Country music enjoyed a commercial boom in the 1900s, in particular that strand spearheaded by George Strait and Ricky Skaggs. Superstars such Alan Jackson and Vince Gill would give them credit for their success, as would the biggest star of them all: Garth Brooks. Clean cut and black cowboy-hatted, the Oklahoma native sold 12 million copies of his first three albums and more than 100 million up to his semi-retirement in 2001. He was the first country star to enter the Billboard album charts at #1, with 1991’s Ropin’ The Wind. His extravagant concerts filled stadiums. Country had had superstars before, but Brooks arguably was the genre’s first megastar.
Brooks’ crossover appeal helped many other invariably stetsoned honky tonk performers — Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Vince Gill, Travis Tritt, Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, (Kix) Brooks & (Ronnie) Dunn — expand their commercial appeal. It wasn’t just the behatted dudes who attained superstar status in the 1990s; women like Trisha Yearwood (later Garth Brooks wife), Faith Hill (later McGraw’s wife), Martina McBride and the Dixie Chicks crossed over, while ’80s stalwarts Wynonna Judd and Reba McIntyre continued to enjoy success.
Artists such as these might have traced their influence back to country’s traditions, to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, fiddle and pedal steel, but their commercial lucrativity set mainstream country on a course of selling out. The worst excess of that came early with Billy Ray Cyrus 1991 novelty hit Achy Breaky Heart (a cover of The Marcy Brothers’ original), with its choreographed line dance and Miley’s dad chest-hair revealing vest. Country singers rightly feared that Cyrus’ hit would undermine country’s integrity and credibility, much as ubiquity and novelty cash-ins had damaged disco.
Few things as bad as Achy Breaky Heart would taint country music’s name (though Toby Keith’s post-9/11 song did so on another level), but the record companies would now push singers who were more pop than country, such as Shania Twain and the teenage LeAnn Rimes. Slowly, country format radio purged all but the commercially successful from their playlists. This reached bizarre proportions when one programme director demanded that Patty Loveless’ 1997 song You Don’t Seem To Miss Me be remixed to remove George Jones’ harmonies. Loveless refused to allow this, and the single stalled.
As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R; homespun covers are included
1. George Jones & Randy Travis – A Few Ole Country Boys
2. Garth Brooks – Friends In Low Places
3. Randy Travis – Heroes and Friends
4. Patty Loveless – Chains
5. Alan Jackson – Here In The Real World
6. Travis Tritt – Help Me Hold On
7. Dolly Parton & Ricky Van Shelton – Rockin’ Years
8. Tanya Tucker – If Your Heart Ain’t Busy Tonight
9. Collin Raye – Love, Me
10. John Prine – All The Best
11. Emmylou Harris – If I Could Be There
12. Alison Krauss & Union Station – Every Time You Say Goodbye
13. Wynonna Judd – I Saw The Light In Your Window Tonight
14. Marty Stuart – Now That’s Country
15. John Michael Montgomery – I Love The Way You Love
16. Dwight Yoakam – Ain’t That Lonely Yet
17. Reba McEntire – The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter
18. Mary Chapin Carpenter – I Take My Chances
19. Lyle Lovett – Just The Morning
20. Son Volt – Mystifies Me
21. Johnny Cash – The Beast In Me
22. The Highwaymen – Songs That Made A Difference
(PW in comments)
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