71 on the country charts. (The song was co-written with Bobby Boyd and Warren Haynes – the same Warren Haynes who would later work with The Allman Brothers and form Gov’t Mule). Garth Brooks immediately heard the potential for a hit in the sexually charged, “sometimes we fight just so we can make up” lyrics. Brooks, “Even though it’s a small, light-hearted song, it’s one of the strongest parts of our live show. People just seem to connect with this song. This is a big point to writers and artists out there, especially myself, that sometimes intense gets the point across, but don’t forget to show ’em your sense of humor.