Welcome to Country Music Time Machine
Country music has an interesting relationship with current events. Unlike other forms of pop that deal with one form of fantasy or another -- starlets forever falling in love with that guy who is just out of reach; aspiring rappers' dreams of a ghetto-fabulous lifestyle, for example -- country draws a large part of its credibility from its basis in reality, a direct link to its roots in folk music that improbably remains very much intact.
Now, that may be an idealized, exaggerated or otherwise distorted reality, true, but even the biggest country stars are careful not to put on too many airs lest they be criticized for being "out of touch" with their fans -- a creed that more or less holds true from Hank Williams Sr. and Loretta Lynn through Florida Georgia Line and Kacey Musgraves. Compare that with, say, Kanye or Lady Gaga, whom many people idolize and almost no one faults for acting like they're above the rest of us.
It might even be argued that listening to country music is like reading the newspaper of regular people's lives, which is why thisdayincountrymusic.com is so much fun. The UK-based site itself is an invaluable almanac of country facts, and actually just released a new app for iPhone and iPad this week. Furthermore, the section that allows users to input their birthday to reveal what song was No. 1 on that date also reveals that country music is just like history in a different way: just as sometimes it seems like weeks or even months can go by without something truly historic happening, a lot of songs that reach even the pinnacle of popularity are really nothing special.
So just to see what would happen, after searching our own birthday -- "I Can Help," Billy Swan's neo-doo-wop tune, was No. 1 on December 18, 1974 -- Rocks Off chose ten historically significant dates and looked up the corresponding country No. 1s, then put them in a totally subjective descending order according to each song's perceived historical value. If all that sounds like more fun than a frog in a glass of milk, it totally was.
Photo by Nicholas Zalud
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10. MARCH 19, 2013
Event: Pope Francis I, the first leader of the Catholic Church born in the Americas, is inaugurated. Country No. 1: "Sure Be Cool If You Did," Blake Shelton Comment: It's not as odious as "Boys Round Here," and does get points for borrowing its title from Matthew McConaughey's lesser-known Dazed and Confused catchphrase, but otherwise this Based On a True Story ballad doesn't much enhance Shelton's reputation as a lightweight.
9. MAY 1, 2003
Event: George Bush's infamous "Mission Accomplished" aircraft-carrier speech following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Country No. 1: "Have You Forgotten," Darryl Worley Comment: One of the more explicit entries in country's post-9/11 "Angry American" era, "Forgotten" was actually Worley's second armed forces-themed song to reach No. 1, after 2002's "I Miss My Friend." Sadly, followup "Awful, Beautiful Life" would be his last single to date to reach No. 1, and Worley has all but disappeared from the scene.
8. FEBRUARY 11, 1990
Event: Nelson Mandela is released from South Africa's Victor Verster prison near Cape Town, where he had been incarcerated since 1963. Country No. 1: "Southern Star," Alabama Comment: By 1990 Alabama was nearing the end of their reign as country's top group, but still had a few rounds left in the chamber -- even if their themes were often fish in a barrel, like here.
7. MAY 1, 2011
Event: Al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden is assassinated by U.S. Navy SEALs at his suburban fortress near Islamabad, Pakistan. Country No. 1: "This," Darius Rucker Comment: Because his 2008 "debut" Learn to Live spun off four Top 5 singles (including two No. 1s), the novelty of "Hootie" becoming a successful country artist had worn off when "This" became the second chart-topper from his 2010 followup, Charleston, SC 1966. He was officially a star.
6. DECEMBER 20, 1998
Event: The U.S. House of Representatives votes to impeach President Bill Clinton on charges of lying to Congress about the Monica Lewinsky affair; his approval rating goes up 10 percent in one CNN poll. Country No. 1: "Husbands and Wives," Brooks & Dunn Comment: Even on their otherwise mediocre mid-period album If You See Her, Brooks & Dunn had the good sense to include a cover of this 1966 Roger Miller classic, a candid and sobering look at the difficulties of fidelity sung with conviction by Ronnie Dunn.
5. MARCH 19, 1962
Event: Bob Dylan's self-titled first album is released. Country No. 1: "That's My Pa," Sheb Wooley Comment: One of the most colorful personalities in country-music history, Wooley became the house songwriter for Hee Haw many years after his 1958 novelty smash "Purple People Eater." However, he also scored with this story-song that anticipated "A Boy Named Sue" by six years.
4. DECEMBER 1, 1953
Event: the first issue of Playboy magazine is published Country No. 1: "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know," Davis Sisters Comment: This grade-A weeper has long been in the Grand Ole Opry canon, but is maudlin enough that easy-listening stars such as Patti Page and the Andrews Sisters also took it for a spin. The Davis "sisters" were not related, but did feature future "The End of the World" star Skeeter Davis.
3. JANUARY 22, 1973
Event: The Supreme Court upholds Roe v. Wade, confirming a woman's right to have a legal abortion within the U.S. and its territories. Country No. 1: "Soul Song," Joe Stampley Comment: Fittingly enough, the Louisiana-born Stampley was a trailblazer of country soul alongside Joe South, Tony Joe White and Mac Davis. Later he had bigger hits like "Poor Side of Town" and formed a honky-tonk comedy duo with Moe Bandy, but first hit No. 1 with this near-forgotten '70s gem.
2. AUGUST 6, 1945
Event: The U.S. military drops the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, effectively ending World War II. Country No. 1: "Oklahoma Hills," Jack Guthrie Comment: Different singer, but same family and almost the same song -- Jack Guthrie reworked one of his cousin Woody's tunes to create this Western Swing classic. It's since entered the repertoires of many famous Texans and Sooners alike, from Hank Thompson to Vince Gill.
1. AUGUST 1, 1981
Event: MTV debuts with footage of the space shuttle Columbia's first launch and the Apollo 11 moon landing, followed by the music video for the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star." Country No. 1: "Dixie On My Mind," Hank Williams Jr. Comment: One of the bigger blue chips in Bocephus' portfolio, "Dixie" comes in behind "Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound" and "A Country Boy Can Survive" but easily ahead of "Dinosaur" or "Born to Boogie."
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