By Bobby Peacock
In the process of making my best and worst lists, I consulted Joel Whitburn's Top Country Singles 1944-2017. For those not familiar, these are part of a series of books which catalog every artist who has ever made it onto a Billboard chart. These include Hot 100, Hot Country Songs/Country Airplay, and the R&B charts among others. I intentionally wanted to find a few lost treasures (Mickey DiMichele, Helen Darling) and rightly-forgotten trash (Marlow Tackett) to give my lists more character. And so, I thought I'd do a little feature on all of the songs from 1990 onward -- that is, the point that Billboard changed to Nielsen SoundScan, to make things a little easier -- for which I could not find a recording anywhere online. Most of these are due to one of two reasons: either the album was a very small indie release, or it was not released at all.
Curiously, the other absentee from 1990 is a charity single. "Tomorrow's World," a multi-artist collaboration released on Warner Bros. to honor the 20th anniversary of Earth Day. Among the artists featured are Pam Tillis and Kix Brooks (both of whom wrote it), as well as Vince Gill, Lynn Anderson, Dan Seals, Foster & Lloyd, and Shelby Lynne, to name a few. I actually found a podcast reviewing the single, but they didn't play any of it (likely for copyright reasons). I've even found the lyrics, and they honestly seem reasonable enough -- no better or worse than Alabama's "Pass It On Down," but not as inspired as John Anderson's fantastic "Seminole Wind." Given this was a major-label release with a ton of notable names, I'm surprised no one has ever seen fit to include it anywhere.
We then go to 1992 for "One Like That" by JJ White, a sister duo signed to Curb. I included their fantastic cover of John Hiatt's "The Crush" on my best of the '90s list because they reminded me of a looser version of The Judds. While there is 1992 concert footage of this fine song, I've decided to include it since the studio version does not seem to have any presence. And it's a shame, because I love the lyric "nothing wished for, nothing gained," the beach influence in the lyrics, and of course the groove. I also seem to have a very vague memory of this slipping onto WKJC's playlists at least once.
Surprisingly, 1992 to 1998 is smooth sailing for songs that made the country charts; no matter how obscure, I've been able to procure every single one (even if I did have to dip into my own collection for a few). Although as an aside, I would like to note that contemporary news articles about Steve Vaus' atrociously polemic "We Must Take America Back" quote different lyrics than appear in the recording I found, so I wonder if he re-did it at some point. If that is the case, then the original recording gets on this list with an asterisk. And if I'd been able to find it sooner, Cooter Brown's "Pure Bred Redneck" (#71, 1995) definitely would have made one of the worst-of lists.
I've already dragged South 65 quite a bit for being a mostly uninspired take on the "country boy band" formula, but they weren't entirely without merit. I still stand by the joyous ear worm "Baby's Got My Number" being one of the most overlooked gems of the '90s, and the idea to redo Charlie Rich's "The Most Beautiful Girl" for the boy band era wasn't a bad choice even if the results weren't fully realized. So it's hard to say where a song with a title like "Love Bug (Bite Me)" would have fallen upon its 2000 release. Would it have been more toward "Baby's Got My Number," or would it have been uninspired mush like "A Random Act of Senseless Kindness"? Only the few people who have this recording hiding somewhere in Atlantic Records' vault may ever know.
Also from 2001 is a curiosity and a half -- and another Dreamcatcher release. "Keep Mom and Dad in Love" got the "Butterfly Kisses"/"How Do I Live" treatment in that two versions were out at the same time. And curiously, it's the version that didn't chart for which I can find a recording: namely, by Hal Ketchum (in the midst of a creative dry spell) and co-writer Lisa Brokop. The version that I can't find is by Billy Dean, Suzy Bogguss, and a young girl who was credited as "introducing Jillian." While I find the lyrics an overly sappy take on a child pleading her parents not to divorce, the decision to put an actual child singer on the chorus is an inspired one. And for those wondering who "Jillian" was, she's now-former Big Loud artist Jillian Jacqueline (and her sisters did one single as The Lunabelles in 2011). I didn't expect that, and I'm glad she got another chance.
Chad Brock had a rough time after his album III tanked, leading him to move to a then-obscure indie label known as Broken Bow Records. He released a whopping five singles between 2002-04, but no album. I didn't even know these songs existed until I first got one of the Whitburn books about a decade ago (in part because Billboard's perpetually broken website had a habit of not listing singles that never appeared on albums, regardless of how high they charted). Someone has leaked "That Was Us" online, and I've also gotten my hands on "You Are" -- previously released by John Michael Montgomery in 2000 -- and "That Changed Me." The first of the five, "A Man's Gotta Do," does not seem to exist anywhere listenable; neither does "It's a Woman Thing," the only one of the five not to chart. (Neither, for that matter, does his duet with Canadian singer Shirley Myers titled "No One," which got to #35 on the Canadian country charts but wasn't released stateside.) I've never liked Chad Brock all that much due to the utter plainness of his voice (seriously, just imagine "Lightning Does the Work" with a tougher edged vocalist), so I'm probably not missing much -- although I will say I find "That Was Us" to be his best single by far.
For some reason, 2003 saw a lot of very obscure independent acts chart for a single week. I'm wondering if sponsored play on some late-night show was the cause? I seem to recall After Midnite with Blair Garner spinning a lot of really obscure stuff in this era. Most of them disappeared so quickly that no one seems to know anything about them. One such entrant, Mickey DiMichele's "Jolene," made my best of 2000-2009 list. Another such example of a one-and-done from this era is "Cryin' Steel" by Jerry Burkhart. This was an early release by Cupit Records, which I remember also being behind Kevin Sharp's later releases and Memarie's "Cry Like Memphis" back when WATZ still played independent releases like that. In fact, Burkhart wasn't even the only indie to chart that week; so did Renee McCrary with a cover of Sarah McLachlan's "Angel." Somehow I found that, but no dice yet on Burkhart. But hey, the album's only $6 on Amazon.
The first chart entry for Jerrod Niemann is our next visit. "I Love Women (My Momma Can't Stand)" was also cut by Rhett Akins, but Jerrod's version got cut short after a week at #59 due to Category 5 Records' abrupt closure. While Niemann's entire Category 5 catalog was later released as the album Yellow Brick Road, said album is currently out of stock on Amazon and I doubt it'll ever show up again. It also used to be on Spotify, as they have a lyric sheet, but the recording itself seems to have been removed.
Finally, we end the list in 2010 with "Mississippi's Cryin'" by Margaret Durante. While I've found a couple live performances, the single version seems to have gone MIA: it's not on iTunes, it's not on Spotify, and it was never on an album. Such is life when one releases songs independently. While she would later have minor success under the much more pleasing name Maggie Rose, I never cared for her material outside "Better." But hey, it's cool that she got any traction at all from such obscure beginnings.
(As an aside, when I was writing this list, Trailer pointed out that "Becky" by Haley Georgia seems to have completely disappeared from the Internet. While it wasn't a single, he and I agree that it is one of the worst country songs ever, and for this reason alone, I feel that its terribleness should be preserved for posterity.)
The entire reason I wrote this is because I'm curious as to whether anyone out there has any leads on the missing songs.