Sunday, September 5, 2010

Album Review: George Strait - 50 Number Ones

George Strait: 50 Number Ones
[MCA Nashville 2004]


He isn’t an early singing-songwriting pioneer of the early country music sound, as that was Hank Williams. He has never quite gained the cross-genre celebrity, and certainly not the rebel image, of the legendary Johnny Cash. To those who have not grown up with and enjoyed his music for so many years, the pretense for George Strait’s position as the king of modern country music is in the numbers.

Strait has sold 65 million recordings, has a record 42 #1 songs on the Billboard country charts, the third most gold or platinum-certified albums ever behind Elvis and the Beatles, and he has had a record 55 #1 songs on all country charts. When Strait hit the big 50th #1 hit with “She’ll Leave You With a Smile” in 2002, it came as no surprise that two years later his top hits would be compiled into one album. Perhaps needless to say, it is a masterful collection from a living legend.

The 2-disc 50 Number Ones tracks Strait’s string of hits over 20 years starting in 1982. It starts with the first release of Strait’s new single (at the time) “I Hate Everything,” which turned out to be his 51st #1 hit. Following this, without any further ado, are all the #1 hits in chronological order. While more than a handful of these songs are instantly recognizable as modern country radio staples, others may be familiar only to the at least 40-somethings who have enjoyed Strait’s music from the beginning. This makes the album accessible for newcomers to Strait’s music as well as long-time fans young and old.

It’s nearly impossible for George Strait fans to have any qualms with this record. There are several great hit songs that, by the rigid technicality of the lack of a #1 ranking, are not here, most notably “Amarillo By Morning,” which despite becoming one of Strait’s most popular songs in his entire catalog, never became a top hit. Otherwise, this album is sure to satisfy, from the heartbreak songs like “Let’s Fall to Pieces Together,” to the impossibly cute “Check Yes or No” and the powerfully optimistic “Blue Clear Sky.”

Listening chronologically, you understand why Strait’s music has made him one of, if not the, most esteemed and worshipped men in country music: the formula. While the development of Strait’s career are marked by the inching up song lengths and the incorporation of better song production and more pop-friendly choruses, he remains true to his western honky tonk roots throughout. Strait’s often-subtle adaptations to the changing country music scene have let him court new era country fans as well as older country mainstays.

If you are just not a country music fan, then this album is not for you; for George Strait is the best embodiment of traditional country music. On the other hand, if you consider yourself a country fan, the greatest hits collection from country’s greatest hit-maker is an essential.

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