Friday, October 8, 2010

Top Ten Greatest Women of the Nineties, #6 - Pam Tillis

As the daughter of a country music legend, Pam Tillis grew up around country music from an early age.  As a youth, she dismissed country music in favor of pop and rock music such as that of the Beatles.  In the early eighties, she attempted to pursue a career as a pop star, but her pop career quickly fizzled.  Eventually, her songwriting began to take on a country quality, and shifted her focus toward the country genre.  Her two-decade career in country music produced some of the greatest country music of the nineties.

After an unsuccessful stint on the country division of the Warner Bros. label, Pam signed with Arista Nashville in 1989.  She developed a style that was built on traditional country, but that incorporated outside influences of folk, pop, and rock.  In 1990, she released her debut single, the cleverly-written "Don't Tell Me What to Do," in which the female narrator upholds her right to stay hopelessly in love with her ex.  The single soon raced into the Top 5, and her debut album Put Yourself In My Place hit the Top 10, giving Pam the breakthrough she had been waiting for.  In addition, "Don't Tell Me What to Do" received a CMA nomination for Single of the Year.

Pam epitomized the sound of nineties country music with her 1992 classic "Maybe It Was Memphis" - a song that sees its narrator looking back longingly on a past relationship with a boy she met in Memphis, Tennessee.  The nostalgic Southern-flavored tune went to #3 on the charts, and went on to become one of the songs that Pam would be most remembered for.  "Maybe It Was Memphis" earned Pam another Single of the Year nomination, as well as her first-ever Grammy nomination.

In 1992, Pam released the lead-off single to her second album Homeward Looking Angel, which would become another career-defining hit.  Pam had first discovered the song after she had already spent all of her recording budget for the album, but since she was determined to include it, her voice was added to the demo track.  She deftly handled the song's cheeky subject matter, and was rewarded with another Top 5 hit.

Pam co-produced her third album, 1994's critically-acclaimed Sweetheart's Dance.  The album became the highest-charting release of her career (#6) and produced her one and only number-one hit, the fun and lighthearted Tex-Mex flavored ditty "Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life)."  Later in 1994, Pam took home the coveted CMA Award for Female Vocalist of the Year.

Pam took full producer's credit on her 1995 effort All of This Love.  She delivered another one of the finest singles of her career with her Top 10 hit, "The River and the Highway," which used rich poetic language to tell the story of two people who were not meant to share a life together, but who were still there for each other.

By 1997, Pam had earned the right to release her first Greatest Hits package, which included two new songs.  She received several CMA, ACM, and Grammy nominations for the first single, "All the Good Ones Are Gone."  In addition to going Top 5, the single helped push the album to platinum status.  The album's second single, "Land of the Living," became her final Top 10 hit.

Pam's commercial momentum slowed down in the later years of the nineties, thanks in part to record label changes.  Her 1998 album Every Time was less successful, though it did produce a near-Top 10 hit in "I Said a Prayer," and the title track scraped the bottom of the Top 40.  In 2000, Pam's contributions to country music were rewarded with an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry.  Her last album for Arista, Thunder & Roses, was released in 2001, producing her final charting single, "Please."

Pam later switched record labels, and began recording on the Epic label.  In 2002, she embraced her father's legacy as never before with the album It's All Relative - Tillis Sings Tillis, which saw her covering many of her father's classic hits.  She returned again in 2007 with the album RhineStoned, released on her own Stellar Cat record label, which featured an eclectic mix of modern and traditional country sounds.  The album received wide critical acclaim.

Pam continues to tour and to perform on the Grand Ole Opry, and is currently working on a new album.  Next year she will also star in the film The Goree Girls alongside Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Landon.

Though she is no longer in the country music mainstream, Pam's voice remains one of the finest instruments found in Nashville.  She built a career on recording high-quality material that was fully worthy of her outstanding talent.  Thus, despite being the daughter of Mel Tillis, Pam was able to establish herself as country music royalty in her own right.