Thursday, February 19, 2009

20th Anniversary of the Class of 89

In February of 1989 Garth Brooks and Clint Black released their debut singles. Later in 1989 Alan Jackson and Travis Tritt did the same. These four men along with Mary Chapin would come to be known as the Class of 89 the greatest set of country music artists to debut in one single year. They helped re-shape country music in terms of music, marketing, and popularity.

Many years ago I built this Web page and wrote an article on the Class of 89. I still believe this group will be remembered as an amazing group of artists who made great music. 2009 marks the 20 year anniversary of the Class of 1989. Some folks like to add Vince Gill and Lorrie Morgan to this group because though they had released singles and albums before 1989 neither artist ever had any real commercial breakthroughs till 1989.

I was listening to country music back in 1989, so I got to experience the Class of 89 from the start. I have also seen some of them in concert. Here are some of my thoughts:

I was really into Garth Brooks when he first came out. “No Fences” was THE album to have if you were a country music fan. However by 1993 I felt his music was not as good. “The Chase” and all his albums since have never really grabbed me. I don’t mind his music, but I have no real passion for it. I think he will be remembered for his commercial success and for his two mega hits “Friends in Low Places” and “The Dance”.

I am a massive Alan Jackson fan. I have seen him concert 7 times including 94, 95, 96, 98, 99, 00, 04. I have all his albums and consider many of them brilliant. It’s ironic that in 89 he got off to a much slower start to stardom than Garth and Clint, but now he is only member of the Class of 89 still charting #1 hits and selling records. I believe Alan Jackson is the modern day Hank Wiliams Sr. and will be remember as one of the greatest country artists of all-time.

When I first heard Travis Tritt I thought he is an artist who could be something. He had a great voice. He could sing uptempo songs and sing ballad equally well. When I saw him in concert he was electric. It was rocking show with an amazing acoustic set where he did some of his ballads and a couple of classic country songs. I thought once he records that career album, gets that career song, he will be a massive star.

Of course that career album, that career song never really came. By 96 he was on the way down. He had a brief comeback in 2000, but that did not last. He is presently suing his most recent record label. Sad, I thought he would be more than he turned out to be.

I think Clint Black’s debut album “Killin’ Time” is one of the greatest country albums of all-time. His next two albums were not that bad either. After that most everything he released was garbage. Lots of people, including me, thought Clint was going be a big, big star for a long time. By 1997 Clint was done as a star. He is also suing his most recent label which is a shame as he was a part owner of that label.

I was into Mary Chapin Carpenter before most. I was really into her uptempo songs. When I saw her in concert in 1992, she was great. When her 1992 album “Come On Come On” sold 4 million copies and she won back to back CMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 92 and 93, I thought here is an artist who will charting hits and selling records for another ten years, but 95 marked the last year she had a top ten hit.

In the end Mary Chapin just wanted to make folk style ballads. Her uptempo songs disappeared and she just seemed adverse to fame. I have read where she said she battled depression for years before getting it under control. I wonder if that hindered her career.

Lori Morgan battled her ex-husbands. She has been married five times. I never really got into her music, but I knew people who did. She had the least success of the group, and was the first to really start fading. However she had a strong country roots, and she not bad looking. She even dated former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman and former U.S. Fred Thompson.

After Alan Jackson, Vince Gill was my favorite artist of early 90’s. I loved his voice, songwriting and guitar playing. He seemed to love country music and have a great personality. When I saw him in concert in 95 he exceed my expectations. I did get a little irritated with him when he kept winning all those CMA Awards. I felt others were others deserving and that people in the industry were voting for Vince because they personally liked him. However that never stopped me from loving his music.

By the late 90’s Vince Gill’s moment in the sun was gone. He has not done much commercially since 98. In 06 he release a four cd set of all new music that was good, but has not released any new music since. I have a feeling he will soon be leaving his long time label – MCA Nashville – and start recording for an independent label. Or he just might be kicking back and taking it easy.

The Class of 89 was amazing group, but the arrival of Shania Twain and her pushing country music more towards pop music really kinda sank most of the Class of 89. Still I believe the era of the Class of 89 (roughly 89-96) will be remembered as a great country music era. They really pushed the country music genre into the mainstream making it possible for other country artists to have even greater commercial success.