Written by Holly Kern. 21 October 2014.
Any little girl who grew up in the 90’s would recognize the intro to “Ready to Run” as soon as it came on the radio. The fiddle and the flute would put a turn to any bad day you were having, once you heard it. The Dixie Chicks are the only group I’d ever say I personally have obsessed over; when I was growing up they were all I listened to. Everyday I would come home after school and listen to whatever their latest CD was, dancing around my room and singing like I was them, on stage performing.
When the controversy over them happened I didn’t fully understand what was going on, seeing as I was just 10 years old in 2003. I didn’t understand why people on TV were bulldozing their CDs and bashing them to reporters. All I saw was the careers of the country group I fell in love with falling apart. In this essay, I’ll discuss the history of the Dixie Chicks previous to the controversy, the controversial event and then their album Taking the Long Way that was released in 2006 as a reaction to the events that occurred in the three previous years.
Starting out in 1989 Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, who are also sisters, started a bluegrass group. They didn’t achieve mainstream success until signing on singer Natalie Maines, in which then they signed with Monument Records and released Wide Open Spaces in 1998. As of 2008 this album had sold over 12 million copies, which certifies it a RIAA diamond album. Then in 1999, they released another album, Fly, that debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 charts and sold over 10 million copies. These two albums dubbed the Dixie Chicks the only female band of any genre music to have back-to-back RIAA certified diamond records. From these two albums 13 singles were released and five of these singles reached #1 on the country charts in the US. In 2002 after a huge lawsuit and disagreement with their record label, Sony, the Chicks released their 3rd album Home. This album sold over 6 million copies and had 5 singles released from it. Then in 2003, the infamous “incident” (dubbed by the group themselves) occurred which put a halt to the Chicks’ growing success.
While on tour promoting their album Home, Natalie Maines made a very controversial remark at a concert in London. On March 10, 2003 she said, “… We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” After an interview with Oprah, the Chicks said at the time they didn’t think that anything would really come from what was said, that actually when they were in London and that was said everyone cheered and they thought it was just another line in another sentence. But those words would go down in the country music history books. When the Dixie Chicks got back to the US the public was outraged. Like I mentioned in my introduction, there were public boycotts where fans were crushing CDs, bashing the Dixie Chicks, and people were making death threats to the trio. In the documentary Shut Up and Sing (2006) someone called into the radio station 61Country and said, “they should send Natalie over to Iraq, strap her to a bomb and just drop her over Baghdad.” This comment shows how truly heated people were during this time.
A big part of the controversy that the public had was the fact that Maines was in London when she said those things about Bush, and US citizens dubbed her as “un-American” as to the timing of those comments. Maines responded in the interview with Oprah by saying that she hadn’t planned on saying what she did or when she did. The US was a few days out of entering war in the Middle East and she felt like it would be naïve not to say something about what was going on in the world. There’s a line I feel like sums up the whole situation that was included in Shut Up and Sing. A blogger commented, “country music is a 90% Bush supporting bunch, these lame brains are talented sure, but they’re sticking a finger in the eye of their own customer.”
After countless interviews and apologetic statements over the course of the next three years the Dixie Chicks were not done just yet. In Shut Up and Sing, Martie Maguire said after the incident it felt as if they were a new band again; it felt like they were starting over, something they were indifferent about. With this new album, they wanted their audience to listen and understand where they were coming from and how they had grown since 2003. In 2006, they released their final album, Taking the Long Way. With lyrics like “and how in the world can the words that I said send somebody so over the edge” and “it’s been two long years now since the top of the world came crashing down and I’m getting it back on the road now” this album was clearly an in-your-face reaction to the scrutiny they faced over the three years prior. Taking the Long Way debuted at #1 on the charts in the pop category and country category, selling 526,000 copies in just the first week. At this point, the Dixie Chicks had become the first female band in chart history to have 3 albums debut at #1. From this album they released three singles, none of which hit #1 but “Not Ready to Make Nice” peaked at #4 on the US (all genres) charts. Also something worth mentioning was that the radio was still not playing their music, so debuting at #1 was a huge accomplishment. During this time though, Bush’s approval ratings were coming down so the public’s opinion about war were not in unison with what they were in 2003; I think giving the Dixie Chicks some of their fans back. Taking the Long Way won all 5 Grammy categories it was nominated in, including Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Album of the Year.
I personally commend what the Dixie Chicks did despite their setbacks. After the incident the public didn’t know if this was the end of the Chicks career, or if they were going to come out with any new material. Anyone who knew the kind of rebel Natalie Maines was knew that we probably hadn’t heard the last from them. It’s amazing how after almost sabotaging their careers, how devoted Emily and Martie were to Natalie and the legacy of the Dixie Chicks. In Shut Up and Sing Emily proves just how devoted by something amazing she says. In an interview she says while tearing up,
I think Natalie still feels pressure about what’s happened even though we say over and over and over again it was the best thing; I can tell her that and shake her all day long, “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me, it’s the best thing that ever happened to our career, we’d never change it, you’re fine, you didn’t do anything.” And I just think she still feels responsible. And if she came to me tomorrow, and said “I don’t wanna tour, I don’t wanna record anymore, I don’t wanna do this,” I’d care for her, I’d say okay, I’d give up my career for her to be happy and at peace.
How amazing is that? In all the interviews, the two sisters stood behind everything Natalie said and did til the end. What a tight bond they must share!
In conclusion, Taking the Long Way was one of the strongest comeback albums of my time; although we can note that I love the Dixie Chicks so I may be biased. I believe that the timing of this album helped people of country music who didn’t exactly agree with Maines’s comments to kind of back off and realize that sometimes people say things they shouldn’t and after listening to a sensitive album like this, that even celebrities go through bad times too. I can really respect the fact that the Dixie Chicks write all of their songs and the messages on this particular album are very powerful. I miss my Dixie Chicks and wish their careers wouldn’t have fizzled out like they had but this album definitely made me respect them just a little bit more.
- “The Long Way Around” (Dixie Chicks, Dan Wilson)
- “Easy Silence” (Dixie Chicks, Dan Wilson)
- “Not Ready to Make Nice” (Dixie Chicks, Dan Wilson)
- “Everybody Knows” (Dixie Chicks, Gary Louris)
- “Bitter End” (Dixie Chicks, Gary Louris)
- “Lullaby” (Dixie Chicks, Dan Wilson)
- “Lubbock or Leave It” (Dixie Chicks, Mike Campbell)
- “Silent House” (Dixie Chicks, Neil Finn)
- “Favorite Year” (Natalie Maines, Martie Mcguire, Sheryl Crow)
- “Voice Inside My Head” (Dixie Chicks, Linda Perry, Dan Wilson)
- “I Like It” (Dixie Chicks, Gary Louris)
- “Baby Hold On” (Dixie Chicks, Gary Louris)
- “So Hard” (Dixie Chicks, Dan Wilson)
- “I Hope” (Dixie Chicks, Keb’ Mo’)
“Dixie Chicks Discography.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Sept. 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2014.
“Dixie Chicks Speak Out on ‘Primetime'” ABC News. ABC News Network, 24 Apr. 2004 or 2005. Web. 06 Oct. 2014.
Harrington, Kohl. “Dixie Chicks Oprah Part 1 (2006).” YouTube. YouTube, 24 Sept. 2013. Web. 14 Oct. 2014.
Shut Up and Sing. Dir. Barbara Kopple. Prod. Cecilia Peck. Perf. Dixie Chicks. The Weinstein Company, 2006. Vimeo. 27 Oct. 2006. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.