Vince Gill dances and then gets sad. Everybody else dies.
1. “Oklahoma Swing,” Vince Gill and Reba McEntire. Oklahoma native Vince Gill worked in bluegrass outfits during the mid to late 1970s, then became the lead singer of the soft rock band Pure Prairie League in 1979. Although that act is best remembered for their 1975 hit “Amie,” Gill was the lead singer on their highest charting single, the 1979 Top Ten hit “Let Me Love You Tonight.” After the League disbanded, Gill moved to Nashville and was signed to RCA Records in 1984. His first major country hits were 1985’s “If it Weren’t for Him,” a duet with Rosanne Cash, and “Oklahoma Borderline,” a Top Ten effort that Gill wrote with Rodney Crowell and Guy Clark. Gill got in the Bob Wills spirit on “Oklahoma Swing,” a duet with Reba McEntire about romance on the right side of the Red River. Gill returned to Western swing music in the 2010’s, joining the Nashville retro outfit The Time Jumpers.
2. “Put Yourself in My Shoes,” Clint Black. After ringing up triple platinum sales with 1989’s “Killin’ Time” album, Black avoided the sophomore slump, going triple platinum again with 1990’s “Put Yourself in My Shoes” release. The title track somehow manages to sound like country, blues, and a bit of a showtune at the same time. Despite the downhearted lyrics, it’s more of a vocal showcase than a heartbreak number. Black’s released six consecutive platinum albums to start his career and in a show of independence from the Nashville business process, he wrote or co-wrote every song on those records.
3. “Right in the Wrong Direction,” Vern Gosdin. Late commercial bloomer Vern Gosdin, frequently referred to as “The Voice,” was in his mid-fifties when he had his last hit records in the early 1990s. “Right in the Wrong Direction” was a Top Ten hit written by Gosdin with Hank Cochran and Mack Vickery. The narrator provides an ultimatum to a cheating woman, she can straighten up her act or he can help her pack. Gosdin gives a solid Lefty Frizzell inspired vocal on this cut from the 1989 “Alone” album, a rare Nashville concept album. The concept? It was Gosdin’s divorce record.
4. “Seeing’s Believing,” Gary Stewart. Vibrato master Gary Stewart released three albums on Hightone during the twilight of his recording career with “Seeing’s Believing” being the closer on his 1990 “Battleground” release. The only song on the album solely written by Stewart, “Seeing’s Believing” is a top notch cheating number that could have been a major hit during another era with its lyrical hook “Seeing’s believing, so I’ll be leaving today.” A lifelong Florida resident who made his living on the Texas honky tonk circuit, Stewart’s last albums were 1993’s “I’m a Texan” and 2003’s “Live at Billy Bob’s,” released the same year he committed suicide. Stewart was an instinctual artist blessed or cursed with bone cutting honesty and an unadulterated passion for his work. He was the Iggy Pop of country music, with a different career arc.
5. “When I Call Your Name,” Vince Gill. Nobody would confuse Vince Gill’s wounded tenor voice with Charlie Rich, but “When I Call Your Name” has an arrangement that is reminiscent of The Silver Fox’s 1970s material, without the tidal waves of orchestration. Another collaboration with Patty Loveless, the bewildering heartbreak performance resulted in the 1990 CMA “Single of the Year” and a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance. Gill reflecting on his first gold album, also titled “When I Call Your Name,” “One thing I was grateful for is that it was a really traditional country record. I really like deep, deep-rooted, hardcore, twangy kind of country music, the old-school stuff.”
6. “Where’ve You Been,” Kathy Mattea. “Where’ve You Been” is more of a folk/singer songwriter ballad than a country song, but it’s also a three part play that ends by ripping your heart out. Written by Mattea’s future husband Jon Vezner and Don Henry, the lyrics follow a couple who fall in love (as in “where have you been all of my life”), through the hardship of a literal storm (as in “where have you been when you should have been safe here with me”), to a hospital Altzheimer’s scene, when the woman no longer recognizes her loved ones. Mattea, “It’s a true story about Jon’s grandparents. They had both gotten very sick and were in the same hospital, but didn’t know it. His grandmother had been slowly losing it, and she didn’t recognize anybody.” Keep your tissues nearby for this one. Mattea released fifteen Top Ten singles from 1986 to 1994, then quickly faded away from the spotlight.
7. “Who Were You Thinking Of,” Texas Tornados. The Tornados were a Tex Mex supergroup comprised of former Sir Douglas Quintet members Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers, along with ‘70s crossover superstar Freddy Fender and Conjunto accordionist Flaco Jiménez. Fender had the band’s demographic money line, “You’ve heard of the New Kids on the Block? We’re the Old Guys in the Street.” The lead track of their debut album was “Who Were You Thinking Of,” penned by Jim Glaser with his longtime girlfriend turned novelist Cathie Pelletier and his bandleader Paul Gauvin. The song was originally a minor pop and country hit for Dandy & the Doolittle Band in 1980 and had been covered by the Sir Douglas Quintet in 1982. Augie gave “Who Were You Thinking Of” the “96 Tears” riff treatment, while Doug and Freddy wondered who their lover was fantasizing about, since her bedroom satisfaction surpassed all previous endeavors. The Tornados eventually released four studio albums and three live collections, giving Texas legends Sahm and Fender a Grammy winning career victory lap.
8. “Wrong,” Waylon Jennings. Jennings was in the twilight of his tenure as a major label recording artist in 1990, releasing three albums for Epic from 1990 to 1992, including his last collaboration record with Willie Nelson, 1991’s “Clean Shirt.” Jennings only had one co-writing credit on his 1990 album “The Eagle” and “Wrong,” his last Top Ten hit, was penned by staff writers Steve Seskin and Andre Pessis. The onetime standard bearer of traditionalism was using instrumentation reminiscent of Jimmy Buffett on this humorous look at repeated lost loves. Jennings would continue to release solo albums, as well as working with The Highwaymen and The Old 97’s during the 1990s. Decades of drug abuse, as well as smoking six packs of cigarettes a day, caught up with Jennings by the late 1990s and he passed away in 2002 at the age of 64.
9. “You Really Had Me Going,” Holly Dunn. Holly Dunn typified the fresh faced, girl next door look, but despite her wholesome features and talent as a songwriter, she faded from the spotlight after the Chuck Berry influenced “You Really Had Me Going” went to #1 in late 1990. The song bridged ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll with contemporary country sounds while Holly noted that her love interest would regret his lack of commitment in the future. Dunn worked in radio and television after the hits stopped coming, eventually moving to New Mexico and become a visual artist. A week before she passed away from ovarian cancer in November of 2016, she shared these reflections, “This may sound weird, but while I hate having it, this disease has taught me so much about what is really important in life, and how truly valuable it is to live in the present. So much of my music career was spent worrying about the next song, the next hit, the next show, the next…whatever. Now I just wake up every day feeling so incredibly blessed that I can look at this amazingly beautiful world, feel the sunshine on my face and the love of my family, friends, and countless others out there who are praying for me. Life is its own gift.”
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