The CMA Awards are tonight, featuring performances from country elite like Miranda Lambert and Kenny Chesney. But pop stars are also getting in on the fun: Meghan Trainor is joining Lambert, and Ariana Grande will sing with Little Big Town. These duets emphasize the decreasing distance between country and other genres.
But that distance has often been exaggerated. Alan Jackson commented on it back in 1994 with an amusing song titled “Gone Country,” in which the singer poked fun of artists from other genres moving to Nashville to record country tracks. Singing from the perspective of a washed-up New York folk singer and a struggling L.A. pop producer, he satirized musicians’ decision to head to Nashville: “I hear down there it’s changed, you see/ Well, they’re not as backward as they used to be/He’s gone country, look at his boots/He’s gone country, back to his roots.”
In fact, artists have been “going country” since way before the ’90s. Ray Charles recorded Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music in 1962. Bob Dylan released Nashville Skyline in 1969, trying his own pretty country croon. The Rolling Stones made a pilgrimage to Muscle Shoals, Ala., where they recorded “Wild Horses,” one of their most country-sounding tracks, released on Sticky Fingers in 1971.
Artists have gone in the other direction too. Though Taylor Swift is the latest example, she’s hardly the first. Writing in his book Country Music Broke My Brain, released earlier this year, country songwriter and radio personality Gerry House noted, “I’ve heard all my career about the good ol’ country music songs that no longer exist today… In fact, the Patsy Clines, et al., were actually… pop radio stars who happened to be in Nashville… Nobody thought of them as ‘country’; they just made great records.”
In celebration of the CMA Awards, click into our gallery below of country cross-over tracks — including artists looking to jump from the top 40 to the country charts as well as those moving in the opposite direction.