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Throwback Thursday: Patty Loveless, ‘Honky Tonk Angel’

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly series showcasing an album, single, music video or performance of a bygone era and its personal and/or cultural significance.

Patty Loveless was one of the first country singers to which I was first exposed. Her blend of honky-tonk and neo-tradition, doused with her feathery but piercing vocal, was entrancing. She made country music look so cool. Her third studio album, 1988’s Honky Tonk Angel, cemented her as a commercial force but one with deep roots into country music ethos. This album, in particular, especially songs like “Chains”–the music video of which absolutely hypnotized me as a wide-eyed toddler bouncing to the groovy rhythm–“Timber I’m Falling in Love” (with the wondrous Vince Gill on harmony) and her stunning, evocative “Don’t Toss Us Away” (a cover of Lone Justice’s 1985 hit on their self-titled debut LP), defined my broken, confusing childhood. Her voice can cut like a knife, and even when she aimed high for radio play, she was nearly always on target.

“Chains,” with its vaudeville, black and white-filtered music video, was one of two chart-topping hits for the record, along with “Timber I’m Falling in Love” (her first-ever No. 1). “Don’t Toss Us Away,” featuring Rodney Crowell on sterling backing vocals, charted in the Top 5. Kostas, a prolific songwriter who has written hundreds of songs and hits panning country and pop, got his big break thanks in huge part to Loveless and her producer Tony Brown. In Kostas’ first batch of song submissions for Welk Music, Loveless fell in love with three of them, cut her own versions and took them high on the radio airwaves. “The Lonely Side of Love,” a plucky, lonesome downtempo, was among them. Kostas’ career exploded after that: going on to pen major hits for Dwight Yoakam, Travis Tritt, Martina McBride, the Dixie Chicks, and countless others.

“I know that at this point in time I focus my little songs toward the radio,” Kostas, then 45, once told the LA Times¬†in 1995, “but even in doing so, I want to implant a little bit of human integrity. Even if it is geared for the radio, it can still be good. We’re witnesses to lots of popular songs that were real songs. You have to push the words against the stone of reality and life, to see whether they ring true. Otherwise you end up with a piece of fluff.”

Honky Tonk went gold three years later (her first of many such milestones) and reached platinum in 1997. The watershed album followed her criminally-overlooked 1986 self-titled bow on MCA Records and her sophomore effort¬†If My Heart Had Windows, also released in 1988. Loveless became a Grand Ole Opry that year, too, the cherry-on-top of her distinguished career. When country radio moved on, as it so frequently and tragically does, she parlayed into more Americana and bluegrass-based music, as evidenced on her excellent duo of discs, 2001’s Mountain Soul and 2009’s Mount Soul II (her last studio record). She has reportedly since retired completely from the music business–and country music is the worse for it.

Spin the album below:

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Jason Scott

Editor-in-Chief of the Badlands, spinning those B-Sides. Love Parks & Rec. Addicted to high-priced coffee drinks, alt-country and synth-pop, and never know when to quit. Got a cat named Jake--and she doesn't like you very much.