At a loss as to what to get the country music fan on your list as the holiday gift-giving season rapidly draws to a close? Fortunately, thanks to country music radio icon Blair Garner, your worries may be over as he releases BEYOND The Hits Volume 1, a collection of 20 great songs—none of them previously released as singles—from many of the top stars in the genre. Best-known as host of his own nightly syndicated radio show, “After MidNite,” Blair is heard by millions weekly throughout the U.S. and Canada and is a passionate supporter and lover of country music. And, as someone who grew up before the days of downloading individual tunes, Blair has always loved exploring every song on an artist’s new album, looking for those gems he somehow just knows will eventually be hits. BEYOND is a collection of those tunes, all taken from previously released albums by Trace Adkins, Lady Antebellum, Tim McGraw, Miranda Lambert, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Martina McBride and more of country’s biggest stars. In addition to helping showcase 20 wonderful songs, the new project—the debut release from Blair’s on TriPower Production Company—also is a fundraising vehicle for causes near and dear to Blair’s heart: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, The CMA Foundation’s Keep the Music Playing and the ACM’s Lifting Lives. BEYOND The Hits is now available on iTunes as a $9.99 digital album. Pick it up for the true country music lover in your life. Blair recently took time to chat with Nashville.com about the project and some of the stories beyond the wonderful tunes on the record. Here’s some of what he had to say.
Nash: First, thanks so much for doing this project. Not only because of the great music you’ve compiled, but because of what it will do for songwriters. Can you talk a little about your motivation for putting out BEYOND The Hits?
Blair: I’m really doing this for a couple of reasons. Of course, sharing these great songs that people may not have heard is important. But I also know how much songwriters depend on people downloading their music to make a living. And with so many people no longer buying complete albums, a lot of writers who, in the past, might have been able to make a living getting album cuts until they’re fortunate enough to have a single or two released are now losing a lot of their income. And then, there’s the charity aspect. I’m really excited about being able to devote a portion of the proceeds from this project to causes I truly believe in. Of course, as the father of 8-year-old twins, who thank goodness are healthy and happy, I have a special place in my heart for the great work St. Jude’s does. Also, my dad was band director at West Texas State University, and I know how important it is to support and encourage young people as they pursue their passion for music. So, having some of the proceeds from the project go to those causes is extremely important to me.
Nash: Are the songs on the record totally your selections or were the artists involved in choosing them?
Blair: I picked them all, because I always discover songs on albums that I know will be hits if they’re released as singles. These songs are all in that category, but none of them ever were released as singles, so this is my way of giving them the attention I always thought they deserved.
Nash: Why do you think they were never released? Is it just a numbers game . . . only so many singles can be released from any one album?
Blair: It can be as simple as a song being too long. Or it could be scheduling. If they release a single and it stays on the charts as long as they expect it to, then it will delay the release of the next album, so they’ll just not put that single out. Or, Jason Aldean told me that he really wanted “I Believe in Ghosts” to be a single, but “Live Like You Were Dying” had just been out, and people at the label thought they were similar enough in concept that it just wasn’t a good time to put Jason’s song out. So there can be a lot of reasons songs aren’t released as singles. In many cases it has nothing to do with the quality of the song.
Nash: When you hear a group of songs like these, do they give you insights into an artist that you may not get through hearing all of their big hits?
Blair: Absolutely. I think listening to all the songs on an album helps you get to know an artist so much better than just listening to hit singles. They help paint a picture of the entire spectrum of what an artist is about and do it far better than two or three individual songs plucked from the album can do. I think people who only download select tunes from an artist are really missing out on a chance to get to know them better.
Nash: I think one of the best examples of that is a great song Trace Adkins had on his X album, “I Can’t Outrun You.” It’s probably my favorite performance by him . . . ever. But a lot of people never heard it because it was just Trace singing a powerful ballad with a piano and a cello and it just didn’t lend itself to being a radio single. Maybe you can put that on Volume II!
Blair: You know, it’s great that you suggested that. And I’ve found that some of the artists I’ve approached are doing that, too, not about their own albums, but about the albums of other artists. Saying, “Hey, you’ve gotta go back and listen to this song on so-and-so’s record. It’s great.”
Nash: I know we don’t have time to discuss all 20 songs on the project, but let’s mention some of them. I love Alan Jackson’s “If Jesus Walked the World Today.”
Blair: I do, too. And it’s such a great song with such a great message. A lot of people would shy away from a song like that, just because it has the world “Jesus” in the title. But Alan’s always written from his heart, and I think this song is one of his best.
Nash: Toby’s “Hurt A Lot Worse When You Go” is really striking because it helps perfectly illustrate the great ability he has to write such really powerful, moving songs and then shoot up the charts with something as playful and nonsensical as “Solo Cup.” Brad Paisley does that and so does Trace, and a very few others. It takes a special artist to believably deliver one song that’ll break your heart and another that’ll make your roar out loud, doesn’t it?
Blair: (laughs) You’re right! But that’s another great thing about getting an entire album. You get to see all of those sides of an artist that you might not see otherwise. And Brad’s song “Better Than This” from this project is a great illustration of that, just a great, fun song about guys sitting around saying, “true, this is pretty good . . . but if all of these wonderful things happened, it could be better than this.” What a great country song. And Brad has such knowledge of country music history and such respect for it and the artists who paved the way for him. I truly believe that as time goes by, he’ll eventually be one of the elder statesmen of the genre.
And so many of the songs on this record have great stories behind them. Tim McGraw told me how totally he relates to his song “Can’t Tell Me Nothin’” . . . and “Guilty In Here” was one of the very early songs Miranda Lambert ever wrote. She’s such a great writer, and that song was written when she was still a teenager. And Keith Urban’s story of how “My Heart Is Open” came about is very touching. He said it was inspired by one of his very early times with Nicole Kidman when he just said to her, “How’s your heart?” And she responded, “It’s open.” What a wonderful thing to say about your heart . . . that it’s open. It touched Keith, and he and his co-writer, John Shanks, got together and wrote such a beautiful song about it.
Nash: There are some huge names that aren’t represented on this record . . . the Rebas, the George Straits, the Blake Sheltons and others. And it is called Volume 1, so I assume you have another group of great artists waiting in the wings for another collection?
Blair: Definitely, there will be more. And I can’t wait to share some other great songs that I truly believe would’ve been big hits if they’d been released as singles. I hope listeners enjoy them.
Nash: I know they will. Thanks so much for taking the initiative to compile these great songs and share them with fellow country music lovers. And thanks, too, for taking time out of your holiday schedule to chat for a few minutes. I appreciate it. Merry Christmas.
Blair: You, too. Thanks, David, always a pleasure.
BEYOND The Hits track listing:
Alan Jackson “If Jesus Walked the World Today”
Martina McBride “Sunny Side Up”
Luke Bryan “First Love Song”
Tim McGraw “Can’t Tell Me Nothin’”
Brad Paisley “Better Than This”
Jason Aldean “I Believe In Ghosts”
Sara Evans “You Don’t”
Trace Adkins “Southern Hallelujah”
Lady Antebellum “Slow Down Sister”
Darius Rucker “Be Wary of a Woman”
Miranda Lambert “Guilty In Here”
Kenny Chesney “In a Small Town”
Carrie Underwood “You Won’t Find This”
Keith Urban “My Heart Is Open”
Josh Turner “Gravity”
Rascal Flatts “Cool Thing”
Toby Keith “Hurt a Lot Worse When You Go”
Sugarland “One Blue Sky”
Billy Currington “Heal Me”
LeAnn Rimes “You Take Me Home”