“I Will Always Love You,” the enduring Dolly Parton hit from the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s, has gotten some more love from CMT. The upcoming special, CMT 100 Greatest Love Songs, ranked the song in the top spot — just ahead of classics made famous by Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Randy Travis and Conway Twitty.
Parton herself delivered a passionate and feisty performance of her signature hit on Wednesday night (June 9) in Nashville during a concert of the Top 12 songs. The performances, from artists as varied as Travis, Michael McDonald, Kenny Rogers and Lonestar, will be featured in the final two hours of the six-hour special debuting Sunday (June 13) on CMT.
While some considered “I Will Always Love You” a shoo-in at the top, the rest of the lineup was trickier to predict. Though known as a pop singer, McDonald surprised the crowd with “Always on My Mind,” turning in a sensitive, yet strong, rendition of Nelson’s hit. Meanwhile, newcomer Julie Roberts’ take on Cline’s “Sweet Dreams” succeeded with more than a hint of Southern soul, and she worked the stage more than any of the other entertainers.
Earning an immediate standing ovation, Travis was on hand for “Forever and Ever, Amen,” as fans’ wedding photos graced the screens behind the stage. Twitty’s “Hello Darlin'” rounded out the Top 5, courtesy of Brad Paisley. While black shirts with the word “CASH” (in capital letters) are still fashionable, Paisley made a statement of his own: His black shirt said “CONWAY.”
Garth Brooks’ “Unanswered Prayers” has aged well, especially with Buddy Jewell’s calm and understated delivery. Lonestar’s “Amazed,” the most recently-released song in the Top 12, ranked No. 7. By taking the stage at the Gaylord Entertainment Center, in the midst of the honky-tonks on Lower Broadway, the band got a jumpstart on the CMA Music Festival that starts Thursday (June 10).
Rogers proved that he’s still got it, providing a captivating rendition of his hit, “She Believes in Me.” In fact, Rogers also earned a standing ovation — before a single note was played. If any aspiring artists were in the audience, they surely took note of Rogers’ class. While most artists wore jeans, Rogers is still savvy enough to dress up for his audience.
Duets from Dierks Bentley and the Del McCoury Band (George Strait’s “I Cross My Heart”), as well as Joe Nichols and Lee Ann Womack (George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s “Golden Ring”), offered prime photo opportunities for the fans. Newcomer Josh Turner kept his cool on the Merle Haggard hit, “That’s the Way Love Goes,” despite Travis staring up at him from the front row. Sara Evans opened the show with the No. 12 song, “When You Say Nothing at All.” Evans and Nichols also hosted the concert.
Mavericks lead vocalist Raul Malo served as the evening’s bandleader and stunned the crowd with a soaring, spot-on medley of his favorites from the countdown: “Crying” (No. 60), “For the Good Times” (No. 40) and “Make the World Go Away” (No. 38).
In between performances, the big screens revealed the songs ranked 100 to 13, with Olivia Newton-John’s “I Honestly Love You” back-to-back with Flatt & Scruggs’ “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” (at Nos. 62 and 63, respectively). Some classic songs missed the list completely, such as Johnny Lee’s “Lookin’ for Love,” while many current favorites made the cut, including Rascal Flatts’ “I Melt” (at No. 100), Kenny Chesney’s “How Forever Feels” (at No. 84) and Alan Jackson’s “Remember When” (at No. 78).
Nevertheless, who can deny favorites like “She’s in Love With the Boy,” “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma,” “It Was Almost Like a Song,” “He’ll Have to Go,” “Could I Have This Dance,” “Mama He’s Crazy,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “When I Call Your Name,” “Behind Closed Doors,” “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” or “It’s Your Love”?
If the love of your life doesn’t care for any of those songs, perhaps it’s time to give back the golden ring.