The foundations of the recording industry in Nashville were established during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Country Music Hall of Fame member Red Foley cut “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy” on November 7, 1949. Recorded in the newly-opened Castle Recording Company — the first major commercial recording enterprise in Nashville — the playful boogie became the first million-selling country hit actually made in Music City. (See related story on Red Foley.) A number of Grand Ole Opry artists had been making records since the 1920s, but most traveled to cities such as New York or Chicago to do so.
Commemorating the 50th anniversary of “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy” and its impact on the Nashville recording industry, the following is a list of 50 essential albums recorded in Music City that shows the breadth of talent that has utilized Nashville’s recording studios for the past 50 years or so.
Any list of 50 essential albums made in Nashville could easily include nothing but country music. The country music art form is the deserving genesis of why Nashville is nicknamed “Music City, U.S.A.” But it wouldn’t be a list that fairly recognizes the richness and diversity of music that has been put on vinyl or CD within Nashville.
Sure, Patsy and Hank recorded in Nashville, but did you know that rock icons Bob Dylan, Neil Young and R.E.M. created some of their best work in Guitar Town, as well? How about classical music sensation Yo-Yo Ma? And while singers like Roscoe Shelton and Arthur Gunter might be relatively obscure, there’s nothing quite like the orange and blue Excello label to get collectors of R&B all bent out of shape.
This alphabetical list of 50 essential albums recorded in Music City includes a number of twangy bluegrass and honky tonk titles, but it also represents a cross-section of R&B, rockabilly, rock and gospel folks. Chronologically, the list spans several decades, from Hank Williams to Lucinda Williams.
The trickiest part of assembling the list comes from dealing with albums rather than individual singles. Nashville has traditionally been a town focused on hit singles. Most artists didn’t even think in terms of assembling full-length theme albums, much less outright concept albums, until the late 1960s, and even today many albums feature a great single or two and are rounded out by filler. There are instances where artists made excellent full-length albums, though, and plenty of great album cuts have fallen through history’s cracks since most reissues concentrate exclusively on hits.
Numerous anthologies (as opposed to straight albums) made this Top 50 list largely because many of the artists represented here recorded during the pre-album era. But there are also plenty of original issues listed. To keep this from becoming a study in frustration for music consumers, only albums that are currently in circulation made the cut. For instance, Rose Maddox Sings Bluegrass, bluesman Frank Frost’s self-titled debut and underrated country outlaw Steve Young’s Renegade Picker album are a few of the titles that were recorded in Nashville and would have been included had they still been in print. Likewise, many fantastic Excello compilations are unavailable at the moment as copyright ownership and leasing agreements have recently changed hands.
Some country music artists appear to be omissions until you consider where their seminal work was recorded. Capitol Records producer Ken Nelson often worked with greats such as Merle Haggard and Jean Shepard in Hollywood. Ernest Tubb cut “Walking the Floor Over You” in Dallas, the same city Lefty Frizzell laid down “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time.” And Johnny Cash recorded his best music in Memphis and live inside California prisons.
Arthur Alexander — The Ultimate Arthur Alexander (Razor & Tie)
Alexander was the originator of ’60s country-soul classics “Anna” and “You Better Move On,” songs that were covered by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, respectively. He was also the original singer behind Buzz Cason’s “Soldier of Love,” which, too, later became a part of the Fab Four’s repertoire. “You Better Move On” was recorded in Muscle Shoals, Ala., but after the song was released on Gallatin, Tenn.-based Dot Records, Alexander moved to nearby Nashville, where he cut a string of enduring gems for the label.
Johnny Burnette Trio — Rock ’N’ Roll Trio/Tear It Up (BGO – UK)
Not all the important sessions in rockabilly history happened in Memphis. Johnny Burnette, Dorsey Burnette and Paul Burlison hailed from Memphis but cut their Coral recordings at Owen Bradley’s 16th Avenue Studio. The trio epitomized the primal yawp of rockabilly with a locomotive, fuzz guitar-driven rendition of Tiny Bradshaw’s “The Train Kept A Rollin’.”
The Byrds – Sweetheart of the Rodeo (Columbia)
Brief Byrds member Gram Parsons recorded this country-rock album in 1968 with bandmates Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and Kevin Kelley before going on to form the Flying Burrito Brothers. The album also features first-rate Nashville pickers Lloyd Green, John Hartford, Roy Huskey and Clarence White. Sweetheart is regarded as the most profoundly influential record of its kind and time.
Patsy Cline – The Patsy Cline Collection (MCA)
This four-disc set compiled by the Country Music Hall of Fame stands as the only comprehensive overview of Patsy’s career. The box set includes “Walking After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Crazy,” “She’s Got You,” “Sweet Dreams” and other country classics she recorded with Owen Bradley for 4-Star and Decca.
Bob Dylan – Blonde On Blonde (Columbia)
This album is nothing short of a masterpiece by one of the most important figures in music history. This 1966 double-LP features Dylan leading Nashville cats Charlie McCoy, Pig Robbins, Wayne Moss and Kenny Buttrey through a rich, inventive and sometimes surreal set of songs. “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” “Just Like A Woman,” “Absolutely Sweet Marie,” “Visions of Johanna,” “Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” and “I Want You” are all here.
Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding (Columbia)
Shortly after completing Blonde On Blonde, Dylan crashed his motorcycle in Woodstock, New York, and avoided the limelight for nearly two years. He returned from exile with his second Nashville album, John Wesley Harding. Starkly contrasting his previous effort, Dylan and producer Bob Johnston brought Charlie McCoy, Kenny Buttrey and Pete Drake to Nashville’s Columbia studio and cut a scaled-back, acoustically dominated album. Among the songs recorded and mixed during the six-hour session were “All Along The Watchtower” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.”
Steve Earle – Guitar Town (MCA)
In 1986, when decidedly non-twang singers like T.G. Sheppard, Lee Greenwood and Gary Morris were topping the country charts, roots rocker Earle boasted he was our “good rockin’ daddy down from Tennessee.” Backed by a Duane Eddy-styled guitar riff on the title track, the album was a breath of fresh hillbilly air, proving a renegade spirit like Earle could top the country charts, too.
Esquerita – Believe Me When I Say Rock ’N’ Roll Is Here To Stay (Collectables)
Esquerita’s flamboyant stage personality, wild piano style and stratospheric pompadour made a deep impression on Little Richard during his formative years. Capitol brought Esquerita to Nashville in 1958 to record “Rockin’ the Joint” and dozens of other firecrackers that make Little Richard sound like Pat Boone. “Esquerita and the Voola” is two minutes of the strangest music ever put to wax.
The Everly Brothers – Cadence Classics: Their 20 Greatest Hits (Rhino)
One of the earliest and most important rock ’n’ roll acts to be recorded and managed out of Nashville, Phil and Don Everly released a string of hits penned by ace songwriting team Boudleaux and Felice Bryant. This compilation collects the fundamentals issued on Cadence, including “Bye Bye Love,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Bird Dog” and “All I Have To Do Is Dream.”
The Fairfield Four – Standing On The Rock (Nashboro/AVI)
Now deemed a national treasure, the a cappella gospel combo had been kicking around Nashville decades before they laid down these tracks for Randy Wood’s Nashville area-based Dot label in 1950, 1951 and 1953. The material wasn’t compiled on an album until Nashboro Records acquired the rights later. Sam McCrary’s astonishing lead tenor is featured on “Love Like a River,” “On My Journey Now,” “When the Battle is Over” and “Somebody Touched Me.”
Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys – Foggy Mountain Banjo (County)
Upon leaving Bill Monroe’s fold in 1948 to form their own combo, Flatt & Scruggs recorded for Mercury before signing to Columbia in 1950. The Mercury sessions that spawned the original “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” were not made in Nashville. However, the equally important Columbia studio records were recorded in Nashville. 1961’s Foggy Mountain Banjo — reissued on County — is perhaps the most influential, widely applauded by folk and jazz fans, even receiving a five-star review in Downbeat. Try naming a banjo player who hasn’t imitated Scruggs’ instrumental prowess here.
Red Foley – Country Music Hall of Fame Series (MCA)
In the late-1940s, Foley was perhaps the hippest man in hillbilly music. His unique blending of country, R&B, pop and gospel remained unsurpassed until Elvis appeared, displaying a few tricks he learned from Red’s records. Foley was one of the first major artists to record regularly in Nashville. The huge success of 1947’s “Tennessee Saturday Night” helped spur the Nashville recording industry, which was virtually non-existent when he arrived. Two years later, Foley’s “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy” became the first million-selling country record made in Nashville.
Earl Gaines – 24 Hours A Day (Black Magic)
By the time stone cold Nashville stylist Earl Gaines began singing with Louis Brooks & His Hi-Toppers in 1952, Nashville was already a hive of activity in the blues and R&B world, thanks to the influence of radio station WLAC, with more than enough clubs and independent record labels to keep the band in steady work. Gaines — Nashville’s answer to Bobby “Blue” Bland — is still in excellent form today recording and performing. However, this import CD collects 20 songs he recorded between 1958-1966, most written by Ted Jarrett (of “You Can Make It If You Try” fame) and featuring guitar ace Johnny Jones. One story goes that young Jimi Hendrix dueled axes with Jones, only to leave as a whipped guitar pup, taken to school by the great Nashville bluesman.
Arthur Gunter – Let’s Play House: The Best of Arthur Gunter (Excello)
Gunter is a Nashville native whose claim-to-fame is penning the hot rockabilly-blues standard “Baby Let’s Play House.” Husky-voiced Gunter recorded the seminal song for Nashville’s renowned R&B label, Excello Records, in a small, back-room studio of label owner Ernie Young’s record shop. “Baby Let’s Play House” was a regional R&B hit for Gunter in 1955. It was covered for the white market later that year by an up-and-comer named Elvis Presley on Sun Records. Aided by barrelhouse pianist Skippy Brooks, Gunter left behind dozens of other gems before vanishing into obscurity.
John Hiatt – Slow Turning (A&M)
A tough follow-up to Bring the Family (not a Nashville album), Slow Turning is the second release of Hiatt’s acclaimed family/recovery trilogy. Recorded in 1988 with then-unknown slide guitarist Sonny Landreth, the project lived up to its predecessor thanks to “Drive South,” “Tennessee Plates” (a story about a roving couple who steal one of Elvis’ Cadillacs), “Ride Along,” “Feels Like Rain,” the killer title track and a tribute to his newborn girl, “Georgia Rae.”
Etta James – Rocks the House (Chess)
Up there with James Brown’s Live at the Apollo and Jerry Lee Lewis’ Live at the Starclub, this Etta James album is one of the finest, raunchiest live recordings ever waxed. A perfect testament to Nashville’s hip R&B scene of the early 1960s, the album captures the blues belter in her prime at the New Era Club during a September weekend in 1963. Rocks the House was released in an age before concert albums were taken for granted. The audience responses convince you there was no better place to spend a night out than at this music joint. The CD offers three bonus cuts and a photo from the performance. The hands on the clock point to 2:20. Now, do you think that’s a.m. or p.m.?
Jason & The Scorchers – Reckless Country Soul (Mammoth)
Originally billed as Jason & The Nashville Scorchers, these early recordings by the energetic quartet laid the groundwork for Music City’s rock scene in the early ’80s. The unhinged Scorchers erected a liberating and edgy fusion of honky tonk and punk on covers such as “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “Jimmie Rodger’s Last Blue Yodel.” Also included are the signature originals “Broken Whiskey Glass” and “Help! There’s A Fire.”
Waylon Jennings – Honky Tonk Heroes (BMG/Buddha)
The cover photo of this 1973 album shows country star Waylon Jennings surrounded by his scruffy pals rather than the Nashville hierarchy, signaling the sound of the quintessential outlaw country record inside. One of the then-unknown mavericks pictured out front is fellow Texan Billy Joe Shaver, who wrote all but one of the songs. Although the album was recorded in RCA’s “Nashville Sound” Studio, the music doesn’t adhere to Music Row conventions of the time. After moving to Music City in 1965 and scoring some Top 10 singles for RCA, Jennings resigned with the label in 1972, demanding that he assume the production and artistic control of his work. The Buddha reissue includes two bonus cuts.
George Jones – The Spirit of Country: The Essential George Jones (Epic/Legacy)
Jones is perhaps the greatest living country singer, though constant repackaging of his work is often confusing and indiscriminate. This two-disc collection is the best current survey of Jones’ prolific career. The set covers the years 1955-88 and draws from several of the labels Jones recorded for, including Starday, Mercury, United Artists and Musicor. Released on Epic, The Spirit of Country favors his Billy Sherrill-produced ’70s and ’80s recordings. Among the 44 songs are classics no music fan should be without: “White Lightning,” “She Thinks I Still Care,” “The Window Up Above,” “The Race Is On,” “Golden Ring” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today” for starters.
Jerry Lee Lewis – Killer Country (Mercury)
Sure, Jerry Lee’s offhand vocal power, wicked piano style and wild abandonment make him one of the most unique performers in American music. But so does his absolute confidence in the face of void. The Killer hit it huge at rock ’n’ roll’s dawn with triumphs like “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire” only to see his career destroyed when he married his 13-year-old cousin. However, he became a star all over again in 1968 thanks to his country smash “Another Place, Another Time.” Jerry Lee has performed his own brand of country all along, though his recording career can be divided into two main periods: The rocking Sun years in Memphis (1956-63) and the country Smash/Mercury years in Nashville (1963-77). The appropriately-titled Killer Country CD is a well-chosen selection of songs Lewis recorded alongside Music Row producer Jerry Kennedy. Together, they nailed “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous,” “She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye,” “Middle Age Crazy” and “She Still Comes Around (To Love What’s Left of Me).”
The Louvin Brothers – Tragic Songs of Life (Capitol)
Produced by Ken Nelson in 1956, this is considered to be country music’s first “concept” album. Stark and beautiful, Tragic Songs of Life consists largely of old folk songs and murder ballads the siblings learned together as children. The album contains some of Ira and Charlie’s most powerful singing, as well as two of their biggest singles: “Cash on the Barrelhead” and “Knoxville Girl.”
Loretta Lynn – Honky Tonk Girl: The Loretta Lynn Collection (MCA)
This three-disc collection spans Loretta Lynn’s seminal work with producer Owen Bradley on Decca and MCA in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. The set documents the way Lynn changed the rules about what female country vocalists could sing about, forging the way for strong, independent women in the genre. Lynn’s notion of female liberation is embodied in the spitfire spunk of “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” “Don’t Come Here A’Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind),” “Fist City,” “Your Squaw Is On The Warpath” and “The Pill.” The box set also includes her signature “Coal Miner’s Daughter” plus some classic duets with Ernest Tubb and Conway Twitty.
Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Connor – Appalachia Waltz (Sony Classical)
Not many classical music stars devote themselves to contemporary compositions, but world-acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma makes them a vital part of his repertoire. So, Ma was happy to oblige when fiddle master Mark O’Connor and double bassist Edgar Meyer invited the innovative chamber musician to their hometown in 1995 to record several original compositions and a handful of traditional tunes they put to fresh arrangements. Connecting old-time string music with jazz and classical traditions, Appalachia Waltz is the most celebrated “classical” work to ever come out of Middle Tennessee. The album was still on Billboard’s classical chart two years after its release.
Jimmy Martin – You Don’t Know My Mind (Rounder)
Singer-rhythm guitarist Martin built his reputation working with Bill Monroe between 1949 and 1954, but the tight and driving arrangements he recorded for Decca between 1956 and 1966 established him as one of bluegrass music’s great original bandleaders. Rounder licensed 14 Decca tracks from this period to make one excellent album.
Del McCoury – A Deeper Shade of Blue (Rounder)
To quote a New York Times writer who nailed his singing, McCoury has a voice to make you hit the bottle one minute, then drop to your knees and pray the next. He has epitomized the “high lonesome” sound since cutting his teeth with Bill Monroe in the early 1960s. Today his group — featuring his sons Ronnie and Rob, Mike Bub and Jason Carter — is bluegrass music’s current standard-bearer (with more than two dozen International Bluegrass Music Association awards to its credit). Like Monroe, McCoury goes for the blues, and his love affair with blues is never more explicit than here, where songs with titles such as “Man With The Blues,” “The Bluest Man In Town” and “How Long Blues” are the order for the day. Produced by Dobro ace Jerry Douglas, anyone who hears 1993’s A Deeper Shade of Blue will concur that the late Bill Monroe’s legacy is safe with Del and the boys.
Roger Miller – King of the Road: The Genius of Roger Miller (Mercury)
Miller’s childlike fun with wordplay allowed him to put an upbeat spin on downbeat material, like the breakthrough smash “Dang Me” and his career record, “King of the Road.” This three-CD set begins with his honky tonk sides of the late 1950s, closing out almost 30 years later with his own interpretations of songs he wrote for the Tony Award-winning Big River.
Bill Monroe – The Music of Bill Monroe from 1936 to 1994 (MCA)
Monroe invented bluegrass more than a decade before Nashville became a major recording hub, so it’s only to be expected that the first tenth of this career retrospective wasn’t cut here, including his pioneering work with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs from the mid-’40s. However, close to four hours of stellar bluegrass on this carefully assembled collection was recorded in Nashville, including a killer 1939 Grand Ole Opry transcription of “Muleskinner Blues.”
Tracy Nelson – Mother Earth Presents Tracy Nelson Country (Warner Bros.)
Cut on a whim in 1970 with encouragement from pedal steel ace Pete Drake, Nelson, who now lives outside of Nashville, dipped into the country catalogs of Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Tammy Wynette when she was still a member of influential Bay area blues outfit Mother Earth. Produced by original Elvis guitarist Scotty Moore, the album also spotlights Elvis associates The Jordanaires and drummer D.J. Fontana, so it’s only fitting they included “That’s All Right.” Great songs, and soulful Nelson sings them sweet, direct and strong. Originally issued on Mercury, the album has been reissued on CD by Warner Bros.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Will The Circle Be Unbroken (Capitol)
This 1972 three-LP set unites traditional country greats Mother Maybelle Carter, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Roy Acuff, Merle Travis and Jimmy Martin with the California long-hairs who then made up the Dirt Band. The multi-generational gathering was hailed at the time for bridging the country-generation gap and for bringing rock fans into the country fold. With its charming informality and tried and true material, Circle still serves as a useful introduction into mountain music.
Roy Orbison – For the Lonely (Rhino)
Orbison recorded for Sun Records in the ’50s and then RCA, but the “Big O” became the king of melancholy ballads when he signed with Monument in 1960 and found his own voice cutting records with Fred Foster in Nashville. During the first half of the 1960s Orbison would have 15 Top 40 hits, including “Only The Lonely,” “Crying,” “In Dreams,” “Running Scared,” “Dream Baby” and “Oh, Pretty Woman.”
Dolly Parton – Coat of Many Colors (Buddha Records)
In addition to being country music’s most conspicuous star, Parton is one of country’s most prolific tunesmiths. Inspiration from her songs often comes from childhood experiences, her signature song being a prime example. “Mama sewed the rags together, sewed every piece with love, she made my coat of many colors that I was so proud of…” You know the autobiographical hit, but you ought to also know the rest of the excellent 1971 album.
Elvis Presley – Elvis Is Back! (RCA)
Elvis recorded hundreds of songs (and dozens of hits) in Nashville, beginning with “I Got a Woman,” “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Money Honey” during his first post-Sun Records session on January 10, 1956. It’s dicey, though, to discuss his Nashville output in terms of full-length albums. His Hand In Mine and How Great Thou Art are gospel evergreens, while 1960’s Elvis Is Back! captures the King at his secular best within weeks of his Army discharge. Here, Presley knocks out some of the steamiest, bluesiest recordings of his career on “Reconsider Baby,” “Fever,” “Feels So Right,” “Such a Night” and “Dirty, Dirty Feeling.”
Ray Price – The Essential Ray Price 1951-1962 (Columbia/Legacy)
Even if he hadn’t become the accomplished countrypolitan balladeer of “Danny Boy” and “For the Good Times,” Price’s legacy would still be cemented in country music history — a honky tonk hero ranking alongside Lefty, George and Merle. Tailor made for jukebox patrons, “Crazy Arms” popularized a shuffle beat in honky tonk music and made the Cherokee Cowboy a bona fide star in 1956. This collection has “Crazy Arms” and 19 other enduring songs to recommend, including Roger Miller’s “Invitation to the Blues,” Bill Anderson’s “City Lights,” J.D. Miller’s “Falling, Falling, Falling” and Harlan Howard’s “Heartaches by the Number.”
R.E.M. – Document (I.R.S.)
The Georgia quartet’s fifth full-length album turned out to be the critical one in the alternative rock group’s slow and steady climb to stardom. Recorded in 1987 at Nashville’s Sound Emporium, Document became R.E.M.’s commercial breakthrough on the strength of the Top 10 “The One I Love,” “Finest Worksong” and the irresistible stream-of-conscious rant of “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”
Charlie Rich – Feel Like Going Home: The Essential Charlie Rich (Epic/Legacy)
Frequently cited by Sun Records founder Sam Phillips as the most gifted musician he ever worked with, Rich mastered a hybrid form of jazzy country soul that had innate qualities of rockabilly, gospel and blues. This two-CD retrospective spans his career from 1959-1991. The set includes the monster hits “Behind Closed Doors” and “The Most Beautiful Girl,” but also demonstrates there was so much more to Rich.
Roscoe Shelton – Roscoe Shelton Sings (Excello)
Considering the quality of the 20-plus sides Roscoe Shelton made for Excello between 1958-61, it’s a crying shame the prototypical soul singer never enjoyed a national hit during his tenure at Nashville’s most important R&B label. His commercial success came a half-decade later after he exited Excello and recorded the R&B hits “Strain On My Heart” and “Easy Going Fellow” for Sims and Sound Stage 7, respectively. This compilation of his Excello masters is quintessential soul and a R&B must.
Connie Smith – Essential (BMG)
Smith’s restrained, effortless vocal power is regarded by many as the best and most underrated in country history. Indeed, Dolly Parton once said, “There’s really only three female singers in the world: Streisand, Ronstadt and Connie Smith. The rest of us are just pretending.” And Roy Acuff would dub her “The Sweetheart of the Grand Ole Opry” after she arrived soon after the tragic death of Patsy Cline. Her first recording session in 1964 yielded the Bill Anderson-penned “Once a Day,” which spent eight weeks topping Billboard’s country charts.
Hank Snow – Essential (RCA/BMG)
Hank Snow’s 1958 When Tragedy Struck and 1964 Songs of Tragedy — wonderfully downbeat concept LPs that make even the saddest albums by Leonard Cohen seem like flat-out party records — have yet to be reissued. However, this 20-track CD is essential stuff, as the title claims. The Singing Ranger recorded for RCA for more than 30 years, and this collection features the Country Music Hall of Fame member’s biggest hits, including “I’m Moving On,” and “I’ve Been Everywhere.”
The Stanley Brothers – Angel Band: The Classic Mercury Recordings (Mercury)
No one captured the darkness and pain that once lay at the heart of bluegrass music like the Stanley Brothers. When Ralph and Carter came together in harmony, it was perhaps the most thrilling sound the music has ever known. Some players may have had more dexterity. None had more soul. The Mercury recordings, made between 1953 and 1958, are considered to be the Holy Grail of their material.
The Stanley Brothers – The Complete Columbia Stanley Brothers (Columbia/Legacy)
Much of the foundation of the “Stanley Brothers sound” was laid in the years between 1949 and 1952 when the bluegrass siblings made their first recordings for a national label, Columbia. As Charles Wolfe indicates in the liner notes, this set brings together their complete Columbia output, 22 haunting sides, calling up the very dawn of bluegrass and celebrating two of its very greatest talents.
Gary Stewart – Out of Hand (HighTone)
Released at a time when very little hard country made it on the airwaves, Stewart’s 1975 hard-driving honky tonk classic spawned three Top 10 singles: “Drinkin’ Thing,” “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles)” and the title cut. While country albums more commonly contained three hits and disposable cover material, Out of Hand is rounded out with such keepers as “Honky-Tonkin’,” “Back Sliders Wine” and “I See the Want In Your Eyes.”
Joe Tex – The Very Best of Joe Tex (Rhino)
Upon hearing Southern soul singer Tex in the early ’60s, Nashville music industry giant Buddy Killen formed Dial Records to market the singer’s releases. Tex’s moving vocals and poignant lyrics and Killen’s savvy as a producer and arranger proved an ideal combination. The records they made are on par with the classics of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett.
Gene Vincent – The Screaming End: The Best of Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps (Razor & Tie)
The original black leather rebel, Vincent recorded his earliest sides in 1956 at Owen Bradley’s studio. The first Nashville session produced two of the hottest rockabilly singles of all time: “Be-Bop-A-Lula” and “Race With The Devil.” The only two full-length albums Vincent made with dynamic guitarist Cliff Gallup, Bluejean Bop and Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, were made there, too. Fortunately, The Screaming End draws heavily from this period.
Hank Williams – The Original Singles Collection…Plus (Polydor)
His commercial recording career only lasted six years, but no other person past or present represents the heart and soul of country music like Hank. This 84-song collection (mostly cut at Castle Studio) does not include every single the Hillbilly Shakespeare made. Nonetheless, it’s probably the best place to begin tackling one of the greatest bodies of work in American music.
Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels On A Gravel Road (Mercury)
Lucinda’s soulful voice, economically detailed songwriting and ragged-but-right approach to making music just about go unsurpassed these days. The meat-and-potatoes of this 1998 album was cut in Nashville with Steve Earle and Ray Kennedy at the helm. Five years in the making and certainly worth the wait, it’s her overall best album to date.
Johnny Winter – Johnny Winter (Columbia)
The blues-rock hero began recording his 1969 Columbia debut in New York, but the band kept getting cold on the groove they were creating when the sessions were interrupted by the studio crew’s scheduled union breaks. Frustrated, they decided to finish the album in Nashville where the union wouldn’t present any problems. Winter liked Music City so much he recorded his touted second album in Nashville also.
Tammy Wynette – Anniversary: Twenty Years of Hits (Epic)
Producer Billy Sherrill never found a better instrument to work with than Tammy Wynette’s pained voice. The cliché is true; she did have a tear in her voice. This collection begins with the Johnny Paycheck-penned “Apartment #9” and the longing continues with the incomparable “Stand By Your Man,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” “’Til I Get It Right” and so on.
Neil Young – Harvest (Reprise)
Working in the orbit of country music, Young’s commercial peak came in 1972 with the release of this multi-million-selling classic. The rock icon at his most genteel, Harvest contains the chart-topping single “Heart of Gold,” “Old Man,” “The Needle and the Damage Done” and “Are You Ready for the Country.”
Various Artists – Wail Daddy! Nashville Jump Blues (Ace/Excello)
Contrary to popular perception, Nashville was rocking to R&B swing when the country industry was just getting settled here. This pulsating selection of obscure ’50s jump blues recordings by Shy Guy Douglas, Good Rockin’ Sam Beasley and others throws the spotlight on an under-appreciated aspect of the town.
Various Artists – Across the Tracks: Nashville R&B and Rock ’N’ Roll (Ace)
This superb collection of raw urban combo sides from the late ’50s and early ’60s not only highlights the vocal abilities of unsung heroes Larry Birdsong, Earl Gaines, Gene Allison, Herbert Hunter and Christine Kittrell, it also showcases the production and songwriting talents of local musician and all-around indie entrepreneur Ted Jarrett.