Ken Burns’ ‘Country Music’ Gives Sales Boost to Classic Artists
When the Ken Burns documentary was first announced a few years ago, the hope was the film could act like a big reset button on the status of country music, and give a boost to many of the songs and artists abandoned by radio in the present day. Though its airing through mid September hasn’t caused a wholesale wave of traditional country renewal just yet, it definitely has been a big boon in sales and streams for many of the classic country artists featured in the film.
Merle Haggard’s 20 Greatest Hits is not a selection you would normally see in the country albums chart, but the songs on the title received 1.2 million streams last week, and it came in at #12 in pure album sales after Merle was featured in the Ken Burns film. With the emphasis on Johnny Cash throughout the documentary, you knew he would receive a boost. Songs from Essential Johnny Cash received 4.7 million streams last week, and Legend of Johnny Cash received 1.5 million streams, and the albums came in at #14 and #17 in pure album sales. Another title called Greatest: The Numbers Ones also earned the Man in Black an additional 1.8 million plays.
Songs from Ultimate Waylon Jennings racked up 3.4 millions streams after he was featured in Episode 7 of the series, and the album came in at #20 in pure album sales this week. With the big emphasis on Patsy Cline in the fourth episode of the documentary, she also saw a big boost, with songs from Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits receiving 1.86 million new streams. And also of note, songs from Essential Willie Nelson received 3.3 million new streams. All of these numbers were significantly up from where they were previous to the airing of the documentary.
As for the songs that most resonated with viewers of the documentary, according to download data, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s “Pancho & Lefty” written by Townes Van Zandt lead the charge after it was featured prominently in Episode 7. Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” written by Willie Nelson was also a big winner. Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High On That Mountain” also did well. The song was part of one of the most touching moments in the entire series when Gill performed it at the George Jones memorial service in Episode 8 .
Other big gainers were Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me,” The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by Hank Williams, “Jolene” by Dolly Parton, and Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Ring Of Fire,” and “I Walk The Line.” All of these were songs featured in a dedicated manner in the film.
The official 5-album soundtrack for Country Music has also been doing well, coming in at #4 this week in pure album sales in country.
It may take months or years to see just what kind of impact the airing of the 8-part, 16 1/2-hour series has on country music at large. But it is good to see that the public is responding to what they saw, and some songs and artists from the past are benefiting from it.
October 1, 2019 @ 8:11 am
The entire soundtrack is available for streaming on Amazon Music.
October 1, 2019 @ 8:35 am
What I meant to say is that the streaming data on the soundtrack is not available for some reason, at least not in the channels I am able to access. It’s zeroed out for some reason, and that’s why I’m not able to report on it.
October 1, 2019 @ 8:19 am
I’ve been streaming the soundtrack on Spotify…
October 1, 2019 @ 8:41 am
I posted this in another thread, but thought it was worth re-posting here. . . . .
Confusingly, Spotify has three competing “official” playlists (not including the ones made by users).
1) Sony Music’s “deluxe” five-disc album, which corresponds with the official five disc commercial CD version.
2) Spotify’s own five volume playlist, edited and posted by Spotify’s own employees.
3) Legacy Recordings’ eight volume playlist, with each volume appearing to correspond with each episode. I can’t confirm it yet, but this one seems to be the most “complete” and logically organized.
October 1, 2019 @ 8:49 am
I bought the 5 disc version, didn’t know about the Legacy Recordings 8 volume list; I’ll have to check that one out.
October 1, 2019 @ 9:01 am
This might be the reason official streaming numbers for the soundtrack aren’t being reported, because if you have different versions in different places, or even in the same place, it’s going to result in dirty data.
October 1, 2019 @ 9:34 am
Right, and the exact same tracks on the different playlists might be counted as different masters entirely, depending on the copyright owner or the licensee making the claim (and collecting the streaming royalties).
In other words, Sony and Legacy (a Sony subsidiary) might claim a license on the masters featured on their playlists (because they were also licensed for physical and digital download), while Spotify’s own editorial playlist might be using the masters off the original albums (controlled by other non-Sony copyright owners).
So, depending on how the individual masters are tagged and who’s claiming them, you’re gonna get incomplete data. The different playlists might be cannibalizing each other.
October 1, 2019 @ 10:52 am
The 8 volume playlist with all the music is amazing. I’m guessing they didn’t make that available as a “super deluxe” box set because the length and the price probably would have been super high, but man – is that a lot of great damn music in one place.
October 1, 2019 @ 9:00 am
The documentary led to me listening to some American Recordings and classic Dolly.
October 1, 2019 @ 9:21 am
All the talk about Hard Times made me go
back and listen to Sam Baker’s Odessa
October 1, 2019 @ 11:03 am
I finally got around to finishing the series last night — mostly well done, but I agree about the later eps having some glaring oversights. (One thing that struck me: As much as the Carter Family’s story served as a through-line in the earlier episodes, I was a bit disappointed that the last one didn’t at least say a little something about Carlene Carter’s career, especially her early ’90s comeback.)
Still, nice to see that a lot of the classics have been gaining some new fans. 🙂
October 6, 2019 @ 8:24 pm
Not one mention (outside of singing at Hank’s funeral) of CARL Smith (or Goldie Hill who had the 2nd #1 by a female in Country History) when Carlene contributed a good bit (albeit not as much as Roseanne, which I think was a idiotic, because when it comes to lineage Carlene wins). To have discussed Carlene’s career and not even mention her Dad, who was one of the biggest stars of the 50s, would have been a joke……just like it was to highlight Roseanne when too many more significant contributors were ignored
October 1, 2019 @ 11:07 am
I was more interested in picking up some Webb Pierce and Hank Snow after they weren’t really included in the doc much, but also some Ernest Tubb and some Maddox Brothers and Rose. Imma order some this weekend.
October 1, 2019 @ 11:39 am
The documentary could have been better in certain places, but I am glad this has sparked an interest in real country music. I wish there were more programs like this. I miss TNN. Heck, Funny Business with Charlie Chase. haha
October 1, 2019 @ 6:38 pm
I miss TNN too, especially Nashville Now and Grand Ole Opry Live.
October 1, 2019 @ 11:46 am
“Merle Haggard’s 20 Greatest Hits is not a selection you would normally see in the country albums chart, but the songs on the title received 1.2 million streams last week, and it came in at #12 in pure album sales…”
$7,000 worth of sales…not a bad life’s work…hope he was paid better for the interviews.
October 1, 2019 @ 12:55 pm
For any piano players out there, I found a real nice jazzy/bluesy/gospel version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” over at SheetMusicPlus .com for $3.99. In the key of A flat. (4 flats)
October 1, 2019 @ 1:59 pm
I’m still catching up with this between work, festivals, and volunteer stuff. I’m enjoying it, as I do all of Ken Burns documentaries, but I can already see that it’s definitely more of an overview than a deep study, and that’s just fine for people just discovering country music. I’m thrilled it’s steering people toward the good stuff.
October 1, 2019 @ 2:11 pm
Did you know the FCC has a commandment: “Thou Shalt Not Play Classic Country Music Or Bluegrass On AM Or FM Radio?”
I don’t know what the punishment is for DJ’s who break this commandment, but it must be pretty harsh because the all obey!
October 1, 2019 @ 6:02 pm
There is actually one in the area that I live that has a request show specifically for that. Used to be Sunday afternoons, but for whatever reason they moved it to the morning time. Still it is a long running show since it has been around since I was a teenager.
October 1, 2019 @ 6:11 pm
Not sure about the Commandment, because there is a local FM station that plays classic country music. But, it’s the same 20 or 25 songs in a row, which gets real old real fast.
October 1, 2019 @ 2:48 pm
Why on earth would you want to be exposed to even more six degrees of separation from JR Cash. Bored me to tears, and unworthy of review.
October 1, 2019 @ 5:50 pm
Unfortunately the armchair fans who saw this documentary will not delve deeper beyond the artists that were featured. Most folks that are frequent visitors to SCM website are not of that ilk. We know how to delve deeper into the history, material, and artists thereof.
But for many who watched this program, they will not go farther than what they were presented.
And that, indeed, is a shame.
October 1, 2019 @ 8:25 pm
If Pancho and Lefty, Crazy and Go Rest High on that Mountain were the biggest gainers, it really tells you that hard country instrumentation isn’t a priority for the masses. I like all three of those songs, but they all have some sort of pop instrumentation.
Out off the specific songs listed as gainers, Why Me is the one I was unfamiliar with, and now my favorite.
October 2, 2019 @ 2:30 am
The new fans can stream all they want. I hope they stay out of the dollar bins in thrifts, record stores and at record fairs. 🙂
October 2, 2019 @ 6:37 am
Unfortunately, any spikes in streaming or sales will be short lived but this news is encouraging. Rolling Stone noted that “Emmylou Harris alone had six albums featured in the genre’s [Country music] Top 100 best-selling [iTunes sales] chart.”
October 2, 2019 @ 10:02 am
Are any of these making the actual Billboard country album chart? I read somewhere I believe where there is now a Billboard “country sales” list and an “country album chart” and they’re not quite the same thing and if the disc does not make the latter it’s considered non-charting.
October 2, 2019 @ 10:07 am
The chart numbers I am referencing have to do with pure album sales, meaning physical sales and downloads. Billboard’s charts account for streams, which I think is disingenuous for an album chart. But they are also important, and that is why I included the streaming numbers separately.
November 5, 2019 @ 9:36 am
This is a really good fact to hear. The best effect of the Ken Burns documentary may be that it exposed so many people to music they would have never listened to on their own because it was “old”. Music by greats like the Carter Family, Roy Acuff, Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, and Patsy Cline (to name a few) should never be lost to the pages of history and it is a great thing that these songs are being introduced to modern artists through the documentary. Hopefully the songs that are featured in the film can interest people enough to look up more music by not only the artists in the film, but other artists that have helped make country music the successful genre that we know today. It is never bad to hear that interest has been piqued in the music of the past and hopefully it leads to artists seeking to head back to the roots of the music or staying authentic to themselves and the genre.