Once More With Feeling

Country Retreads Its Hits

If it was a hit once, it can be a hit again.

This seems to be the current thinking in country
music, as one artist after another records new
versions of former chart-toppers and long-time
critical favorites.

Of course, this back-to-the-future angle isn’t new.
Several songs first made famous by Jimmie
Rodgers, the “Father of Country Music” who died in
1933, were decades later turned into hits by other
artists. These included Webb Pierce’s 1955 take of
“In the Jailhouse Now,” Dolly Parton’s 1970 revisit
to “Mule Skinner Blues (Blue Yodel No. 8)” and
Tanya Tucker’s 1989 cover of “Daddy and Home.”

Willie Nelson charted records for 13 years — from 1962 until 1975 — before he
finally scored his first No. 1 with a cover of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” The
song, which came out in the mid-1940s, had been recorded by Roy Acuff and
Gene Autry, among others, before Nelson dusted it off.

Ricky Skaggs’ triumphant move from bluegrass sideman to country star in the
early 1980s was due in part to his stylish reworking of such previously charted
songs as “Crying My Heart Out Over You” (a hit for Flatt & Scruggs in 1960) and
“I Don’t Care” (Webb Pierce, 1955).

Of late, the recycling of hits seems to have intensified.

Last year, Eric Heatherly made his debut — and went to No. 5 — with “Flowers on
the Wall,” the same song that gave the Statler Brothers their breakthrough in
1965. More recently, Lee Ann Womack also hit the Top 5 with “Ashes by Now,”
which its writer, Rodney Crowell, first charted in 1980.

Mark Chesnutt turned to covers last year in what would prove to be his final
album for MCA Records. Among his singles were “Fallin’ Never Felt So Good,”
originally charted by Shawn Camp in 1993, and “Lost in the Feeling,” a hit for
Conway Twitty in 1983. (The album also contained a cover of “Love in the Hot
Afternoon,” the Gene Watson classic from 1975.)

Currently scaling the country chart are Sawyer Brown’s remake of the 1980
Johnny Lee hit, “Lookin’ for Love,” and South Sixty-Five’s cover of Charlie Rich’s
1973 blockbuster, “The Most Beautiful Girl.”

Sherrie Austin has just released her interpretation of “Jolene,” the original of
which Parton took to the top of the charts in 1973. (Parton successfully covered
one of her own hits — not just once but twice. Her “I Will Always Love You” first
went No. 1 in 1974. She recorded it again in 1982 for the soundtrack of The Best
Little Whorehouse in Texas
, and again it went No. 1. Then, in 1995, she and
Vince Gill cut a duet version of the song, which went to No. 15.)

Trent Summar and the New Row Mob are making their bid for musical
immortality these days with an update of Albert Hammond’s 1972 pop hit, “It
Never Rains in Southern California.”

Anyone for another shot at “The Dance”?

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.