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Nashville Anthems: Dissecting 80s & 90s Country Music
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Nashville Anthems: Dissecting 80s & 90s Country Music

Author: Melton McMaynerbury

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Have you always thought there was something special about 80s and 90s country music that you've never been able to put your finger on? Why does this music stand out? Well, let's don our cowboy hats, adjust our oversized belt buckles, tease that hair, and see if we can get the bottom of it, by picking apart one song at a time.
64 Episodes
We cruise down to southwestern Louisiana to encounter Sammy Kershaw and his debut single, "Cadillac Style". We've all always known there was a lot of Jones in Kershaw, but is there something deeper to that connection than just the voice? And what possible connection could there be between Cadillac Style and one that's often considered the greatest country song of all time?
Little Texas continue to blend musical streams with their only #1 single, 1994's "My Love". This song is more than just the video, and this band is more than just the hair. But they aren't less than that either. Listen to find out what 80s hair metal and 70s California rock have to do with this song's specific sound. How much is Heart, and how much is Restless Heart? And what does Janis Joplin have to do with it?Also, here's the Brady Seals's solo version that we...
In this episode, we dance across the familiar ground of 12-bar blues, as the energetic shuffle of Tanya Tucker's 1993 hit "It's a Little Too Late" convinces us to kick up a little sawdust while we re-evaluating some of our life choices. It's a fun song, but how does the melding of persona and reality make this early 90s dance number particularly memorable?
We take a shot of an all-time classic, John Anderson's "Straight Tequila Night". Anderson's signature breathy vocals anchor a particularly textural take on neotradional honky-tonk, but why does this song have a certain uncanny sound, and what does the number 440 have to do with it?
We search through another early Brooks & Dunn hit, 1992's "Lost and Found". It's all about the flow, as this song always seems to take us exactly where we want to go, measure after perfect little measure. But we already knew Kix Brooks could write a great cut, so how exactly does this one nail the feeling of a frantic search, and what does Brooks & Dunn's signature honky-tonk sound have to do with it?
90s icon Shania Twain takes us right back to the world of 90s feminism with her half-arena-rock / half-honky-tonk hit, "Honey, I'm Home". Twain played big, and this song plays big, but where we do get irony in her particular brand of subversion, and what musical touchpoints does this song have with a couple of hits from 20 years before?
We look at how The Judds bring their acoustic-with-attitude vibe to the sultry, electric piano-infused "One Man Woman". Slow, dark, and bluesy is the order of the day on this late-career Judds single, but what does a sonic atmosphere like that have to do with the lyrics' insistence on monogamy?
We take a ride with a legend in his prime in this episode on Ronnie Milsap's 1980 classic "Smoky Mountain Rain". The connection to Elvis's "Kentucky Rain" is multifaceted and deep, but how does this song use theatrical drama to color its image of a country music cliche? And what happens when you ask Ronnie Milsap to make the thunder roll?Here a couple of videos that are referenced in the episode:Smoky Mountain Rain on Austin City Limits:
In this episode, we look at how Collin Raye's signature song, "Love, Me" kept it gentle sentimental. Everything contributes, from the memorable acoustic guitar intro to Raye's smooth, sweet tenor vocals. But what do stoic farmers have to do with it? Also, who remembered that this recording had an electric piano?
Terri Clark tells her ex where he ranks in no uncertain terms, with her debut hit, "Better Things to Do". Or does she? There's plenty of 90s attitude here, but what details in these lyrics hint that something else may be going on?
Melton finally gets to take on the King, by way of his 1997 hit "Carrying Your Love with Me". Everything works in this perfect little country song, but how does it all work together, and what is it about George Strait's simple delivery that connects so well not only with the song but also with us?
We continue to explore the quirky side of Mary Chapin Carpenter, and of early 90s country, with her Grammy-winning 1992 hit "I Feel Lucky". So what is it besides the Dwight Yoakam and Lyle Lovett reference that makes this song so much fun, and what does the long history of country "outlaws" have to do with it?
For Christmas day, we went with the perfect song about Christmas night: Alabama's 1982 classic "Christmas in Dixie". The joyful yuletide setting is plenty explicit in the song, but what subtly bittersweet threads have also been knit into this comfy Christmas sweater?
We plow through one of Melton's all-time favorite's, Joe Diffie's and Dennis Linde's 1993 classic: "John Deere Green". The tongue-in-cheek Mayberry tone carries over from "Bubba Shot the Jukebox", but how exactly does this one celebrate simplicity with an assertion that never flaunts its rural contentment?
They don't get much more classic than Randy Travis's major label debut single, 1985's "On the Other Hand". We could have spent the whole episode on Travis's understated vocals (we practically do!), but what other elements of the song cause us to find ourselves rooting for a man who has already gone a few steps too far?
Mark Chesnutt balances funny and disturbing with the of-its-time 1992 hit "Bubba Shot the Jukebox". It's a Dennis Linde composition, so we can expect a tongue-in-cheek tone, but how does this one mix peril with absurdity to stay just on this side of too far?
We finally get to a classic from Clint Black's era-defining (and we're not exaggerating here) 1989 debut album, its title track no less: "Killin' Time". But we're not just filling 24 minutes: What are the puzzle pieces that make this song cross that line from great to classic, and why do they fit together so naturally?
Mary Chapin Carpenter's ode to her favorite Bethesda haunt is one of the most infectious country songs of the early 90s. But what exactly made "Down at the Twist and Shout" strike such a strong Cajun chord, and what exactly is she saying anyway?
David Lee Murphy shows us what it was like in 1995 to hang out with the "Party Crowd"... or does he? What's going on below the surface of this honky-tonk celebration, and what do "Neon Moon" and "The Thunder Rolls" have to do with it? I bet you thought this one was straightforward, didn't you? Listen to see if you agree with Melton that there's something deeper here.
Dwight Yoakam's influences are readily apparent in this early neotraditionalist cover of Johnny Horton's "Honky Tonk Man". Hank, Cash, Elvis, and of course Buck Owens are all in there, but what thematic material has Yoakam also imported from the mid-20th century?