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pertaining to the wonder known as the Dixie Chicks.
(CNN) -- The Dixie Chicks celebrate success by getting tattoos. With five Grammy Award nominations to their credit this year, and more than 10 million albums sold, they've found ample reason to cover their feet with flocks of tattooed birds.
"We have nine," says lead vocalist Natalie Maines, "but we should have 10. We're going to get one more, because 'Cowboy Take Me Away' went No. 1. But we get them for No. 1 singles or albums, or the first time an album goes gold or platinum."
These chicks hatched in Dallas -- fiddle player Martie Seidel, her sister, guitarist Emily Robinson, and Maines. With a sound that satisfied both country and pop fans, their critically acclaimed debut album, "Wide Open Spaces," cracked the Billboard Top 5 -- the overall chart, not just the chart tracking country music albums.
The awards came next. "Wide Open Spaces" won two Grammys, three Billboard awards and three Country Music Association awards in 1999, along with four awards from the Academy of Country Music.
The Dixie Chicks' second record, "Fly," collected Grammy nominations this year for album of the year, best country performance by a group, best country song and best country album -- plus a nomination for best country collaboration, which they share with the group Asleep at the Wheel.
"There are some surprises in there," says Maines of the year's Grammy competition, noting especially Carlos Santana's "Supernatural" streak. "We wish he wasn't in the (album of the year) category," she jokes, "because maybe we might have a chance."
The Chicks' racier lyrics, Maines says, raise eyebrows -- and no one in the Dixie Chicks is apologizing.
Chicks Roil Conservative Country
The Dixie Chicks Push Nashville's Buttons With "Fly"
"The problem with country radio today," complained Steve Earle at a show earlier this year as he introduced his murderous song, "Carrie Brown," "is there aren't songs about killing."
There is now. The multi-platinum-selling Dixie Chicks, who unlike Earle are embraced with open arms at country radio, are pushing the format's notoriously strict limits with "Goodbye Earl," an album cut from the trio's recent No. 1 record, Fly.
A real hell-raiser, the tune, a sort of Thelma and Louise-meets-Fried Green Tomatoes, tells of an abused wife Wanda who powwows with her best friend Mary Anne on how to make things right. Sing the Chicks: "It didn't take long to decide/That Earl had to die."
"If that's not country I'll eat my hat," says country radio consultant Jaye Albright, who stresses that over the years country music has always "had a great sense of humor and dealt with reality." For sure, old George Jones and Merle Haggard often painted dark pictures of domestic life, but recently country radio seems to have been transformed into a place that's only interested in first kisses and last dances. After all, Garth Brooks' "Thunder Rolls" video was banned from TNN because it dramatized domestic violence. And some major market radio stations, such as KIIM in Tucson, Ariz., have strict policies against playing any songs that contain profanity, including "hell" and "damn." "There's no question in last few years some people think country has become too milquetoast," says Albright.
So where does that leave "Earl"? "It's a hit. And if the label doesn't think so they're wrong," says Albright. But Sony Nashville has tapped the more traditional "Cowboy Take Me Away" as the record's second single. And a label spokesperson says no decision has been made about whether "Earl" will ever be promoted at radio.
"I think it could be a single, and I also think it could be a problem for some stations," says country consultant Joel Raab. How many stations? Raab guesses one-third of the country outlets might steer clear of "Earl," which means in the all-important chart game, the song would be lucky to go Top 20. (The Chicks' first single from Fly, "Ready To Run," is currently No. 6 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart, and motoring towards No. 1) For now, some stations are spinning "Earl" on their own even though it's not officially a single.
The song isn't the only one from Fly raising eyebrows. "Sin Wagon," with the already-infamous line, "Do a little mattress dancin'/That's right I said mattress dancin'" was not a favorite of executives at Sony Nashville, who reportedly asked the Chicks to leave the song off the album. But when your debut records sells more than five million copies, as the Chicks' did, you get to do basically whatever you want, so "Sin Wagon" was included.
Albright says that song, which seems to mock born-again Christians ("Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition") probably goes too far. "Thirty-five percent of country radio listeners are Christians, and you don't want to drive them away. It's always been a delicate balancing act between the bar crowd and the Baptists."
Guess we know which side the Dixie Chicks are on.
(September 23, 1999)