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But that summer, I enrolled in the creative-writing program of a summer school for artsy kids, and the tie came off. The weird were in charge here. I spent the whole six weeks of this program with a smile so wide even the drama kids were like: dial it back. If you told me it was cooked up in an hour by a small-market Morning Zoo team, I would have no choice but to believe you.

From Motorhead. Middle-aged rock legends making compromises: hot hot hot in It was like watching a torturously slow breakup between a person who is ready to move on and a person who is absolutely not going to be okay. Simply Fred wore black turtlenecks almost exclusively, despite the punishing St. Louis heat.

He gesticulated wildly with his hands, which he tucked into his sleeves, giving him the effect of an inflatable dancing man outside of a goth used car dealership.

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I closely monitored my every word, my every gesture, my every letter S , but Simply Fred let it all hang out. He was proud of himself. He was too gay to function, and yet he functioned. As a teenage boy. In To this day, I fear and envy Simply Fred. There was not yet a word for the music I was falling in love with, which made it feel even more like it had been made just for me.

In the summer of , the teenaged record-buying American public spoke with one voice, and it was the voice of a year-old dental hygienist named Pam. They were their own Kidz Bop.

This is what our culture is missing right now. This is the void they should have pushed Malaya Watson into on American Idol. I am officially pining for the Jets. There is no wordplay, no subtext, no hidden meanings. The end. Because who is Johnny?

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Is El DeBarge Johnny, in which case why is he so happy about the girl pretending not to know his name? And how does the robot from Short Circuit fit into all of this? Commenters, please enlighten me. I sensed the ammunition being stored. I was about to get the attention of a building full of pubescent boys in ties.

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Already a subscriber? Log in or link your magazine subscription. For those who made the cut, we considered their lasting impact on the genre, their recorded output and even their legacy as an entertainer. Some of the contemporary artists we included — all of them already trailblazers — also benefited from our speculation that their best work may in fact be ahead of them.

Hitting his streak during the war-torn s, John Denver kept things peppy and pleasant, walking the family-friendly line between country, soft folk and easy listening.

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Andrew Leahey. Maura Johnston. During the two decades since, his songs have tread a similar line, rooting themselves in the epic gestures of arena rock, the digital elements of pop and the storytelling of contemporary country. Several months shy of his 50th birthday, Urban remains a favorite among Baby Boomers and Millennials alike, thanks to a five-season run as an American Idol judge — a gig that plastered his face across the TV screens of 10 million weekly viewers — and a string of hit singles that never shy away from current trends.

His album American Saturday Night established Paisley as a forward-thinking country artist, and his stature was only validated by his record sales. Jeff Gage. Chris Parton. Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn separately kicked around Nashville during the Eighties, scoring minor hits while working as writers for hire. Introduced and paired up in the early Nineties, they were seemingly the perfect match: Dunn the reserved and serious type with the soaring voice, Brooks the gregarious showman. Although rooted in bluegrass and traditional country, Alison Krauss has stamped her watermark across the full range of American roots music, winning a record-tying number of Grammy Awards with her solo albums, her work alongside the progressive string band Union Station, several contributions to the multi-platinum O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Though not a native Texan, Jerry Jeff Walker was one of the artists who helped put the Lone Star State — and, in particular, the city of Austin — on the country music map in the s. I got discovered late. Brenda Gail Webb, unlike her Kentucky-born older sister Loretta Lynn, was raised in Indiana, cultivating a polished persona and singing style tailor-made for country-pop crossover. But I love those songs. Stephen L. Trends come and go, but McGraw remains.

One of the most dynamic vocal groups in the history of country, the mother-daughter duo of Naomi and Wynonna Judd were peerless hitmakers in the Eighties.

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He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in , living proof that Nashville and country music truly thrives on the work of great songwriters. Jon Freeman. I felt it. One of the best songwriters of his generation, Steve Earle is an iconoclast to the core — and, at various times throughout his life, his own worst enemy. David Browne. In the Nineties the group hosted a variety show on the Nashville Network. They split in , although the inclusion of their songs in the film Pulp Fiction and, oddly, the video game Grand Theft Audio: San Andreas has extended their legacy to new generations.

Red White Black & Blues

It was inevitable that Taylor Swift would leave country music behind for pop — her superstar quality could not be contained by just one genre. In the late s, bands did not make mainstream country music — solo artists did. Randy Owen, Jeff Cook and Teddy Gentry were so left-field that they were initially rejected from every label in Nashville, ultimately landing on RCA and introducing their style, which blended monster hooks, traditional fiddle and Southern roots, in a way that left Music Row blindsided and pearl-clutching — but then begging for more.

That was perfect. David Cantwell.

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Mainstream success arrived during the late Eighties, with Stuart building his fanbase not only on the strength of his voice, but his hotshot guitar playing, too. On his newest release, Way Out West , he connects the dots between surf music, California country and spaghetti western soundtracks, fashioning a sound as bold and broad as his own history. Ray Benson has been preaching the gospel of Western swing for more than 45 years, and given his imposing 6-foot 7-inch frame, his message has been hard to ignore. Kentucky-born Merle Travis was one of the first guitar heroes.

His unconventional style of playing, especially on the electric guitar, influenced no less than Chet Atkins, with whom he recorded the Grammy-winning Atkins-Travis Travelling Show album in Travis was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in , where the solid-body electric guitar he designed — a precursor to the Fender Telecaster — is on display today. Waylon Jennings, having married the country legend in , one year after finalizing her divorce from guitar hero Duane Eddy.