The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [April 1987]

No single cover for "Rose In Paradise" since Waylon is too badass for that.
No single cover for “Rose In Paradise” since Waylon is too badass for that.

This is the past pulse of mainstream country music. Each week, I take a look at the Billboard Country Airplay Chart (or, “Hot Country Songs” as it used to be called) from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the past top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. The grade I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9 [+4], 8 [+3], 7 [+2], 6 [+1], 5 [0], 4 [-1], 3 [-2], 2 [-3], 1 [-4], 0 [-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the past state of mainstream country music and determine if it was better or worse compared to now. To see the full list of the top 30 country airplay songs for this week, click here. This week, I’m going to go all the way back to the eighties. Since I can only find the top 25 for anything pre-1990, the highest and lowest scores will be +125 and -125, respectively. This week I will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Hot Country Songs from April 25th, 1987.

  1. Waylon Jennings – “Rose In Paradise” +4 [Best Song] (Waylon’s final number one will be thirty years old next year. Hard to believe)
  2. T. Graham Brown – “Don’t Go To Strangers” +3
  3. Michael Johnson – “The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder” +3
  4. Michael Martin Murphey & Holly Dunn – “A Face In The Crowd” +3
  5. The Trio – Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris – “To Know Him Is To Love Him” +4 (three females on one song?!? Damn, we can barely get three women on the charts these days!)
  6. The O’ Kanes – “Can’t Stop My Heart From Loving You” +2 (Props for the accordion in the chorus)
  7. Kathy Mattea – “You’re The Power” +2
  8. The Oak Ridge Boys – “It Takes A Little Rain”  +2 (Before they liked “doing it” to country songs)
  9. Don Williams – “Senorita” +2
  10. Reba McEntire – “Let The Music Lift You Up” +2
  11. Steve Earle – “Goodbye’s All We’ve Got Left” +3 (80’s Steve was SOOOO good)
  12. Conway Twitty – “Julia” +3
  13. Judy Rodman – “Girls Ride Horses Too” +2
  14. The Bellamy Brothers – “Kids Of The Baby Boom” +4
  15. John Conlee – “Domestic Life” +3
  16. Dan Seals – “I Will Be There” +1 [Least Good Song]
  17. Billy Joe Royal – “Old Bridges Burn Slow” +2
  18. Gary Morris – “Plain Brown Wrapper” +2
  19. The Forester Sisters – “Too Many Rivers” +2
  20. Lyle Lovett – “God Will” +3
  21. Moe Bandy – “‘Till I’m Too Old To Die Young” +3
  22. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – “Baby’s Got A Hold On Me” +2
  23. Highway 101 – “The Bed You Made For Me” +3
  24. Keith Whitley  “Hard Livin'” +3
  25. T.G. Sheppard – “You’re My First Lady” +3

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: +66

Once again, it’s nice to see a positive score on this thing. Not as good as last week, mostly because there’s a lot of cheesy love songs with sleepy production. Still, nothing inherently bad here. When you have songs by Waylon, Keith Whitley, and Don Williams, how can you really complain?

As always, if you have any questions as to why I gave a song a certain grade feel free to ask me. Also, let me know what you guys think of the chart in the comments!

Review – Steve Earle’s “Mississippi, It’s Time”

Steve Earle
Photo Credit: Dirk Hansen, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, no changes made

Throughout 2015 there has been no shortage of controversial and polarizing topics in America. One of the hottest issues has been about the confederate flag, what it means and where it should be displayed. Will Hoge tackled the issue with his song “Still A Southern Man,” which I thought was a fair and passionate take. Now we have another take from alt-country artist Steve Earle, who certainly isn’t one to shy away from voicing his thoughts on issues. This isn’t the first new music we’ve heard from Earle in 2015, as earlier this year he released a new album titled Terraplane. While we didn’t get a chance to review it on here, I did listen to it and I thought it was a very solid album of bluesy, country music. And now his newest song is “Mississippi, It’s Time.”

Now before I break the song down, you should probably know where Earle is coming from with this song and who he is targeting this towards. This is what Earle said in a statement regarding the song:

“I grew up in the South and lived there until I was 50,” Earle says in a statement, “and I know that I’m not the only Southerner who never believed for one second that the Confederate battle flag is symbolic of anything but racism in anything like a modern context. [This song] is about giving those southerners a voice.” 

So with this in mind, I take a look at “Mississippi, It’s Time.” The song squarely targets the state of Mississippi and its current display of the stars and bars in front of the state capital. Earle calls for them to take it down and its past time to do so. He points out how both South Carolina and Alabama have already done it and how Mississippi needs to follow their lead. But this is just the surface of the song. Earle goes even deeper, as he sings about slavery, racism, the Civil War and making progression afterwards. The lines that stood out to me the most were the following:

Look away Mississippi

Mississippi, you’re on my mind

All the crosses burned and the lessons unlearned

Left a scar across my heart and its ten miles wide

Sick of sloggin’ through the history of this wounded land of mine

Still payin’ the cost, cause the war was lost

Mississippi don’t you reckon it’s time?

Earle reminds everyone of how the confederate flag is a symbol of hate to so many and it’s what many people view it as. While some view it as southern pride, the history behind it and the evil associated with it override what a few see it as. The instrumentation and production of this song is classic Earle, as it has a folk/alt-country sound that many enjoy hearing from Earle. There’s also short interludes of “Dixie” played in the song. His ragged voice utters out the lines with conviction and a little anger even. Earle is clearly as passionate about this as Hoge and is making it pretty clear how he feels. Whether you agree or not with his stance, Earle certainly knows how to get a message across loud and clear.

It should be noted that Earle has teamed up with the Civil Rights rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center and all proceeds generated from the song will go to the organization. So Earle isn’t making a dime from this song. He simply wanted to get his thoughts out on this issue and help out an organization he cares about. While I thought the song could have went even deeper, I think Earle approached this issue with intelligence and thoughtfulness. His emotions and songwriting combine to make a powerful song with a clear message. It’s a song I definitely recommend checking out. Earle shows once again why he’s such a respected singer-songwriter.

Grade: 9/10

Album Review – Allison Moorer’s ‘Down To Believing’

Allison Moorer Down To Believing

To say Moorer’s last five years have been rough is an understatement. Over the course of those five years, she got divorced from fellow alt-country artist Steve Earle and found out their son John Henry has autism. There aren’t enough songs in the world to describe the heartache and pain she had to go through with all of this. So it’s not surprising with this new album that she relies heavily on these experiences and feelings for each song. By doing this it makes the album quite personal and deep. I can imagine it’s quite cathartic too to get all of these feelings out she’s been holding in. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Moorer’s new album Down To Believing.

The album kicks off with “Like It Used To Be,” an upbeat, country rock tune. It’s about moving on in life and getting used to the fact that things aren’t always going to be like they used to be. It’s a solid song to begin the album. The next song, “Thunderstorm/Hurricane,” is much darker and grittier. While the first song braced for change, this song seems to symbolize experiencing the change. It isn’t very pleasant either, as it’s compared to thunderstorms and hurricanes. Moorer’s vocals are great and really shine towards the end of the song.

“I Lost My Crystal Ball” is about losing sight of what’s happening around you (losing the crystal ball) and instead destroying everything and making a wreck of yourself (finding a wrecking ball). The lyrics are quite catchy, as well as the instrumentation. The album’s title track is a heartbreak ballad, where you can definitely tell Moorer drew from her feelings she experienced from her separation from Steve Earle. The song’s premise is simple: can both sides of the relationship still believe they have a chance of being together or is it best to just leave each other? This is one of my favorite songs on the album, as Moorer absolutely nails it.

Everything is going to hell in “Tear Me Apart,” as Moorer sings about being in a destructive relationship and wanting to get out of it. She wonders why he wants to tear her apart and how she wants to just scream if he looks her way. The bluesy, rock instrumentation gives this song a perfect feel. It’s upfront, in your face and I love it. The piano eloquently sets the mood from the beginning in “If I Were Stronger.” It’s another song where you could tell Moorer drew from her falling out with Earle, as it’s about the aftermath of a failed relationship. She sings about how she wishes she had more strength to keep the relationship going longer and to keep that love alive, but there just isn’t any love left in her heart. Moorer’s vocals are just as flawless as the great lyrics in this song. This is arguably the best song on Down To Believing.

“Wish I” deals with the conflict of wanting an ex back and wanting to move on. Part of the woman wishes he still loved her, but she knows this just isn’t going to happen. It’s truly a battle between the brain and heart, a situation many of us are familiar with. Moorer sings about the importance of family in “Blood.” As she told Rolling Stone, this song is dedicated to her sister Shelby Lynne, who is also a country singer. You can tell she has a strong bond with Lynne and I think this song is a nice tribute to their relationship.

Moorer gets angry in “Mama Let The Wolf In.” As she told Rolling Stone in another interview, this song is about her son getting diagnosed with autism and how she feels personally responsible for it happening. I highly suggest reading her entire explanation behind the song, but here’s a snippet of it:

It’s about how I feel about my son having autism. As a parent, whatever your children go through I think there’s a certain amount of it that you feel responsible for, even if you know it has nothing to do with you, even if you know that there’s absolutely no way to protect them from the world or what they have to go through, whether it’s being bullied, having a hard time in school, or being an addict. When you can’t protect them from going through something that’s hard, you feel responsible for it.

I love Moorer letting her emotions control this song, giving it a good dose of reality, edge and the feeling of helplessness many parents experience with their sick children.

The next song, “I’m Doing Fine,” revolves around this simple phrase that usually means two things. It can either mean that you’re actually doing fine or you’re far from fine. I think this song means both at times, giving it an interesting dynamic and something for the listener to really decide for themselves. The more upbeat “Back of My Mind,” is about never forgetting about a special someone who was in your life. This person was all you thought about, but as times passes your memory of them fades. But they never fade completely. The mandolin and lighter feeling instrumentation in this song really lets the song breathe and gives the song a hopeful tone.

Moorer covers the classic hit of Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” next. Now you need to know where I’m coming from when talking about this song, as I have to admit I really love this song. When I heard Moorer was covering it, I got excited. Does it live up to my expectation? Yes it does. It’s fantastic and appropriately fits in with the rest of the album. The album concludes with “Gonna Get It Wrong,” a song about making mistakes in life, but learning that it’s okay to fail and fall down. Despite getting it wrong sometimes though, you know you can always get back up and try again. The song captures the feeling of failure well. Moorer’s vocals, along with the piano and guitar instrumentation, set the mood of the song perfectly. It’s the perfect summation of life and really the entire theme of Down To Believing.

Moorer doesn’t hold anything back throughout the album. She essentially strips her life back and shows exactly what she’s experienced in the last five years. It’s raw, emotional and honest. This is what every great country album should possess. Her vocals are dynamic and flourish in every song. The songwriting is deep and tells a story. It’s an album that everyone can listen to and find a few songs that they can deeply connect to. Down To Believing is the first album from Moorer in five years and hopefully we won’t have to wait that long on the next one because the world needs more music from her. But for now enjoy this fantastic album, as I highly recommend checking it out.

Grade: 9/10 

Album Review – Justin Townes Earle’s Absent Fathers Will Move You

absentfathers

Justin Townes Earle has always been an interesting artist to me. The amount of stories I’ve heard about him have certainly added to his mystique. There’s been praise for his brilliant early albums and jeers of disappointment on his latest work. Following him on Twitter is certainly an experience, as he can go off on something that pisses him off at any moment. I then read the stories about him going on a rampage at a concert in Indiana five years ago and I came away with a sour taste. I’ll admit it made me disinterested in his music. But then I decided to read the facts about Earle. I read about his tough life and his struggles with addiction. Then I understood who Justin Townes Earle was (I also felt like shit for being so dismissive of his music and him as a person) and it made me eager to listen to his new album Absent Fathers. It’s the follow-up and companion of his 2014 release Single Mothers (I wasn’t impressed by it, which also dissuaded me to listen to Earle’s music). I’ll say this right up front: Earle proves me wrong.

The inspiration behind this album is Earle’s own childhood and growing up without his father, famous alt country artist Steve Earle. No song exemplifies this theme more than “Farther from Me.” Earle questions why his father had to abandon him, messed up his life and how he wishes he knew him more. It’s an emotionally raw song and Earle shows why he receives high praise for his songwriting. I also want to praise how great Earle expresses emotion in his lyrics, something that he continually does throughout the album.

This is followed by “Why,” a short bluesy song about a man wondering why his woman always assumes and thinks the worst with him. You can hear some Motown influences in this song too, similar to the songs on his Single Mothers album. It’s a solid song. The third song on this album is “Least I Got The Blues.” This is a more stripped down song where the steel guitar whines prominently and Earle’s voice is front and center. It’s a heartbreak song that Earle does a great job of expressing the emotions of a man who just lost his woman. This is a pure country song that’s refreshing to hear from Earle, a sentiment many Earle fans certainly share.

“Call Ya Momma” is about a man who knows his relationship with a woman isn’t good, as he says from the start he isn’t up to any good. Throughout the song the man reiterates this and repeatedly tells the woman to call her momma. The relationship eventually comes to an end and Earle brilliantly expresses the heartbreak in his voice. The lyrics in this song do a great job of telling a story. The instrumentation is perfect, as Earle blends country and bluesy rock flawlessly. This song is fantastic and to me is the best song on Absent Fathers.

Earle goes dark and somber with “Day and Night.” It’s a more stripped down song instrumentation wise and once again let’s Earle tell a story with his brilliant voice. This is another song where Earle personally reflects on his hard life and all of the struggles he went through to get to this point, but he’s now happy because he has found the love of his life (his new wife he just married). Again the raw emotion Earle expresses in his voice is quite moving. Earle then kicks the tempo back up with “Round the Bend.” While songs like “Day and Night” and “Farther from Me” will move your emotions, this song will make you move your feet. This is another song where Earle does a great job blending rock and country elements together to make a cool sound.

Absent Fathers slows back down with “When the One You Love Loses Faith” and it’s a song where Earle reflects on moments when he let down people he loves. The instrumentation is more blues than country on this song. I was just wanting a little more in this song, as I felt it could have been more emotional and impactful. Earle isn’t as serious with “Slow Monday,” as he complains about boring Mondays. The instrumentation is simple with the guitar and banjo only playing throughout the song. This is a more of a light song to breakup the seriousness on the album. Even though it isn’t as serious, Earle’s vocals are still seriously good.

“Someone Will Pay” has a similar vibe to “Round the Bend,” as it’s more upbeat and aggressive. It’s a vengeful song where Earle vows to get revenge on someone and he forewarns that the person’s lies will cause someone to pay for his misdeeds. This is again a short song that accomplishes its goal of being a fun and solid country song. The album concludes with “Looking for a Place to Land.” It’s about Earle comparing himself to a plane, beginning life at too early of an age and now he’s running low on fuel, “looking for a place to land.” He flew too high too early as he sings. Now he’s looking to slow life down and enjoy it with his wife. It’s a great way to conclude this stellar self-reflection album.

Justin Townes Earle’s Absent Fathers is an album that pleasantly surprised me with how great it is. I wasn’t expecting it to be this good and I’ll say it once again: Earle proved me wrong. I’m glad he proved me wrong and I’m glad I listened to this album. While this album won’t be the best we hear in country music in 2015, there certainly won’t be a lot of albums that top it. As I say with darker albums like this one, you must have some moments of light so the dark moments mean more. Earle has a great balance in terms of this aspect. The instrumentation and production on this album is pretty damn good and I don’t have any complaints about it. There are some brilliant moments of storytelling on this album and Earle showed you should never doubt him. I highly recommend getting Absent Fathers. I guarantee it will move you in some way.

Grade: 9/10