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

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

cma-awards

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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The Vinyl Revival: Why Records Have Made Their Way Back Into the Mainstream

The Vinyl Revival: Why Records Have Made Their Way Back Into the Mainstream

record-store-photo-hd-wallpaperBreak out your Pioneer CS-99 walnut speakers and Garrad turntables, folks! Vinyl has made its triumphant return and is here to stay. Everything old truly does become new again, though I doubt anyone expected the comeback of vinyl to be as fervent and massive as it has been. How massive you might ask? Try 40 million units by the end of 2017, nearly $1 billion in sales, and an annual April holiday known as Record Store Day on for size. According to 2015 data from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), vinyl record sales were up 32% to the tune of $416 million – the highest sales figure seen in over 27 years. The United States isn’t only country witnessing this format phenomenon. For the first time in history, vinyl LP sales surpassed digital downloads at £2.4 million ($3.03 million).

While sales figures across the board clearly indicate the popularity of LPs among consumers, they don’t explain why this vinyl revival has come to pass. However, I think I’ve pinpointed the five key reasons why vinyl records have made their way back into the mainstream.

1. The Sound

Ask any seasoned music critic, fan, or Baby Boomer what format sounds the best and they will all likely tell you that the LP reigns supreme.  All perceived musical snobbery aside, there is a legitimate reason why records sound better. An MP3 file is considered a lossy format, which means that much of the audio quality is lost during compression in order to make the file small enough to download. Vinyl, however, is a lossless format, thus allowing the listener to enjoy the record in all of its warm, rich, soulful glory. Give it a listen yourself below. Although it may not be the most sonically perfect format on the market, vinyl is only format that provides the most authentic listening experience.

2. The Accessibility

Gone are the days of the local record store being the only place to purchase LPs. Today, vinyl records can be found on the shelves of large retail stores like Target, Barnes & Noble, and Urban Outfitters. In addition to making a splash in brick-and-mortar shops, the online vinyl market has grown into a goldmine with sites like VNYL, Vinylmnky, and Vinyl Moon offering subscribers a shipment of hand-picked records for an average monthly fee of $30.

3. The Tangibility

Much like any other piece of artist merchandise, a vinyl record is a way for fans to feel connected to their favorite artist. Vinyl records allow the most proud music fans, like Paul Mawhinney, to put their carefully crafted collections on display visually and audibly.

4. The History

Vinyl comprises a substantial amount of the history of recorded music, and every record is an artifact in of itself. Independent record store employee Chris Brown understood the importance of preserving and maintaining record culture, and sough to create an event that would do so. 10 years later, Record Store Day has over 1,400 independent record stores around the globe participating in the annual event by selling limited release albums, hosting artist meet and greets, and putting on live performances in celebration of the beloved vinyl LP. Fans of vinyl are more dedicated than ever to holding onto the sounds of yesterday.

5. The Experience

Music is an experience that intertwines with our emotions and memories like no other art form can. I can recall spending many afternoons listening to my mother recount the days of her youth spinning Diana Ross and Michael Jackson hits as a nightclub DJ. Vinyl records offer new listeners a chance to make memories with their records while taking older listeners on a trip down memory lane. My first record, given to me the night before Christmas Eve, was Loretta Lynn’s Full Circle and it is still one of my favorites. Novelist Adam Mansbach brilliantly summarizes the experiential draw of vinyl in this way:

“The genius of vinyl is that it allows–commands!–us to put our fingerprints all over that history: to blend and chop and reconfigure it, mock and muse upon it, backspin and skip through it.”

In addition to eliciting strong emotional responses from fans, records carry an unbeatable physical experience. Pressing a few buttons on an iPhone to make your favorite album play simply does not to compare to the sensation of pulling out a record, dropping the needle, and anxiously waiting for the first song on Side A to start. With a record, you don’t get to “cherry pick” or skip songs you don’t like. Instead, you agree to allow the artist to tell you their story by listening to the record in full. LPs ask listeners to have a certain level of  devotion and appreciation that simply can’t be found on a digital platform. It’s engaging, exciting, and endearing. Perhaps the best explanation of the power of vinyl comes from rocker, producer, and proud vinyl pressing plant owner Jack White:

“Vinyl is the real deal. I’ve always felt like until you buy the vinyl record, you don’t really own the album. And it’s not just me or a little pet thing or some kind of retro romantic thing from the past. It is still alive.”

The tables have turned, music fans, and they’ve turned to records.