Country Music History – Essential Releases of 1992, Part II
Norwegian country rock and Petty theft.
1. “Moonshiner,” Uncle Tupelo. Belleville, Illinois natives Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy played in the St. Louis punk act The Primitives during the 1980s, then added some twang to their sound as they morphed into Uncle Tupelo. They released their debut album, “No Depression,” in 1990. The title was based upon their cover version of the A.P. Carter song, originally released by The Carter Family in 1936 and the term would later become synonymous with alt-country music. Despite never being a major commercial act, Uncle Tupelo became a bellwether band, later splintering into Wilco, Son Volt, and The Bottle Rockets. The band’s “March 16-20, 1992” album included their version of “Moonshiner,” a traditional folk song of unknown origin. If nothing else, “Moonshiner” enlightened listeners that the music of the future would sound pretty much like Neil Young did in 1972.
2. “Outbound Plane,” Suzy Bogguss. Texas folk/country singer Nanci Griffith has been a niche artist for most of her career, having recorded over twenty albums (releasing material for major labels from 1987 to 2001), winning a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album in 1994, but never reaching a mass audience. She had two minor Top 40 country singles during the late 1980s (“Lone Star State of Mind” and “I Knew Love”), but Kathy Mattea went Top Ten with her cover of Griffith’s “Love at the Five and Dime” and Suzy Bogguss repeated that feat with “Outbound Plane.” The lyrics were inspired by a romantic breakup that Griffith had in, of all places, Cleveland’s airport. Here, we see country music incorporating elements of classic rock. Thematically, this is Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” and musically it nicks the dramatic chord progression from The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.”
3. “Papa Loved Mama,” Garth Brooks. When songwriter Kim Williams was seventeen, he was involved in a factory accident that severely burned his entire body. Undergoing more than 200 surgery procedures never erased the scars, leaving the man to joke, “I tell people I got burned out on my last job.” Williams went on to write Top Ten hits for Joe Diffie, Doug Stone, Aaron Tippin, Kenney Chesney, and Randy Travis, among others. He collaborated with Garth Brooks on several occasions, the first time penning “Papa Loved Mama,” a comedic look at cheating/family violence that ends with mama in the graveyard and papa in the pen. Brooks, “Kim Williams might be one of the most talented writers I have ever worked with simply because he can sneak so many things in on you as a listener.” Extending their commercial…um…hot streak, Williams also co-wrote the Garth Brooks Top Five singles “Ain’t Going Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up),” “It’s Midnight Cinderella,” and “She’s Gonna Make It.”
4. “Past the Point of Rescue,” Hal Ketchum. The whimsically named community of Limerick, Ireland isn’t known as a hotbed of country music, however, it is the hometown for Irish songwriter Mick Hanly. Hanly grew up during the British invasion era of pop music, then worked in folk music and as member of the Celtick rock band Moving Hearts. A 1989 solo album included “Past the Point of Rescue,” a song introduced to Ketchum by his wife who was working for a publishing company at the time. Ketchum’s remarkably accurate assessment, “It’s just the most moving poetry. It could be written and hung on the wall regardless of the melody. It’s just that masterful of a pice. “Past the Point of Rescue” was covered by the Norwegian country rock band The Hellbillies in 1993 as “Ei Krasafaren Steinbu.”
5. “Pineola,” Lucinda Williams. The most gripping song from Lucinda Williams’ 1992 album “Sweet Old World” is a return to the type of stark tragedy that folk and country music often detailed during the genre’s infancy. “Pineola” begins with a suicide and then details the emotional aftermath. The lyrics were inspired by death of Arkansas poet Frank Stanford, who killed himself at the age of 29, and the different worlds he inhabited. Williams, “Most of those lyrics are factual. It was really surreal. My dad and all of his writer friends were in one group, and his [Stanford’s] mother and sister were off to themselves. They didn’t know anyone. In fact, none of his friends knew anything about his family. It was a very Southern Gothic kind of thing.”
6. “The Road Goes on Forever,” Joe Ely. Joe Ely alternated between releases on MCA Records and independent labels during the 1990s and had his most mainstream country contemporary production on the 1992 “Love and Danger” album, courtesy of Nashville bigwig Tony Brown. Ely cut the definitive version of Robert Earl Keen’s “The Road Goes on Forever” for that album, a story song about two small town losers (a slutty waitress and a small time pot dealer) who hit the road for an adventure that went awry. The scorecard at the end of the tune – one dead cop, one man on death row, and a lady with a new Mercedes Benz. The Highwaymen recorded “The Road Goes on Forever” as the title track of their 1995 album, giving Keen’s signature song greater exposure while simultaneously sucking the life out of it.
7. “Seminole Wind,” John Anderson. After being left for dead by country music radio in 1987, John Anderson had a massive commercial comeback in 1992. Anderson penned the title track to his comeback album, filled with rich imagery about his native Florida and theoretical economic progress that destroyed the state’s natural habitat. However, it is such a beautiful composition that it never sounds preachy. Anderson, “I worked on it a long time. It was something I kept going back to and trying to make better. At that point, it wasn’t like we were writing a song for any particular reason other than to write a good song. Our record label deals were at a standstill. When I first started writing ‘Seminole Wind,’ it didn’t strike me as being very commercial because of the environmental [theme]. By the time I finished it and played it to people, they were saying, ‘That’s a good song.’ ”
8. “Straight Tequila Night,” John Anderson. Kentucky born songwriter Kent Robbins attended Vanderbilt University, wrote #1 singles for Ronnie Milsap and Charley Pride during the 1970s, and started his own publishing company in the 1980s. Anderson had a hit with the Robbins’ composition “She Just Started Liking Cheating Songs” in 1980 and had his comeback #1 hit with “Straight Tequila Night,” a tale of an angry drunken woman written by Robbins and Debbie Hupp (Hupp also had a writing credit on Kenny Rogers’ Top Ten pop hit “You Decorated My Life”). Producer James Stroud reigned in Anderson’s tendency for colorful vocal mannerism on this outing, keeping the focus on the tequila and the wounded heart.
9. “Take Your Memory with You,” Vince Gill. You weren’t going to hear Ray Price on country radio in 1992, but “Take Your Memory with You” was the next best thing. Gill on his #2 hit, “That was straight out of a Buck Owens shuffle song or Harlan Howard or Ray Price or any of those guys. I’ve recorded several others over the years and loved those.” Gill also gives a lyrical hat tip to Ernest Tubb, while hoping against hope that he can erase a woman who is leaving him out of his memory.
10. “Waiting for the Sun,” The Jayhawks. The Minnesota alt-country act The Jayhawks were inspired by The Everly Brothers and The Byrds, taking the approach to singing from the former and the rock music lyrical approach from the latter. Gary Louris, “Being a child of the 60s and 70s, I still am drawn to that very uplifting melody and that’s usually contrasted with a somewhat melancholic, darker, introspective vocal.” “Waiting for the Sun, ” which also shows a strong Neil Young influence, was the lead track from the bands third album, 1992’s “Hollywood Town Hall,” and is a fine representation of their contrasting bright melancholy sound. “Waiting for the Sun” became a bigger hit when Tom Petty rewrote it, while adding a riff from Cheap Trick’s “The Ballad of T.V Violence,” and called it “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.”
11. “Watch Me,” Lorrie Morgan. Lorrie Morgan, the daughter of country crooner George Morgan and onetime wife of Keith Whitley (she’s been married six times at this point), scored fourteen Top Ten hits from 1989 to 1997. Publicly, Morgan has alternated between portraying herself as a sex kitten and as a devastated victim, depending on what best suited her needs at the time. “Watch Me,” written by Nashville regulars Tom Shapiro and Gary Burr, was a radio friendly slice of country pop that allowed Lorrie to walk away from an unappreciative man. The onetime hopeful cosmetology student complained earlier this year, “I really don’t know what country music is anymore. I am as flabbergasted as anyone and have no idea what is country and what is not.” Yeah, she was such a purist in her day.
12. “West Texas Plains,” Rosie Flores. Rosie Flores collaborated with a variety of esteemed songwriters on her 1992 “After the Farm” album, including Guy Clark, Duane Jarvis, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. However, her best effort was a collaboration with Asleep at the Wheel’s 1970’s secret weapon Leroy Preston. “West Texas Plains” is a folk ballad, with musical shading provided by steel guitar specialist David Lindley, where Rosie hopes that the infamous Texas winds can blow away her pain. The eclectic, self described “Rockabilly Fillie” has never stopped touring and recording. Flores, “I like the journey that I’m on. It always helps to like what you’re doing. I certainly never made it to big star status, but my message is to empower, and I think that also makes me feel good about performing and about myself.”
13. “When It Comes to You,” John Anderson. Mark Knopfler was a major star in rock music as the leader of Dire Straits, known for their international hits “Sultans of Swing” and “Money for Nothing.” Knopfler often used a finger picking guitar technique and his music publisher was able to translate his songwriting style into the world of country music. Highway 101 (“Setting Me Up”), Mary Chapin Carpenter (“The Bug”) and John Anderson all had country hits with previously released Dire Straits album tracks. Knopfler even played guitar on Anderson’s brooding, good loving gone bad “When It Comes to You,” a #3 country hit. Knopfler’s work in Nashville also included highly regarded collaboration albums with Chet Atkins and Emmylou Harris.