NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Music awards shows love to mashup songs and artists together, but the Country Music Association took the mashup to a new level for their upcoming 50th anniversary.
“Forever Country” features 30 country singers in a blend of three of the genre’s most beloved tunes and an innovative music video that highlights the breadth and history of country music. The song was released digitally and to radio and a sneak peek of the music video premiered on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” on Tuesday night in advance of the Nov. 2 awards show.
That daunting task of combining all those voices together — including Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan and Miranda Lambert — was given to two Grammy winners: producer and songwriter Shane McAnally, who has crafted songs with Sam Hunt and Kacey Musgraves, and director Joseph Kahn, who has worked with Taylor Swift, Eminem and Britney Spears.
“We had a list of about 40 songs, mostly CMA winners, songs that have won song of the year or at least been nominated, and songs that sort of covered a universal theme that could sound like a love song to our genre,” McAnally said.
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The songs chosen were John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” and Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” But McAnally was hesitant to change too much of Parton’s country-pop crossover classic, which was also famously recorded by Whitney Houston.
“I will say that ‘I Will Always Love You’ was one that was really hard for me to imagine in the mix because I didn’t want to mess with that song,” McAnally said. “It feels sacred.”
Featured singers include Parton and Nelson as well as other CMA winners such as Blake Shelton, Reba, George Strait, Little Big Town, Jason Aldean, Eric Church, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Ronnie Milsap, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Keith Urban and Trisha Yearwood. Even Randy Travis, who is recovering from a stroke, makes an appearance in the video.
Kahn then had to figure out how to shoot all the artists, who were only singing a line at a time, and weave it into a visual story.
“I had to shoot everyone separately because of the way the timing worked out,” Kahn said. “But at the end of the video they all look like they appear together.”
Even with all his producing experience, McAnally got a little nervous working with legends like Strait and Parton. He recalled that Parton, who is notoriously early for appointments, was already at the microphone when McAnally arrived at the studio to record her part of the song.
“I hadn’t even met her, and I had to meet her through the glass,” McAnally recalled. “Well, I have to go ahead and get this out of my body and say, ‘I don’t know how I am supposed to direct you singing ‘I Will Always Love You,’ but I am going to do my best.'”
Kahn, a Texas native, said shooting Parton gave him a “what am I doing here?” moment on set.
“I never get nervous around anyone,” Kahn said. “I have literally worked with everybody and Dolly Parton made me nervous.”
Follow Kristin M. Hall at Twitter.com/kmhall