Thursday, August 21, 2014

Comparing Past Augusts

Going back to 1983 to compare previous Augusts a decade apart, with August having become my favorite month in recent years despite the fact that I keep turning another year older during the month...

August 1983 vs. August 1993 vs. August 2003

Winner: 2003--The summer of 2003 had been one giant blah affair for me for the first 75% of the summer....until I finally took the big three-day road trip I had been putting off for a couple of years that took me through the central counties of South Dakota and North Dakota and then across the northern tiers of counties in far northern Minnesota.  I didn't even really know why I took the specific route I did but it led me to the perfect points of interest each state had to offer and will go down as one of my greatest road trips of all-time, so great that I did a redo in 2013 for the 10-year anniversary.  I also had 100-degree heat on two of the three days of the trip, and I welcomed the heat.  I took this trip on my first vacation while working at the newspaper and in the days following relaxed at the folks' place and went to the Minnesota State Fair to see a Suzy Bogguss concert.  A weak summer came alive in the clutch, and was followed by an escalation with a girl I had begun to hit it off with earlier that year.

August 1984 vs. August 1994 vs. August 2004

Winner: 1994--The summer of 1994 was great in general, but this was the month when my dad finally got back into a steady work routine after having several summers off for a seasonal job he previously worked, meaning I got the place to myself day after day for the first extended period of my life.  The summer of 1994 was the year I found my groove in a lot of ways and was still enjoying my first major revisit of 80s TV and it was also the origins of my CD collection, as I received a CD player for my birthday along with CDs for Faith Hill and Suzy Bogguss.

August 1985 vs. August 1995 vs. August 2005

Winner: 2005--In the last hurrah of my final "free summer" while I was in between jobs and loafing at the folks' place, I got to thoroughly enjoy a nightly routine at the Freeborn County Fair for the first time in years and also approached the 20th annual family visit to the Minnesota State Fair with baited anticipation and hype in a way I hadn't up until that year.  Late in the month, the backdrop of the Hurricane Katrina devastation was tempered some by the premiere of the TV show that would become of my all-time favorites: "Prison Break" in its first season glory.

August 1986 vs. August 1996 vs. August 2006

Winner:  2006--Both  August 1986 and 2006 were mixed-bag years (August 1996 was among the worst months of my life) but 2006 ended up having more pros and cons, my first "modern" August that included my fair and road trip routines all combined into one.  I had moved to Des Moines early in 2006 and took my first vacation week for the Freeborn County Fair, and then sampled my first Iowa State Fair visit a week later, a visit that became a new tradition.  I also had a great trip to the Minnesota State Fair, a road trip through eastern South Dakota, and was giddy about the upcoming midterm elections where the Democrats were poised to make big gains.  So what was the downside of this "mixed bag" year?  The girl I connected with most in my many unsuccessful years of courting the opposite sex disappeared forever on me late in the month.

August 1987 vs. August 1997 vs. August 2007

Winner:  1997--There were a lot of exciting developments in August 2007 but 1997 still exceeded it, enjoying my final month of the great summer working at the rural electric co-op with my neighbor buddy, and also finally getting the chance to watch the dozens of hours of 80s action shows I taped in late July from the FX cable network.  To some extent, those hours were a little disappointing, but it was still a blast to revisit them and to go out in style from the summer that took me back to my desperately needed comfort zone after that horrific first year of college.  Of course the bad news was the clock was ticking until I had to go back to college in September.

August 1988 vs. August 1998 vs. August 2008

Winner:  1998--I was overcome with attraction to "Andie", my blond postal co-worker in the later weeks of the summer of 1998 and we dated a couple of times before her premature return to school mid-month.  It was very exciting to fall for a girl who liked me back, particularly when she was as hot as Miss Andie was.  The postal job that was a pain in the butt back in the June had really grown on me by summer's end and I felt like a grew a lot that summer heading into my junior year of college the following month.

August 1989 vs. August 1999 vs. August 2009

Winner:  2009--Without question my all-time best first date was with "Brooke", a barely legal hottie who I connected with earlier in the summer and took to the Lost Island water park in Waterloo, Iowa, in August.  It was one of the best days of my life and that alone made August 2009 the slam-dunk winner of this trio of contenders, but I also got to attend my last Minnesota Twins game at the Metrodome with some high school friends that month and balance all my fairs and road trips as well as score a second day at the Minnesota State Fair for the first time ever.  Hard for me at this point to imagine another month in my future that will be as packed with good memories as August 2009.

August 1990 vs. August 2000 vs. August 2010

Winner: 1990--How cruel it is that the #1 and #2 months of my entire life are pitted up against each other.  August 2000 was my first foray into online dating as well as online political debate, and both ventures yielded some friends I'm still close with today.  But it's still light years behind August 1990, the month that molded my personality more than any other month before or after.  I was 12 years old going into the month and 13 coming out of it, tagging along with my dad daily through the car lots of southwestern and south-central Minnesota doing vinyl repair work.  I was at the brink of discovering my love for road-tripping before this venture but afterwards I was a lifetime hard case.  Furthermore, puberty was now fully setting in and seeing all the cute girls walking the sidewalks near the car lots became more and more thrilling for me as the weeks went on, setting the foundation for the hot girls I was about to come in contact with daily at my new junior high school.

August 1991 vs. August 2001 vs. August 2011

Winner:  2001--It was a tough call between August 1991 and 2001, but the best of the summer of 1991 was behind my by this point in the summer while the summer of 2001 still had its best to come, enjoying all my fairs--which included a free concert by Ronnie Milsap at the Minnesota State Fair late in the month--as well as my late night visits to the Yahoo! Politics Chat debating the early months of the pre-9/11 Bush administration with a group of regulars whose company I came to enjoy.  But the escalating daily banter with Dana, a girl I met online and who would become one of my most legendary love interests, was what made August 2001 the most exciting.

August 1992 vs. August 2002 vs. August 2012

Winner:  1992--Here's a battle of three stinkers if there ever was one but I guess 1992 was the best of the worst.  My cousin came down from northern Minnesota for what would be his last visit during my boyhood years, even though the plans didn't work out entirely smoothly.  Beyond that though, my excitement about recording old MacGyver episodes from cable were on hold that month because the cable network was airing a plethora of episodes I already had recorded, the Minnesota Twins' promising season collapsed amidst the August pennant hunt, and the Presidential campaign was largely stalled out except for the Republican Convention.  It was a thoroughly average month but a tick better than August 2012 and miles better than the disastrous August 2002.

Unfortunately, my next installment will profile the month of September, although to be fair I've had a few exciting Septembers in years past.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Comparing Past Julys

Last month, I went back to 1983 and compared past Junes.  This month I'm gonna do it with July.  Funny how that works out....

July 1983 vs. July 1993 vs. July 2003
Winner:  1983--A lot of the same things that helped June 1983 win this category continued into July, including my growing collection of "Return of the Jedi" and "Smurfs" glasses from Burger King and Hardee's, along with the tail end of my stay at the Albert Lea Child Care Center before I upgraded to a babysitter in Hartland.

July 1984 vs. July 1994 vs. July 2004
Winner:  1984--My youthful bond with Cousin Dusty was formalized with the weeklong mid-July stay this year.  I was almost seven years and spent the week at my grandparents' place with Dusty and his older siblings.  Dusty and I had enjoyed ourselves during previous visits but it was taken to a new level with this trip, capstoned by a trip to Valleyfair.  Shortly after, I found a new babysitter in Hartland, the babysitter who would be my long-term sitter for the next five years, following an unpleasant three-month stay at another babysitter's place.  It was a definite upgrade. 

July 1985 vs. July 1995 vs. July 2005
Winner:  1985--There was no clearcut winner here, but the tiebreaker tipping in 1985's favor was my fledgling baseball card collection, which had just hit its crescendo moment with the purchase of the 1985 Topps set--my first--in late June.  The month of July included daily card talk with the teenage son of my babysitter, who had a pretty impressive collection of his own with cards going back to the late 70s and was a pretty good sport about letting me look through his collection and talk about cards we were mutually pursuing.

July 1986 vs. July 1996 vs. July 2006
Winner:  2006--This was the first summer of my "new life" in central Iowa where I had moved a few months earlier and settled into a new job, and I really began to reap the dividends of that move by July as I was using up some of my vacation time to keep alive my road trip and county fair traditions.  I also included a new tradition with the Summerfest celebration that takes place in my adopted hometown, only a few blocks from my apartment.  I made the short walk to Summerfest that July and have been attending ever since.  It was also the last July 4th for my German shorthair Pokey (his favorite day of the year) and he enjoyed the setting off of fireworks as much as ever even at age 12.

July 1987 vs. July 1997 vs. July 2007
Winner:  1997--The magical escape from my freshman year of college pressed forward with more blissful release as I worked with my old neighbor buddy at the rural electric cooperative, caught up on the TV shows I missed during the regular season, and enjoyed my annual road trip traditions, all in much higher spirits than the two years prior.  But late in the month, I added a new level of excitement by hauling the VCR to my grandparents' place during Freeborn County Fair week (they live across the street from the grounds) and recording dozens of hours of 80s action show reruns that I had been licking my lips about for over a year when the FX cable network originally added "The Fall Guy", "The A-Team", "Miami Vice", and "Hart to Hart" to their nightly schedule.  In a roundabout way, I managed to get a flesh wound that landed me in the emergency room as a direct result of my excitement over this TV lineup, but it was more than worth it.

July 1988 vs. July 1998 vs. July 2008
Winner:  1988--Tough competition here as July 1998 was my peak month as an Albert Lea mail carrier in the throes of a summer romance with a hot blond co-worker, but even that month can't compete with July 1988 when I took swimming lessons at the Albert Lea pool for two weeks and immersed myself in the peak period of watching the Nickelodeon cable network during the days I stayed at my grandparents' place.  Finally being able to swim and jump off the diving board was exciting, but checking out the daytime Nickelodeon schedule on weekdays which had up to that point eluded me made for one of the most exciting and memorable summer months of my childhood.

July 1989 vs. July 1999 vs. July 2009
Winner:  1989--Hard to go wrong with those late 80s and early 90s summers, and July 1989 had a little bit of everything including cable reruns of action show favorites at my babysitter's place and an exciting trip to my cousin's place in northwestern Minnesota in which we ventured north to Winnipeg, Canada, for two days, a particularly exciting adventure that included my first visit to the horse races.  There was one bad day in July 1989 though....the late July day when I got braces on my teeth.  Thankfully, the installation of the braces didn't disrupt any of my cousin visits or other summertime benchmarks.

July 1990 vs. July 2000 vs. July 2010
Winner:  1990--In just about any other pairing throughout my life, July 2000 would have been a slam-dunk winner, and I almost feel guilty for not giving it the writeup it deserves.  But July 1990 managed to exceed it, weaving together the weeklong (and most epic) trip to Thief River Falls to visit my cousin (capstoned by my first visit to a water slide park Fun Mountain) with the momentous pivot point of my youth, the late July tour of southern Minnesota with my dad who was doing vinyl repair work at car lots throughout the region.  Right at the precipice of my teenage years, I got in touch with a long-festering fascination for the gypsy life and loved the daily travels to southern Minnesota car lots, exploring new towns and meeting some of the people that lived there.  Few months in my life were as pivotal--or as exciting--as July 1990.

July 1991 vs. July 2001 vs. July 2011
Winner:  1991--The general aura of the summer of 1991 was very likeable in itself, with my preciously held daily routines taking hold of watching News 12 Midday, listening to Minnesota Twins games on the radio during their historic championship season, and my evening MacGyver Marathon (my first) but there were two specific standout events of July 1991 that easily catapult it above the competition.  The first was my family's July 11 trip to the Noah's Ark water park in the Wisconsin Dells, my first and last visit there.  The second was the granddaddy of more than two decades of road trips, the July 23 trek to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with my dad.  This road trip was mostly an extension of the previous summer's tour of southern Minnesota car lots, but it stands out to this day as the most exciting and enriching road trip of my life.

July 1992 vs. July 2002 vs. July 2012
Winner:  1992--A pretty weak selection here but 1992 is nonetheless the only one that stands out with anything worthwhile.  The Twins were at that point still in the pennant run and I was listening (or sometimes watching) games daily that summer until their late summer collapse.  Beyond that, I continued to stitch together my collection of MacGyver reruns on VHS, recording episodes whenever I went to my grandparents' house and the USA cable network was airing an episode I didn't already have.  And even though it was a depressing affair because of their centrist posture, I watched my first political convention in July 1992 when Bill Clinton and Al Gore accepted their party's nomination.

Be back in a few weeks with August analysis.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Comparing Past Junes

I've always been a nostalgic person who looks back at years past with an analytical mind and a ton of memories.  With approximately 30 years worth of tangible memories under my belt, I thought it would be a fun exercise to split the years apart, on a month-by-month basis, into grids of three a decade apart and see which year I look back at most favorably.  My earliest consistent memories are from the summer of 1983, so I figured I'd start there.  I'll do this every month until next May and see if I can draw and conclusions from the analysis.  It might just be that I'll have done a personally satisfying thought experiment without any worthwhile conclusions to glean.  Either way, let the contest begin....

June 1983 vs. June 1993 vs. June 2003
Winner:  1983--I was five years old and spending my days at the Albert Lea Child Care Center, immersed in a world of collectible "Return of the Jedi" glasses from Burger King and mid-80s action show awesomeness in the evenings.  None of these three years is worthy of a sweeping win, but 1993 and 2003 were less inconsequential than 1983 in the grand scheme.

June 1984 vs. June 1994 vs. June 2004
Winner:  1994--The best month of my best summer during my high school years, I had a fun visit to northern Minnesota for my cousin's high school graduation and went in the company of another cousin and we had a great time.  I also really got into country music during the format's most creatively satisfying year and I had my first thorough revisit of mid-80s TV, authenticated by late night reruns of "The Fall Guy" and "The A-Team" on a Minneapolis TV station that sometimes came in.  And of course, the unfolding drama of the OJ murder arrest added some extra spice to the proceedings.

June 1985 vs. June 1995 vs. June 2005
Winner:  2005--I was enjoying a lazy summer at the folks' place having been recently canned from my newspaper job and really got into the laid-back lifestyle, which basically amounted to my first real vacation in three years following the strenuous newspaper schedule.  My best memory was taking to eBay to purchase several mid-80s TV Guides that I had long since lost which featured end-of-season ratings information to glean through.  I was also regularly communicating with a hot blond named Whitney who I had chatted with for a couple years at that point but got into a pattern of daily e-mail exchanges with in the early weeks of summer 2005.

June 1986 vs. June 1996 vs. June 2006
Winner:  1986--It's a dubious win here because there was nothing specifically great about June 1986, other than my parents building up my hopes that a vacation to Disney World might be forthcoming later that summer, but there was still enough fond memories for the month to except the mediocre June of 2006 and the terrible June of 1996.  Wednesday nights with back-to-back "MacGyver" and "Hardcastle and McCormick" reruns were a high point along with my highly memorable visit to the Thunderbird Hotel in Bloomington for my first baseball card show, complete with an autograph signing from Willie Mays!

June 1987 vs. June 1997 vs. June 2007
Winner:  1997--After more than two years of making myself miserable in anticipation and ultimate attendance of college, the summer of 1997 was my long-awaited redemption.  I got a breezy summer job at the rural electric co-op with enviable hours and even got to work with an old buddy from high school.  From road trip fever to revisiting 80s TV action show favorites rerun on the FX cable network at the time, I reconnected with all my passions and just got to enjoy life again in a way I hadn't really done for what seemed like a lifetime.  Most people's experience returning home after their freshman year of college ended up being a huge disappointment for any number of reasons.  For me, it was one of the best summers of my life, and never was it sweeter than in the summer's opening month.

June 1988 vs. June 1998 vs. June 2008
Winner:  1988--The summer of 1988 is one I'll always look back at fondly, particularly for it being the pinnacle of my one-year obsession of the cable network Nickelodeon.  My cousin from northern Minnesota was also a Nickelodeon fan and he came for a visit in late June, melding both worlds.  Beyond Nickelodeon, I also really got into the soap opera "One Life to Live" that summer as I stayed days at my babysitter's place in Hartland. 1988 was also the "drought" summer with steamy 100-degree temps day after day, and at least at that age I rather welcomed the heat.

June 1989 vs. June 1999 vs. June 2009
Winner:  1989--Easy to defer to the childhood summers in a competition with no clearcut winners, and it's hard to go wrong generally with the summer of 1989.  I started off the summer traveling with my grandparents to visit my cousin in northern Minnesota and getting my first steady diet of Nintendo, specifically the game "Bubble Bobble" which I still have a soft spot for.  From there, it was summer reruns of my favorite season of "MacGyver" and was my final summer at the babysitter's place, only this year with cable TV and reruns of "The Fall Guy" and "T.J. Hooker" airing daily.  I look back at this as my last "childhood" summer and it easily trumped the middling memories of June 1999 and 2009.

June 1990 vs. June 2000 vs. June 2010
Winner:  1990--Having this trio of months together is unfortunate since 1990 and 2000 were my best summers of all-time, but it's not quite as tough for the month of June because 1990 easily bested June 2000.  Every week of the summer of 1990 brought something new and memorable, and in the month of June I had my first taste of genuine freedom, being able to stay up late and no longer having to go to the babysitter's during the day.  This meant TV viewing until all the networks signed off, watching among other things, "Entertainment Tonight" where weekend anchor Leeza Gibbons was my first celebrity crush and my opening foray into puberty.  I went with my cousin to Valleyfair late in the month and recorded the remaining reruns of "MacGyver" from season 5 that I had missed when they first aired.  And June was actually the least memorable month of this very pivotal summer.

June 1991 vs. June 2001 vs. June 2011
Winner:  1991--While not as spectacular as the summer before, June 1991 still offered a good selection of great memories including the 7th grade class trip to Valleyfair, the Minnesota Twins' 15-game winning streak which got me back into baseball in a big way, and the final spurt of fascination in my baseball card collection before it flamed out forever.  I also held my first "MacGyver Marathon" beginning that June and despite merely being a retread of stale videotaped leftovers, it was very exciting.  June 2001 was pretty solid as well but 1991 easily bested it.

June 1992 vs. June 2002 vs. June 2012
Winner:  1992--I was briefly tempted to go with 2002 here, because despite ending up as a summer from hell, the first month of the summer served up some good memories and held a lot of promise.  Since that promise was eventually squashed though, I fell back on Old Reliable with 1992.  After a mostly enjoyable trip to Duluth early in the month where my dad served as a delegate to a political convention, my summer settled into familiar territory, defined by my daily consumption of Minnesota Twins games on the radio and my lottery-style cobbling together of cable "MacGyver" reruns when making weekly visits to my grandparents, hoping to capture the episodes I hadn't already recorded.

Tune in next month and see how I compare three decades worth of Julys.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

I Just Don't Have The Passion For Elections And Road Trips That I Used To

When I think back to 10 years ago this summer, it's striking just how much less connected I am now to what were my driving passions in 2004.....endless analysis of elections before and after the vote....and my road trip routines.   My passion level for both have seemed to grow and fall in tandem, both originating in the early 90s when I began to do some of earliest exploration of Minnesota towns in particular while assisting my dad with his brief vinyl repair business.  Not long after that I received my first World Almanac which featured county-level election returns from across the country.  In the late 1990s, the escalation continued as I started to expand my horizons to explore new territory on my Minnesota road trips in tandem with my receipt of the Minnesota blue book, which broke down 1996 general election returns down to the precinct level.

But it was the year 2000 when everything came together for what would be my peak period of road trip and election passion.  Several opportunities arose for me to take road trips to uncharted territory in 2000, so much so that I formalized an effort to get to all 734 incorporated towns in Minnesota.  And of course, the closest and most exciting Presidential election in history occurred in 2000 as well, further conflating my dual obsessions.

The peak period for road trip fever for me was 2001-2004, as every over-the-top drive assured me of charting a stack of territory I'd never visited before.  After 2004, I retained most of my passion for road trips for a few more years, but my Minnesota road trips in particular lost their urgency after 2007 when I completed my tour of every town in the state.  As for elections, I held on at peak passion level from 2001-2006, and the frequency of my politics-related posts on this blog tells the story of my declining intensity.  Back in 2006, the first year Mark My Words was online, the blog was abuzz with several election-related posts per month tracking the Democrats fight to win that year's midterms.  For a variety of reasons, the frequency of my political/election posts on this blog has greatly diminished, but the primary reason is that the passion for full-time election obsession is gone.

So why is the passion gone?  For road trips, it's a matter of having visited everyplace within a reasonable driving condition of my hometown.  In 2014, I find the most enjoyable road trips to be the ones where I visit a lot of new territory, but having already explored so much within driving distance, it's getting harder to find trips that take me to places I've never been.  If I go someplace in North or South Dakota, for example, I have to trip several hours in familiar territory to get to whatever the destination is, meaning I spend a lot of time checked out coming to and from.  I'm adjusting some of my road trip patterns to the south and east as opposed to the north and west and hope to have some more interesting road trips in the years ahead as a result.  With that said, I think my patience and attention span for these road trips is no longer what it used to be, so I don't anticipate the era of wide-eyed, youthful passion for road trips to ever return in its 2000-2004 heyday.

My loss of zeal for elections first became evident in 2007.  For the previous three election cycles, I spent until the next cycle feverishly categorizing and recategorizing numbers into tidy charts and grids.  It never really got old and I ate, slept, and breathed election analysis before and after the first Tuesday in November.  But in 2007, I quickly grew tired of this usual pattern, even after the very impressive midterm election victory the Democrats pulled off the year prior.  And while I couldn't get enough of the pre-election coverage in earlier cycles, the 2008 primaries burned me out and I was checked out of the 2008 election until after Labor Day.  Now I really got into the 2012 election lead-up but have only been running quarter-throttle for this midterm cycle as I did in 2010.  As for the obsessive charting and categorization of election returns after the election, I still do it, but it tends to last for about three months after the election and then vanish for the next 20 months unlike a decade ago when I charted these election figures continuously.  My increased cynicism about the futility of election outcomes no matter who wins has not helped in sustaining my passion level either.

I'll always have a soft spot for both road trips and elections.  I still feel some level of excitement even for the road trips that have lost the majority of their luster over the years, and some of the road trips still prove thoroughly exciting, enjoyable, and memorable.  Furthermore, I still get a major case of election fever every fall, even on odd-numbered years, and take to my VHS cassettes to watch recorded coverage of past elections before burning out on it in time for the holidays.  I suspect this pattern will continue on both elections and road trips.  It's sad in a way that my youthful giddiness for politics and road-tripping has ebbed in the last decade as I'd like to get that passion back at times, but time and people change (even me occasionally!) and resisting that change is futile.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Top-50 Country Songs Of The Last 10 Years

For most of my adult life, I've lamented on the downhill slide of commercial country music, and I suspect just about everybody over the age 30 would concede that country music today pales in comparison to the quality of music that came out of Nashville 20 years ago, 30 years, and 40 years ago.  But I still listen to country radio far more than any other genre searching for hidden gems, and they still exist.  Although the country songs I connect with as a 30-something adult are fewer than were in previous eras, just about every year produces a handful of songs that really hit me where I live.  This list of the 50 best country songs of the last 10 years to those quality modern country songs....

1.  Me and Emily--Rachel Proctor (2004)
2.  Till Summer Comes Around--Keith Urban (2009)
3.  Don't Ask Me How I Know--Bobby Pinson (2005)
4.  Tornado--Little Big Town (2013)
5.  Sunny and 75--Joe Nichols (2013)
6.  Whiskey Lullaby--Brad Paisley and Allison Krauss (2004)
7.  Kerosene--Miranda Lambert (2006)
8.  Turning Home--David Nail (2010)
9.  Love Lives On--Mallary Hope (2008)
10. Texas Plates--Kellie Coffey (2004)
11. You're My Better Half--Keith Urban (2005)
12. Raymond--Brett Eldredge (2010)
13. I Don't Want To--Ashley Monroe (2007)
14. Trip Around the Sun--Jimmy Buffett and Martina McBride (2004)
15. If Heaven--Andy Griggs (2005)
16. I Loved Her First--Heartland (2006)
17. I Keep Coming Back--Josh Gracin (2006)
18. Man of the House--Chuck Wicks (2009)
19. I Don't Want This Night To End--Luke Bryan (2011)
20. Eden's Edge--Amen (2011)
21. Walking in Memphis--Lonestar (2004)
22. Let it Rain--David Nail (2011)
23. From a Table Away--Sunny Sweeney (2011)
24. Need You Now--Lady Antebellum (2009)
25. American Honey--Lady Antebellum (2010)
26. Blowin' Smoke--Kacey Musgraves (2013)
27. I Hold On--Dierks Bentley (2014)
28. The Sound of a Million Dreams--David Nail (2012)
29. Online--Brad Paisley (2007)
30. Guinevere--Eli Young Band (2010)
31. God Love Her--Toby Keith (2009)
32. He Oughta Know That By Now--Lee Ann Womack (2005)
33. Men Don't Change--Amy Dalley (2004)
34. If You're Going Through Hell (Keep on Going)--Rodney Atkins (2006)
35. Mama's Broken Heart--Miranda Lambert (2013)
36. Red Light--David Nail (2008)
37. Back to December--Taylor Swift (2011)
38. Long Black Train--Josh Turner (2004)
39. Shinin' on Me--Jerrod Niemann (2012)
40. What Hurts Most--Rascal Flatts (2006)
41. I Would Cry--Amy Dalley (2005)
42. Famous in a Small Town--Miranda Lambert (2007)
43. God's Will--Martina McBride (2005)
44. Good Directions--Billy Currington (2007)
45. Sarabeth--Rascal Flatts (2005)
46. Stupid Boy--Keith Urban (2007) 
47. Runaway--Love and Theft (2009)
48. In Color--Jamey Johnson (2009)
49. Cruise--Florida Georgia Line (2012)
50. Here--Rascal Flatts (2008)

10 More Honorable Mentions

Even If It Breaks My Heart--Eli Young Band (2012)
Brothers--Dean Brody (2010)
As If--Sara Evans (2007)
Love Story--Taylor Swift (2008)
Pretty Good At Drinking Beer--Billy Currington (2010)
Better--Maggie Rose (2013)
Bless the Broken Road--Rascal Flatts (2005)
I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes--Dierks Bentley (2009)
Days of Gold--Jake Owen (2013)
Maybe She'll Get Lonely--Jack Ingram (2008)

Now in one respect, I could do a top-50 song list just from the year 1994 and produce a list as good as this one for an entire decade, but the fact that I needed a separate list of 10 honorable mentions to pack in more songs that touched me at some level does suggest that country radio still occasionally gets it right.  The trendline heading into the middle of this decade is not a good one, but I'm sure there will continue to be a dozen or so songs a year that I always turn up when I hear them played on the radio.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Trajectory's of TV's TGIF

Like most people who came of age in the 80s and 90s, I have fond memories of ABC's long-running bloc of Friday night sitcoms that they brilliantly marketed as "TGIF" beginning in early 1990.  While TGIF's era as an institution scoring massive ratings was relatively short-lived, its various incarnations were a mainstay on ABC's Friday night for more than 15 years.  Quite honestly, most of the shows were pretty bad.  A couple were good and some had just enough charm to keep me interested as I transitioned from boy to teenager, but not many of them would stand up well to 2014 audiences given that they were barely serviceable a quarter-century ago.  Still, TGIF was above all else really strong marketing on ABC's part, and I look back fondly at the "event" that wrapping up my week and vegetating in front of the TV was during those peak middle school years of TGIF.  And I thought it would be interesting to trace the entire TGIF trajectory from its origins, to its heyday, to its nadir and ultimate demise.

The show that for all intents and purposes launched what would become TGIF several years later was an unlikely fit for the family sitcoms that would define the evening, and that was the long-running political comedy "Benson" starring Robert Guillaume.  Despite lasting seven seasons, "Benson" was never a hit, but rather functionally useful counterprogramming for ABC in tough timeslots.  By 1982, that timeslot would be Friday nights against CBS's ratings powerhouse "The Dukes of Hazzard" right at the moment that series was starting to decline.  It would have been hard to imagine that ABC's counterprogramming of "Benson" against "The Dukes of Hazzard" in 1982 would ever bring about what became TGIF, but it kind of did.

While "Benson" didn't fit the mold of TGIF-style shows, it was the lead-in for a new series in 1983 that fit the template perfectly--"Webster"--and "Webster" became an early hit, dragging lead-in "Benson" along for the ride and combined they won the timeslot against "The Dukes of Hazzard".  But there was still a long way to go before the TGIF branding would take its form.

Even with "The Dukes of Hazzard" collapsing in the mid-80s and ultimately expiring in the spring of 1985, CBS still dominated Friday nights and it slowed ABC's transition to a two-hour comedy block despite the ongoing success of "Benson" and "Webster" at the 7:00 hour.  ABC continued to program action shows like "Masquerade", "Hawaiian Heat", and "Street Hawk" at 8:00 as counterprogramming against "Dallas", but buckled in March 1985 and took on "Dallas" with its sitcom block, moving "Benson" to 8:00 and heading the night with "Webster", rounding out the hours with the short-lived sitcom "Off the Rack" at 8:30 and the much more successful "Mr. Belvedere" at 7:30.  The move was met with mixed results but ABC had another iron in its fire with their fall lineup in 1985.....

NBC was poised to cancel veteran sitcom "Different Strokes" in 1985 but ABC picked it up, moving it to Friday night as a tentpole at the 8:00 hour scheduled in between "Webster", "Mr. Belvedere", and "Benson".  The network had by now compiled a lineup that looked very much like the TGIF tradition even though it would be nearly five years before the TGIF designation became official.  Unfortunately, "Different Strokes" bombed on Friday nights against "Dallas".  "Webster" and "Mr. Belvedere" were hanging in there at the 7:00 hour with middling numbers, but all evidence pointed to ABC taking on CBS just a little too soon with their sitcom lineup to be effective.

The next two seasons were very challenging for the network and its fast-changing Friday comedy lineup.  The ratings continued to drop for "Webster" and "Mr. Belvedere" and by the spring of 1987 "Webster" was canceled by ABC (it continued in syndication for one more season).  "Mr. Belvedere" hung on by a thread and returned in October 1987 as the lone haggard veteran of a Friday lineup full of rookie sitcoms.  Two of them, "I Married Dora" and "The Pursuit of Happiness" were flops that barely made it to Christmas, but the show ABC was most excited about kicked off the 7:00 hour and hung around despite bad early ratings.....the future sitcom smash "Full House".

With CBS and NBC duking it out with ratings heavy hitters "Dallas" and "Miami Vice", ABC was struggling mightily and reconfiguring their low-rated sitcom lineup every few weeks until the scheduling coup that revived the patient's pulse was made in March 1988....when successful Wednesday sitcom "Perfect Strangers" moved to Friday night to head up the comedy lineup.  Almost immediately, ratings perked up for the entire lineup, and just in time to help "Full House" and "Mr. Belvedere" avoid likely cancellation.

The aforementioned trio, along with newcomer "Just the Ten of Us", finally became a consistent ratings force by the fall of 1988.  The risk paid off as "Perfect Strangers" held its former Wednesday night audience and introduced enough viewers to lead-out "Full House" that its ratings skyrocketed that season, so much so that in the fall of 1989, ABC pushed "Full House" to the top of the Friday night schedule at 7:00.  "Mr. Belvedere" was shuffled off to its Saturday night graveyard that fall and replaced with another new show that would define TGIF for years to come--"Family Matters".  There was nothing memorable about the earliest incarnation of "Family Matters" as it was about as generic of a sitcom as was ever created until midseason when geeky neighbor kid Steve Urkel was introduced and became a cultural phenomenon and the biggest "star" in the duration of TGIF.

Urkel's arrival coincided almost perfectly with ABC's decision to market this Friday night sitcom bloc as TGIF, which was introduced in February 1990.  The network had finally found the right mix of shows and the right marketing technique to capture lightning in a bottle.  Somewhat surprisingly, and perhaps because it was racier than the other kid-friendly shows on the lineup, "Just the Ten of Us" was canceled in the spring of 1990.  Its replacement in the fall of 1990, the Heather Locklear sitcom "Going Places", also seemed an odd fit for the TGIF lineup but would eventually be shoehorned to fit the TGIF mold.  And while "Going Places" was the weak link, the rest of the TGIF lineup was soaring in the 1990-91 season, far and away the most successful year the lineup had.  In March 1991, "Going Places" was replaced by the lackluster "Baby Talk", a sitcom that went through three different actresses playing the mother in two seasons, but ratings were nonetheless gangbusters.  In the spring of 1991, all four TGIF sitcoms were mainstays in the Nielsen top-25, with "Full House" and "Family Matters" frequently in the top-10.  But it would be a short stay at the top of the world....

ABC decided to spread the wealth in the fall of 1991 and moved "Full House" to Tuesday night.  It was a successful move for both "Full House" and ABC's Tuesday night, but TGIF suffered for it.  "Family Matters" now headed the lineup and Urkelmania proved past its peak.  While "Family Matters" hung on in the top-25, its halcyon days were soon over without the assist from "Full House" (and I must confess I never got the appeal of "Full House" and didn't miss it at all when it bolted from TGIF).  Replacing "Full House" was another show perfectly fitting the TGIF mold, the Patrick Duffy-Suzanne Somers sitcom "Step by Step", which would be a long-running mainstay on TGIF but nonetheless represented a certain past-peak aura for the franchise.  "Perfect Strangers" was tiring and in its final season, and ratings for TGIF dropped pretty dramatically over the duration of the 1991-92 season.  I was in eighth grade at the time and found that my tastes were maturing as the TGIF lineup was dumbing down.  The "event" feel that was there for TGIF the previous two seasons just wasn't there anymore.

It faded further for me in 1992, when "Perfect Strangers" ended.   I never got into "Dinosaurs" too consistently and the revolving door of shows that came and went in the 8:00 hour ("Camp Wilder", "Getting By", "Hangin' with Mr. Cooper") never grabbed me either.  All that was left to hang my hat on was "Family Matters" and "Step by Step" in the 7:00 hour and those were fading as well, both in terms of quality and audience size.  TGIF nonetheless produced one more long-running semihit that premiered in the fall of 1993..."Boy Meets World"....which lasted an impressive seven seasons where it put the entire TGIF franchise to sleep in the year 2000.  Not sure whether the show genuinely sucked or whether I had simply outgrown this kind of show by that point, but "Boy Meets World" never did it for me.  And by the spring of 1994, I finally ended my Friday night tradition of watching at least one hour per week of ABC's TGIF lineup.

But with or without me, the lineup went on into the mid-90s with "Family Matters", "Step by Step", and "Boy Meets World" continuing as mainstays and "Sister, Sister" and "Hangin' with Mr. Cooper" going along for the ride in some capacity for a few more years.  One final modest hit was added to the lineup in 1996 with Melissa Joan Hart as "Sabrina the Teenage Witch", a show I probably watched more than any other TGIF show in the second half of the 90s, but mostly just for Melissa and often with the mute button on!  But the TGIF world got shook up like never before in 1997 when ABC canceled "Family Matters" and "Step by Step", believing they were burned out.  But CBS saw an opening and picked both shows up, directly challenging what was left of ABC's TGIF lineup (anchored by "Sabrina" and "Boy Meets World").  The CBS challenge proved ineffective though as "Family Matters" and "Step by Step" flopped on CBS and were canceled in 1998.

In 1998, the CBS challenge was behind ABC and they had TGIF turf to themselves for a couple years before the death spiral.  They even revived the now mid-teen Olsen twins for a sitcom called "Two of a Kind" that only lasted one season.  The TGIF branding stuck around for two more seasons until "Boy Meets World" and "Sabrina" both went of the air in 2000.  ABC returned with sitcoms that fall but ditched the TGIF branding and went for an older audience.  After more than a decade, the official TGIF promotional coup had ended, probably outlasting the expectations of most.  There's been a half-hearted revival of the format in recent years with Tim Allen and Reba McEntire sitcoms airing Friday evenings, but they haven't made much headway in restoring the TGIF brand, which is likely dead at least until sitcoms are en vogue again with television audiences.

You can't blame the network for unearthing the TGIF time capsule though as there was something oddly special about that snapshot in time when a mostly silly grouping of sitcoms was successfully sold to younger-skewing TV viewers and turned into ratings gold.  And since I happened to come of age at the pinnacle of TGIF mania in 1990 and 1991, I have more nostalgia for it than most.  Most of these shows would be pretty terrible revisiting as an adult, but I'm sure even now I could still identify that touch of charm that endeared me and millions of my contemporaries to these shows a quarter century ago.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The 20 Best Depressing Country Songs

Every few months I get on a music kick, usually triggered by something, that results in me gobbling up a plentiful dose of a certain kind of music from a certain genre, usually from a certain timeframe.   The combined triggers of a miserable love life and the empty, dark hours of winter have recently pushed me straight into the throes of stone cold country music heartbreakers.  Now an important distinction has to be made about what I'm going for here.  I love tearjerker country songs and thematically dark country songs, and sometimes those songs overlap with the depressing "downer" songs I'll be profiling below, but this list is comprised entirely of songs that don't drive me to tears or goose bumps, but which accommodate a tearless yet mellow and defeated mood with their lyrics and arrangement.  To the people who don't like country music because it's "depressing", these are the exactly the kinds of songs they're talking about.  But to those of us who feed off of emotional dysfunction, these are the kinds of songs that make country music exceptional.

I was planning to make a top-25 list here but honestly couldn't find 25 songs that genuinely fit this list's limitations.  There are literally fewer than two dozen songs out there that I run to when seeking to feed a sadness fix, at least for songs released as singles.  I have a considerably larger number of songs on this pedigree as album cuts from my CD collection, but I'm only counting songs released as singles here.  It's quite fascinating how many first-rate singers who would seem capable of recording a perfect downer of a song never have, at least not as a single.  Crystal Gayle and Don Williams' musical legacy doesn't consist of such a song.  Nor does Martina McBride who has a number of dark and tearjerking songs, but her songs that are simply downers were not worthy of making this list.

And when comprising this list, I couldn't help but notice that none of these songs predate my birth in 1977.  Obviously there are a lot of great downer country songs from before my era, but it's harder for me to connect with most of those songs especially on the arrangement front.  Country music production values progressed considerably in the mid-1970s and the quality of the musical arrangement is often just as consequential to a good depressing country song as are the lyrics.  And even among songs from my era, some songs just don't take me down personally the way they do others.  For instance, George Jones' "He Stopped Loving Her Today" would be the song that most country music aficinadoes would rate as the hands-down best song to fit this list's metric.  While acknowledging that it's a great song, it doesn't hit me the way the songs on my list do.  Ditto for Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You", an indisputable country classic that for whatever reason just doesn't hit me in the gut.  And contemporary crooners who pride themselves for their mastery of these honkytonk weepers like Alan Jackson and Mark Chesnutt have a bunch of really good songs that qualify for my list, but nothing that I find myself specifically turning to when looking for a downer country song fix.  And another song that I've always loved that fits this criteria is Gary Allan's "Smoke Rings in the Dark".  Here's a song that's among my top-100 country songs of all-time, but for me it doesn't work as a bring-me-down in the sense of many others.  Needless to say, the list is kind of hard to define in a measurable's just based on my personal instinctive reactions to certain songs.

With those qualifiers out of the way, here's my top-20 list which I will begin with two "honorable mentions" for songs I couldn't go without discussing....

Honorable Mention #1.  Not a Day Goes By--Lonestar (2002).....Fewer songs qualify for my list in a more tangible way than this top-5 Lonestar ballad from last decade, but I still couldn't quite bring myself to put it in the top-20 because it's a little bit over-the-top in a "drippy" way.  Richie McDonald's powerhouse vocals shone brightly as always, but in this case overshot the runway, at least for it's impact on being a true "downer" song.  Still, it doesn't get much more deliciously depressing than the lyric "I still wait for the phone in the middle of the night...Thinkin' you might call me if your dreams don't turn out right".

Honorable Mention #2. Sticks and Stones--Tracy Lawrence (1991)....The ascent of Tracy Lawrence came at the tail end of country music's New Traditionalist era, and managed to persevere well into the "Hot New Country" era with a decidedly traditional country sound and song selection.  But the most impactful song of his career was this midtempo ballad about a man lamenting the heartbreak of a marriage at the onset of its dissolution with a clever lyrical hook about their broken home that "these sticks and stones may break me, but the words you said just tore my heart in two".

#20. I'd Rather Miss You--Little Texas (1993).....Very few would equate the musical legacy of Little Texas, a Hot New Country-era hybrid of 80s hair bands and pale Eagles ripoffs, with greatness, but they had one song that in my opinion stood out amongst the rest of their body of work, and interestingly it was not one of their biggest hits, only going top-15 in the summer of 1993.  A perfectly melancholy musical arrangement accompanied solid harmonies and the great lamenting lyrics of "If I have to choose between living without you and learning to love someone new...Then I'd rather miss you".

#19. Some Fools Never Learn--Steve Wariner (1985)....Steve Wariner was one of the pioneers of the modern mellow heartbreak classic, his smooth voice and guitar wizardry combining to make some of the best country music of the 80s.  The best song of his career was 1987's "The Weekend" and in all honesty that song should be on this list but because of its thematic similarity with another ahead on the list, I decided to go instead with this very relateable downer about a guy who keeps going for the wrong girl and sets himself up for inevitable heartbreak time and time again.

#18. I Never Quite Got Back From Loving You--Sylvia (1984).....For my tastes, the 80s were the heyday of depressing country songs, with the right mix of capable, distinctive vocalists and musical arrangements with just the right level of production (there was too little production in country music before the 80s and too much after the 80s).  Sylvia had a number of great sad songs, all brilliantly sung, but the purest heartbreaker of her career was this 1984 ballad where the narrator can't move on from a broken relationship and is "still out that world you took me to".

#17. One Solitary Tear--Sherrie Austin (1997)....Australian-born country singer arguably overpowers the vocals a bit on the choruses here, but the case could also be made that she sold a more believable emotional attachment to the song with the power vocals.  Either way, it's a great song where every little nugget of the daily grind is a reminder of love lost, best illustrated with the lyric "The mailman still brings all your catalogs...The radio just keeps on playing our songs".

#16. Addicted--Dan Seals (1988).....Dan Seals vocal stylings were perfect for these kinds of songs, and he knew it as clearly they were in both his vocal and songwriting wheelhouse.  In this song, a woman in a one-sided marriage drives herself delirious with despair and a slow-motion trainwreck of coming to terms with a husband who doesn't love her.  Some of the rawest anguish ever conveyed in a commercial country song along with a memorable chorus assured this song would make my list.

#15. Home Ain't Where His Heart is Anymore--Shania Twain (1996)....For my tastes, Shania Twain was a net negative for country music by forcing a rising emphasis on image over substance coupled with the mostly immature body of musical work that she brought to the table.  But the one song of her career that was a true gem was this mellow ballad from her breakthrough album that nobody would ever describe as immature.  The narrator's grief is less raw and self-destructive as the narrator from the previous song on the list, but the sorrow of a loveless marriage is conveyed well its own way, coupling fond memories of the good old days with the pure exhaustion present-tense of trying to make something work that isn't working anymore.

#14. Inside--Ronnie Milsap (1983)....Nobody else in the world of country music was better positioned to make the stylistic leap into the country music of the 1980s than Ronnie Milsap with his wide vocal range and being his generation's premier maestro of the keyboard.  Couple that with Ronnie's long-standing preference for some of the saddest heartbreak songs ever set to music and you had a match made in heaven.  The musical arrangement here was one of the most sophisticated for any country songs at the time and it's "tear in my beer" musical grooves really punch the listener in the gut when "Suddenly it occurs to me...she's trying to say goodbye" even though the listener pretty much knew that before the narrator's epiphany.

#13. Why They Call it Falling--Lee Ann Womack (2001)....While her album cuts are full of awesomely depressing ballads to the point of making her this generation's top auteur of sad songs, Lee Ann Womack never released too many of her unparalleled downer songs as singles.  But the song that was easily the darkest of her career was also the most depressing, particularly given how bubbly and flowery it starts.  But after the second verse, reality sets in and the narrator who was previously "walking on the ceiling" gets the answer to the song's core question after darkly acknowledging that "It's a's a's kind of like a grave....when he tells you that he's found somebody knew."

#12. Has Anybody Seen Amy?--John and Audrey Wiggins (1994).....Most songs on this list are about love lost, but the outlier of the group is this tale of a narrator's return to a hometown that he no longer recognizes and feels empty and alone in, sung by the underrated brother-sister vocal duo who never had a major hit besides this song.  There are a couple brilliantly haunting arrangement riffs in this song that add to "lost in his own hometown" lyrical overtones where "I can't see the stars through the neon lights".  I always look back at 1994 as the best individual year in country music history, as it's a shame that a song this good mostly got lost in the shuffle a generation later.

#11. Rose Bouquet--Phil Vassar (2001)....One of the most promising starts to a country career came with the first-rate debut album of singer-songwriter Phil Vassar.  He has in no way lived up to the high standard of that rookie effort with subsequent albums, but nothing will take away from the extent to which Vassar hit the ball out of the park in his first at-bat.  And he earned a berth in the depressing country song Hall of Fame with this nicely arranged weeper that looks at lost love through the prism of a magical wedding day where everything seemed so perfect until "we threw it all away like your rose bouquet".

#10. My Heart Will Never Know--Clay Walker (1995).....Clay Walker danced on the edge of being a cut above the wave of "hunks in hats" that took over the charts in the mid-90s, but ultimately rode a safe, commercial-friendly road to oblivion in the second half of the 90s.  But he still had some great songs in his early albums, including this first rate heartbreaker about a narrator who refuses to even accept that the love of his life has left him for good, always thinking she'll come home any day after leaving without saying goodbye.  "It's been a long, cold December....the snow outside keeps falling...I'll light a fire for when you come home".  Nothing like being a third-party watching a naive slug set himself up for a major league faceplant.

#9. Heart Half Empty--Ty Herndon and Stephanie Bentley (1995).....Most country music duets are uninspired affairs with powerhouse vocalists collaborating for a song with the quality of the song being more or less an afterthought.  One of the best exceptions to that trend came with two rookie artists who managed to find one of the best depressing country songs of the decade and giving  just the right level of vocal flare to a very cleverly written metaphor of a departing couple's bottle of wine that precedes their separation.  "Will your memories taste sweet as they linger....or the bitterness stay on my tongue....Is my heart half full of the love you gave me...or my heart half empty...because your love is gone".  Soul-crushingly depressing country songs rarely come with cooler lyrics than that.

#8. Whiskey Lullaby--Brad Paisley and Allison Krauss (2004).....One of the best country songs of the last decade would be amongst the top-five on any list of the darkest country songs of the last few decades, but also clearly works as a song to help suck the life out of anybody in a good mood.  My one grievance with this song is that the double suicide narrative seems a little melodramatic without context, but this song has one of the best videos ever made and the context necessary to make the song work is delivered in spades with the video.

#7. When You Think of Me--Mark Wills (2003)....I hesitated to include this song on the "merely depressing" list because it's emotionally charged enough to qualify for the "tearjerker" category, but thematically it comes closer to being a depressing song than the template for most bona fide tearjerkers.  The narrator tries to find the best way to "leave with dignity" without seeming like a complete asshole, but finds that easier said than done, ultimately walking away in the middle of the night while she sleeps and hoping she remembers the good times rather than his gutless departure.  It's almost as if he's written his "dear jill" letter in his mind with the lyrics "I think about the time I met you...I said I'd never forget you...and I won't."  Something tells me it's gonna be awhile till that pacifies her, and unlike most songs on the list you sympathize not with the narrator, but with the person on the receiving end.  Mark Wills gets a lot of perfectly fair criticism for gooey songs, but I found him to be pretty good at emotionally interpreting a good sad song, and never better than on this one.

#6. Matches--Sammy Kershaw (1998)......Here's a truly storybook country heartbreaker if there ever was one....the kind of song that could drag you down no matter how good of a mood you're in with haunting music and vocals along with masterful lyrics.  Very rarely has metaphorical allegory been employed as brilliantly as when the narrator uses the book of matches where he wrote the number down of the girl who would be the love of his life later gets employed to commit felony arson.  "Everybody at the Broken Spoke....they all thought my crazy story was a they're all out in the parking lot staring at the smoke".  Yikes!  Something tells me the narrator's clever fit of passion will be seen as a miscalculation when he's stepping into the prison shower in a few short months.

 #5. Till Summer Comes Around--Keith Urban (2009).....Since the dawn of the "redneck and proud" era of country music in the past decade or so, the depressing country song genre has taken it on the chin more than previous eras of my lifetime.  The one golden exception to the trend was this masterpiece by Keith Urban from five years ago.  Set to a genuinely haunting guitar backdrop, the narrator keeps returning to his lame summer job at the carnival year after year to rekindle the summer romance of the girl who "promised she'd be back again".  The narrative is entirely relateable as I did a less melodramatic variation on this gambit during my college years, with equally disastrous results.  But this narrator still hasn't gotten the hint that the love of his life won't be coming back although the final lyric hints that he finally sees the writing on the wall..."Baby I'll be back again....You whispered in my ear but now the winter wind is the only sound...and everything is closing down....Till summer comes around".  Keith Urban has been all over the map going back and forth between excellent songs and very mediocre songs, but it's a safe bet for me that he'll never top this....and that nobody in the current list of country artists is capable of a song this deliciously depressing.

#4. Still Losing You--Ronnie Milsap (1984).....I already established that Ronnie was a maestro at crafting the perfect sad country song and this was the most melancholy, slit-your-wrist depressor he ever recorded, or at least that he released as a single.  Set to an elaborate jazz-meets-rhythm-and-blues musical arrangement, the lyrics are stone cold country and Ronnie's vocals seal the deal with one of the most shamelessly moribund songs around, hitting one sad theme after another from the "fleeting memory in the image of your face" to the undeliverable phone call to the "party you have tried to reach has recently moved away" to my personal favorite "And so I paid my check and I buttoned my coat....Stepped into an evening rain...Made my way down the avenue....Softly whispering your name".  And best of all, the narrator was the one who initiated the break-up.  Dude, you screwed up big time!

#3. Broken Hearted Me--Anne Murray (1979).....I look at this as the first modern country heartbreak song.  Anne Murray built a name for herself in the 70s with mushy love ballads that seem too saccharine by the today's standards, where sentimentalism is ridiculed.  But the production polish she brought to those glossy, sappy ballads ultimately delivered in this gloomy love-gone-wrong ballad that has stood the test of time better than many of Murray's biggest hits of the late 70s.  The sweeping arrangement was quite unlike anything heard in country music before and can turn any smile into a heavy-hearted frown 35 years later.

#2. Everything That Glitters Is Not Gold--Dan Seals (1986).....The song that most music critics agree is the best song of Dan Seals' career almost serves as an anthology of every downer metric that can be pushed in a country song, with Dan Seals' vintage lyrical tricks on full display, giving the narrator false motivations early on only to reveal his true feelings.  In this case, the embittered narrator spews venom about the woman who left him and his young daughter while selfishly pursuing her rodeo queen dreams, but ultimately still can't get his love for her out of his head no matter much he resents himself for it.  Seals' vocal stylings on the choruses really take this song to the next level and no depressing since has depressed us so skillfully in the nearly three decades since.

#1. Blue Moon with a Heartache--Rosanne Cash (1982)....If there was only one depressing country song that I could listen to for the rest of my life, this would be the one.  Johnny Cash's daughter proved her artistic mettle on her breakthrough second album, and put together one of the darkest, droopiest, and most melancholy songs ever recorded, the kind of song Rosanne Cash excelled at in subsequent albums but never quite captured the dreary heartbroken funk of this song featuring lyrical gems such as "I'll play the victim for you honey...but not for free" and "what did I say to make your cold heart bleed this way...maybe I'll just go away today".  Even more than the lyrics, however, the musical arrangement seals the deal for this song, such a downer that you can practically feel your heart drop in your chest as it plays.  I suppose it's possible for another country song this depressing to be recorded again, but it could easily be another 32 years into the future before it happens.

Perhaps in the months ahead, I'll compile separate lists of country music's best tearjerkers and darkest songs and all categories have a number of songs worthy of acclaim, but for now I'm gonna revisit some of these classics again as they continue to fit my mood at this bleak juncture of winter 2014.