They say that “every cowboy’s got a story,” well so does every country song. One thing country music is full of is hit songs. Cornerstone tunes that are written, produced and recorded by amazing talent. Some songs top the charts and some songs don’t. Nothing feels as good as watching a brand new song climb straight to the top ten, and even number one, unless you passed on the opportunity to record it yourself. Then, well that just sucks.
Songs can bounce around Nashville, lay dormant at publishing houses, and sit in catalogues for years before someone picks it up, smiles, and says: “I think we found a hit.” More often than not, songs get turned down by artists of every genre, stature, and success before one brave member of country music records that one song and stands back as it takes their career to a whole new level.
“Strawberry Wine” by Deana Carter had been passed by talent all over Nashville before Carter added it to her debut album. Everyone watched it climbed straight up to number one and quietly kicked themselves for not seizing the opportunity to have the song. Most notably, Trisha Yearwood has expressed her disappointment in passing on the song early in her career. Maybe it could have added to her own collection of number one hits.
“Maybe It Was Memphis” was recorded by Pam Tillis and peaked at number three on the charts after she found the song kicking around Nashville. In an interview, Michelle Wright once confessed to me that she had been approached with the song before it landed in the hands of Tillis, and loved it, but because she had not been to Memphis, read a William Faulkner novel, or saw a Tennessee Williams play that she would feel as authentic singing the song, and sadly passed on it. Wright has amazingly soulful vocals and I would have loved to have heard her version of the song.
“Chicken Fried” catapulted the Zac Brown Band into superstardom when their re-recorded version of the song had reached number one on the hot country charts in 2008. The band had originally recorded the song in 2003, and approached Alan Jackson with it. Jackson turned the song down, making a comment in regards to having too many songs referencing the “south” and “chicken”. After seeing it at number one, I am sure Jackson could have made an exception to have one more song about the “south” and “chicken” added to his musical library.
“Jesus Take the Wheel” shot Carrie Underwood her first number one hit, and allowed her to walk off the American Idol stage and right onto the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. That wasn’t before a few artists passed on the song including Sara Evans. Evans mentions that she didn’t “feel” the song and didn’t think it would be a chart-topper. Oops. I am sure Evans is reminded of that every single time Underwood receives thunderous applause for performing the song.
“I Fall to Pieces” stands as one of Patsy Cline’s most iconic songs. The song actually was turned down not only by many country artists, but also by Brenda Lee who claimed the song had too much of a “country” sound for her “pop” musical styling. Cline herself even struggled with producer Owen Bradley before finally cutting the song and watching it top off at number one on the country charts and breaking the top ten on the pop charts in 1961.
“The Gambler” is very much a “career” home run hit for Kenny Rogers, earning Rogers a Grammy, a number one hit, and tons of commercial success in movies, television, and advertising. Before Rogers recorded the title track from his 1978 album, the song was passed by Johnny Cash in the late 70’s. Cash didn’t particularly care for the tune and has been quoted to have called the song “Corny”. I don’t think it would have been quite the hit for Cash as it was for Rogers. Still it would have been interesting to hear Cash’s version.
Often said: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” One country song passed becomes an opportunity for another artist. Life is always full of “shoulda, coulda, woulda’s”, and so is country music. If you ask any artist they will tell you of a time or two when a demo or lyric sheet made their way to them and they said “not for me” and saw it blow up as a huge successful hit for someone else.