[10 December 2007]
A few years ago George Strait put out a multi-platinum double-CD called 50 Number Ones that contained what seemed to be all of his top selling singles. He had been recording for about 25 years. Doing the simple math, this worked out to an average of two number one country records a year—a pretty impressive achievement. No wonder he’s in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Still, many Strait fans were disappointed in the twin-disc package because their favorite songs weren’t on it—big hits from across the decades like the mournful “Amarillo By Morning” from 1983, the revved up, honky tonk of “Lovebug” from 1994, and the sweet romantic sounds of “Desperately” from 2004. Many country radio staples just didn’t find their way onto the collection.
That was because although these songs may have been big hits, they didn’t reach number one. Well, the Texas troubadour has decided to remedy this with his latest offering. 22 More Hits features many of Strait’s other notable recordings from the past 25 years that didn’t make the collection of number one songs. The result is pure joy for a cheapskate fan or one with limited storage space who doesn’t want to have to buy the original records just to get the highlights missed on the first compilation. Every track here showcases Strait’s smooth style and the ability to make the life of a Texas cowboy into something sexy.
What’s remarkable is how consistent the Strait sound has been. The 20-plus songs are arranged haphazardly across the disc for unknown reasons, with songs from the ‘80s and this year and in between next to each other, and if one didn’t know the song, one would be unable to guess when it was originally released. This is quite an accomplishment considering how much mainstream country music has changed over the past three decades. One can’t imagine many of the top songs from three decades ago (remember past stars like Exile, T. Graham Brown, and Dan Seals?) on the charts today, but Strait’s stuff, like the I-miss-her-so-much tune “Marina Del Rey”, the please don’t cheat anthem “If You’re Thinking You Want a Stranger”, and even his first single, the Texas Swing of “Unwound”, still sound fresh more than 25 years after they were released.
Strait’s appeal has remained undiminished over the years precisely because he doesn’t change to fit the times. His music is rooted in the classic country style of an earlier era—the ‘50s—and would sound right at home alongside tunes by Lefty Frizzell, Hank Thompson, Marty Robbins, and such. What is sometimes surprising is how young Strait is. He would seem to be the peer of folks like George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson, but Strait’s much younger. He is only in his 50s.
One would think that between 50 Number Ones and 22 More Hits that all of Strait’s best selling songs are collected, but that’s not the case. Although he includes “How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls” from his last disc of all new material It Just Comes Natural, Strait has left off the biggest hit from the album. Strait’s cover of Bruce Robison’s “Wrapped” reached number one earlier this year. Therefore, it doesn’t technically quite belong here as it is not just a hit, but a number one song. Strait, no doubt, will have more number one records and perhaps this song will appear on a future collection.