This is Part One of a Two-Week series, this week and next - (5 songs this week, 5 next week!)
As my Country Music Memory Lane series rolls on, it has me thinking about all the various ways we can go. Of course featuring stars is a great way, and we'll do more of them, but there are songs too. This week and next are dedicated to songs that made a huge impact on people in the first minute of the first radio play. These are rare, as they make the studio phone ring immediately on the air, with listeners asking, "What is this song, and who is that??, I love this song!!"
These are some of the songs I remember doing exactly that in my 41 year career so far. There are others, but they are very rare. And I am hoping there are more recorded as time goes on!
On The Other Hand - Randy Travis - (1986)
I was doing mornings at WRMZ (FM-100) in Columbus, Ohio when this song came out. It was NOT Randy Travis' first hit song, 1982 was. But this was released first and did nothing, as it peaked at #67. They released it again, after 1982 and in my view after it went #1, became one of the most important country songs ever. We couldn't play this song enough as fans LOVED it. It was the strongest signal yet that a younger country, with a traditional sound that started a few years earlier by artists like Alabama, George Strait and Earl Thomas Conley, was here to stay. What was left of pop-country was over. Storms of Life is a classic album too, belongs in every collection. Randy was the next level - (Please read my article Who Saved Country Music Part 1) (And Part 2)
Honky Tonk Man - Dwight Yoakam - (1986)
I was in Columbus still when this song came out, and he was something very new and totally different. We had never seen anything in country like this before. Listeners loved this new kind of rockabilly, yet traditional sound. We did a live show with him right about the release date, and we had people hanging from the rafters that night at some big club, and that was very unusual then. Dwight stirred forgotten passions within fans as we had many years of pop-country being the driving force. This was not. This is a song we could have played every 15 minutes and no one would have minded. Along with Travis, country had been elevated by leaps and bounds. The traditionalists, some were here, others were on the way. This EP - Guitars And Cadillac's is universally loved. He's featured here - (Please Read My Article Who Saved Country Music Part 1) (And Part 2)
Better Man - Clint Black - (1989)
When I was doing mornings at KLIK (The Big 950) in Jefferson City, Missouri country was kicking into a very high gear and this song was a big part of it. Midway through the first play the phone was ringing wondering if this was new and reinvented Merle Haggard. There is no doubt it is Haggard like, but Clint Black successfully tapped into the young, and the not so young, with this monster hit, and even bigger album. He was Merle Haggard and George Strait rolled into one star. This sound sent him on a huge run as one of our biggest new stars at the time. The next song, Killin' Time solidified him as a star. He had a lot to do with country's massive acceleration from 1989 on. This album, Killin' Time is one of the best country albums of all time.
The Dance - Garth Brooks - (1989)
Garth had a few singles before this and he was known as a nice young artist, but this song for many is about the perfect song. This sent him on a real roll that, well is still going today as he sells out stadiums. Still may be the most loved song we have ever had. This song had a whole lot to do with his meteoric rise to a superstar level that we never had, and frankly couldn't imagine. In short order, Garth Brooks was the biggest singing star on the planet, and this song had the phones ringing as the piano was playing out. The massive popularity of this song was and is hard to explain unless you were there to see it.
Where've You Been - Kathy Mattea - 1989
This song had the phone ringing as it finished in my studio with listeners literally in tears and many proclaiming it was the most beautiful song they had ever heard. This is one powerful song that may not speak to you right now, but at some point will. It's timeless and flawless and so was Kathy's performance. This is an example of the perfect song meeting the person born to sing it. Kathy Mattea was a supreme vocalist that chose her material perfectly. She is breathtaking in this song. This kind of song defied the odds on being a "radio song" It's just too darn good. Still a favorite for those who discover it. (Read my article on Kathy Mattea here)