New millennium, same chart-topping George Strait. The King Of Country is also the king of consistency, so when George Strait’s self-titled album – his first of the 21st Century – was released on 19 September 2000, it was little surprise to see it debut at No.1 on Billboard’s country chart, his 16th such bestseller to do so.
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“George knows a good song when he hears it”
The velvet-voiced Texan had ushered in the year with the hit ‘The Best Day’, which came not from his previous studio album, Always Never The Same, but from the new compilation, Latest Greatest Straitest Hits. The single assumed Strait’s regular position at No.1 in the country chart and would be listed by Billboard as the sixth-biggest country song of the year. As it led the charts, George was completing work on his self-titled album – his 20th – at his regular bolthole of Ocean Way Studios in Nashville.
The album was previewed in July by the lead track, ‘Go On’, a typically easy-going song and a No.2 country hit that was written by Mark Nesler and Tony Martin. Both were successful writers, Nesler another Texan who had three minor, late 90s hits of his own on Elektra and, with Martin, penned Tim McGraw’s 1997 country mega-hit, ‘Just To See You Smile’. The same year, Martin co-wrote another No.1, Sara Evans’ ‘No Place That Far’.
In fact, by then, Martin and Strait already had form. As far back as 1988, George recorded ‘Baby’s Gotten Good At Goodbye’, which Martin later described as his first serious attempt at writing a song – to some effect, too, as it became a country No.1. That success got the songwriter to the point where, as he put it, “you realise your hobby is paying more than your gig”.
Countless other rewards
Ohio newspaper The Toledo Blade said that ‘Go On’’s “melody and instrumentation walk a fine line between country and pop and the lyrics give a clever but mature view of life going on in the wake of a broken heart”. It was a fine opener to the new album, by a master vocalist who, for all of his pre-eminence in Nashville, was still a Texas resident, living at the foot of the hill country, just north of San Antonio.
Once the George Strait album had made its winning start, MCA followed up with the second single ‘Don’t Make Me Come Over There And Love You’. A fun composition by Carter Wood and Americana notable Jim Lauderdale, it made No.17 and was followed by a third single, Billy Livsey and Don Schlitz’s ‘If You Can Do Anything Else’, which hit No.5.
George Strait’s self-titled album spent a robust 49 weeks on the country chart, also reaching No.7 on the Hot 200 in a 14-week run. It contained countless other rewards, including a remake of ‘You’re Stronger Than Me’, the Hank Cochran/Jimmy Key song previously recorded by Patsy Cline (her version was the B-side of her 1962 hit ‘So Wrong’).
“He always seems to find songs with depth”
On a record that was particularly strong on emotive, intelligent ballads, Strait’s regular collaborator Dean Dillon offered the classy ‘If It’s Gonna Rain’, written with Scotty Emerick and Donny Kees. Strait’s ear for a suitable vehicle also led him to Rodney Crowell’s ‘The Night’s Just Right For Love’, on which Crowell had observed the passing years with gentle acceptance. “I don’t mind the thought of growing old,” ran the lyric. “But I don’t want to lose my sense of humour/I’m OK as long as I can laugh.”
George Strait finished with a beautifully-turned, highly poignant story song about the death of a wife and the birth of a child, Dillon and Kees’ ‘She Took The Wind From His Sails’. Its glorious harmonies and soft-pop feel could almost have taken Strait into the uncharted waters of yacht rock.
As a star who, largely, didn’t write his own material, it was that instinct for the right track selection that set Strait apart, according to his co-producer, MCA Nashville president Tony Brown. “George knows a good song when he hears it,” Brown told The Toledo Blade. “He always seems to find hit songs, songs with depth, and everything in between. I really do consider him a master at that.”
George Strait’s self-titled debut album can be bought here.