Over the last 40 years, no one has had as large an impact on country music as George Strait. That’s not a secret. With 29 studio albums, 60 chart-topping singles and a whopping 320 songs recorded, Strait’s catalog looms large in Texas and Nashville alike. Numbers alone make Strait’s discography of music a staggering and at times intimidating force within American music.
As impactful as his hits have been, it’s the wealth of material right below that truly make Strait a legendary figure. If you scan through from Strait Country to Cold Beer Conversation, two albums released 34 years apart, you see and hear a journey of grown, maturation, discovery, a preservation of customs and integrity. You hear him go from a raw and energetic honky-tonk frontman to being a measured man who’s chalk full of experience and wisdom. Throughout, you sense his understanding of relationships, and the human condition in general grow and mature.
That isn’t just heard on his iconic run of hits like “Amarillo By Morning,” “Love Without End, Amen,” “The Chill of An Early Fall.” “Run,” and “I Saw God Today” either. It remains true on those buried deep within his seemingly neverending songbook.
While Pure Country was certainly Strait, it was through the lens of Wyatt “Dusty” Chandler, Strait’s country megastar character in the film. At times, that means some songs feel more Dusty than they do Strait. “Baby Your Baby” is one of these moments. There’s a punched up gloss to the number. It sounds right at home with Dusty’s sparkling rhinestone jacket and raining sparks smoke and mirrors show. That punch comes in sharper with clean pedal steel and a backbeat that’s one of Strait’s most spry and agile.
Up until ’09’s Twang, Strait had recorded only one song that he had written himself, the ’82 honky-tonker “I Can’t See Texas From Here.” By the time Love Is Everything rolled around, he’d cut 14 self-penned tunes with “That’s What Breaking Hearts Do” being the cream of the crop. Written with his son Bubba (his go-to co-writer), the up-tempo tune feels like classic Strait. For the most part, Strait’s always been on the losing side of love. But here, he’s giving some a pat on the back and telling them to get back in the saddle. It’s as refreshing as it is heartfelt and genuine.
Few have consistently delivered the down and out heartbreaker like Strait has. His “Ready For The End Of The World” is as sad and lonesome as ever. What makes it stand out is how Strait’s matured with age and experience. Undoubtedly, there used to be more aggressive resentment with breakup songs like “Down and Out,” “Fool Hearted Memory” and “I’ve Come to Expect It From You.” But with “Ready For The End Of The World,” Strait’s already come to terms with the inevitable heartache. He’s not fine with the outcome by any means. He’s not angry, jaded or even desperate. More than anything, he’s just broke. It creates a strange flood of emotions where you feel Strait being both crushed by the situation, yet handling it as calmly as possible.
1989’s “Hollywood Squares” is squarely set in a specific time — when the TV game show Hollywood Squares was still on the air. Despite feeling dated in that sense, it still remains one of Strait’s best tongue-in-cheek moments to date. It relies heavily on Strait having exes around town and owing seemingly everyone around town. Strait recorded it only two years after the hit “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” hit airwaves and feels like a cousin of sorts to “Hollywood Squares.” Despite the subject, it captures Strait at one of his most loose and easy-going point in his catalog.
Written by Keith Gattis and Wyatt Earp, “Blue Melodies” is an introspective take on the heartbreaker apology. While most of Strait’s heartbreakers have weight, “Blue Melodies” is even further in that direction. Strait isn’t just looking for forgiveness. He knows a cheap apology isn’t going to get the job done this time around. It leaves him wondering what kind of sincere song can make up for his latest run of mistakes — and if it’ll even make a difference.
While Strait didn’t catch the songwriting bug until late in his career, he has always had the best ear in the business. His keen sense of story, melody and rhythm have reigned supreme for much of his 40+ year career. Part of that has been picking and choosing songs that are relevant and feel personal to his own life and career. Written by Jesse Winchester, “A Showman’s Life” is as insightful as they come. There’s strong resilience in Strait’s sobering take. It’s a seasoned perspective on the music industry where you get a cautionary warning from Strait. Still, there’s a “I’d do it all over again” mentality in Strait’s reflection.
During the early ’80s, Strait wasn’t nearly as refined. His choice in material was typically more rowdy honky-tonk than the composed and collected ballads he’d bring out in the ’90s. “80 Proof Bottle Of Tear Stopper” appears on Strait’s third album, Right Or Wrong, and like “Her Goodbye Hit Me In The Heart” below, is a prime example of what made Strait’s early ’80s sound so energetic and youthful.
By the time Easy Come Easy Go was released, Strait had successfully transitioned from his early rambling days of bars and rodeo dances. For the most part, instead of going out and looking to drink away a memory, Strait’s songs took a turn to where cooler heads prevailed. “Without Me Around” finds Strait fully matured. He’s not going through a list of old honky-tonk flames. There’s actual consequence by the time “Without Me Around” rolls around. He isn’t relying on the bottle like he is on “80 Proof Bottle of Tear Stopper,” but rather, is feeling the weight of a marriage gone awry. It’s wearing on him and more than anything else, you hear that understanding his mournful vocals.
The acoustic twang melody in “That’s My Kind Of Woman” is as much an earworm as anything in the Strait discography. Appearing on It Just Comes Natural, it plays as one of the lighter, more intimate moments on the album. In many respects, it’s the flip side of “It Just Comes Natural” itself. Written by, you guessed it, Dean Dillon and Tammy Tyler, “That’s My Kind Of Woman” isn’t full of energetic flash, but the fire is still felt in the most comforting of ways.
The Pure Country soundtrack is, from top to bottom, as strong an album as any released in Strait’s career. The gentle sweeping piano of “Last In Love” is a nice step back and exhale from Strait. Originally written by J.D. Souther and Glenn Frey of the Eagles, you can easily see where the gentle slow-burning melody comes from. A warbling pedal steel and sweeping fiddling delicately slow dance above Strait’s straight on It’s also perhaps Strait’s most straightforward Frank Sinatra crooning impression. A warbling pedal steel and a sweeping fiddle slow dancing above are just icing on the cake.
Dean Dillon has, for the better part of 40 years, been Strait’s go-to songwriter. The undeniable rapport between the two has resulted in some of the most notable country songs ever. But for every “Famous Last Words Of A Fool,”there are two or three back catalog gems like “Her Goodbye Hit Me In The Heart.” Strait’s vocals are filled with youth and a little more Texan twang than usual. And though the title does sound cliche, it’s as genuine a tear-soaked barroom anthem as they come.
Holding My Own‘s “You’re Right I’m Wrong” is yet another song surprisingly never released as a single. This is most likely the result of having been released just a mere five months before Pure Country. The jangling rockabilly tones make “You’re Right I’m Wrong” one of Strait’s hottest and most energetic opening album tracks in Strait’s career. Having been written by Marty Stuart and Wayne Perry, it’s easy to see why.
Sanger D. Shafer wrote “Lefty’s Gone” as an ode to country pioneer Lefty Frizzell. As a veteran songwriter, Shafer has written some of Strait’s most iconic breakup ballads — “Overnight Success,” “All My Ex’s Live In Texas” and “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind” for example. But “Lefty’s Gone” is sort of a turn in a different direction for both Shafer as a songwriter and for Strait as a performer. Instead of grieving about a relationship turned sour or busting through the dive bar doors, it’s pining for a time in which Frizzell was still around and playing. It’s one of Strait’s first songs that’s sentimental and longing for another place in time. Still, Strait’s vocals are as heartfelt and warm as ever.
“Friday Night Fever” is yet another honky-tonking bar anthem written by Dillon (with Frank Dycus and Blake Mevis) and perfectly amplified by Strait’s countryfied force. As mentioned before, Dillon’s songs are found throughout Strait’s catalog. With Strait Country, Strait’s ’81 debut, Dillon had six total cuts. Those six really set the tone for the album’s blend of down-home Texas honky-tonk, the twang of the Bakersfield Sound and nods to classic Western Swing runs. While never a single, “Friday Night Fever” is the epitome of Strait’s early ’80s sound. The reference to ’80s soap opera Dallas is as outdated as they come, but for the most part, it feels as fresh and relevant as it did in ’81.
If there’s been one lasting loose narrative in Strait’s career, it’s been telling the lonesome plight and hard-earned tales of cowboys in the riding in the rodeo. Written by Clay Blaker, “Lonesome Rodeo Cowboy” is right up there with the likes of “Amarillo By Morning,” “I Can Still Make Cheyenne” and “The Cowboy Rides Away.” Appearing on ’90’s Livin’ It Up, its’ simple narrative and laidback melody feel as comfortable and worn as your favorite pair of jeans.