(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
It seems odd to reflect, on this Thanksgiving 2009, that we are about to embark on the second decade of a new century. But it’s also a good time to look back on the music of the past decade and think about the songs that have meant the most during those years.
Not necessarily the most popular songs, but the songs that captured an era, the ones that arrived in a lightning flash and a thunderbolt, the songs that signaled a shift in the audience or in the music or in both. These are songs that — for better or for worse — had a profound impact on the country music world. In a word, they mattered. And they still do matter. Here are 10 significant songs:
• “I Hope You Dance,” Lee Ann Womack (2000) — A bit of a greeting card song, a trifle mawkish and sappy? So what, if it makes millions of people feel good and uplifted, if only for a little while. And if it leaves a warm afterglow, so much the better. In the end, it’s genuine.
• “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” Alan Jackson (2001) — When Alan debuted this at the 2001 CMA Awards show at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry House, people all around me were standing and openly weeping. The next day, I had friends around the country calling and asking me if I could get them a copy. “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” is without a doubt the most healing song in country music’s — and maybe all of popular music’s — history.
• “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” Toby Keith (2002) — One of the music’s most polarizing moments. Are we loud braggarts who think we can defeat insurgent, guerilla enemies with massive shock-and-awe shows of bombing-’em-back-to-the-stone-age? And verbal bombast? Or are we realists who intuit that it’s not that simple? Me, I’m all for speaking softly and carrying a big stick and not being afraid to use it, in the right way. That goes for music as well as warfare.
• “Travelin’ Soldier,” Dixie Chicks (2002) — For me, this Bruce Robison-penned song is the Chicks’ best single ever. It was also their last No. 1 song, as the radio firestorm over their George Bush comments effectively began to torpedo their career. And a certain era in country music ended — one of an adventuresome spirit in new, but tradition-based, music. Who knows what they could have accomplished if Natalie Maines had only had a little common sense. But the song remains a gem.
• “Three Wooden Crosses,” Randy Travis (2003) — This is a great song on its own, and it also proved that there is always room in country music for a traditional song that also expresses overt spirituality and faith. And it showed that such a song can still become a No. 1 hit. Thankfully, there’s plenty of room in country for beer and babes and bongs, and there’s also room for matters of greater import.
• “Redneck Woman,” Gretchen Wilson (2004) — Gretchen Wilson tapped into a vein of country music that no one else sensed was there. That vein was a growing sense of identity by an ignored and overlooked group of women country listeners. Redneck pride soared as a result, for women and then for men, as well. And gradually the term “redneck” itself began to shed the stigma that many people liked to attach to country fans — and to Southerners, in particular.
• “Kerosene,” Miranda Lambert (2005) — Women kept rising up, now with a much stronger and more militant stance. After this flamethrower of a song, Miranda threatened to use gunpowder and lead and maybe even worse. The little sissies at online music sites were in awe of Miranda as “the most dangerous woman in country music.” May she make subversive music forever.
• “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” Trace Adkins (2005) — I know Jamey Johnson was a co-writer, but I don’t hold it against him. I respect Trace as an artist, and I don’t hold it against him, either. It’s a tough business climate in country music these days. But “Badonkadonk” and especially its accompanying video represent the absolute bottom for country music. And this opened the floodgates for even more vulgar songs and trashy videos and even gave skin a bad name. Everyone involved is capable of much better.
• “Tim McGraw,” Taylor Swift (2006) — The true beginning of an era. “Tim McGraw” was both Swift’s calling card and her first chart entry (rising to No. 6 on the Billboard country chart). It also served as a call to arms for all her fellow teen sisters who had never before been noticed or taken seriously by country music. The notion of a teenager writing for other teenagers was then an alien idea. No more. This was the first salvo of a coming revolution, coming from a willowy 16-year-old guerilla fighter.
• “In Color,” Jamey Johnson (2008) — For me, and I think for a lot of other people, “In Color” marked the return and validation of serious, thoughtful, mature and lasting country music. I could sense the spirits of Jimmie Rodgers and Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings listening and nodding in affirmation. Jamey carries a lot of country with him.