Totally Country and Ultimate Country Party [HERC's Mix]

Before Now That's What I Call Country, there was another multi-label hit-packed compilation series called Totally Country that ran for six volumes from 2002-2007.  Totally Country was a spin-off of the Totally Hits series which was launched by Song BMG and Warner Brother Records in direct response to Virgin/Universal/EMI's Now That's What I Call Music series.  The Totally Hits series included other collections such as Totally Dance, Totally R&B and Totally Hip-Hop and ran from 1999 until 2007 when it was absorbed by Now That's What I Call Music.

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Released in time for Valentine's Day 2002, Totally Country boasted "17 NEW Chart-Topping HITS" when in fact two of the tracks failed to make the Top 10 on the Hot Country Songs chart: HERC fave Dwight Yoakam's twangy, yee-haw cover of Cheap Trick's classic "I Want You To Want Me" and the angelic "One Voice" by Billy Gilman.  The album peaked in the penultimate spot on the Top Country albums chart and narrowly missed the Top 10 on the Top 200 albums chart.

The album also featured Blake Shelton's debut single, "Austin", which eventually became a #1 country song. Our boy Blake had such pretty long locks peeking out from under his cowboy hat back then.  (HERC wore his hair a little longer ten years ago, too.  How about you?)  As the song was rising up the charts in 2001, his record label (Giant) closed it's doors and Warner Brothers picked up his distribution, helping the song reach #12 on the Hot 100.

After applying his trademark Yoakam twist n twang to rock hits "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "Train In Vain", Dwight put his denim and fringe treatment all over "I Want You To Want Me" in 2000 on his Tomorrow's Sounds Today album.  (Sharp-eared Hideaway readers will remember HERC previously featured the Letters To Cleo 1999 cover version of the song.)  The song, in it's original form on Cheap Trick's In Color album from 1977 was nothing special.  However, once Robin, Rick, Bun E. and the bassist (Pete?) dragged it out on the road, it began to take shape as a rockin' little dose of power pop as they performed it night after night before being captured for posterity on their At Budokan album the following year.  The song contains very few lyrics and they are repeated often so it's very easy to sing along with.  (HERC is singing it right now and Mrs. HERC just joined in.)

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Continuing their Holiday release schedule, Totally Country Vol. 2 was released just before Halloween 2002 and featured 17 tracks just like the previous volume.  On the charts, it did not do as well as it's predecessor but for whatever reason the powers that be decided to capitalize the first letters of Keith Urban's name on the cover this time - did anyone else catch that on the previous cover?
Released in the Fall of 2003, less than a year after Vol. 2, Totally Country Vol. 3 performed better on the Top Country album charts than Vol. 2 but did worse on the Top 200.  This time around the typesetters and graphic designers went all in and capitalized all but one letter in the artists name on the cover.  HERC felt the song selection was as weak as the last release so he took a pass on this one, too.

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For Totally Country Vol. 4, each and every included artist had their name featured in full capital letters on the cover albeit in a smaller font.  Despite not featuring that many love songs among its seventeen tracks, Vol. 4 was released shortly before Valentine's Day 2004 and managed to top the Country Albums chart and land at the fifth spot on the Top 200.

Kenny Chesney's song remains a staple down by the water here at the Hideaway where there is a strictly enforced "No shoes, No shirt, No problems" policy.  The song peaked at #2 and was written by Casey Beathard, who had a short run of of successful drinkin' songs including "Ten Rounds With Jose Cuervo" and "Drinkin' Bone" for Tracy Byrd, both of which also get airplay at the Hideaway.

Long-haired country boy Blake Shelton notched yet another #1 hit with "Some Beach",  which is thematically similar to the song above.  HERC plays this game - imagining himself back at the Hideaway enjoying soem tunes with the lovely Mrs. HERC close by - almost daily in traffic.  If he didn't, he'd lose what's left of his little mind.

There was a period of time, a few weeks back in the Spring or early Summer of 2004, when "Heaven" by Los Lonely Boys was literally playing everywhere - you could hear it at the store, at the stop light and on more than one radio station as it was embraced by the Pop, Rock, Country and Easy Listening stations.  Despite this, the song wasn't a big hit on the national charts and, given it's dismal Top 50 showing on the Country charts in particular, it seems to be a surprising inclusion on Vol. 4.  The song did however earn the talented "Texican" band a Grammy.

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The all artists in all capital letters stylistic theme continued when Totally Country Vol. 5 was released in 2006, exactly a year to the day after Vol. 4.  Unlike that previous installment in the Totally Country series, this one featured a somewhat weaker track list and was an under-performer on the album charts, possibly signifying the end of the series.

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Totally Country Vol. 6 closed the series out with a bang on the Top Country Album charts, claiming the top spot for only the second time in six tries.  Despite featuring many of the same artists who had been featured on the five previous volumes, HERC did not purchase this album either as he felt it was lacking in hits, almost as if the record company was trying to push lesser songs.

Martina McBride's faithful reading of Lynn Anderson's 1971 huge country crossover hit "(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden" is the lone bright spot on Vol. 6 for HERC's ears.  Written by the late great Joe South, who withdrew from the music scene in 1971 upon the untimely passing of his brother, the song was but one in a long line of hits Mr. South wrote and/or performed including "Down In The Boondocks" (a hit for Billy Joe Royal), "Hush" (a hit for hard-rockers Deep Purple), "Yo-Yo" (a hit for The Osmonds), "Games People Play" (Grammy-winning Song Of The Year in 1970) and "Walk A Mile In My Shoes" (which was covered by Elvis Presley).

You knew it was gonna happen, maybe even scrolled down to this very spot without reading all the other stuff first.  Here's the giant Totally Country playlist featuring songs from all six volumes.

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But there was still another short-lived country music collection even before Totally Country and Now That's What I Call Country... Ultimate Country Party lasted just two volumes.  The first disc, simply titled Ultimate Country Party, was released in July 1998.  (How long ago was that? Justin Bieber was only four years old, Bill Clinton was still the President and the twin towers of the World Trade Center were still standing.)  These discs differ from the others mentioned in that they are continuously mixed, which means there is no silence between the songs as one flows into the other.  Boasting 18 up-tempo dancable tracks including several 2 step and line-dancing favorites, Ultimate Country Party lives up to its name.  Sort of.

For a little over ten years, Alan Jackson was one of the kings of country, writing and performing his own songs with his band, The Strayhorns.  Alan fused classic honky tonk with modern country and had more than two dozen Number One hits on the Hot Country Songs charts.  "Chatahoochee" is one of those hits.

Arguably the biggest country dance hit of the last 20 years, Brooks and Dunn's "Boot Scootin' Boogie" is still heard nightly in juke joints, honky tonks and cowboy clubs all over the world not to mention parties, wedding recpetions and bat mitzvahs.  The song was originally recorded and released in 1990 by Asleep At The Wheel but Kix and Ronnie took it to the top of the charts and onto dance floors everywhere two years later.

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Released nearly two years after the first one, Ultimate Country Party 2 came out in April 2000 and the series ended with it.  HERC was unable to locate chart information for either release which can only mean one thing: the Evil Empire (aka record companies) are trying to suppress the sales performance of these two titles so they don't have to pay the artists.  Tsk tsk.

The Brooks & Dunn entry on the sophomore disc is yet another cover: B.W. Stevenson's yodelriffic 1973 pop hit "My Maria".  The boys do a faithful rendition of it, ever so slightly emphasizing the song's innate country sensibilities.  They did win a Grammy for their efforts and the song not only topped the country singles charts, it was THE top country song of the year in 1996.

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