meta-scriptCarrie Underwood On Creating Her First Gospel Album, 'My Savior,' Working With CeCe Winans, & Making "Legacy Music" | GRAMMY.com
Carrie Underwood On Creating Her First Gospel Album, 'My Savior,' Working With CeCe Winans, & Making "Legacy Music"

Carrie Underwood 

Photo: Jeremy Cowart

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Carrie Underwood On Creating Her First Gospel Album, 'My Savior,' Working With CeCe Winans, & Making "Legacy Music"

Carrie Underwood recently spoke with GRAMMY.com about her new album, 'My Savior,' her spiritual journey, learning from gospel legend CeCe Winans, and crafting what she calls "legacy music"

GRAMMYs/Apr 2, 2021 - 10:43 pm

In 2005, fresh off her "American Idol" win, Carrie Underwood, then a rising singer from Oklahoma, scored her first country radio hit, "Jesus, Take The Wheel." Two years later, the faith-based ballad elevated her to another level in her career: a GRAMMY award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance at the 2007 GRAMMY Awards show. (That year she also took home the coveted Best New Artist award.) 

Now a seven-time GRAMMY winner, she's notched hits like "Before He Cheats" and "Blown Away," but has never shied away from her spirituality. "Something in the Water," "See You Again," "Temporary Home," and her soul-piercing performance of "How Great Thou Art" alongside Vince Gill during an Academy of Country Music television special in 2015 showed her devotion proudly.

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Those spiritual leanings come full-circle on her first gospel album, My Savior, released on March 26. Much like last year's holiday album My Gift, Underwood's new project finds her drawing from childhood memories; She sings of attending a rural Baptist church in Oklahoma—listening to Sunday sermons and joining the congregation in singing classics such as "Amazing Grace" and "How Great Thou Art" from an old hymnal.

"It's so great for me because I feel like in recording them, even now I can still feel myself sitting in the church pews next to my parents, hearing my mom sing harmonies and hearing other voices singing in the congregation," Underwood tells GRAMMY.com. "I feel like that just still rings in my ear and it's wonderful, but more importantly, it provides a feeling of comfort and inspiration that hopefully other people can feel as well when they listen to these songs."

Like so many impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic over the past year, Underwood turned to her faith—and faith-based music—as a source of comfort. She has stayed in Nashville with her husband, Mike Fisher, and their two sons and kept in touch with family members back in Oklahoma from afar. The project's production process made her feel closer to the family she can’t be with at the moment.

"Making this album felt like home, and I haven't been home since Christmas of 2019," Underwood says. "I haven't seen my dad in so long, so it was nice in the middle of the unsureness and chaos of 2020, first to get to make the Christmas album and then to follow it up with more songs that just felt like home."

Carrie Underwood recently spoke with GRAMMY.com about her new album, My Savior, her spiritual journey, learning from gospel legend CeCe Winans, and crafting what she calls "legacy music."

Making this album had to feel like a walk down memory lane for you. What memories do these songs bring to mind?

I've been singing these songs my whole life. Even now I can still feel myself sitting in the church pews next to my parents, hearing my mom sing harmonies and hearing voices from people in the congregation. I feel like that still rings in my ear and it’s wonderful.

Did anyone in your family have suggestions for songs to include on the album?

Everybody always chimes in. Some of them were already on the list. My husband would chime in every once in a while with something that maybe was an older faith-based song, but not necessarily a hymn. He didn't necessarily grow up listening to a lot of the hymns that I did, but he wanted me to do "Give Me Jesus," so maybe someday I can cover that one down the road.

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How did you narrow down the song choices?

We had the biggest running list. [There were] dozens [of songs]. But you have your pillars—I knew I wanted "Great Is Thy Faithfulness," "How Great Thou Art," "Softly and Tenderly," [and] "Nothing but the Blood of Jesus." We wanted to create diversity in the sound because so many of them were written kind of around the same time period with the same instrumentation. The challenge was making them sound fresh, but still keeping that traditional thing about them that I love.

And so many of them have a lot of verses, but no chorus. It's not a traditional format that we are used to, so for "Nothing but the Blood of Jesus" in particular, that's why we put the "Ohs" in there, to become the little break between verses.

Bear Rinehart from NEEDTOBREATHE sings with you on "Nothing but the Blood of Jesus" and the song has this great soulful sound. How did he become part of this album?

When we started playing around with tempo on this song, we could just hear his voice on it. It took me forever to ask him, but it was one of those things where he actually showed up one Sunday at my church and sat right in front of me. I was like, "Oh my gosh, we've been talking about giving him a call." We were wrapping up the album and it was reaching that point where I needed to ask him. Of course, I chickened out because who wants to start talking work at church?

Then we ended up in a small group having brunch afterward, and he asked me about what I was working on. I was like, “Well, as a matter of fact, you're probably going to get a call within the next couple of days about maybe coming and singing on something.” It does sound so cool, and I loved the way it turned out because [it] was exactly what we were hearing the whole time.<style>.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }</style><div class='embed-container'><iframe src='https://www.youtube.com/embed/u8fKX3xZaMM' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

CeCe Winans joins you on "Great Is Thy Faithfulness."

I feel like God was really watching out for this project in so many ways. Her people had called us about something completely separate, and we thought, "This is our open door." She said yes, and within days she was in the studio with me.

She came in, and I felt like we just needed to sit back and let her work her magic because it truly was inspirational. And besides her extremely God-given, powerful, inspiring voice, her presence was just so wonderful to be around. I feel like when I work with legends, I'm a sponge. I want to see what you do and how you do it. So it was equal parts getting to work with her and sing with her, but also learning from her.

You have always included faith-based songs throughout your career, from "Jesus, Take The Wheel" to "Something in the Water." With everything going on in the world, were you nervous at all to put out a specifically faith-based project?

I feel like the answer to all of our problems is Jesus, and like you said, it's not a secret where I stand. And this has been good for my soul. I feel like hopefully when people listen to it, it'll inspire. It'll bring some peace, and hopefully some good, positive feelings.

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Do you recall when you first felt like you had a personal connection with God?

Well, I was always in church. There was always an altar call song. For our church, it was "Just As I Am," and that's on the album. I might've been 10 years old, something like that. When you grow up around it, it means you have to make that decision for yourself. I remember making that trip down the aisle, knowing that was what I wanted to do.

When do you feel most connected spiritually?

I've been singing my whole life, even before I knew that this [was] going to be what I do. I'm a bird. I sing. It's what I do. When I sing songs like this, I definitely feel connected. With the Christmas album, too. I loved getting to be in the studio and sing in more intimate settings, because when there [are] people in front of you, you're worried about, "What do they see? What do they hear? Are they happy? Do they like it?" You want to put on a good show. But in the studio there's nobody else there, it's just me and God in the room, and I get to just sing to Jesus.

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Speaking of performing, you recently announced you will celebrate the album's release with a concert at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on Easter Sunday, April 4, and that it will livestream from your official Facebook page.

Well, we're missing performing. Under normal circumstances, you make an album and then you get to tour it in front of an audience. Obviously, right now, we're not quite there yet, but we still want a project this special to have that moment. We decided to go to our country music Mother Church, the Ryman, because it is spiritual. You walk in there and you feel it. I think it's going to be an inspiring morning.

There have been a lot of collaborations between country artists and CCM/gospel artists recently—Chris Tomlin and Florida Georgia Line, and Dolly Parton's work with Zach Williams and for King & Country, for example. Are there other CCM artists you would want to work with in the future?

I would love definitely for people who are strong in their faith to sing about it. I feel like the more of us that make it a norm and do our thing—I've already had other people in the music industry who are friends in mine say, "I've always wanted to do this, but would wonder what people would think about it." There are a few of us, like Hillary Scott and Dolly, we're just making music and trying to stay true to ourselves. When that's part of you, I feel like it's easy, and maybe more artists will feel like it's a safe space to be able to do that.

You never know, as far as me working with other Christian music artists. I would never count any of that out, but everything just has to feel right and be right in the moment. 

You have two young sons, Isaiah and Jacob. So many congregations lean toward praise and worship music, or modern-day hymns. This album feels like one way to pass down these traditional hymns you grew up with to a new generation of listeners.

I did grow up with these songs and like you said, so many churches do praise and worship. Every once in a while at our church, they'll sneak in a chorus or a bit of a hymn, which is always nice for me because I love them. But I do feel like so many younger people didn't necessarily grow up with these songs. Maybe we are, in a way, introducing some of these to a new generation. I sing them around the house, and I love that my boys will have my voice on these songs, as they get older.

Legacy music is how I like to think of it. I love all the songs and all the albums that I have ever made and I have a special connection with each one. But I feel like this is the real stuff, the heart stuff, the soul stuff.

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21 Albums Turning 50 In 2024: 'Diamond Dogs,' 'Jolene,' 'Natty Dread' & More

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21 Albums Turning 50 In 2024: 'Diamond Dogs,' 'Jolene,' 'Natty Dread' & More

Dozens of albums were released in 1974 and, 50 years later, continue to stand the test of time. GRAMMY.com reflects on 21 records that demand another look and are guaranteed to hook first-time listeners.

GRAMMYs/Jan 5, 2024 - 04:08 pm

Despite claims by surveyed CNN readers, 1974 was not a year marked by bad music. The Ramones played their first gig. ABBA won Eurovision with the earworm "Waterloo," which became an international hit and launched the Swedes to stardom. Those 365 days were marked by chart-topping debuts, British bangers and prog-rock dystopian masterpieces. Disenchantment, southern pride, pencil thin mustaches and tongue-in-cheek warnings to "not eat yellow snow" filled the soundwaves.  

1974 was defined by uncertainty and chaos following a prolonged period of crisis. The ongoing OPEC oil embargo and the resulting energy shortage caused skyrocketing inflation, exacerbating the national turmoil that preceded President Nixon’s resignation following the Watergate scandal. Other major events also shaped the zeitgeist: Stephen King published his first novel, Carrie, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman slugged it out for the heavyweight title at "The Rumble in the Jungle," and People Magazine published its first issue. 

Musicians reflected a general malaise. Themes of imprisonment, disillusionment and depression — delivered with sardonic wit and sarcasm — found their way on many of the records released that year. The mood reflects a few of the many reasons these artistic works still resonate.  

From reggae to rock, cosmic country to folk fused with jazz, to the introduction of a new Afro-Trinidadian music style, take a trip back 18,262 days to recall 20 albums celebrating their 50th anniversaries in 2024. 

Joni Mitchell - Court & Spark

Joni Mitchell’s Court & Spark is often hailed as the pinnacle of her artistic career and highlights the singer/songwriter’s growing interest in jazz, backed by a who’s who of West Coast session musicians including members of the Crusaders and L.A. Express. 

As her most commercially successful record, the nine-time GRAMMY winner presents a mix of playful and somber songs. In an introspective tone, Mitchell searches for freedom from the shackles of big-city life and grapples with the complexities of love lost and found. The record went platinum — it hit No.1 on the Billboard charts in her native Canada and No. 2 in the U.S., received three GRAMMY nominations and featured a pair of hits: "Help Me" (her only career Top 10) and "Free Man in Paris," an autobiographical song about music mogul David Geffen.

Gordon Lightfoot - Sundown

In 2023 we lost legendary songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. He left behind a treasure trove of country-folk classics, several featured on his album Sundown. These songs resonated deeply with teenagers who came of age in the early to mid-1970s — many sang along in their bedrooms and learned to strum these storied songs on acoustic guitars. 

Recorded in Toronto, at Eastern Sound Studios, the album includes the only No.1 Billboard topper of the singer/songwriter’s career. The title cut, "Sundown," speaks of "a hard-loving woman, got me feeling mean" and hit No. 1 on both the pop and the adult contemporary charts. 

In Canada, the album hit No.1 on the RPM Top 100 in and stayed there for five consecutive weeks. A second single, "Carefree Highway," peaked at the tenth spot on the Billboard Hot 100, but hit No.1 on the Easy Listening charts.

Eric Clapton - 461 Ocean Boulevard

Eric Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard sold more than two million copies worldwide. His second solo studio record followed a three-year absence while Clapton battled heroin addiction. The record’s title is the address where "Slowhand" stayed in the Sunshine State while recording this record at Miami’s Criteria Studios. 

A mix of blues, funk and soulful rock, only two of the 10 songs were penned by the Englishman. Clapton’s cover of Bob Marley’s "I Shot the Sheriff," was a massive hit for the 17-time GRAMMY winner and the only No.1 of his career, eclipsing the Top 10 in nine countries. In 2003, the guitar virtuoso’s version of the reggae song was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame

Lynyrd Skynyrd - Second Helping

No sophomore slump here. This "second helping" from these good ole boys is a serious serving of classic southern rock ‘n’ roll with cupfuls of soul. Following the commercial success of their debut the previous year, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s second studio album featured the band’s biggest hit: "Sweet Home Alabama." 

The anthem is a celebration of Southern pride; it was written in response to two Neil Young songs ("Alabama" and "Southern Man") that critiqued the land below the Mason-Dixon line. The song was the band’s only Top 10, peaking at No. 8 on the Billboard Top 100. Recorded primarily at the Record Plant in Los Angeles, other songs worth a second listen here include: the swampy cover of J.J. Cale's "Call Me The Breeze," the boogie-woogie foot-stomper "Don’t Ask Me No Questions" and the country-rocker "The Ballad of Curtis Loew." 

Bad Company - Bad Company

A little bit of blues, a token ballad, and plenty of hard-edged rock, Bad Company released a dazzling self-titled debut album. The English band formed from the crumbs left behind by a few other British groups: ex-Free band members including singer Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke, former King Crimson member bassist Boz Burrel, and guitarist Mick Ralphs from Mott the Hoople. 

Certified five-times platinum, Bad Company hit No.1 on the Billboard 200 and No. 3 in the UK, where it spent 25 weeks. Recorded at Ronnie Lane’s Mobile Studio, the album was the first record released on Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label. Five of the eight tracks were in regular FM rotation throughout 1974; "Bad Company," "Can’t Get Enough" and "Ready for Love" remain staples of classic rock radio a half century later. 

Supertramp - Crime of the Century

"Dreamer, you know you are a dreamer …" sings Supertramp’s lead singer Roger Hodgson on the first single from their third studio album. The infectious B-side track "Bloody Well Right," became even more popular than fan favorite, "Dreamer." 

The British rockers' dreams of stardom beyond England materialized with Crime of the Century. The album fused prog-rock with pop and hit all the right notes leading to the band’s breakthrough in several countries — a Top 5 spot in the U.S. and a No.1 spot in Canada where it stayed for more than two years and sold more than two million copies. A live version of "Dreamer," released six years later, was a Top 20 hit in the U.S. 

Big Star - Radio City

As one of the year’s first releases, the reception for this sophomore effort from American band Big Star was praised by critics despite initial lukewarm sales (which were due largely to distribution problems). Today, the riveting record by these Memphis musicians is considered a touchstone of power pop; its melodic stylings influenced many indie rock bands in the 1980s and 1990s, including R.E.M. and the Replacements. One of Big Star’s biggest songs, "September Gurls," appears here and was later covered by The Bangles. 

In a review, American rock critic Robert Christgau, called the record "brilliant and addictive." He wrote: "The harmonies sound like the lead sheets are upside down and backwards, the guitar solos sound like screwball readymade pastiches, and the lyrics sound like love is strange, though maybe that's just the context." 

The Eagles - On the Border

The third studio record from California harmonizers, the Eagles, shows the band at a crossroads — evolving ever so slightly from acoustically-inclined country-folk to a more distinct rock ‘n’ roll sound. On the Border marks the studio debut for band member Don Felder. His contributions and influence are seen through his blistering guitar solos, especially in the chart-toppers "Already Gone" and "James Dean." 

On the Border sold two million copies, driven by the chart topping ballad "Best of My Love" — the Eagles first No.1 hit song. The irony: the song was one of only two singles Glyn Johns produced at Olympic Studios in London. Searching for that harder-edged sound, the band hired Bill Szymczyk to produce the rest of the record at the Record Plant in L.A. 

Jimmy Buffett - Livin’ and Dyin in ¾ Time & A1A

Back in 1974, 28-year-old Jimmy Buffett was just hitting his stride. Embracing the good life, Buffett released not just one, but two records that year. Don Grant produced both albums that were the final pair in what is dubbed Buffett’s "Key West phase" for the Florida island city where the artist hung his hat during these years.

The first album, Livin’ and Dyin’ in ¾ Time, was released in February and recorded at Woodland Sound Studio in Nashville, Tennessee. It featured the ballad "Come Monday," which hit No. 30 on the Hot 100 and "Pencil Thin Mustache," a concert staple and Parrothead favorite. A1A arrived in December and hit No. 25 on the Billboard 200 charts. The most beloved songs here are "A Pirate Looks at Forty" and "Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season." 

Buffett embarked on a tour and landed some plume gigs, including opening slots for two other artists on this list: Frank Zappa and Lynyrd Skynyrd. 

Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Following a successful tour of Europe and North America for their 1973 album, Selling England by the Pound, Genesis booked a three-month stay at the historic Headley Grange in Hampshire, a former workhouse. In this bucolic setting, the band led by frontman Peter Gabriel, embarked on a spiritual journey of self discovery that evolved organically through improvisational jams and lyric-writing sessions. 

This period culminated in a rock opera and English prog-rockers’s magnum opus, a double concept album that follows the surreal story of a Puerto Rican con man named Rael. Songs are rich with American imagery, purposely placed to appeal to this growing and influential fan base across the pond. 

This album marked the final Genesis record with Gabriel at the helm. The divisiveness between the lyricist, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks came to a head during tense recording sessions and led to Gabriel’s departure from the band to pursue a solo career, following a 102-date tour to promote the record. The album reached tenth spot on the UK album charts and hit 41 in the U.S. 

David Bowie - Diamond Dogs

Is Ziggy Stardust truly gone? With David Bowie, the direction of his creative muse was always a mystery, as illustrated by his diverse musical legacy. What is clear is that Bowie’s biographers agree that this self-produced album is one of his finest works. 

At the point of producing Diamond Dogs, the musical chameleon and art-rock outsider had disbanded the band Spiders from Mars and was at a crossroads. His plans for a musical based on the Ziggy character and TV adaptation of George Orwell’s "1984" both fell through. In a place of uncertainty and disenchantment, Bowie creates a new persona: Halloween Jack. The record is lyrically bleak and evokes hopelessness. It marks the final chapter in his glam-rock period — "Rebel Rebel" is the swaggering single that hints at the coming punk-rock movement. 

Bob Marley - Natty Dread

Bob Marley’s album "Natty Dread," released first in Jamaica in October 1974 later globally in 1975, marked his first record without his Rastafari brethren in song Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. It also introduced the back-up vocal stylings of the I Threes (Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths.) 

The poet and the prophet Marley waxes on spiritual themes with songs like "So Jah Seh/Natty Dread'' and political commentary with tracks,"Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)" and "Rebel Music (3 O’clock Road Block)." The album also Includes one of the reggae legend’s best-loved songs, the ballad "No Woman No Cry," which paints a picture of "government yards in Trenchtown" where Marley’s feet are his "only carriage." 

Queen - Sheer Heart Attack

The third studio album released by the British rockers, Queen, is a killer. The first single, "Killer Queen," reached No. 2 on the British charts — and was the band’s first U.S. charting single. The record also peaked at No.12 in the U.S. Billboard albums charts. 

This record shows the four-time GRAMMY nominees evolving and shifting from progressive to glam rock. The album features one of the most legendary guitar solos and riffs in modern rock by Brian May on "Brighton Rock." Clocking in at three minutes, the noodling showcases the musician’s talent via his use of multi-tracking and delays to great effect. 

Randy Newman - Good Old Boys

Most recognize seven-time GRAMMY winner Randy Newman for his work on Hollywood blockbuster scores. But, in the decade before composing and scoring movie soundtracks, the songwriter wrote and recorded several albums. Good Old Boys was Newman’s fourth studio effort and his first commercial breakthrough, peaking at No. 36 on the Billboard charts. 

The concept record, rich in sarcasm and wit, requires a focused listen to grasp the nuances of Newman’s savvy political and social commentary. The album relies on a fictitious narrator, Johnny Cutler, to aid the songwriter in exploring themes like "Rednecks" and ingrained generational racism in the South. "Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)" is as relevant today as when Newman penned it as a direct letter to Richard Nixon. Malcolm Gladwell described this record as "unsettling" and a "perplexing work of music." 

Frank Zappa - Apostrophe

Rolling Stone once hailed Frank Zappa’s Apostrophe as "truly a mother of an album." The album cover itself, featuring Zappa’s portrait, seems to challenge listeners to delve into his eccentric musical universe. Apostrophe was the sixth solo album and the 19th record of the musician’s prolific career. The album showcases Zappa’s tight and talented band, his trademark absurdist humor and what Hunter S. Thompson described as "bad craziness."  

Apostrophe was the biggest commercial success of Zappa’s career. The record peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Top 200. The A-side leads off with a four-part suite of songs that begins with "Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow" and ends with "Father Oblivion," a tale of an Eskimo named Nanook. The track "Uncle Remus," tackles systemic racism in the U.S. with dripping irony. In less than three minutes, Zappa captures what many politicians can’t even begin to explain. Musically, Apostrophe is rich in riffs from the two-time GRAMMY winner that showcases his exceptional guitar skills in the title track that features nearly six minutes of noodling.

Gram Parsons - Grievous Angel

Grievous Angel can be summed up in one word: haunting. Recorded in 1973 during substance-fueled summer sessions in Hollywood, the album was released posthumously after Gram Parsons died of a drug overdose at 26. Grievous Angel featured only two new songs that Parsons’ penned hastily in the studio "In My Hour of Darkness" and "Return of the Grievous Angel." 

This final work by the cosmic cowboy comprises nine songs that have since come to define Parson’s short-lived legacy to the Americana canon. The angelic voice of Emmylou Harris looms large — the 13-time GRAMMY winner sings harmony and backup vocals throughout. Other guests include: guitarists James Burton and Bernie Leadon, along with Linda Ronstadt’s vocals on "In My Hour of Darkness." 

Neil Young - On The Beach

On the Beach, along with Tonight’s the Night (recorded in 1973, but not released until 1975) rank as Neil Young’s darkest records. Gone are the sunny sounds of Harvest, replaced with the singer/songwriter’s bleak and mellow meditations on being alone and alienated. 

"Ambulance Blues" is the centerpiece. The nine-minute track takes listeners on a journey back to Young’s "old folkie days" when the "Riverboat was rockin’ in the rain '' referencing lament and pining for time and things lost. The heaviness and gloom are palpable throughout the album, with the beach serving as an extended metaphor for Young’s malaise. 

Dolly Parton - Jolene

Imagine writing not just one, but two iconic classics in the same day. That’s exactly what Dolly Parton did with two tracks featured on this album. The first is the titular song, "Jolene," recorded  at RCA Studio B in Nashville. The song has been covered by more than a dozen artists. 

Released as the first single the previous fall, "Jolene," rocketed to No.1 on the U.S. country charts and garnered the 10-time GRAMMY winner her first Top 10 in the U.K. The song was nominated for a GRAMMY in 1975 and again in 1976 for Best Country Vocal Performance. However, it didn’t take home the golden gramophone until 2017, when a cover by the Pentatonix featuring Parton won a GRAMMY for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. 

Also included on this album is "I Will Always Love You," a song that Whitney Houston famously covered in 1992 for the soundtrack of the romantic thriller, The Bodyguard, earning Parton significant royalties. 

Barry White - Can’t Get Enough

The distinctive bass-baritone of two-time GRAMMY winner Barry White, is unmistakable. The singer/songwriter's sensual, deep vocal delivery is as loved today as it was then. On this record, White is backed by the 40-member strong Love Unlimited Orchestra, one of the best-selling artists of all-time. 

White wrote "Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe," about his wife during a sleepless night. This song is still played everywhere — from bedrooms to bar rooms, even 50 years on. In the U.S., the record hit the top of the R&B pop charts and No.1 on the Billboard 200. Although the album features only seven songs, two of them, including "You’re the First, the Last, My Everything" reached the top spot on the R&B charts. 

Lord Shorty - Endless Vibrations

Lord Shorty, born Garfield Blackman, is considered the godfather and inventor of soca music. This Trindadian musician revolutionized his nation’s Calypso rhythms, creating a vibrant up-tempo style that became synonymous with their world-renowned Carnival. 

Fusing Indian percussion instrumentation with well-established African calypso rhythms, Lord Shorty created what he originally dubbed "sokah," meaning, "calypso soul." The term soca, as it’s known today, emerged because of a journalist’s altered writing of the word, which stuck. The success of this crossover hit made waves across North America and made the island vibrations more accessible outside the island nation. 

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(From left) Luke Combs, Morgan Wallen, Dolly Parton, Lainey Wilson, Oliver Anthony

Photos (L-R): Jason Kempin/Getty Images, Astrida Valigorsky/WireImage, Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images, Jason Kempin/Getty Images for BMI, Jason Kempin/Getty Images

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2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined Country Music

Between crossover smashes and promising new superstars, country music arguably had its biggest year in over a decade in 2023.

GRAMMYs/Dec 19, 2023 - 09:06 pm

If 2023 wasn't the biggest year ever for mainstream success in country music, it came mighty close.

Across the three major fronts in the music industry — live concerts, music streams and sales, and chart performance — country music reminded audiences why it's a vital American music form and a conversation starter in our culture.

According to Billboard, 48 years have passed since more country artists racked up more No. 1 hits on its all-genre Hot 100 chart. This year saw chart-toppers from record-breaker Morgan Wallen ("Last Night"), established hitmaker Jason Aldean ("Try That in a Small Town"), viral newcomer Oliver Anthony ("Rich Men North of Richmond"), and 2022's big success story, Zach Bryan ("I Remember Everything" featuring Kacey Musgraves). Back in 1975, four country artists and five songs reached the Hot 100's summit: Glen Campbell, B.J. Thomas, Freddy Fender, and two cuts by John Denver.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen country artists landed on the Billboard Year-End Top Artists chart, with Wallen and Luke Combs landing in the top five. In addition, Apple Music named Wallen its top global music artist of 2023.

But enough prelude — let's get down to why the genre has been booming, by tracking the five biggest trends in country music in 2023.

There Was Massive Crossover

Morgan Wallen pulled country music's biggest crossover on the charts, ending the year with five of the top 50 most streamed songs of 2023 on Spotify, as well as 11 of the top 100 songs on Apple Music (all U.S. charts). He landed eight songs on the year-end Billboard Hot 100, including "Last Night," a tale of whisky-fueled love and regret driven by acoustic guitar and  clap-along percussion, which held the top spot for 16 weeks, the most for a non-collaboration song in the chart's 65-year history. It was also the most streamed song on Apple Music globally, contributing to the streaming service naming Wallen its top global music artist of 2023. 

Zach Bryan became the second artist to place at least 18 songs on the Hot 100 chart in the same week when he dropped his self-titled sophomore album in August — second only to Wallen's record of 36 songs, coinciding with the March release of his double-album One Thing at a Time. Zach Bryan is nominated for Best Country Album at the 2024 GRAMMYs, alongside Kelsea Ballerini's Rolling Up The Welcome Mat, Brothers Osborne's Brothers Osborne, Tyler Childers' Rustin' In The Rain, and Lainey Wilson's Bell Bottom Country. (More on Bryan later.)

The Hot 100 further indicated the genre's crossover success in early August, when the top three positions were occupied by country songs:  Jason Aldean's "Try That in a Small Town," Morgan Wallen's "Last Night," and Luke Combs' cover of Tracy Chapman's 1988 classic. Not only was it the first time in history that country songs dominated the first three spots on the all-genre chart, but it also happened two more times on Aug. 26 and Sept. 2. "Last Night" and "Fast Car" also received nominations for the 2024 GRAMMYs; "Last Night" is nominated for Best Country Song at the 2024 GRAMMYs alongside with Brandy Clark's "Buried," Zach Bryan and Kacey Musgraves' "I Remember Everything," Tyler Childers' "In Your Love," and Chris Stapleton's "White Horse," while "Fast Car" is Best Country Solo Performance alongside "White Horse," "Buried," "In Your Love." and Dolly Parton's "The Last Thing on My Mind." 

What's more, two of the eight Best New Artist nominees at the 2024 GRAMMYs are country acts, "Son of a Sinner" star Jelly Roll and soulful husband-and-wife duo The War and Treaty. They're nominated alongside Gracie Abrams, Fred again.., Ice Spice, Coco Jones, Noah Kahan and Victoria Monét.

Lainey Wilson celebrated a banner crossover year both in music and television. Along with parlaying the hit Paramount series "Yellowstone" into more exposure for her music, she became the first female artist in history to have four No. 1 hits on country radio in a calendar year thanks to "Heart Like A Truck," "Wait in the Truck" with HARDY, "Watermelon Moonshine" and "Save Me" with Jelly Roll — all of which cracked the top 30 of the all-genre Hot 100.

Several Musicians Court Controversy

Historically, popular country music tends to revolve around themes often imbued with imagery and anecdotes from small-town American life, from love won and lost to simply having a good time. But in 2023, politics infiltrated country music in a more mainstream way than perhaps ever before — even prompting Maren Morris to declare she was leaving country music. "I thought I'd like to burn it to the ground and start over," Morris told the Los Angeles Times in September. "But it's burning itself down without my help."

Jason Aldean's single "Try That in a Small Town" didn't cause much of a ruckus when it dropped in May, but the promotional video for the song, released in July, certainly kicked a hornet's nest of dissatisfaction. The lyrics begin with a carjacking and a robbery, then confront advocates of gun control and flex how "good ol' boys, raised up right" will step up to defend their own. The song "refers to the feeling of a community that I had growing up," Aldean wrote on Twitter, "where we took care of our neighbors, regardless of differences of background or belief."

But if he was only looking to reboot the s—-kickin' country-boy theme of Hank Williams Jr's 1981 song "A Country Boy Can Survive," he lost the plot with the video. The clip intersperses shots of Aldean and his band performing with footage of riots and destruction reminiscent of the 2020 racial protests sparked by the deaths of Elijah McClain, Breona Taylor, George Floyd and others by police force. And the filming location, the Maury County Courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee — site of the 1927 lynching of an 18-year-old Black man by a white mob — only stoked tensions. The controversy eventually dimmed, but not before the song hit No. 1 on the Hot 100.

Just three days after Aldean's song reached the top, a folk song by an unknown artist with no previous history in the music business hit YouTube and spread like wildfire. "Rich Men North of Richmond," written and performed by Oliver Anthony, sparked a controversy of its own for a handful of lyrics shaming "obese welfare" recipients amid righteous blue-collar anger directed at politicians who are out of touch with the working class. 

Conservative audiences latched onto the song, and it even made an appearance at the Republican presidential debate on August 23, three days before it claimed the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100 that Aldean held just a few weeks earlier. In response, Anthony chastised the right-wingers who thought he was one of them, as well as critics on the left whom he felt mischaracterized his words. "That song is written about the people on that stage — and a lot more, too," he said in a 10-minute video posted to YouTube.

Country Icons Were Saluted

Country music has seen its share of memorable covers in more recent years, from Johnny Cash's iconic version of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" to Sturgill Simpson's take on the Nirvana classic "In Bloom." But the practice reached a new peak in 2023 thanks to performances and recordings from present-day and legacy stars alike.

Nashville hitmaker Luke Combs channeled his love for Tracy Chapman's 1988 hit "Fast Car" into a faithful cover on his 2023 album Gettin' Old. Combs's version reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 (Chapman's original peaked at No. 6) and has been certified double Platinum by the RIAA, in addition to winning both Single of the Year and Song of the Year at the Country Music Association awards—making Chapman the first Black woman to ever win a CMA trophy.

After Dolly Parton was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2022, she took her honor quite literally. Parton collaborated with artists ranging from Judas Priest shrieker Rob Halford to Pink and Elton John on 30 recordings, including massive hits like "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me." The album's first single, the original composition "World On Fire," reached No. 1 on Billboard's Rock Digital Song Sales chart.

Parton also turned up on A Tribute to The Judds, another star-studded covers album, performing "Mama He's Crazy" with Lainey Wilson. Spearheaded by Wynonna Judd in tribute to her mother Naomi, her partner in the duo from 1983 until her death in April 2022, the album brings together some of country music's biggest names on 14 classics from the legendary group. Evergreen it-couple Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton take on "Love Is Alive," while Jelly Roll, K. Michelle and the Fisk Jubilee Singers perform "Love Can Build a Bridge." The album also features Reba McEntire, Carly Pearce, Jennifer Nettles and Gabby Barrett on a rendition of "Girls Night Out."

Even the Rolling Stones dabbled in the country world this year — well, sort of. The 14-song tribute album Stoned Cold Country features Eric Church on a properly sixties-sounding "Gimme Shelter," Elle King on a faithful version of "Tumbling Dice" embellished with pedal steel guitar flourishes, and guitar hero Marcus King performing the Sticky Fingers deep cut "Can't You Hear Me Knocking." Elsewhere, Brothers Osborne join The War and Treaty on a particularly soulful recording of "It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It)," and artists like Ashley McBryde, Brooks & Dunn and Maren Morris put their spin on their favorite Stones tunes.

Alt-Country Blew Up

Call it Americana, alt-country, singer/songwriter country — but the subgenre rooted in artists like Gram Parsons, John Prine and Lucinda Williams has evolved from its days as an influential side attraction to a force impacting charts, sales and box office receipts. In 2023, artists from what was once the fringes of mainstream country music showed how much they're really part of the fabric of the genre.

No artist exemplifies this surge more than Zach Bryan, who parlayed his successes in 2022 into an even bigger 2023, topping the Hot 100 and Billboard 200 albums chart for the first time, and headlining a sold-out arena tour. Folk-pop singer/songwriter Noah Kahan, who joined Bryan for the song "Sarah's Place" on Bryan's Boys of Faith EP, also found major success with songs originally performed for his 2022 album Stick Season, including a duet with Kacey Musgraves on "She Calls Me Back," released in October. 

The War and Treaty fuse gospel and soul influences with alt-country on "Blank Page" from the 2023 album Lover's Game, which picked up a nomination for the Best American Roots Song GRAMMY (competing against "California Sober" by Billy Strings Featuring Willie Nelson, "Cast Iron Skillet" by Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit, "Dear Insecurity" by Brandy Clark Featuring Brandi Carlile, and "The Returner" by Allison Russell). The husband-and-wife duo Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Trotter scored soulful hits with "That's How Love Is Made," as well as their own team-up with Zach Bryan on "Hey Driver," which peaked at No. 14 on the Hot 100 and No. 5 on the Hot Country Songs chart.

The return of Oklahoma sextet Turnpike Troubadours generated excitement from Texas to Tennessee and beyond, as the band headlined arenas and amphitheaters like Red Rocks in Colorado and L.A.'s Greek Theatre, plus a three-night stand in Boston. Frontman Evan Felker split the fold in 2019 but returned two years later, culminating in the release of A Cat in the Rain, their sixth album for their independent imprint Bossier City Records, in August 2023.

Collaborations Were Abundant

Covers weren't the only way that collaborations flourished in country music this year. In fact, only one nominee in the Best Country Duo/Group Performance category at the 66th GRAMMY Awards is an actual full-time group — that's Brothers Osborne, who is nominated alongside pairings of Dierks Bentley and Billy Strings ("High Note"), Zach Bryan and Kacey Musgraves ("I Remember Everything"), Vince Gill and Paul Franklin ("Kissing Your Picture (Is So Cold)"), Jelly Roll and Lainey Wilson ("Save Me"), and Carly Pearce and Chris Stapleton ("We Don't Fight Anymore"). That's just how popular artist features have become in country music.

But those are far from the only artist collaborations that made an impression. Jelly Roll also joined Dustin Lynch on "Chevrolet," while Miranda Lambert and Leon Bridges sang "If You Were Mine," a slow-rolling soul-country single. "Thank God," a duet recorded by Kane Brown and his wife, Katelyn, reached No. 13 on the Hot 100 and No. 1 on Country Airplay, only the second time a duet by a married couple reached the top (after Tim McGraw and Faith Hill's "It's Your Love" in 1997). 

Super-producer Diplo leaned into his Mississippi and Florida roots on Diplo Presents Thomas Wesley, Chapter 2 — Swamp Savant, his second collaborations album with country and hip-hop artists; "Heartbroken," an acoustic guitar-driven country-pop song featuring Jessie Murph and Polo G, reached the top 20 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart. Murph's own duet with Jelly Roll, "Wild Ones," made its mark on the same chart while notching No. 1 on the iTunes Top 200 Songs chart." 

Country music awards shows celebrated the art of the collaboration with viral crossover moments this year as well. Buzzing female country stars Ingrid Andress, Morgan Wade, Lainey Wilson and Madeline Edwards joined Alanis Morissette to perform her '90s alt-rock hit "You Oughta Know" at the CMT Awards; Ed Sheeran and Luke Combs dueted on "Life Goes On" at the ACMs; and Morgan Wallen, HARDY and Post Malone paid tribute to Joe Diffie at the CMAs by taking on his 1993 hit "John Deere Green."

Will country music continue to surge in 2024? If the chart stats, stadium tours and star-studded collaborations are any indication, it's certainly not slowing down.

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Living Legends: Chicago's Robert Lamm On Songwriting and Longevity
Robert Lamm (center front) with Chicago.

Photo:Joshua Helms/ Gallery Films

interview

Living Legends: Chicago's Robert Lamm On Songwriting and Longevity

Following decades of hits and holiday cheer, Robert Lamm discusses Chicago's evolution and their festive new Christmas album featuring Dolly Parton.

GRAMMYs/Dec 18, 2023 - 04:51 pm

As one of the longest-running and biggest selling bands in music history, GRAMMY-winners Chicago have staked a claim as the ultimate “rock band with horns” since their debut album was released over a half-century ago.

Since those early days and throughout a run of instantly-recognizable songs from “25 or 6 to 4” to “You’re the Inspiration” and “If You Leave Me Now” (which won the GRAMMY for Best Pop Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus at the 19th Annual Awards Ceremony), vocalist and songwriter Robert Lamm has remained an unchanging frontman in an ever-changing lineup.

It’s an ongoing legacy that continues this holiday season with their latest album Greatest Christmas Hits which extrapolates Lamm and company’s penchant for recording seasonal tunes accented by their unique sound, a creative kick that began in 1998 with Chicago XXV: The Christmas Album.

Along with holiday hallmarks like “Winter Wonderland,” the new album also features guest artists like Dolly Parton who joins in with the band on the Paul McCartney staple "Wonderful Christmas Time.”

Lamm spoke to GRAMMY.com about their long legacy, songwriting and choosing the right seasonal songs to give their personal spin.

You and the band recently performed on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Would that rank up there as one of the more unique places you've performed?

Well, there was a circus venue in Paris, and it was a very fancy night for some reason. I guess Chicago had made an impression in Paris, so one day they called us to play in a big top [tent] there. It was quite beautiful and strange.

Do unique spaces make performing more fun, or are you 'on guard' because you're out of your element?

Actually, it wasn't upsetting or scary or anything like that. It was curious, but then we got down to business.

I think the tendency is to group all of your songs together. As a result, a chronology is lost on people. They forget that "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is" was the first song you recorded for your debut album. Did that feel like being the first batter of a baseball game scoring a home run?

Well, thank you. Yes, I feel that way. In the early days when we were first recording, a lot of the songs were songs that I had written, and I had no idea what was going to happen with them. We did have a great producer in James William Guercio and most of us had not ever been in a recording studio, so that was the most nervous thing for everybody. It was in a seriously good studio in New York and he had to show us where to stand and what instruments should be put here and there. So it was that kind of thing, all very new.

It was almost like the songs were secondary to figuring out how to do this and record. So thankfully it turned out fine. A number of songs from that first album became popular and for a recent performance, we brought out a lot of songs which were on that first album; we never played most of them for most of our career. We pulled them out to examine them; songs that were very strange rock songs.

When you look back at your peers from the early days, not too many are still touring or recording.

Or still alive.

That must give you a unique perspective on music, success and the industry?

I think we feel mostly very lucky. Obviously 55 years into a career where we really never stopped, the thing that changed was the various people who have come into the band and left for one reason or another. 

That was always something we had to figure out how to do, for someone to come in and be a drummer, bass player or singer even. Being open to learning the repertoire, which obviously throughout every year got larger and larger and larger. That was something we had to learn how to do again. We've done a lot of learning over the years [Laughs].

I know you have lectured at NYU and Stanford University about songwriting. Is there one big lesson you'd give to aspiring songwriters?

Wow, I'm making this up now as we speak, but I think that you have to believe in what you're writing. You have to like it, or love it. I've always tried to not repeat myself ever in writing songs, whether it's the lyrics or the musical structure. 

I have always said, "Don't repeat what you're doing." I've always thought that writing a song is like learning something completely different than I've ever done. Writing the song, I've learned something. It might be a small thing, or it might be a big thing. 

I love writing songs. I didn't know I was going to be a songwriter, I was just a guy in a rock band. For a long time I thought that's what I was. But I'm a songwriter.

So as a songwriter, what are you looking for when you choose to cover a Christmas song? There are millions to choose from, as evidence in your new Greatest Christmas Hits album.

There are millions of bad Christmas songs [Laughs]. I have to like it, the guys in the band have to like it. Like when we did "The Christmas Song," Mel Torme's composition, which is a great song and he's a great musician. But I was living in New York at the time when we had decided to do the first Chrisrtmas album. It's not that we wanted to disguise these songs as something else because these songs are legitimate, popular songs done by many, many people. What we had going for us as a band is that we have a sound. We have a way of arranging things that is us, so the combination of a good song and the arrangement by Chicago, that's the deal.

When it comes to the new Christmas album, the bulk of the songs are remastered. What's the remastering process like for an artist?

As recording technology has blossomed in the digital age, in the beginning it was a little tedious. Between the actual digital equipment on the one hand but also the playback equipment was very different. So the guys who do that for a living are extremely creative and extremely top-drawer. There's a lot of bad recording out there and there always has been.

This Christmas album is one of the only albums you released that isn't numbered. Where did the idea come from to start, and continue numbering?

I have to give credit to our original producer, James William Guercio, who produced probably among the greatest Chicago albums. He suggested, "Let's not get caught up in tricky, phony titles for the albums." So by and large we stayed with the numbering because we want to have people considering collecting the albums, like other collectors of music. We wanted to have it be somewhat more respectable.

What about your inspiration for a song like "Saturday in the Park," which lays out scenes in a park like a little musical? 

We were in New York when I think we were recording our third album. It was summer and those were the days when Central Park was open on the weekends to the public and I think that was a fairly new development in the city. 

Because we were in New York, I always in those days carried around a Beaulieu Super 8 camera just for the hell of it. I shot a lot of footage of what I was seeing and what I was experiencing on that particular day: the park being open like that and people really enjoying the park experience in Manhattan, which is still really great. I was trying to capture that and when I finally got home and looked at the film, I just described what I was looking at to write the lyrics.

What about writing a lyric like "Saturday in the park, I think it was the Fourth of July." Including "I think" adds a deeper layer to it, because you could have just as easily said that it was the Fourth of July.

Well, yeah. And that's because I actually had two consecutive years where I was filming the park. So it was either the Fourth of July, or it may have been the fifth of July the following year. And I also just liked it lyrically, whether it was accurate or not.

Going back to your debut, it was released in 1970. Does it feel like that was a fortuitous time to come onto the scene? If you came out in the mid-60s, maybe it wouldn't have been received at the time because the industry was dealing with the effect of the Beatles. But if you came out in the mid-70s, you would have gotten lost in disco.

Yeah, we would have been lost in the shuffle in the mid-70s and we virtually were by the end of the 70s. We really had to figure out how to survive. We wanted to keep recording, but it was tricky.

Was there a pressure to have a more disco sound?

For a minute, yeah; for as long as disco lasted. We actually came in during the later end of that trend and it was futile. It was awful. We've done other recordings without trying to be disco or thought of as disco. We had done subsequent recordings for subsequent albums that would have qualified but we were past it, and so was everybody else.

Is there a song in your entire discography that you thought should be a bigger hit?

Well, yeah. As the songwriter or the arranger or even the vocalist or instrumentalist of any particular song, there's a lot of them. They're my babies and I'd like people to be introduced to the babies they have never heard before. 

So, is there a song you'd tell people to stream right now?

I can't answer that, there's just too many. I haven't had enough coffee [Laughs.]

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8 Music Books To Read This Fall/Winter: Britney Spears' Memoir, Paul McCartney's Lyrics & More
Britney Spears - ' The Woman In Me,' Jeff Tweedy - 'World Within A Song' and 'Tupac Shakur The Authorized Biography' by Staci Robinson

list

8 Music Books To Read This Fall/Winter: Britney Spears' Memoir, Paul McCartney's Lyrics & More

As 2023 nears its end and the holidays approach, add these books to your reading list. Memoirs from Dolly Parton and Sly Stone, as well as histories of titans such as Ella Fitzgerald are sure to add music to the latter half of the year.

GRAMMYs/Nov 24, 2023 - 03:58 pm

If you’re a music fan looking to restock your library with some new reads, you’re in luck. With the second half of the year comes a dearth of new music books recounting the life and times of some of the most celebrated artists in the history of the artform are hitting shelves. 

From Britney Spears' much talked-about memoir that tackles the tabloid tumult of her life and Barbra Streisand’s highly anticipated autobiography (which clocks in at nearly 1,000 pages), to tomes that recount the lives of Tupac Shakur and Dolly Parton, it’s time to get reading. Read on for some of the best music-related new and upcoming books to add to your collection. 

The Woman In Me

By Britney Spears

One of the most highly anticipated books of the year, Spears' memoir has been a blockbuster in the weeks since its release. When it was announced that the singer was writing a book, fans and observers braced themselves for what she would reveal when it comes to her tumultuous life and career. The result is a no-holds-barred look at how an innocent girl from Louisiana became swept up in the tsunami of fame, as well as the resulting wake. 

The Woman in Me details Spears' halcyon younger years as part of the "New Mickey Mouse Club," her explosive career, the blossoming and collapse of her relationship with Justin Timberlake, and the punishing conservatorship concocted by her father. Spears doesn’t hold back, but also shouts out the figures who provided solace and kindness: Madonna, Elton John, Mariah Carey, and former Jive Records president Clive Calder. The Woman In Me proves to be an unflinching, eye-opening look at the swirling tornado of music, fame, love and family, for better or for worse. 

My Name is Barbra

By Barbra Streisand

Since her early '60s breakout to her current status as a bona fide living legend, Barbra Streisand has lived a lot of life. Streisand's 992-page tome breaks down her humble beginnings growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and her subsequent stratospheric life during which she received a whopping 46 GRAMMY nominations and released many timeless songs. Along the way, she also became the first female in the history of moviemaking to write, produce, direct and star in a major motion picture (Yentl). 

It’s all a long time coming, considering Jackie Onassis first approached Streisand to chronicle her triumphant life in 1984 (at the time, the former first lady was editor of Doubleday and Streisand was a mere 20 years into her iconic career). "Frankly, I thought at 42 I was too young, with much more work still to come," Striesand recently told Vanity Fair. It’s an understatement considering all that’s happened since.

THE LYRICS: 1956 to Present

By Paul McCartney

One of the most celebrated artists of all time, McCartney's genius songwriting is on full, glimmering display in THE LYRICS. Newly released in a one volume paperback edition, the book puts the Beatles' way with words front and center while offering popcorn-worthy backstory. 

Originally published to acclaim in 2021, the updated version includes additional material and insight from Macca himself on the creation of some of the most indelible hits in music history, including the 1965 Beatles hit "Daytripper." 

"The riff became one of our most well-known and you still often hear it played when you walk into guitar shops," wrote McCartney of the track. "It’s one of those songs that revolves around the riff. Some songs are hung onto a chord progression. Others, like this, are driven by the riff." 

Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones

By Dolly Parton 

"It costs a lot of money to look this cheap!" So says luminary Dolly Parton, in a self-deprecating and witty and also patently untrue famous turn of phrase. While Parton’s life story has been recounted numerous times on the page and on screen, Behind the Seams zeros in on not just her trials and tribulations, but her unmistakable style. 

Packed with nearly 500 photographs, the book traces Parton’s looks from the sacks she used to dress in as a child in poverty to the flamboyant visuals associated with her stardom. "I’ve been at this so long, I’ve worn some of the most bizarre things," Parton recently told the Guardian. "My hairdos have always been so out there. At the time you think you look good, then you look back on it, like, what was I thinking?"

Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)

By Sly Stone

The 80-year-old reclusive frontman of Sly and the Family Stone has certainly lived a lot of life. From his early days as part of the gospel vocal group the Stewart Four, Stone and his family band later became fixtures of the charts from the late '60s into the mid-'70s; a journey traced in the new book Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin), named after their 1969 song of the same name.  

Known for funky, soulful and earworm signature hits including "Dance to the Music" and "Everyday People," the band won over the hearts of America, influencing legions of fans (including Herbie Hanckock and Miles Davis) and gaining a few enemies (the Black Panther Party). The book chronicles those ups and downs (including drug abuse), tracking Stone up to the modern era, which includes receiving the Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Special Merit Award in 2017. 

Becoming Ella Fitzgerald: The Jazz Singer Who Transformed American Song

By Judith Tick

Ella Fitzgerald is one of America’s most iconic voices and the full breadth of her story will be told in the first major biography since her death in 1996. Known as the First Lady of Song, the 13-time GRAMMY winner is known for her swingin’ standards, sultry ballads, scat and everything in between.

Out Nov. 21, the vocalist’s historic career is recounted by musicologist Judith Tick, who reflects on her legend using new research, fresh interviews and rare recordings. The result is a portrait of an undeniable talent and the obstacles she was up against, from her early days at the Apollo Theater to her passionate zeal for recording and performing up until her later years. 

"Ella was two people," her longtime drummer Gregg Field told GRAMMY.com in 2020. "She was very humble, very shy and generous. But when she walked on stage she was hardcore and didn’t know how to sing unless it was coming from her heart."

World Within a Song: Music That Changed My Life and Life That Changed My Music

By Jeff Tweedy

Aside from his extensive discography with Wilco and beyond, Jeff Tweedy is the author of three books: his memoir  Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), a meditation on creativity called How to Write One Song, and his latest, World Within a Song. The latter expertly examines a variety of songs by a disparate spate of artists, from Rosalía to Billie Eilish with Tweedy’s singular take on what makes each song stand out along with what he dubs "Rememories," short blurbs that recount moments from his own life and times. 

Much like his songwriting prowess, it’s a book where Tweedy’s way with words shine with shimmering eloquence. "My experience of my own emotions is that they all interact," Tweedy told GRAMMY.com last year. "They aren't individual, isolated things that you experience one at a time, and I think that's a really beautiful thing about being alive."

Tupac Shakur: The Authorized Biography

By Staci Robinson

One of the giants of hip-hop finally gets his due with an official recounting of his life and times. Here his legend is told by the authoritative Staci Robinson, an expert on the star who previously wrote Tupac Remembered: Bearing Witness to a Life and Legacy and served as executive producer of the FX documentary series "Dear Mama: The Saga of Afeni and Tupac Shakur."

Here, Robinson reflects on Tupac’s legacy from a modern perspective, and tracks the history of race in America alongside the rapper’s life and times, from the turbulent '60s to the Rodney King riots. Along the way are the stories behind the songs including "Brenda’s Got a Baby." 

"In between shots (of filming the movie Juice) I wrote it," Shakur is quoted saying in Robinson’s book. "I was crying too. That’s how I knew everybody else would cry, ’cause I was crying.’" 

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