The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [December 1992]

vince_gill_-_dont_let_our_love_cd_single

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 will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Hot Country Songs from December 26, 1992. In honor of my ongoing chart request archive, this week’s chart goes out to commenter jmartin103. Thanks for reading jmartin103!

  1. Vince Gill – “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away” +3
  2. Alan Jackson – “She’s Got The Rhythm (And I Got The Blues)” +3
  3. Garth Brooks – “Somewhere Other Than The Night” 0 (Since I don’t have the CD with this song on it, I have no clue what to grade this song. Of course it isn’t anywhere on the Internet and I haven’t heard it before so it’s not going to help or hurt the Pulse)
  4. Hal Ketchum – “Sure Love” +1 [Least Good Song] (It’s just more “meh” than outright bad)
  5. Clint Black – “Burn One Down” +4
  6. George Strait – “I Cross My Heart” +2
  7. Trisha Yearwood – “Walkaway Joe” +4
  8. Brooks & Dunn – “Lost & Found” +3 (One of the few B&D songs featuring Kix on lead vocals. I haven’t checked, does Kix still have more solo songs than Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line? Dead serious)
  9. Restless Heart – “When She Cries’” +3 (Probably too pop for 1992 but still a good song)
  10. Tracy Lawrence – “Somebody Paints The Wall” +3 (The George Jones version is obviously highly recommended as well)
  11. Randy Travis – “Look Heart, No Hands” +3
  12. Lee Roy Parnell – “Love Without Mercy” +2
  13. Reba McEntire – “Take It Back” +3 (Probably being a little gracious, but it is certainly fun)
  14. Sammy Kershaw – “Anywhere But Here” +3
  15. John Michael Montgomery Gentry – “Life’s A Dance” +4 [Best Song]
  16. Ricky Van Shelton – “Wild Man” +3
  17. Doug Stone – “Too Busy Being In Love” +1
  18. Tanya Tucker – “Two Sparrows In A Hurricane” +3
  19. Alabama – “I’m In A Hurry (And Don’t Know Why)” +4 (It’s a damn fun song with a good message. We CAN make them!)
  20. Diamond Rio – “In A Week Or Two” +3
  21. Little Texas – “What Were You Thinking” +3
  22. Travis Tritt – “Can I Trust You With My Heart” +2
  23. Chris LeDoux – “Cadillac Ranch” +3 (There’s a lot of big names that came from the 90’s, but ironically enough Chris was one of the first artists from before 2000 I ever listened to)
  24. John Anderson – “Let Go Of The Stone” +3 (The one, two, three punch of Tritt, LeDoux, and Anderson is just awesome)
  25. Wynonna – “My Strongest Weakness” +2
  26. Confederate Railroad – “Queen Of Memphis” +2
  27. Mark Collie – “Even The Man In The Moon Is Cryin’” +3
  28. Billy Dean – “If There Hadn’t Been You” +3 (Borderline +3. The production is a little too sleepy for my tastes)
  29. Suzy Bogguss – “Drive South” +3
  30. Wynonna – “No One Else On Earth” +4 (A.K.A, the better Wynonna song here)

The Past Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: +77

It’s getting a little cliché at this point, but there’s really not much else to say other than this is another great chart! A little bit of a step up from last week even if there still wasn’t a song here that outright blew me away. Even still, when you have artists like Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, George Strait, Trisha Yearwood, Randy Travis, Reba, Sammy Kershaw, John Anderson, Chris LeDoux, Wynonna and SO many more cranking out at least great songs, there’s not much to complain about.

As an additional note, I have to say that the 90’s charts are always my favorite ones to listen to and rank. Sure, it’s not perfect, but nothing really is. These charts are always highly enjoyable and bring tons of great songs that are a better representation of country music than a lot of the stuff we have today.

Album Review – Wynonna & The Big Noise’s Self-Titled Debut Album

After a long, sustainable career as part of a country duo then as a solo artist, Wynonna Judd has taken a new road: leading a band. Wynonna & The Big Noise is Wynonna partially stepping away from her country roots and making more noise. The band’s debut album features more rock influence in the music, while keeping her grounded in the genre that she’s called home her whole life. The album was produced by her husband Cactus Moser, who is also the band’s drummer. Two months into their 2012 marriage, Moser was in a motorcycle accident that resulted in him losing a leg. Wynonna stood by his side, caring for him and helping him get back to normal life. When it came to choosing songs for the album, it’s obvious that Moser’s accident influenced the direction of the album. Several of the songs deal with overcoming obstacles and loving devotion to one another, almost as if Wynonna & The Big Noise is Judd and Moser’s story. After all, Judd calls this album her “battle cry.”

The album kicks off with the rocking “Ain’t No Thing.” Wynonna sings of a relationship that’s just ended. But instead of feeling heartbroken and drawn to a bar to cope with the feelings, she shakes the bad news off. She informs her man that he shouldn’t expect her to mourn over their failed relationship. This bluesy rock piece was written by Chris Stapleton. This is followed by “Cool Ya,” a mid-tempo rock song with a unique production. The song builds nicely as occasional guitar riffs slowly develop into a full melody over the steady drum beat. Lyrically, the song reads sort of like a baptism, encouraging “fallen daughters” and “wilted flowers” to find comfort in the rain and the water while the “hallelujah flows right through.

Jason Isbell provides vocal harmonies on “Things That I Lean On.” Accompanied by acoustic guitar with a fiddle, Wynonna sings of the various things in life she turns to when she feels down or lost. From the 23rd Psalm to a timeless Conway Twitty song; from the shoulder of the one she loves to grandma’s words of wisdom. The song’s vulnerability gets a little lost in the list-y nature of the lyrics.

The theme of devoted love first shows up with “You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast.” There’s a vibe in the lyrics that maybe Wynonna is caught off guard by the strong feelings of love within her, but she likes it. This is a total rock song with screeching guitar riffs and a gruff vocal delivery. “Staying In Love” is a bit more country in its melody, but stays within the rock world. The song devotes itself to hard work of maintaining love in a relationship. The song’s production works nicely, building the song and delivering a catchy, anthemic chorus.

“Keeps Me Alive” is an encouraging song about maintaining an optimistic outlook on life. Dreaming and moving forward is what fuels their life and keeps them driving on. The slow-moving production is unique as it layers the acoustic guitar with an electric guitar. While the first half of the album is mostly rock music, Wynonna & The Big Noise, goes back to 100% country music over the next few songs, beginning with “Jesus and a Jukebox.” The song tells a story of an older man trying to cope with the loss of his long time wife by praying and listening to classic country music. Wynonna’s twang in her vocals sounds perfect with the steel guitar. This is without a doubt the album’s best song.

“I Can See Everything” deals with overcoming your own sadness finding joy within yourself. Wynonna sings the encouraging words to the one she loves and cares deeply about. She believes that better days around the corner. The steel guitar is present again among the acoustic guitar and simple percussion. The melody of “I Can See Everything” burns slowly and gets better as the song progresses, ending on a high note. Love is revisited with “Something You Can’t Live Without.” In this case, it’s her man who’s confused by his strong feelings. Wynonna tells him that’s how love should feel. The song balances rock and country nicely, with steel guitar ring among the rock production, which presents itself more on the extended musical outro.

After a strong start, the album sort of sputters to an end with the last three songs. “You Are So Beautiful” is a love song where she tells the man she loves why she loves him. The song’s redeeming quality is found in the bluesy rock production, but the lyrics are mostly cheesy. “Every Ending (Is A New Beginning)” is an inspirational song that also seems cheesy. As you can tell from the title, the story is one of encouragement, remaining hopeful that things will always improve and get better. The country production is noteworthy though, and it’s nice to hear another song with steel guitar. The final song deals with the same kind of message. “Choose To Believe” encourages one to react positively to life’s curve balls: choose to believe in love because we’re strong together. With the slow tempo piano and acoustic guitar, it seems like an odd choice to end the album. While these three songs may in fact be the most personal given the events that preceded the album, the songs sound like echos and repetitions from sentiments earlier in the album.

Wynonna & The Big Noise has a great blended production of rock and country, and neither genre felt out of place. Many of the songs have great, catchy melodies and some great stories. As great as her voice is for country music, I don’t think Wynonna Judd sounded out of place singing rock either, and it’s that comfortable versatility that ties the two genres together on this album. However, even at the average 12 songs, Wynonna & The Big Noise seemed to drag its way to a finish. Maybe it was the cheesier lyrics of the final couple songs, or maybe it was due to the fact that the album started much stronger with more captivating songs toward the beginning. That’s truly my only big complaint with the album, though. Moser’s production is well done, Judd’s vocals are excellent, and most of the songwriting works. Wynonna & The Big Noise perfectly introduces the new direction of Wynonna Judd, adding more rock edge into her music.

Grade: 7/10

The Hodgepodge: Mainstream Country Artists Doing It Right in 2015

When looking at mainstream country music it’s easy to just dismiss it all as bad music and move on with your life. After all Florida Georgia Line, Sam Hunt, Cole Swindell and Luke Bryan are all still very big parts of mainstream country music at this moment and show no signs of leaving soon. But if you sift through all of the garbage you’ll find yourself a good group of promising artists who could be the key to turning the quality around in mainstream country music. Throughout 2015 these artists have been releasing quality music and have made an impact in some way or could be very soon. I’ll start first with the artist inspiring the most optimism in me that things could be getting better for mainstream country music…

Chris Stapleton Traveller

Chris Stapleton

I think it’s safe to say now that he’s a mainstream country artist. After his monumental performance with Justin Timberlake and winning three awards at the 2015 CMA Awards, the world is now familiar with this bearded traditionalist. Currently his debut album Traveller sits atop the Billboard 200 chart and according to industry experts could be poised to stay there for a second straight week. His songs have populated the top 50 on the iTunes all-genre chart and Traveller is still the best-selling album on iTunes chart as of this writing. Notoriously slow to react country radio is even taking notice, as his newly released single “Nobody To Blame” sits at #46 on the Billboard Country Airplay and was the second-most added song at Mediabase radio stations this week (only trailing Eric Church’s new single “Mr. Misunderstood”). This is all on top of the critical acclaim he had been receiving for months. There’s nobody hotter in country music than Chris Stapleton and he has done it all making the music he wants to make. There’s no telling how big of an impact Stapleton could have on the genre in the coming months.

Maddie & Tae

Just like Stapleton, this up and coming duo makes country music their own way and have seen their own share of success. While their sophomore single “Fly” didn’t experience the huge success of their mega debut hit “Girl In A Country Song,” it still performed in a radio environment not ideal for this type of song. Their debut album Start Here was full of excellent songs and very good potential singles, all maintaining a traditionally rooted sound. With the backing of Scott Borchetta, the sky is the limit for Maddie & Tae. They will be instrumental in turning the genre around and in the meantime have brought integrity to a genre sorely lacking it.

Kacey Musgraves Pageant Material

Kacey Musgraves

Country radio still won’t play Kacey Musgraves, but she doesn’t give a shit. This is quite evident from her interviews and in listening to her newest album Pageant Material. It’s one of the most traditional mainstream country albums of the year and there certainly isn’t any evidence of Kacey trying to appeal to radio on any of the songs. She calls out country radio on “Good ‘Ol Boys Club.” She doesn’t need the support of radio though, as she has a passionate fan base who packs theaters across the country and her album still reached #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. She’s even been exploring airplay on Americana radio and George Strait tabbed her to open up for him at his Vegas shows in 2016. Musgraves is determined to do it her own way and while this might not earn her radio play, it earns her respect and that’s something much more important than kissing the asses of radio programmers.

Dierks Bentley

If there’s one artist who has consistently throughout their career deliver quality music that appeals to traditional country roots and mainstream attention, you won’t find anyone more fitting than Dierks Bentley. There hasn’t been one point throughout his career where I thought to myself that he’s a sellout. Even his dumber songs like “Drunk on a Plane” aren’t bad. Yet I feel like Bentley gets overlooked a lot and deserves more credit for his music. His label wanted no part in releasing the emotional “Riser” as a single, but Bentley passionately insisted because he likes the song so much and wants as many people possible to hear it. It’s currently rising up the chart and will probably perform better than his label expected. In addition to releasing quality singles, Bentley tabbed the talented Maddie & Tae to open for him on his tour. As the years pass I continue to respect Dierks Bentley more and 2015 has been no exception.

Jon Pardi The B Sides

Jon Pardi

I was praising Jon Pardi last year when hardly anyone was talking about him and this year everyone else has finally started to get on his bandwagon. Just like Bentley, Pardi released a passion project himself this year with his EP The B-Sides, 2011-2014. These were all songs that didn’t make his very good debut album Write You A Song and this was even better than it. Pardi’s sound is like a combination of Dwight Yoakam and 90s country and very much a fan of steel guitar in his songs. While many of the new artists around him have went with trends, Pardi has stuck to what he wants while also finding a balance that appeals to radio. This is clearly evident in his current single “Head Over Boots,” which if you haven’t noticed has steadily been moving up the chart and should reach the top 30 soon. Pardi was candidly nervous about this single performing well and it looks like sticking to his guns will pay off. This is a young artist that needs to be on everyone’s radars in the years to come.

Other Mainstream Artists Doing It Right:

  • Miranda Lambert – While her single choices haven’t been the best lately, she’s still an artist who can bring quality to the table. I also have a really good feeling about her next album. 
  • Maren Morris – I just reviewed her EP and I think this Texan has what it takes to shine.
  • William Michael Morgan – He’s only released one single so far, but it’s a good one. If Morgan keeps releasing songs like “I Met A Girl,” his future could be really bright.
  • Eric Church – Google Play finally has his new album and you’ll have to wait until Monday to hear my thoughts on Church now and this album…
  • Tim McGraw – His new album Damn Country Music is even better than expected.
  • Carrie Underwood – Her new album Storyteller takes a lot of risks and her single releases continue to be good.
  • Ashley Monroe – Despite The Blade being underwhelming to my ears, it was still solid.
  • Mickey Guyton – Her lead single “Better Than You Left Me” has caught people’s attention, but she has drifted out of the spotlight a little. She still has a ton of potential though.
  • Mo Pitney – I’m still worried Curb is going to mess him up, but his talent is great enough to overcome it.
  • Cam – One of the biggest surprise hits of 2015 has been “Burning House” and we’re about to get more from her when her new album Untamed comes out in December.

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • Justin Timberlake is officially sending “Drink You Away” as a single to country radio. This is pretty big news and I’m still formulating my thoughts on it. This will be given a full review soon.
  • Chris Young will release his new album I’m Comin’ Over tomorrow.
  • Wynonna Judd announced her band Wynonna & The Big Sound will be releasing a new album on February 12, 2016 through Curb Records.
  • Loretta Lynn announced she’s releasing a new album titled Full Circle on March 4, 2016.
  • Frankie Ballard is releasing a new single titled “It All Started With A Beer.” We’ll have a review on that soon.
  • The Band Perry announced they’re delaying the release of their new album Heart + Beat until 2016 now. It was originally slated to come out on November 20. The trio says a last minute pop collaboration came up (rumor mill says Nicki Minaj possibly) and that’s the reason for the delay. Despite this delay, I still think it’s going to bomb.

Great Music Currently at Country Radio

The very best of country radio right here in a nice playlist. In order for a song to be added to the list, it must currently be in the top 60 of the Billboard Country Airplay chart, so this will be updated weekly.

Throwback Thursday Song

Willie Nelson – “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” – This is just one of those songs you need to know, not only as a country fan, but as a music fan. When I heard Old Crow Medicine Show perform this live I got chills. It’s one of those special songs that I just enjoy and brings a smile to my face when I hear it.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Eh I don’t have anything this week, as I’ve been listening to nothing but country and Americana this week. So here’s the Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake performance from last week that will never get old.

Tweet of the Week

There are a lot of great accounts on Twitter, but Jason Isbell might just be the best.

iTunes Review That Rocks

Stapleton Killed Bro Country

The Chris Stapleton Effect! This was left under Cole Swindell’s new EP and now that the public has been exposed to a real artist, they want the bros out. Out with the old and in with the new!

Thanks for reading and be sure to weigh in below!