A Tale of Two CMA Awards: The Nominees of 1977 vs. 2017

A Tale of Two CMA Awards: The Nominees of 1977 vs. 2017

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Ah, 1970s country music, how my love for you never ceases! Characterized by a combination of lushly orchestrated countrypolitan ballads and rugged, rock-infused outlaw country, the 70s country market was overflowing with revolutionary innovation and supreme artistry. It was a time when country queens like Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Lynn Anderson, Crystal Gayle, and Emmylou Harris were breaking the rules and ruling the charts with hits like “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Here You Come Again,” “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” “Rose Garden,” and “Sweet Dreams.” Male artists like Ronnie Milsap, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, and the late Glen Campbell were just as strong in the hit making department with iconic tunes like “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “It Was Almost Like A Song,” and “Luckenbach, Texas.”  In short, country music was at the pinnacle of artistic excellence and success. Whether that is still the case today is up for debate, particularly after the release of the 2017 CMA Award nominees earlier this week. After 40 years, how well do the 2017 nominees measure up against their 1977 counterparts? Let’s take a look.

For this matchup, I’ll be comparing nominees from the following categories:

Entertainer of the Year
Song of the Year
Album of the Year
Female Vocalist of the Year
Male Vocalist of the Year

The categories of Musical Event of the Year, Music Video of the Year, and New Artist of the Year will not be included for the sake of consistency and fairness. The full list of 1977 CMA Award nominees and categories can be found within the CMT Archives.

Now, let’s get this matchup started!

Entertainer of the Year
1977
• Merle Haggard
• Waylon Jennings
• Dolly Parton
Kenny Rogers
• Ronnie Milsap

2017
Garth Brooks
Luke Bryan
Eric Church
Chris Stapleton
Keith Urban

Verdict: After an initial observation of the 2017 list, I am not overly enthused. Once again it seems that female country artists need not apply for this category, though I can name quite a few off the top of my head who deserve a spot on this list (cough cough, Miranda). At least the CMA had the good sense to put Dolly in the running in 1977. Overall, the 1977 list of Entertainer of the Year nominees is superior to that of 2017. However, I do have to credit the CMA for nominating Chris Stapleton and Garth Brooks. Stapleton is one of the few artists on Music Row today with a more traditional sound and Brooks is truly an incredible live entertainer. I had the privilege of seeing him on tour in 2015 with second row seats and it was one of my most memorable concert-going experiences. It was also a night my vocal chords refused to let me live down for a week, but it was #worthit.

CMA 1977 – 1           CMA 2017 – 1

Song of the Year
1977
• “It Was Almost Like A Song” – Hal David and Archie Jordan
• “Luckenbach, Texas” – Bobby Emmons and Chip Moman
• “(I’m A) Stand By My Woman Man” – Kent Robbins
“Southern Nights”Allen Toussaint
“Lucille”Roger Bowling and Hal Bynum

2017
• “Tin Man” – Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall
“Dirt On My Boots”Rhett Akins, Jesse Frasure, Ashley Gorley
“Body Like A Back Road”Zach Crowell, Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne
“Blue Ain’t Your Color”Clint Lagerberg, Hillary Lindsey, Steven Lee Olsen
• “Better Man” – Taylor Swift

Verdict: Hello 2011, are you there? It certainly seems like it since a former country sweetheart has managed to snag a nomination this year. Ladies and gentlemen, the Taylor Swift has returned to the land of banjos and steel guitars with her #1 single, “Better Man,” performed by Little Big Town. Also fronting the nominations this year is Miranda Lambert’s “Tin Man,” a song that was just one spot away from cracking the Top 30 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart. Although it wasn’t necessarily a commercial hit, the song is one of the most hauntingly raw ballads country music has had in years. Honesty is often claimed as the hallmark of country music, and Lambert’s song is the only one in this category that is filled with nothing but the heartbreaking truth. “Blue Ain’t Your Color” was a nice change of pace for Urban and harkened back to the Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing days. Much as I hate to admit it, “Dirt On My Boots” is my guilty pleasure. Sure, it has a few of the “pretty-female-dancing-at-a-bar” bro country tropes, but the hook is darn catchy. And finally, we have Sam Hunt’s “Body Like A Backroad.” Maybe it’s the traditional country girl in me talking, but this sounds like every other bro country song I’ve heard on the radio for the past five years and I am not amused.

Now, onto the 1977 nominees. If you don’t know all the words to “Southern Nights,” your credibility as a country fan is in question. This song is the definition of a country classic thanks to the iconic Glen Campbell. “Luckenbach, Texas” also falls into the country classic category. With the amount of nods this song gives to country heritage and tradition, it is easy to see why some consider it to be one of Jennings’ best. It’s no secret that Ronnie Milsap was the golden boy of the 70s, and “(I’m A) Stand By My Woman Man” and “It Was Almost Like A Song” most certainly made it so. Although 2017 has some rather good Song of the Year nominations, I have to stick to my motto and keep it classic.

CMA 1977 – 2           CMA 2017 – 1 

Album of the Year
1977
I Don’t Want to Have to Marry YouJim Ed Brown and Helen Cornelius
Ol’ Waylon – Waylon Jennings
I Remember Patsy – Loretta Lynn
Kenny Rogers – Kenny Rogers
Ronnie Milsap Live – Ronnie Milsap

2017
The Breaker – Little Big Town
From A Room: Volume 1 – Chris Stapleton
Heart BreakLady Antebellum
The Nashville SoundJason Isbell and the 400 Unit
The Weight of These Wings – Miranda Lambert

Verdict: Truthfully, the 2017 Album of the Year nominations are stellar. Of all the albums on this list, my top three are From A Room: Volume 1, The Nashville Sound, and The Weight of These Wings. From A Room: Volume 1 was another fabulous display of Stapleton’s nostalgic country blues style and vocal grit, particularly on “I Was Wrong” and “Either Way.” Though Isbell’s nomination is quite the unexpected surprise, he is the perfect person to challenge the pop country patriarchy. The Weight of These Wings is Lambert’s most vulnerable and sonically complex album to date, making her a modern day country queen in my book. The Breaker and Heart Break lean heavily into crossover territory, but they are still solid albums. As for the 1977 nominees, Ol’ Waylon is the best album on the list and would eventually become one of Jennings’ highest-selling albums. While “Luckenbach, Texas” is the most well-known song off the album, “Brand New Goodbye Song” and “Belle of the Ball” are noteworthy mentions that show off his quirky knack for storytelling. Although I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You and I Remember Patsy are classic examples of the timeless country sound fans know and love, the authenticity and craftsmanship of the 2017 albums have my vote this time.

CMA 1977 – 2           CMA 2017 – 2

Female Vocalist of the Year
1977
• Crystal Gayle
• Emmylou Harris
• Loretta Lynn
• Dolly Parton
Barbara Mandrell

2017
Kelsea Ballerini
• Miranda Lambert
Reba McEntire
Maren Morris
Carrie Underwood

Verdict: There isn’t a single 2017 nominee that I am not incredibly proud of, but just look at the 1977 list. I simply must bow down to the ultimate queens. All hail the 70s!

CMA 1977 – 3           CMA 2017 – 2

Male Vocalist of the Year
1977
• Ronnie Milsap
• Waylon Jennings
Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers
• Kenny Rogers
Don Williams

2017
Dierks Bentley
• Eric Church
Thomas Rhett
• Chris Stapleton
• Keith Urban

Verdict: My, what a fine group of men we have here! Both nominee years feature strong contenders with ample material to back themselves up, so they will both earn points on this one.

CMA 1977 – 4           CMA 2017 – 3

The 1977 and 2017 nominees are neck and neck, but these final two questions will determine the winner:

Hosts
1977
Johnny Cash

2017
Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood

Verdict: Look, I love Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood’s witty banter as much as the next country fan, but you just can’t compete against the Man in Black himself. Something tells me he might have worn a black tuxedo that evening.

CMA 1977 – 5           CMA 2017 – 3

Venue
1977
Grand Ole Opry Housegrand-ole-opry-show

2017
Bridgestone Arena

Verdict: While the Bridgestone Arena is an impressive venue in both capacity and technological spectacle, country music lives and breathes in the Grand Ole Opry. I’m a stick to your roots kind of girl, and I believe most country fans are the same way. Sorry, Bridgestone, but you just ain’t country enough for the CMA. But hey, at least you’ve got hockey fans in your corner!

CMA 1977 – 6           CMA 2017 –  3

Finishing with a grand total of 6 points, the 1977 CMA Award nominees win this matchup. Although it is safe to say that nothing beats the classics, I must offer my congratulations to all of the incredible 2017 nominees and thank them for keeping the heart of country music alive. Check out all of the 2017 CMA Award nominees here and don’t forget to tune in Wednesday, November 8 on ABC to see which of your favorite artists come out on top!

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