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[CD cover, 15k JPEG, from twec.com] Dixie Chicks: Fly

On April 10, 1999, Nici sent a tantalizing message to the Dixie Chicks discussion list. The Chicks' Yahoo! Discography had a new addition: a single, due out June 30, featuring a song called Wherever You Are b/w Cold Day In July. Where did this information come from?

Members of the mailing list reported that the Chicks were playing songs from Fly during their Summer 1999 concerts. Trying songs out on the audience is a time-tested way of figuring out which ones have hit potential, so it's not surprising that the album has spawned a string of Top 40 hits.

June came and went, and while the Chicks played Cold Day In July regularly in concert, no single was released. And in July, Ready To Run hit radio in a big way, debuting at #37 on the Billboard country chart in its first week of release. The "Runaway Bride" soundtrack was released, and by August the advance radio copies of the new CD Fly were in circulation on eBay. The prices for these discs shot up to impossibly high levels within hours.

One seller was kind enough to include a scan of the disc (see Nici's site for pictures), and that gave us the full track listing. While SonicNet reported in June that Fly would boast a whopping 14 tracks, the advance disc only included 13 -- still a nice sized package of music, but it was missing something: Wherever You Are.

Wherever You Are was gone, never played in concert, not included on the promo disc. Clearly, things had changed since April. And there were no clues that anything had happened... until an anonymous source let me listen to a "demo" CD from before the song was removed from the final cut. This disc is even more rare than the "promo" CDs being sold on (and then unlisted from) eBay! It's a true "white label" disc -- the original wasn't silk-screened, it actually had a white label glued to it. It appears to have been cut after the album title was changed to Fly from Sin Wagon, but before the proposed release date for the ill-fated single. Even the track order has been changed between this demo disc and the final radio "promo" CD.

The songs are wonderfully short of the Nashville "decorations" that obscured the fiddle 'n banjo on Wide Open Spaces. It's got a pure sound that shows off the Chicks' abilities to their fullest. Even though some of the final versions did not come out as clean, August 31 was a great day in Dixie Chicks history: the return of all-out bluegrass to the Dixie Chicks catalog.


Note: tracks are listed in final release order.

  1. Ready To Run (3:59)
    Final Release Track 1
    Demo Track 1
    Martie Seidel and Marcus Hummon

    Hit the top 40 in its first week; for more information, see the Discography. The unanswered question about this song is, was it originally written for Fly, or was it commissioned for the movie "Runaway Bride"?

    Another interesting note. When this song first hit radio, Natalie's voice was a bit shrill on the chorus after the last verse. Then, it changed -- apparently, radio stations were sent a new version of the single. On the early summer demo CD, that section of the song is clearly in the midst of being edited... the timbre of Natalie's voice changes subtly, then changes back.

    "Old Chicks" Sound: + + +
    Fiddle and banjo to the max, with an Irish twang reminicent of Irish Medley on the Chicks' 1992 release, Little Ol' Cowgirl.

    "New Chicks" Style: + + +
    Post-Tarabay Natalie at her best, with lyrics like "What's all this talk about love? I'm Ready To Run!"

    Radio Chances: + +
    Could the Dixie Chicks have pulled out a top 10 hit with this much banjo and fiddle a year ago? Not likely. It's an example of how the "New" Chicks are building on their Western and Bluegrass roots... and with their radio credentials established 6 million times over, they can now bring the rest of Country Music with them.

  2. If I Fall (You're Going Down With Me) (3:26)
    Final Release Track 2
    Demo Track 7
    Songwriter Credit

    A provocative title if there ever was one!

    "Old Chicks" Sound: -
    No banjo, and no more fiddle than any Nashville record. Even the instrumental bridge isn't anything any Nashville studio artist couldn't emulate. And there's that annoying electric guitar again -- where's Tommy when we need him?!

    "New Chicks" Style: -
    The title sounds interesting, but the song is just completely lacking in anything that would make it a Dixie Chicks song. It's a typical Nashville factory song -- she's falling in love with him, and she's going to get him to fall too.

    Radio Chances: + + +
    The factory wouldn't churn 'em out if they weren't getting airplay, but there are enough strong songs on this disc that this one probably won't attract much interest from DJ's who have "been there, done that" a hundred times. But the PD's may see it as a sure thing and put it on anyway, especially since Sony decided to give it a choice #2 placement on the final release.

  3. Cowboy Take Me Away (4:57)
    Final Release Track 3
    Demo Track 9
    Martie Seidel

    This song was called in to replace Goodbye Earl as the second single, when Earl failed to catch on the first time around.

    "Old Chicks" Sound: + + +
    It's not just the soft lullabye of fiddle and banjo that make this song echo the Dixie Chicks' roots. There's something in Martie's lyrics that shows that You Were Mine wasn't an abberation -- while Robin Macy wrote a lot of the old material, some of that emotion rubbed off on the Erwin sisters, too. But Cowboy is the flip side of You Were Mine -- it's a joyous celebration of a couple joining together. It was written for little sister Emily's wedding to small-town boy Charlie Robison, and could easily become the "country wedding song" for the next decade.

    "New Chicks" Style: + + +
    Natalie gets to show off her soulful, emotional side again, and Cowboy is as much a pleasant surprise as was You Were Mine. She's done it again -- instead of singing it like just another Nashville music-factory tearjerker, Natalie gives this song a sincerity that nobody else could pull off. It's the surprise of the disc.

    Radio Chances: + + +
    It's smooth and sweet, and the fiddle and banjo are seamlessly integrated with the steel guitar. The only thing going against this song is its length -- but what would you take out? After five minutes, any listener will want more, not less. Sony may agree, since they placed this track at #3 on the final release.

  4. Cold Day In July (5:25)
    Final Release Track 4
    Demo Track 3
    Richard Lee

    Yahoo! reported that the Chicks would release a single on June 30 containing Wherever You Are and Cold Day In July. Obviously, Yahoo! got some bad information. Concert reviews of Cold Day In July were very positive, though they're not reported to have played it much in the runup to the August 31st release of "Fly".

    "Old Chicks" Sound: +
    Emily gets to pick a little (possibly with the dobro) over the second verse and the final chorus. But overall, this track is too heavy on steel and electric guitar, and it could use more of Martie's fiddle -- and Tommy Nash's much smoother guitar.

    "New Chicks" Style: + +
    This is a traditional "cry over your man when he's gone" song. Natalie's voice actually sounds a bit strained as she spends much of the song at the upper limits of her vocal range. She still sounds good, but something in this song cries out for Laura's pipes to try it out.

    Radio Chances: +
    Like I'll Take Care Of You, it's a fan favorite that may not have the spark to jump onto the charts. As popular as it has been in concert, it ended up on the B-side of the phantom Yahoo! single. Besides, when was the last time you heard a five-minute song on the radio?
    The Saga of Earl

    Like two bands of West Texas outlaws, the Dixie Chicks and the Sons Of The Desert started out in the honky tonks of the Southwest in the early '90s. Both rose to a higher level of fame in 1997. And like the outlaws of a century ago, they were destined to face each other one day to decide, once and for all, who would get the gold.

    This time around, Boot Hill was Nashville's Music Row. The prize was the right to issue a song called "Goodbye, Earl" as a commercial single.

    The Sons had already staked their claim. According to Martha, webmistress of the Official Sons Of The Desert Page:

    The Sons Of The Desert have been performing this song in their show for almost two years now, and have even performed it on Prime Time Country. Actually, the song isn't so much about the husband but the two friends: Wanda and Mary Ann. Wanda is abused by Earl, then Mary Ann comes to the rescue. It's a great song!
    But the Chicks came in with guns a' blazing. From Kathleen, on the Dixie Chicks mailing list:
    My boss [at the radio station] said they put on a great show [July 11, 1999] and that they were actually even better than Tim McGraw. He was telling me about this song Earl they did that's on their new album, I guess, and how the crowd loved it. It's about this guy who's abusing his wife and so she and her friends decide to kill him and then after he's dead, no one misses him!
    Only one of the Texas bandit gangs could survive, and the shootout occurred not at the OK Corral, but in a boardroom at Sony Nashville, major-label home to both the Dixie Chicks (Sony/Monument) and the Sons of the Desert (Sony/Epic).

    When the smoke cleared, The (Nashville) Tennessean reported the obituaries on August 8, 1999:

    The Sons said they gave their blessing when the Dixie Chicks asked to record [Goodbye Earl], with one proviso: Sons' lead singer Drew Womack said he wanted his band's version to be released as the group's next radio single.

    Womack said Epic Records execs agreed initially, but told the band last week they would not release Goodbye Earl as a Sons' single.

    That didn't sit well with the band, and Sons of the Desert is no longer an Epic act.

    The song already sounded like something that Charlie Robison would write! Now, the whole story sounds like something Sydney Sheldon would write. But the outlaws still have nothing but respect for each other:

    [Womack] added that band members love the Dixie Chicks (lead singer Natalie Maines apparently wails on Goodbye Earl) and the boys are in no way angry with the ladies.
    Like the great outlaw bands of old, look for the Sons Of The Desert to find greater fame in defeat than they ever did in success. Good luck!

  5. Goodbye Earl (4:33)
    Final Release Track 5
    Demo Track 6
    Dennis Linde

    The label tried to release Earl right after Ready To Run... but it flopped, only reaching the 50s on the Billboard country charts. But in March 2000, Sony cut a video starring Dennis Franz and others, and debuted the video during the Chicks' Grammy performance. On top of that, the label released a retail single. The strategy worked... chart-based country stations were forced to play the controversial song when retail sales pushed the song into the top 40.

    "Old Chicks" Sound: +
    Instrumentals are mostly keyboard, guitar, and percussion. But Natalie adds a bluegrass-inspired twang to her vocals that seems to once again mix old and new into something unique.

    "New Chicks" Style: + + +
    I don't think the Sons of the Desert could get away with the sort of sass that Natalie gives to a song that contemplates, commits, and gets away with cold-blooded murder. But when she sings it, you want to roll up the tarp yourself. "Those black-eyed peas? They tasted alright to me, Earl..."

    Radio Chances: +
    Will radio execs be able to handle this song full of mayhem? Martina McBride got away with Independence Day, but her sympathetic victim seems passive compared to Natalie's victorious heroines. While Martina sings "Now I ain't saying if it's right or it's wrong, but maybe it's the only way", the Chicks see things differently: "They don't lose any sleep at night... 'cause Earl had to die!"

  6. (Hello) Mr. Heartache (3:58)
    Final Release Track 6
    Demo Track 10
    Songwriter Credit

    From Goodbye to Hello? Interesting track placement.

    "Old Chicks" Sound: + + +
    This song, like Tonight, The Heartache's On Me gets "Old Chicks" credit for its "walking bass line" and pure-dee honky tonk sound, even though the pre-Natalie Chicks didn't cut a honky tonk song of their own. But honky tonk is as much a country tradition as Western and bluegrass, and the "New Chicks" bring it back to the mainstream like nobody else. The fiddle and steel guitar are done to perfection.

    "New Chicks" Style: + + +
    Absolutely! A real honky tonk song needs attitude, especially to bring out the edge on lyrics like "When I don't feel like company, you make yourself at home". Great harmonies throughout the song, too.

    Radio Chances: + + +
    After the success of Tonight, The Heartache's On Me, the label and the country stations may be willing to give this similar (but still unique) song the push it needs to hit the top.

  7. Don't Waste Your Heart (3:03)
    Final Release Track 7
    Demo Track 8
    Martie, Emily, and/or Natalie

    "Jeremy in Tucson" reported that this song had a sort of You Were Mine feel to it when they played it at the massive 4th of July festival in 1999. Various posters on the list attribute writing credits to Martie or to Natalie and Emily, but it seems pretty clear that this "true country ballad" is a Dixie Chicks original, and its emotional impact comes from Natalie's early 1999 divorce from Micheal Tarabay.

    "Old Chicks" Sound: + +
    The song is simply arranged, with guitar and Martie's soulful fiddle accenting vocal harmony and Natalie at her You Were Mine emotional best. No banjo, but it's not a banjo song.

    "New Chicks" Style: + + +
    The song gives balance to the disc by giving us the other side of the emotional spectrum. While songs like Ready To Run and Hole In My Head focus on the anger of a breakup, Don't Waste Your Heart is like Steve Wariner's Some Fools Never Learn -- it expresses the guilt of a lover who knows she can't be tamed. Natalie has said in interviews that this song, more than any other, came out of her divorce from Micheal Tarabay.

    Radio Chances: + + +
    Great sound, though radio doesn't always like a song with a "cold" intro (a song that starts out with vocals instead of instrumentals). It's a mid-paced song, and could follow either a fast song or a slow song onto the charts.

  8. Sin Wagon (3:48)
    Final Release Track 8
    Demo Track 2
    Emily Erwin Robison, Natalie Maines, and Stephanie Smith

    Originally selected as the title song for the album, it's still a fan favorite. But word was that Sony was none too thrilled with this tune about a woman who has been all sweetness and light, until she decides it's her turn to "take a ride on the Sin Wagon".

    "Old Chicks" Sound: + + +
    The fiddle intro to the song is pulled almost directly from the title cut of Shouldn't A Told You That, and the banjo and fiddle play a prominent part throughout.

    "New Chicks" Style: + + +
    A track with attitude to spare! It's really too bad the label wouldn't let the Chicks use this as the title track, because the song is almost a metaphor for the group's entire evolution... from sweet and innocent to "Mattress Dancin'... that's right, I said Mattress Dancin'!"

    Radio Chances: + +
    It's one of those songs that is just too darned good to play on the radio. Natalie could be singing to the Program Directors when she pleads "That is, if he'll forgive me... Lord, please forgive me!"

  9. Without You (3:45)
    Final Release Track 9
    Demo Track 12
    Songwriter Credit

    On the early summer demo, this song followed Heartbreak Town. But the songs are so similar that it was easy to lose track which was which -- Sony made a good choice in separating these with a couple of fast, peppy songs.

    "Old Chicks" Sound: + +
    The verses start with a nice little twangy sound, and great fiddle in the bridge, though the song still has more of a "Nashville" arrangement going in the background.

    "New Chicks" Style: + +
    Not every song has to have attitude! This song is a good "I lost my man and I'm broke up" song, and helps lend balance to the disc.

    Radio Chances: + + +
    It has a smooth sound, but it's not a cookie-cutter song like If I Fall. The song really has a good combination of Chick uniqueness and Nashville sound that should make it a great Top 40 candidate.

  10. (Some Days You) Gotta Dance (2:36)
    Final Release Track 10
    Demo Track 5
    Songwriter Credit

    "Old Chicks" Sound: +
    The thing Martie does with the fiddle at the start of the song seems out of place -- something from the Shania Twain bag of tricks. This is another song that would have benefitted from Tommy's lighter touch on the electric guitar, but it does score points for some nice twang on the banjo and a little fiddle on the chorus.

    "New Chicks" Style: + +
    It has a "grrl power" sound, even though the protagonist wouldn't have to be female. Maybe it's because it sounds so much like a Shania Twain song -- it just doesn't have that unique Dixie Chicks direction to it.

    Radio Chances: + +
    Nice and short, peppy sound, and true to its title it seems to work well as a fast dance song. Could be sandwiched between slow song releases, but I'm guessing it's destined for album-only status.

  11. Hole In My Head (3:38)
    Final Release Track 11
    Demo Track 4
    Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller

    Co-writer Jim Lauderdale also wrote "Planet of Love" on Shouldn't A Told You That, and Emily Robison returned the favor by penning a track on a 1999 Lauderdale release (see the discography). For more information on Buddy Miller, see this great article in the Dallas Observer (4/27/2000).

    "Old Chicks" Sound: +
    Some fiddle and banjo or dobro, especially in the instrumental bridge, but this track focuses on the vocals.

    "New Chicks" Style: + + +
    Once again, the Chicks cut loose with another song that feeds on Natalie's whirlwind romance, marriage, and breakup. Don't forget, either, that Emily was engaged to Ricochet's Heath Wright in 1994 -- she's known her share of trouble with men. It's not "male-bashing"... it's just that we make such an easy target. I especially like her use of the term "boy"... if it sounds strange, think of how many times you've heard country singers use "girl" in reference to grown women.

    Radio Chances: +
    The song has a bit of a non-standard chorus, that switches from "I need a boy like you like a hole in my head" to "I need a boy like you like a wild goose chase". It just doesn't have that "mainstream" sound that's required to get a song on radio. That's why it's a good song to include on the album -- quality non-radio songs are the reason Wide Open Spaces sold six million copies.

  12. Heartbreak Town (4:05)
    Final Release Track 12
    Demo Track 11
    Darrell Scott

    Natalie talked about this track in an interview with the Sam Goody frequent buyers newsletter:

    There's a song on the album called "Heartbreak Town" by a songwriter here, Darrell Scott, and it's actually a negative song about Nashville -- how people come here and have their dreams broken. We don't want anyone to think because that song is on the album that we're unappreciateive, because we're definitely appreciative. But it could be over anytime -- when the music changes or they think we have too many wrinkles. Who knows?
    Darrell Scott has also written tracks for Garth Brooks and Suzy Bogguss, and will be writing several tracks for an upcoming Guy Clark album. Interestingly, Bogguss' works include her own version of I Want To Be A Cowboy's Sweetheart, the Patsy Montana tune that the Chicks covered on their very first CD. He discussed the Dixie Chicks track with CDnow's Allstar Daily Music News:
    "The way that happened was, their producer called me up and asked if I would write with Natalie Maines," says Scott, speaking during a brief respite in New Hampshire. "And in the process of writing -- because she and I didn't really know each other -- I sang Natalie some of my songs. 'Heartbreak Town' was one that I played for her, and I could tell then that she really liked it. The Dixie Chicks' producers already knew the song, so I guess it was just a matter of, 'Let's go into the studio and try it.'"

    "Old Chicks" Sound: + +
    Martie's fiddle plays sweetly and softly in the intro and throughout this melancholy ballad about a "long hard ride" to a new town.

    "New Chicks" Style: + + +
    Like Wide Open Spaces and You Were Mine, this song demands not sass but soulfulness, and Natalie shows her range when she delivers the perfect touch. No other song on this disc echoes the spirit of the Wide Open Spaces title track quite like this one. It may have been written with Nashville in mind, but like Spaces, it will resonate with young adults (or anyone) who left the stability of home for an uncertain future.

    Radio Chances: + +
    The song had already picked up a buzz before the album was released, and its slower pace will make it a good follow-up to an uptempo top 10 hit -- like Wide Open Spaces followed There's Your Trouble. Hopefully, it's end-of-disc final placement doesn't work against it.

  13. Let Him Fly (3:16)
    Final Release Track 13
    Demo Track 13
    Songwriter Credit

    The final track is usually where the Chicks cut loose, a tradition that started from the very beginning. But even though it's the sort-of title track, this Patty Griffin cover is hardly a Dixie Chicks hoedown. In an early August inteview with CDnow's allstar News, Emily said the song "kind of reflects Natalie's love state" after her January divorce. I guess Natalie was feeling pretty muddled and uncertain... because that's how she sings in this very un-Chick-like arrangement.

    "Muddled and uncertain" is an apt description of the original cut of this song, which is the version I reviewed below. Fortunately, it was remixed before release, and the end result is at least tolerable. Some stations (including Dallas' KSCS 96.3, unwilling to chance Goodbye, Earl, played this song (among others) in early 2000.

    "Old Chicks" Sound: -
    While it's an acoustic track, with twangy guitar and a few banjo licks, there's little similarity between this track and anything from the Chicks' history. It seems to be Natalie's attempt to go back to her own original dream to play jazz or blues.

    "New Chicks" Style: -
    While the lyrics have an edge, and there are some very short sections of harmony, the overall arrangement just doesn't have any kick at all. In fact, when Natalie tries to do some sort of bluesy wail, the result sounds more like a Mad TV parody of bad Las Vegas lounge singing.

    Radio Chances: - -
    Country DJs aren't going to even get halfway through this one. Even hard-core Chicks fans are going to tend to hit the "skip" button.

  14. Wherever You Are (3:34)
    Not Listed on Final Release
    Demo Track 14
    Michael Henderson and Mark Irwin

    According to posters on the Dixie Chicks email list, this was supposed to be on the final release -- but Deryl Dodd, the other half of the duet with Natalie, wanted to lay down his track again. Before that could happen, though, Dodd was stricken by meningitis and spent most of 1999 recovering -- even missing a chance to tour with the Chicks and Tim McGraw.

    Of course, the Chicks' management never came clean with the story, so the track was surrounded in mystery. Or it was until Dallas radio station Young Country 105.3 FM got their own copy of the song and played it on their nightly Song Fight program! It stomped all comers for a week... and then disappeared when the station got a Cease And Desist order from Sony.

    Young Country got the last word, though (sound familiar?). They ran a spot telling listeners that the song had been yanked by the label... and that next time arch-rival 99.5 The Wolf can't get their own copy of a song, they should "go cry to Mommy!"

    "Old Chicks" Sound: n/a
    Well, the Chicks never did a duet with any Roosters. My source says that the male half of the duet with Natalie is none other than Dallas' own Deryl Dodd, but those are the only two voices to be heard on the track. In fact, the intro sounds suspiciously like the fiddle on Dodd's Sundown single, and there's only the lightest of banjo. It's a good sound, but I give it an N/A because it may not even be a Dixie Chicks song.

    "New Chicks" Style: n/a
    Again, I'm not convinced that this song features more than 1/3 of the Dixie Chicks. Great song, though!

    Radio Chances: + + +
    If this does get released on Dodd's next album, it's a sure hit, pairing a well-respected but unknown artist with one of the Dixie Chicks. If it were included on Fly, it would have been simply an interesting diversion.

Additional information

Without breaking it down by song, Chet Flippo reported that the disc includes tracks by Matraca Berg, Annie Roboff, Richard Leigh, Buddy Miller, Jim Lauderdale, Patty Griffin, and Dennis Linde. His July 26, 1999 article also included the names of the Chicks' publishing companies: "Martie Seidel's and Emily Robison's publishing is by Woolly Puddin' Music (BMI), administered by Bug Music. Natalie Maines' publishing is Scrapin' Toast Music (ASCAP), administered by Bug Music. Dixie Chicks are booked by Buddy Lee Attractions Inc."

Chicks fans should be happy to see that the ladies' music is in the hands of Bug Music. Check out the Dallas Observer (3/16/2000) for more info.

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