10 Emmylou Harris Essentials

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10 Emmylou Harris Essentials

emmylou harris
Emmylou Harris. Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images. 

Country icon, Emmylou Harris is revered as both a songwriter and musician with dozens of hits and 14 Grammy Awards under her belt. With one of the purest voices in music, Harris’s esteemed catalogue of chart-topping songs reveals her to be both a master interpreter of others' works, and a smash hit songwriter in her own right. 

From her early work with Gram Parsons in the 70s to her slew of solo hits following his untimely death in 1973, here are ten essential hits from country legend, Emmylou Harris. 

1. 'Two More Bottles of Wine'

Two More Bottles of Wine was originally written and released by Southern Blues rocker, Delbert McClinton in 1975. In 1978, Harris released her own cover version of the track as the first single from her 1978 album, Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town, topping the U.S. Country chart.

2. 'Love Hurts'

This heartrending duet of Love Hurts by Emmylou Harris and her early singing partner, Gram Parsons arrived in 1974 as part of Gram's Grievous Angel album. The song was originally penned by American songwriter Boudleaux Bryant and first recorded by The Everly Brothers in July 1960, followed closely by a Roy Orbison version in 1961.

After Gram's untimely death from an overdose in 1973, Emmylou has made the song a staple of her live repertoire, including the classic cover in her concert set for almost five decades now.

3. 'Boulder to Birmingham'

Boulder To Birmingham was penned by Emmylou herself, arriving on her 1975 LP Pieces of the Sky. It has become something of a signature track for the country icon, lyrically recounting her grief in the years following Parsons death in the song’s poetic chorus: "I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham/I would hold my life in his saving grace/I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham/If I thought I could see, I could see your face." 

The song has been covered by a number of legendary artists, including Joan Baez on her 1976 LP From Every Stage and Country Queen Dolly Parton on her 1976 All I Can album.

4. 'To Know Him Is To Love Him'

Speaking of Dolly Parton… brings us to this 1987 reworking of Phil Spector’s To Know Him Is To Love Him – inspired by the words on his father’s tombstone – that was a number one hit for vocal group The Teddy Bears, of who Spector was a member, in 1958. The song was resurrected almost three decades later by Emmylou in her all-star group Trio, featuring Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt, again, topping the US Country chart. 

The accompanying music video was directed by George Lucas - yes, George Lucas, creator of Star Wars - who was dating Ronstadt at the time.

5. 'After The Gold Rush'

After The Gold Rush was the title track of Neil Young’s 1970 album of the same name – one of the most famed in his catalogue. Reuniting with Trio for their 1999 LP Trio II, Emmylou, Dolly and Linda released their own saccharine reworking of the folk classic that, apparently, Young can’t quite recall the meaning of. 

Recalling a conversation during the recording sessions, Parton once said, “I loved the song on Neil Young's [1970] album and I loved it when Prelude had it out in 1974. But I didn't know what the song meant. Linda and Emmy knew Neil, so we called him and asked him. He said, 'I have no idea.' I thought that was so funny. I think it's about the Second Coming or the invasion of aliens, or both.

6. 'Mister Sandman'

Emmylou’s cover version of the 1954 pop hit Mister Sandman was another chart-topper for the country icon. After originally recording a version of the track in 1978 with her Trio bandmates, Parton and Ronstadt, that was ultimately scrapped, Harris released her own solo version of the track, singing all three vocal parts herself, on her 1981 LP Evangeline. 

The single was a crossover hit for Harris, cracking the top 40 of the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 chart for the very first time. 

7. 'Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down' 

There aren’t too many singers who can bring justice to the tortured musings of country music’s beloved black sheep, Merle Haggard. But, with her angelic Alabama croon, Harris delivers a masterful interpretation that speaks straight to the heart with in tenderness.  

8. 'If I Needed You'

If I Needed You is a Townes Van Zandt original, arriving on his 1972 LP, The Late Great Townes Van Zandt. Nine years later, Emmylou topped the country music charts once again when she enlisted country great Don Williams for this duet version of the track, which was released as the first single from her 1981 album, Cimarron.

9. 'Wildflowers'

Another hit from the Trio catalogue is Wildflowers, written by Dolly Parton herself. The song, about wanting to break free and run wild, was a standout single on the super group’s Grammy-winning, multi-Platinum 1987 album eponymous album. Parton, Ronstadt, and Harris have careers unparalleled in music history, collectively selling over 200 million albums worldwide. It’s really no surprise that, when their three voices united, the results were remarkable. 

10. 'If This Is Goodbye'

Emmylou recorded If This Is Goodbye with Dire Straits’ songwriter and guitarist Mark Knopfler and released the song on their 2006 live LP Real Live Roadrunning. Once again, with Harris’ Midas touch, the album reached the number one spot on charts around the world. 


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