Country music week: Day 4

Jennifer Warnes (b. 1947) is best known for popular music; as Wikipedia (link preceding) notes:

Between 1979 and 1987, Warnes surpassed Frank Sinatra as the vocalist performing the most songs to be nominated for anAcademy Award for Best Original Song (four times) and to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song (three times). Her biggest hits include “Up Where We Belong” (a duet with Joe Cocker from the 1982 film, An Officer and a Gentleman) and “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” (a duet with Bill Medley from the 1987 film, Dirty Dancing).

But the songs mentioned above are schlock. This one, “Right Time of the Night” I count as country, at least in terms of style; it also reached #17 on the American Country and Western chart. (Note also, in the version below, that Warnes is accompanied by steel guitar and wearing cowboy boots.) The song was written by Peter McCann and released by Warnes in 1976.  Here she is performing it on “the Midnight Special” a year later:

As with the above song, some will maintain that the next isn’t really a country song, either. Well, all I can say is that Shania Twain (b. 1965 as Eilleen Regina Edwards) is regarded as primarily a country artist. This enormously popular song, “You’re Still the One“, was written by Twain and her producer (and husband) Mutt Lange in 1997. (They were later divorced, and, in a big tabloid scandal, Twain married the husband of the woman for whom Lange left her.) The song was apparently written to dispel rumors of marital troubles between Lange and Twain.

But forget the personal stuff: many country stars have had, well, “colorful” lives. This song won Twain two Grammys for Best Country Song and Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

Oh, one scientific point. As the BBC reports, a paper in the journal Vision Research showed that, among white women, Twain had the perfect facial proportions, making Twain, according to the researchers, the most attractive Caucasian woman in the world, and beating out contenders like Angelina Jolie and Elizabeth Hurley. They did not examine proportions below the neck, such as the famous (and disputed) evo-pych measure “waist to hip ratio.”  But enough; we’re concentrating today on her music:

Some have argued on this site that Gordon Lightfoot (b. 1938) is not a country singer; and, indeed, he crossed over to pop/folk music early in his career. But for those of you who dispute his country cred, have a listen to a cut from what I think is one of the best albums ever recorded (and his first), “Lightfoot!”—an album so rare that I can’t even find it for sale on a brief internet trawl. When it came out in 1966, I damn near wore out my LP with repeated playing. And the music is country.

Every song on that album (including his most famous ones, “The First Time” and “Early Morning Rain”) is a gem.  There are several I could have highlighted here (including the beautiful “Changes“, written by Phil Ochs, or the Biblical ballad “Pride of Man“, written by Hamilton Camp; listen at the links). But I like this one best, which I believe was written by Lightfoot. It’s “Sixteen Miles,” a song of lost love.  I can’t find a live performance, so here’s the recording:

Note that both Lightfoot and Twain (as well as many other folk and country musicians) are Canadian. I can’t document this, but my impression is that Canada has contributed to North American popular music more than one would predict from its population.

31 Comments

  1. Kris Larner
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    Likewise not a great fan of country music but you are certainly picking some great tracks. Jennifer Warnes should also be remembered as a backing singer for Leonard Cohen and for her superb collection of Cohen songs ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ in which I think she surpasses the master himself.

    • Occam
      Posted December 19, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

      +1

      Jennifer Warnes is certainly more than a ‘backing’ singer for Leonard Cohen, and Famous Blue Raincoat was certainly far more than a ‘cover’ version.

      She has these stirring lines about her friendship with Leonard Cohen:
      http://www.jenniferwarnes.com/pages/letgriefinform.html

      • Eddie Janssen
        Posted December 19, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

        Joan of Arc!

  2. Nal
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    Lightfoot! is available from Amazon, here.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted December 19, 2012 at 5:37 am | Permalink

      Well, that’s actually two amalgamated albums: the Lightfoot! album goes only to track 11, and they’ve tacked another group of songs on at the end. I’d seen that one. I prefer the original selection of 11 songs.

      • JBlilie
        Posted December 19, 2012 at 6:50 am | Permalink

        Many of the albums I like that are somewhat obscure (for example David Bromberg albums) are only released on CD as double albums: Two records on one CD. In a few cases, some of my favorite tracks were cut to make it fit; but that’s rare.

        After the release of Gord’s Gold, most people just went for that.

      • jwthomas
        Posted December 19, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

        Looks like the original vinyl:
        http://tinyw.in/cq0J

    • JBlilie
      Posted December 19, 2012 at 6:47 am | Permalink

      beat me to it.

  3. SM in Canada
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    Hmmm. Listening to that Lightfoot song I still wouldn’t peg it as country, but I accept your premise (maybe I have a defective country music detector in my brain).

  4. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    If you look at North American “roots” music as a whole entity, it gave birth to folk, country, country-rock, bluegrass, and rockabilly as sub-genres. There is a lot of crossover among these.

    And, if you ask many of these artists who their influences were/are, they will all list roots greats.

    So, yes, I would consider early, and even some later, Lightfoot as country. Don’t limit yourselves to Top 40. L

    • Linda Grilli Calhoun
      Posted December 19, 2012 at 6:25 am | Permalink

      Also reminds me of lines in a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band song, “Is it folk, or rock, or country? Whoa, seems like everybody cares but us…” L

  5. TGC
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Oh Canada…love it. Grew up across the bridge from Windsor listening to CKLW and watching the Leafs on Hockey Night In Canada. The iconic Canadian rockers RUSH were just inducted into the R&R Hall of Fame (for what it’s worth). If you haven’t seen the video for their instrumental “Malignant Narcissism” it’s a wonderful takedown of the Abrahamic religions with a special guest appearance at the end. Here’s a link (hope it works): http??www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeUWJbs9Q5E&safe=active

    • lamacher
      Posted December 19, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      Yeah. We Canucks need to toot our horns once in a while. It’s not just singers that are over-represented in American entertainment -lots of actors, too: Liam Neeson, Jessica Tandy,Hume Cronin, Loren Greene, Christopher Plummer, John Candy, Nathan Fillon, Stania Kasic, just to name a few. We’ll ignore Justin Bieber and Celine Dion, if you don’t mind. So there!

      • James
        Posted December 19, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

        And Paul Anka — who, according to my mother, came over to our house in Ottawa to play with my older brother in the 50’s. She thought, however, that it was really for the cookies and milk.

      • Linda Grilli Calhoun
        Posted December 19, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        And, please don’t forget Ian Tyson. L

        • Lars
          Posted December 19, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

          And if we’re wandering off the country track, there’s Joni Mitchell.
          And Stompin’ Tom. Oh well.

      • bhoytony
        Posted December 19, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        Liam Neeson? Not Canadian, he’s from Norn Iron, Ballymena I think.

        • Dale
          Posted December 19, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

          I think he was thinking Lesley Nielson.

          Don’t Forget Hank Snow

          • Dale
            Posted December 19, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

            Woops — Leslie

  6. Hempenstein
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    Canadians: Don’t forget Hank Snow. And if you can keep up with him on I’ve Been Everywhere, even if you have the lyrics in front of you, you’re better than me.

    http:/ /www.youtube.com/watch?v=W47c6w46Cgc

  7. JimV
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I have that Lightfoot album in vinyl but don’t have a vinyl player any more and had forgotten how beautiful that song is. Thank you.

    A lot of songs on that album were covered by “Peter, Paul, and Mary” and Judy Collins, so I considered them more in the “folk” genre. Bob Dylan wrote some similar songs – was he country?

    If you go back far enough (say to the Carter family and “500 Miles”), country was folk. I am among those who liked it better that way and wish it had stayed there. (See also “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou”).

    Let’s just say GL was great. In my spare time I am working on an arrangement of “Steel Rail Blues” which tries to make the guitar accompaniment sound like a train.

    • Linda Grilli Calhoun
      Posted December 19, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      I have a machine that puts vinyl onto CDs. It was worth every penny. L

      • SM in Canada
        Posted December 20, 2012 at 3:39 am | Permalink

        was looking into one for myself, can you recommend model?

  8. NoAstronomer
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Personally speaking, I don’t think I would categorize Shania Twain as country, more pop, even more so for the track included here.

    But then again, personally, I only have two categories of music*: music I like and music I don’t. And I do like both the Jennifer Warne and the Shaina Twain tracks. Undecided on Lightfoot.

    Does that count as a third category?

    Mike.

    * No, not country AND western.

  9. fullyladenswallow
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Joni Mitchell
    Gordon Lightfoot
    Neil Young
    The McGarrigle Sisters…Damn, I miss Kate.

    • Dave
      Posted December 19, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      And Barack Obama. Well, they keep saying he wasn’t born here – may as well claim him.

  10. jwthomas
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    Loreena McKennitt: http://tinyw.in/0V8x

  11. Cremnomaniac
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    JC,

    While I was never deep into mainstream country (i.e., Ms.Twain), Gordon Lightfoot has long been a favorite. As my musical tastes have included folk & Bluegrass, I would like to point the readership to two albums that are very near the top of my all-time favorites (there are many).

    The 1984 release by Tony Rice titled “Cold On the Shoulder” pays homage to lightfoot with “Cold on the Shoulder” & “Bitter Green”, an absolutely fantastic album.
    Cold On the Sholder
    On this album it featured backup vocals by the late (and great) Kate Wolf.

    The other, also by Tony Rice is an entire album of Lightfoot covers, Tony Rice Sings Gordon Lightfoot

    Lastly, this Utoob vid id Tony doing “Cold On the Shulder” with Mark O’Connor, Vassar Clements, John Hartford, Jerry Douglas, and Roy Huskey, Jr.

    Sad so many great artists have passed, but great talent knows great talent.
    Thanks for the memories.

    • Cremnomaniac
      Posted December 19, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

      Again, the Utoob link to Cold On the Shoulder.

  12. Posted December 20, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    On Shania — what’s maybe even sadder is that this song was for her ex, Muggs, too.


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