Billboard magazine’s October 1985 news report on the 19th annual CMA Awards described the event as “at times a triumph of traditionalism, at others a changing of the guard.” With George Strait named Male Vocalist Of The Year there for the first time, while riding the release of his eighth album, Something Special, it was a little of both.
The Texan entertainer already had four years of unbroken success on the clock with his smooth and seemingly effortless style, which reached back into country’s hallowed past. But he was nevertheless in the vanguard of new names that were joining the Country Music Association’s winners’ circle in 1985, along with such contemporaries as Hank Williams, Jr. and Randy Travis.
Strait also won that year’s Album Of The Year award for his 1984 release, Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind. Released almost 11 months later to the day, on August 29, 1985, Something Special continued Strait’s run of successes to become his third country chart-topper in a row.
Recorded at Sound Stage Studios, in Nashville, Something Special was produced as usual by Strait and his trusted confidant, former recording star and Nashville staple Jimmy Bowen. Another CMA connection, audible from the first notes of the album’s opening song, “You’re Something Special To Me,” was via George’s regular contributor, fiddle player extraordinaire and western swing figurehead Johnny Gimble. At those very awards where Strait was a double winner, Gimble took home one of his five Instrumentalist Of The Year trophies, from no fewer than 15 nominations.
The centrepiece on Something Special, and the song that stands tallest in Strait’s catalog of signature moments, was the superb “The Chair.” Written by veteran country star Hank Cochran (by then a hit writer, after his own years of recording success) and frequent 80s country chart visitor Dean Dillon, the song described an irresistibly romantic scenario. In December 1985, it became George’s seventh country No.1, the week after the album had itself hit the top spot.
Something Special exuded Strait’s customary air of unhurried elegance, aided no end by the presence of such A-list musicians as Paul Franklin on pedal steel, Dean Parks on acoustic guitar, and Reggie Young, of the revered Memphis Boys, on electric guitar. David Hungate, late of AOR favourites Toto, added bass. Also on acoustic guitar was the widely-travelled Richard Bennett, who had a long touring relationship with Neil Diamond and later started a lengthy tenure with Mark Knopfler.
Entertainer Of The Year – again
Something Special’s opening, near-title track became the album’s second and final hit single, reaching No.4. Other highlights included “Blue Is Not A Word,” co-written by Judy Ball and country-Cajun ace Jo-El Sonnier, and “You Sure Got This Ol’ Redneck Feelin’ Blue,” penned by Dillon and Buzz Rabin. There was also room for some western swing on Peter Rowan’s “Dance Time In Texas,” with Gimble fiddling up a storm, Franklin on agile pedal steel and the Texan two-step in full, energetic effect.
The album also featured a touching tribute to one of Strait’s forerunners among the greats of Texan country, Lefty Frizzell. “Lefty’s Gone” was composed by the prolific writer Sanger “Whitey” Shafer. He had himself written for the 50s chart-topper, who passed away in 1975. Shafer wrote from the heart with the words: “It’s not right, but Lefty’s gone.”
Something Special went on to a 68-week run on Billboard’s country album chart, turning gold in February 1986 and platinum a decade later. It was also a huge contributing factor when Strait returned to the CMA Awards in 1986 – and won Entertainer Of The Year again.
Buy or stream Something Special.