Rick Rubin: My Life in 21 Songs

From Rolling StoneRick Rubin; My life 21 songs
From LL Cool J to Kanye West, Slayer to Tom Petty, Johnny Cash to Dixie Chicks, producer reflects on more than three decades of challenging music’s status quo
Rick Rubin’s discography reads like a who’s who of popular music over the past three decades: Eminem, Metallica, Dixie Chicks. The producer has stood at the vanguards of hip-hop and thrash metal, co-founding Def Jam while still in his NYU dorm room and later his own American Recordings, and he would later use his inquisitive, “what if?” approach to inspiring country, rock and pop artists to create chart-topping recordings. He gave LL Cool J a beat, urged Run-DMC and Aerosmith to “Walk This Way,” convinced Johnny Cash to love “Hurt” and brought Adele a perfect “Lovesong.” He’s won eight Grammys and two CMAs along the way.

 

“I don’t really have any control over what’s going to happen with a recording,” Rubin tells Rolling Stone. “It’s more just experimentation and waiting for that moment when your breath gets taken away. It’s an exciting, exhilarating thing when it happens. But it’s not anything to master. You just have to recognize it when it happens and protect it evaporating. It takes luck, patience, a strong work ethic and being willing to do whatever it takes for it to be great. It’s a bit of a process we have to go through to get there.”

When the producer, now age 52, reflects on his career, he speaks with confidence and gentleness, perhaps a side effect of practicing transcendental meditation since he was a teenager. He grew up in Long Island, New York, and still sports the beard he started growing around the start of his career.

He will be honored tonight by the Recording Academy Producers and Engineers Wing in Los Angeles as part of Grammy Week. Past producers whom the Recording Academy has honored in this way include Quincy Jones, Ahmet Ertegun, Jimmy Iovine and Nile Rodgers, among others. When asked what the honor will mean to him, he says it’s difficult to put into words.

What’s easy for him talk about, though, is his history. Going back to the first record he produced, T La Rock and Jazzy Jay’s syncopated 1984 single, “It’s Yours,” through his minimalist approach on Kanye West’s 2013 LP, Yeezus, Rubin can deftly articulate how he worked with artists to help them make career-defining (and sometimes career-redefining) records.

“I don’t really think that much about how I got here,” he says. “I just show up and try to make music that excites me. Sometimes there will be an idea that’ll make a record great, sometimes it’ll just be patiently waiting for a magic occurrence to happen or setting the stage to allow it to happen.”

Here, he tells the stories behind 21 of his most remarkable recordings, as well as the story of how he left his New York dorm for California and how he realized that producing albums could actually be a career.

T La Rock and Jazzy Jay, “It’s Yours” (1984)

I used to go to a reggae club called Negril on Second Avenue in New York City, when I was still a student at NYU. On Tuesdays, they had a hip-hop night. It was one of the first times you could hear hip-hop music without going to the Bronx or Harlem. There weren’t really clubs or parties in lower Manhattan so much. Jazzy Jay was my favorite DJ of all the DJs, and he was one of the DJs who would play at Negril. I just loved, loved his DJ’ing ability, and his taste. I learned so much about music from just hanging out with him. At the club, I loved the music and recognized that the records that were coming out at this time — there were no albums in rap yet, just 12-inch singles ­— and the ones that were coming out didn’t sound like what the club felt like. So “It’s Yours” was almost a documentary-style attempt at what it felt like going to a hip-hop club and experiencing real hip-hop music. That’s what it is.

LL Cool J, “I Need a Beat” (1985)

It was a beat that I programmed at the dorm room on a DX drum machine. I think that was the first one that we ever recorded with LL. He came over with lots of lyrics, just pages and pages of lyrics, though not necessarily arranged into songs. I helped pick some of the lyrics and arranged them into a song.

Back then, I would say LL was kind of a nerdy 16-year-old kid. He was really smart, well read. He came to the dorm room and was very motivated. He’s one of the more hardworking artists I’ve worked with, even from then. And I felt like he really kept to himself. He was friendly with the other artists, but I felt like he was a little bit of a loner type guy. He was in his head a lot. It was different than so many artists that were much more outgoing.

We did the recording at Chung King, a studio whose real name was Secret Society — I decided to call it “Chung King” just because it was in Chinatown. The owner’s name was John King, and it was a really crummy studio and I wanted it to be recorded in this mystical place, so we made up this Chung King place. I can’t remember much about the actual making of the song. We had it all arranged before we went into the studio. The lyrics were all written, the beat was already there; then in the studio it was just plugging in and documenting what we had already figured out in the dorm room.

Beastie Boys, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” (1986)

The title came from Adam Yauch. He had a punk-rock, alternative band beyond the Beastie Boys, and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” was a title that he had in that band. I thought it was a really good title and suggested that we use that for a Beastie Boys song.

All four of us always wrote lyrics and then kind of pooled ideas, and we hung out a lot. We would go out to Danceteria pretty much every night and hang out and come up with lines to make each other laugh. Usually we’d only be working on one song at a time, so let’s say that song was the song of that month. So for that month, every time we’d go out, we write rhymes and collect them all. Then eventually, we’d put them all together and try to figure out the best order for it to happen in. I remember there were a lot of really funny lines in that one. It definitely entertained us at the time. Usually, the way it worked was I would make the tracks first, then the guys would come in and do vocals. So I played the guitar on it in the room by myself.

Kerry King from Slayer did the guitar solo. I don’t think he liked the song. I think he just thought it was bizarre. He’s a real, serious metalhead. He really loves metal, and I don’t think he listens to much music outside of metal. At least then he didn’t. I don’t think it spoke to his aesthetic. And honestly, in retrospect, I don’t think he really spoke to the Beasties’ aesthetic. They didn’t really like him either [laughs]. It was kind of mutual.

Slayer, “Angel of Death” (1986)

That was the first record I ever made in California. We recorded it at this little studio. It’s no longer there; it’s now a flower shop on Vine in Los Angeles.

The technical things about recording that song stand out to me now. They played so fast. If you listen to any of the really fast recordings before Slayer, they sounded like rock records. There are certain things you do to make a rock record. But because Slayer played so fast, those things that you would normally do didn’t work so well. If you listened to any other speed-metal, thrash-metal music that was being made at that time — and there wasn’t so much of it — it’s not clear. The reason is, technologically, people were recording it more like it was traditional rock music, which it really wasn’t. It was this new form. People didn’t look at it as its own thing that had to be handled differently. So that was my mission: How do you get across the clarity and articulation and speed and energy?

Dave Lombardo is this incredible, unbelievably great drummer. One thing that we did was make the drums louder. The nature of distorted electric guitars is that they sound loud regardless of how loud they are. Whereas drums, because it’s a natural instrument, depending on how loud they are in the mix really changes that feeling of how hard they’re being hit. If you’re in a room with the drums and somebody’s hitting them hard, they’re much louder. So, psychologically, by making the drums louder, it made everything seem louder.

I also did away with reverb. With their super-fast articulation in a big room, the whole thing just turns into a blur. So you don’t get that crystal clarity. So much of what Slayer was about was this precision machinery.

This was clearly a controversial song. Slayer were kind of the first death-metal or thrash band. I don’t know what the right title is. Metallica and they were going on at the same time, but Metallica were so different lyrically than them. Slayer were more blood and guts and Satan. Anyway, this was a song where the record company refused to put out the record. So we had to find a new distributor. It was the first record I did with Geffen Records instead of Columbia Records.

Run-DMC and Aerosmith, “Walk This Way” (1986)

The rest of the Run-DMC album [Raising Hell] had already been finished. I just had a feeling that there was something more that we could do that would help it. It was a funny time in rap music in that the majority of people didn’t understand what it was at all. People didn’t think it was music. And I thought that if there was a reference point that could both feel honest as hip-hop and be familiar outside of hip-hop, it would help bridge that gap of explaining that this was actual music.

I was just listening through my record collection, and the fact that the breakbeat of “Walk This Way” was already a familiar staple in the live hip-hop world just added to that message. We could take something that was familiar and not change it so much, just through the rappers’ delivery, reframe the song. And unbelievably, it happened. It’s amazing.

Getting Steven Tyler and Joe Perry to participate was easy. It was a funny time for them. They had just reformed, and they put out their reunion record [Done With Mirrors], and it was a flop. So they were kind of at a low point, and it just worked out. Also, they have always have loved urban music. So they were really excited to participate in real, urban street music.

I remember when we discussed the idea of having Aerosmith come in with the Run-DMC guys, and they were really against it. They didn’t want to say words that they didn’t write. They thought they were kind of like, country. It didn’t relate to their mentality. And I remember Russell [Simmons] called them and said, “Just do what Rick says.”

Danzig, “Mother” (1988)

James Hetfield and Cliff Burton from Metallica were the ones who told me about Glenn Danzig’s previous band, Samhain. I’d seen the Misfits earlier in the punk days, but they said, “You’ve got to check out Samhain. They’re the coolest band now.”

I loved Glenn Danzig’s songwriting. I sat in on a rehearsal with Samhain, and I realized the guys couldn’t really play. It felt like it would be hard to record them and make it all it could be. So I asked Glenn who his two favorite drummers were, and he said Phil [Taylor] from Motörhead and Chuck Biscuits. So we called both, and Chuck wanted to do it. So we got Glenn’s favorite drummer, but when he played with the other members of Samhain, it became more apparent that we needed more than a new drummer. So we held auditions and ended up finding John Christ, the guitar player. This became Danzig.

Glenn wrote all the songs, including the majority of the parts, other than maybe the guitar solos. Although sometimes he even wrote those. He had a very clear picture of the songwriting. I remember Glenn being really excited about the song “Mother” and telling me that, content-wise, it’s one that he’d been wanting to do for years and just never really found the way to do it. For him, it was a breakthrough in writing. I remember when we were recording, Glenn had laser-beam focus on all the parts. It was so much fun hearing him sing it. It was a trip. That song has got such a great vibe, and he’s such a great singer.

LL Cool J, “Going Back to Cali” (1989)

LL sometimes likes to say, “Give me concepts,” because he can write about anything. “Going Back to Cali” was more of a personal story for me, because I had been spending time in California and going back and forth. I think that was the last record we made together. He’s still super solid and has a super work ethic.

I like that song because it was a different kind of funk. There’s a slower beat and a faster beat working together to create a counter beat. It created a new feel. I played kalimba on it, too.

I don’t know what the inspiration for the horns was, but that was the first time we used them. Maybe it’s because we would scratch in horn stabs often and thought it would be interesting to do them ourselves. That part was all improvised. I would just say what to play and the musicians would play them. We had a horn solo in it, too, which is an odd choice because it’s typically not something I like. But for some reason we did it.

I can’t think of the song without thinking about the video. It’s was such a quintessential moment in time in our lives. And it was directed by a man named Ric Menello, who was the guy who ran the front desk at the dorm. He was a film-buff friend of ours. The video is one of his great pieces of art.

Andrew Dice Clay, “Hour Back … Get It?” (1990)

That album, The Day the Laughter Died, was at a time when he was the most popular comedian in the United States, selling out Madison Square Garden, and his fans were rabid. But when he was writing and rehearsing material, I would see him do these shows where he would get up at 2 o’clock in the morning, and there would be six people in an audience. It might be tourists who would come from out of town, thinking they were gonna see comedy and getting Dice and being horrified. For us — we worked with a guy named Hothead Johnny — we laughed the hardest at the shows where the audience didn’t like Dice. It was just so funny and combative, like performance art. He’d say these horrible, hateful things. And if you say something horrible and hateful and everybody laughs, it’s a joke. But if you say something horrible and hateful and nobody laughs, it’s kind of scary. It’s really a weird feeling.

So at the height of his popularity, we had the idea we’d put him in front of a small audience that just didn’t like him. It was really counter to what we did, so “anti” his real career. It was very bold of him to do it.

“Hour Back … Get It?” means nothing. It’s a routine he personally found very funny and nobody else found it funny. He had a friend named Auerbach, and it was sort of a play on his friend’s name. So maybe the whole joke might have just been to make one person laugh who wasn’t there. It couldn’t have been more of an inside joke. It wasn’t even a joke.

What you hear is a guy saying things that are sometimes funny, sometimes not. But his commitment to how funny he thinks it is, and how hard he’s selling it to nothing, to no response, is what’s so funny. It’s, like, he’s so convinced that this is funny. In a way, it’s got this existential quality. Of all the Dice albums, it’s my favorite.

Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Breaking the Girl” (1991)

I was living in California at the time, and it was really fun for me to work with the Chili Peppers, because I was new to Los Angeles, and the Chili Peppers were so ensconced in Los Angeles culture. It’s like after the Beach Boys, the next California band was the Chili Peppers. They really were theLos Angeles band. That was like my “Welcome to Los Angeles.” I loved just going out with them. I got to really experience Los Angeles in a local way being with them, and it was really a beautiful experience.

We recorded in this house that was amazing. It was just a beautiful place and a beautiful vibe. “Breaking the Girl” was the first record we made together, and it had a really beautiful John Frusciante guitar part.

Anthony [Kiedis] sang it in one of the bedrooms on the second floor of the house by himself. He didn’t ever want to have anybody see him when he was singing, so he was always kind of in a remote place. We were listening in the control room and speaking to him, and that idea for the rhythm breakdown — I can’t remember if it was Flea’s or John’s idea — but it came up, so everyone played together. So everybody picked their pots or pans or loud metallic instruments for this percussive jam session, and it worked out really cool. It just gave it an interesting flavor on the record and it really stood out.

Queen, “We Will Rock You (Ruined by Rick Rubin)” (1991)

Queen had got their masters back from the record company. They weren’t available for a little while, so they wanted to re-release them, and they wanted to do remixes to go on each of the albums. They reached out to different people that they thought could do something interesting.

I remember thinking, “Wow.” “We Will Rock You” is, like, this is a perfect record. I always had a weird feeling about remixes. We put so much time and effort into making the record that a remix seemed to be tainting what was good about the record. That was my thought then.

I loved Queen, so when they asked me, I thought, “Well, there’s no way I could make it better than theirs. It’s perfect as it is.” So the idea was to go the other way, and not try to make it great, but try to make it ridiculous and try to ruin it. On the real record, it breaks into a jam at the end and it seems so surreal. So because they’d sent all the multi-tracks, at the end of the remix, I played the solo from “Tie Your Mother Down” backwards.

The credit that I took on it was “Ruined by Rick Rubin,” for that reason. I was thinking, “What are the more surreal, bizarre choices I could make to play up the point that we’re not supposed to be remixing classic songs?” The message of it was, “Don’t do this.”

Tom Petty, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” (1994)

Tom gave me a demo tape of new songs he was writing. It had, like, five songs on it from the early stages of jamming. It wasn’t like, “These are the great new songs”; it was more like, “Listen to these, see if you hear anything.” None of the songs were particularly memorable, but the guitar riff for “Last Dance With Mary Jane” was between two of the songs, like, after someone tuned up, just the first chords they played. So I call Tom, and was like, “Hey, this whole phrase is really good. You may want to write this song.” And he did [laughs]. I don’t know how he felt about it. I couldn’t read him. Sometimes he would say things very clearly, and sometimes he would not, and feel strongly about something and I would never know [laughs].

System of a Down, “Chop Suey” (2001)

When I first saw System of a Down, I loved them so much, it just made me laugh. There was no point of reference. It was so unusual. It’s hard music, but a lot of hard music sounds very similar. This is hard, but it’s playful, and it’s really danceable and funky. And the emotion of the performances, it really reaches me. I love it.

This song was originally going to be called “Self-Righteous Suicide,” and the record company rebelled. It was Columbia again, like with Slayer. I remember wanting to go to the mat and keep the title, and the band decided, “Let’s call it ‘Chop Suey!'” which I thought was kind of funny.

It’s an unusual song because the verse is so frantic. The style is so broken up and unusual. It’s both difficult to sing and arguably difficult to listen to, but then the chorus is this big, soaring, emotional, surging, beautiful thing. And then it’s got this incredible bridge, “Father, father, father, do you commend my spirit?/Father, why have you forsaken me?” It’s just real heavy, biblical and grand. It’s so unusual that it goes between these crazy rhythmic explosive verses into this emotional, anthemic ending.

It’s just a very unusual song, and the fact that it became a hit is really unusual, because it’s such bizarre music. I was shocked when Serj [Tankian] first sang the verse to me. It’s like, “You really want this to be the verse?” And he’s like, “Yeah.” He loved it. And it holds up. You have no perspective on something like this the first time you hear it. But the thing that’s so exciting about that band is how they take these unusual ideas and execute them on a high level. They can take something that seems really awkward and convey it in a way where you can see it as beautiful. It forces you to open your mind.

Johnny Cash, “Hurt” (2003)

Johnny and I would make collections of songs as possible covers for him to sing, and we’d send them to each other. “Hurt” was one that I sent. There were maybe 20 songs including that one on the mix I made, and it wasn’t one that he responded to. But I had a strong feeling about it, so on the next compilation, I included that one again. Because of the way the Nine Inch Nails song sounds, I think it was hard for him to hear it. So I sent him the lyrics, and I said, “Just read the lyrics. If you like the lyrics, then we’ll find a way to do it that will suit you.”

He listened to it with the lyrics sheet and said, “If you feel strongly about this, we can try it.” We recorded at my house in Los Angeles. We built all of it from scratch. It’s an acoustic song, so it was recorded as a smaller acoustic song than it ended up becoming, and through overdubs, we built all the drama that’s in the song to support the power of the words and the way Johnny was delivering them.

He was at a time where his health was failing, and I tried to pick songs that made sense lyrically for the way his voice was sounding. There were times when his voice sounded broken. He tried to turn that into a positive in the selection of the music. He was awfully troubled by the way his voice was sounding. A lot of times during the process, he would be down on himself. He could always rely on his voice, and at this stage he couldn’t. It was a real struggle for him. But then, when we put everything together and it was done, he would love it.

This is another song where I can’t think of the song without seeing the video. The first time I saw it, I just cried. It really upset me. It’s a really beautiful piece of art and I’m proud of him for letting people see it. When his management first saw they were like, “Nobody can ever see this.” And it was really Rosanne [Cash], his daughter, that made the case to Johnny that, “You’re an artist — this is what you do, and you have to show this.” He was like, “You’re right.” He agreed. And the video came out. She was the one.

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Rolling Stone’s Booting Ass and Taking Names: Country’s 20 Best Revenge Songs

From Carrie Underwood’s tire slashing to Johnny Cash’s sucker punches, count down the best tunes about getting even.
Carrie Underwood Before He Cheats
(Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic)

Country music may be the genre of the Bible Belt, but when it comes to avenging sins, its lyrical weapons are plenty and potent. Carrie Underwood swings a baseball bat, Johnny Cash uses fists, Miranda Lambert loads a gun and Toby Keith fires up footwear. Forget looking good as the best revenge; it’s all about a good aim. Here are the 20 country songs that prove best that what comes around goes around.

20. Miranda Lambert, “White Liar”

Maybe it’s because her father was a private detective, but Lambert takes no prisoners when it comes to cheating hearts. From the first line of this 2009 hit, she puts her man on notice that he’s not nearly as clever as he thinks, as he spreads his “charms” all over town. But what we don’t find out until the end of the song is that what’s good for the goose is even better for the gander. “Here’s a bombshell just for you/Turns out I’ve been lying, too,” she sings, revealing that she’s been spreading a few things of her own.

19. Johnny Cash, “A Boy Named Sue”

Thanks, Dad. . . for nothing. It’s hard to be grateful when you’re a dude whose name is Sue. In this At San Quentin classic written by Shel Silverstein, the Man in Black tells the tale of a boy whose deadbeat father gave him the feminine moniker before he skipped town. Though he later learns this was a gesture to get his son to toughen up in his absence, it’s difficult to shake off years of bullying, and the whole thing ends in an old-school scuffle – complete with a severed ear – set to a chugging Cash-ian beat and plenty of tongue-in-cheek. Though they settle it all in the end, one thing’s clear: there will be no Sue Jr. “If I ever have a son, I think I’m gonna name him Bill or George! Anything but Sue!”

18. Taylor Swift, “Better Than Revenge”

Taylor Swift has made a multi-million dollar career out of getting lyrical revenge, with this track from 2010’s Speak Now perhaps packing the strongest punch. “There’s nothing I do better than revenge,” she sings, though she never details just what exactly she’s going to do to the man-stealing actress who’s “better known for things she does on the mattress.” But in that line lies the real-life karma. See, Swift’s revenge comes in the form of all those rumors about celebrities who inspire her songs. This one was allegedly about actress Camilla Belle, who dated pop prince Joe Jonas just after he dumped the singer-songwriter, and thus had her dirty laundry aired on pop and country stations worldwide.

17. Porter Wagoner, “The Cold Hard Facts of Life”

Bill Anderson wrote this Number Two country hit, the title cut of a 1966 Wagoner album that served up infidelity, divorce, drunkenness and murder. Arriving back in town early, our narrator hopes to surprise the missus. Figuring that pink champagne makes a nice welcome-home gift, the unsuspecting hubby encounters a guy at the liquor store who’s also buying booze for his lady. He’s still clueless when the guy tells the cashier “her husband’s out of town,” but wises up when he sees that the dude has driven right to his house. After downing the entire bottle, he decides it’s time to make his move — a move that doesn’t end well.

16. Kathleen Edwards, “In State”

Kathleen Edwards has gotten herself mixed up with the wrong man. “You talk so sweet until the going gets tough/The last job you pulled was never big enough,” she laments, knowing he’s unlikely to clean himself up. Although we’re never told the exact nature of her dude’s dirty dealings — drug running? bank robbing? — Edwards does let us in on a little secret: she’s gearing up to call the cops and tip them off. If her love isn’t enough to scare the guy straight, maybe 20 years in a state penitentiary will do the trick.

15. Nancy Sinatra, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'”

Nancy Sinatra was about to be dropped from her famous father’s record label in 1966 when producer Lee Hazlewood had her record “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” a jangly song he’d originally written for himself before realizing Sinatra’s sinewy, nubile delivery was just what his tune needed to take off. The distinctive, walking double bass line helped make the singer’s rendition the definitive take on this revenge classic, sounding just like a ravishing ladylove sliding on a slick pair of high-heeled boots before giving a sultry “so long” and strutting out the door. It’s the musical encompassment of having the power to exalt or the power to destroy. . . coupled with the power of sexy footwear.

14. Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats”

Since the release of this feisty number nearly a decade ago, not a single day has passed where it hasn’t blasted over the speakers of a football field, a Buffalo Wild Wings or a crappy sound system at happy hour karaoke, fearlessly unleashed from the lungs of any woman ever done wrong. Written by Chris Tompkins and Josh Kear, “Before He Cheats” was first unleashed in 2006, on the same album that catapulted Underwood from small-town Oklahoma shy girl to pop-country starlet in four singles flat. Because letting go and moving on never feels as good as property damage, the song’s crossover success received endless accolades and crashed the Billboard charts Louisville Slugger-style, just like the way Underwood smashes her cheating lover’s 4×4 truck in the cutthroat recording.

13. Drive By Truckers, “Decoration Day”

Jason Isbell brought this song about a raging war between Southern families to the Drive-By Truckers, and it went on to become the title track to the group’s 2003 album. The bitter, fatal feud he depicts in the lyrics — between the Hill and Lawson clans — makes the Hatfield and McCoys’ beef look like a game of tag. But it’s the unwillingness of the narrator, a Lawson, to continue the conflict that elevates the song to higher art. As he sings, “I got dead brothers in East Tennessee,” you can hear him deciding, “This ends with me.” Because while blood may be thicker than water, a son doesn’t have to defend his dad’s legacy if the father is himself a son of a bitch.

12. Pistol Annies, “Trailer for Rent”

Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, otherwise known as Pistol Annies, never sounded so pissed as they do in this song about kicking a no-good dude to the curb. Tired of her husband’s “shit”, a put-upon wife leaves food on the stove and splits, but not before putting an ad in the paper advertising that the titular trailer is in need of a new tenant. Fast forward a decade, and the self-consumed ex-husband is still sprawled out on the couch — drinking beers and, likely, not even realizing his pistol of a lady up and left.

11. Bobby Bare, “Marie Laveau”

Don’t piss off the voodoo queen. This 1974 single was Hall of Famer Bare’s only Number One hit, and shows how revenge can be so much more fun when you have Creole witchcraft in your pocket of evil tools. In this virtually verse-less story-song written by Shel Silverstein and folk singer Baxter Taylor, Marie unleashes her wrath when a suitor swindles her for some cash and tries to leave before the wedding bells ring – a tale Bare tells in his smooth twang and country-blues boogie. “Oooooo-we! Another man done gone,” he sings, after warning future beaus to either seal the deal or just steer clear.

10. Jason Isbell, “Yvette”

A murder ballad about a literal family affair, “Yvette” spins the story of a teenaged boy who admires a quiet, glassy-eyed schoolmate from across the classroom. He follows her home one night and watches through the window, horrified, as her father walks into her bedroom and inflicts some unspeakable acts of abuse. “He won’t hold you that way anymore, Yvette,” Isbell promises, returning to the scene of the crime later that evening with a Weatherby rifle in his arms and revenge on his mind. Although the song wraps up before he pulls the trigger, we’re guessing this story ends with a bang.

9. John Prine, “Sweet Revenge”

Sometimes, revenge isn’t just in the lyrics – it’s the actual song itself. After his second album failed to resonate as powerfully as his debut, and he’d literally quit his day job, Prine was suffering from a bit of an existential crisis. He chose to respond with a third LP, Sweet Revenge, full of stunners like “Mexican Home” and “Please Don’t Bury Me,” along with the title track. With lyrics ripped from Hunter S. Thompson (“The milkman left me a note yesterday/’Get out of this town by noon/You’re coming on way too soon/And besides that, we never liked you anyway'”), he hits back at the detractors with a priceless melody that said this Chicagoan wasn’t going anywhere, no matter what the milkman demands.

8. Waylon Jennings, “Mental Revenge”

This 1968 hit — later covered by both Jamey Johnson and Linda Ronstadt — shows how to get some vengeance without getting your hands dirty. “Hope” is the operative word in the Mel Tillis-penned song, which shows a scorned lover wishing a variety of devious outcomes upon his former lady. “Well, I hope that the friend you’ve thrown yourself with/Gets drunk and loses his job,” Jennings sings to a steadfast shuffle. This is a kiss-off with no need for a minor key.

7. Justin Townes Earle, “Someone Will Pay”

Justin Townes Earle has never avoided an association with his famous country singer father, Steve Earle, and the younger Earle has certainly never held back on wearing his daddy issues on his sleeves. “I don’t get angry; I get even,” he sings on the opening line of the deceptively cheery sounding, country-blues ditty “Someone Will Pay.” The song is off the singer’s 2015 LP Absent Fathers, which is the companion album to its 2014 predecessor, Single Mothers. And it’s no great mystery who Justin is singing about (or rather, who he’s singing to) when he croons, “On my mama’s life, someone will pay for the way you lied.” The song does leave one question unanswered, though: Who is that “someone?” Father, or son?

6. Miranda Lambert, “Gunpowder and Lead”

Lambert’s first shot at the Top 10 arrived thanks to this nasty bit of rough justice (or is it premeditated murder?) that opens and closes with the groans of a guy whose fate is sealed after he slaps her face and shakes her “like a rag doll.” Waiting for the dude to post bail and show up on her doorstep, Lambert’s all liquored up and ready to send them both straight to hell. The singer, who had already laid waste (in song) to another ex in “Kerosene” by burning the cheating bastard’s house down, has since softened her image a bit, but anyone foolish enough to tangle with this Texan probably deserves every damn thing he gets. While she may have gained a reputation for a high body count in her songs, the inspiration for this tune came from a real place. When she was a teenager, Lambert’s parents took in women and children who had been abused.

5. Garth Brooks, “The Thunder Rolls”

The cheating protagonist in Garth Brooks’ 1991 hit makes one fatal mistake: he returns home from a sordid tryst still smelling like his lover’s perfume. Whoops. While the country singer wanted to end the song with a bang — literally, with the wife pulling a pistol on her philandering husband — the album version leaves things a little cleaner. Networks even banned the video, which depicted scenes of domestic violence. But no one tells Garth what to do: live, he plays the whole shebang, telling the ill-fated tale in its entirely to a wicked melody that sounds like a devious storm rolling into to a dusty saloon. And that video? It won a CMA Award. Talk about the best revenge.

4. Maggie Rose, “Looking Back Now”

Maggie Rose is full of regret but shows little remorse in the role of a love-scorned death row killer who’s moments away from a lethal injection in this wrenching, modern murder ballad. While the once whiskey-swigging, gun-toting Rose, now scared and begging for God’s forgiveness, cowers at the prick of the needle, the song is unflinching. “Looking back now, I should have probably let him run,” the singer intones as she feels the sodium thiopental drip into her veins, but “paybacks are hell where I come from.” And not just where she comes from, but where she bets she’s going, too. In the tradition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” Rose offers her famous last words in the final verse of a song about letting love take you all the way down to the depths of hell.

3. Dixie Chicks, “Goodbye Earl”

Songwriter Dennis Linde, who penned “Burnin’ Love” for Elvis and such irreverent hits as “Bubba Shot the Jukebox” and “Queen of My Double-Wide Trailer,” wrote this Thelma and Louise-inspired revenge fantasy. Dixie Chick Natalie Maines unfolds the tale with extra grit in her voice as she sings that “Earl had to die” — as retribution for abusing wife, Wanda, before the ink on their marriage certificate was dry. With help from best friend Mary Anne, the battered bride poisons Earl’s black eyed peas, wraps him up in a tarp and hides the body without a trace. . . of evidence or regret, that is. Besides, “it turns out he was a missing person who nobody missed at all.” “Goodbye Earl” wasn’t the last controversial thing the Chicks ever did – but it was certainly the funniest.

2. Toby Keith, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (the Angry American)”

We’ll put a boot in your ass/It’s the American way.” No other lyric more completely defined the patriotic (or, as many argued, jingoistic) sentiments that dominated country airwaves in the wake of 9/11, running up to the invasion of Iraq. Like many hawkish Americans, the unapologetic Keith, firm in the belief that justice and vengeance were one in the same, wasn’t just angry — he was enraged. And he didn’t mince words on what prevailed as his signature song (at least until “Red Solo Cup” came along). The de facto soundtrack to the Bush Doctrine, the song — much like the war — was polarizing in its promise to blow axis of evil inhabitants back to the Stone Age. The song itself made good on that promise, its titled famously scrawled across some of the bombs that dropped over Baghdad.

1. Carrie Underwood, “Two Black Cadillacs”

Underwood is great when she’s playing the good girl, but she’s even better at being bad. In the delicious “Two Black Cadillacs,” a woman spots her husband’s mistress at his funeral.  It turns out this is not the first time the two have met, and their actions have been far more diabolical than their man’s infidelity. The pair make unlikely bedfellows as they plot to do in the guy who has done them both wrong. If “Before He Cheats” is Adultery 101,  then “Two Black Cadillacs” is a graduate course that makes taking a bat to someone’s car seem like child’s play.

25 Reasons A Dixie Chicks Reunion Is Exactly What We Need Right Now

Originally posted on Buzzfeed

25. It’s been over eight long years since the release of their last album, the Grammy-award-winning, double-platinum, Taking The Long Way.

It's been over eight long years since the release of their last album, the Grammy-award-winning, double-platinum, Taking The Long Way .

Sony Music Entertainment.
24. And country music is starting to feel like one big brofest.
23. We felt the burn when their 2013 “Long Time Gone” reunion tour stopped in Canada, Ireland, England, Sweden, Norway and Denmark…. but not the United States :’-(
We felt the burn when their 2013 "Long Time Gone" reunion tour stopped in Canada, Ireland, England, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.... but not the United States :'-(

Can’t we all make nice yet?

22. Natalie Maines just keeps getting more fierce.
Natalie Maines just keeps getting more fierce.
Larry Busacca / Getty Images

I mean, check out this haircut.

21. And remember how ***flawless their early-00s award show style was?

Frank Micelotta / Getty Images

Frank Micelotta / Hulton Archive

20. Sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison’s Court Yard Hounds side project is excellent… but it’s just not the same without Natalie Maines.

Columbia Records

Columbia Records

19. And Natalie Maines’ great 2013 solo album Mother would’ve been even better with harmonies from the ladies.

And Natalie Maines' great 2013 solo album Mother would've been even better with harmonies from the ladies.

Columbia Records
18. THE HARMONIES. OH, THE HARMONIES.
17. The Dixie Chicks were proudly feminist before it was cool.

The Dixie Chicks were proudly feminist before it was cool.

Chris Hatcher / Getty Images
16.Not Ready To Make Nice” is an anthem for the #SorryNotSorry generation.
25 Reasons A Dixie Chicks Reunion Is Exactly What We Need Right Now
15. And “Wide Open Spaces” should be mandatory listening for all young women everywhere.
14.Goodbye Earl” is a glorious revenge fantasy for your inner “misandrist.”

Also, the music video stars a pre-30 Rock Jane Krakowski. So, bonus points.

13. But, seriously, they weren’t scared to make waves and refused to back down when they did.

Time Inc.

Time Inc.

12. Did we mention that Natalie Maines’ voice is big and strong and soft and sweet and everything in between?
11. And radio could use approximately 300% more of Martie Maguire’s expert fiddling.

And radio could use approximately 300% more of Martie Maguire's expert fiddling.

Jeff Vinnick / Getty Images
10. Related: how much do you miss Emily Robison’s dobro and banjo skills?

Jeff Vinnick / Getty Images

Jeff Vinnick / Getty Images

9. The Chicks were never afraid to embrace their inner drama queens.
8. They achieved the impossible with “Landside”: a Stevie Nicks cover that’s as good as the original.

Go ahead and click play on this one right now.

7. In fact, every cover they’ve ever done is excellent.
6. Remember when they high-tailed it out of their triple wedding in the music video for “Ready To Run”? Good times.
5. “I Hope” is the best Bruce Springsteen song the Boss had nothing to do with.
4. The documentary Shut Up & Sing is due for a follow-up.

The documentary Shut Up & Sing is due for a follow-up.

The Weinstein Company
3. Not enough couples use “Lullaby” as their wedding song.
2. Home is a perfect album and there will be no argument on this point.

Home is a perfect album and there will be no argument on this point.

Monument/Columbia Records
1. Ladies, we miss you! America needs the Dixie Chicks now more than ever.

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

This Day in Music History — October 4

1961 : Bob Dylan debuts at Carnegie Hall, playing for a grand total of 53 fans.

1970 : Janis Joplin is found dead at the Landmark Hotel in Los Angeles after a heroin overdose. She was just 27.

1996 : The major motion picture That Thing You Do!, which deals with a fictional 1964 band attempting to break big, and starring Tom Hanks and Liv Tyler, opens in US theaters.

2000 : Dixie Chicks are the big winners at the CMA Awards, taking Entertainer of the Year, Album of the Year (for Fly), Vocal Group of the Year and Video of the Year for “Goodbye Earl.”

2007 : Respected music publication, Pitchfork give Bon Iver’s debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago a complimentary review (and a score of ‘8.1’) leading to huge record label interest.

This Day in Music History — September 19

1960 : Chubby Checker’s version of “The Twist” goes to #1 while the original version by Hank Ballard & The Midnighters reaches its peak chart position of #28. Checker’s version of the song would top the charts again in 1962.

2003 : A week after his death at the age of 71, country legend Johnny Cash is bestowed with artist, song and album of the year awards at the Americana Music Awards ceremony in Nashville. Cash wins song of the year for his cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt and album of the Year for American IV: The Man Comes Around, the fourth in a series produced by Rick Rubin.

2003 : No one is injured when a chartered plane carrying Dixie Chicks clips a building at Glasgow Airport. The group is en route from Dublin for a concert at Glasgow’s Exhibition and Conference Center. The show goes on as planned.

2008 : Former Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker and DJ AM are seriously injured in a jet crash that killed four people. The plane hurtled off the end of a runway in South Carolina when a tire blew, engulfing the plane in flames. DJ AM died of an accidental drug overdose less than a year later.