Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way, #20; “Not Ready to Make Nice,” #8
The Dixie Chicks’ decision to release “Not Ready to Make Nice” as the first single from their Taking the Long Way album was the music world’s single finest piece of performance art in 2006. Lead singer Natalie Maines’s mild Bush-bashing at the outset of the Iraq war had gotten the group booted from country radio in March 2003, but the ensuing three years had proven that she (and her fellow Chicks, who shared her views) was simply well ahead of the curve: The war had become an unmitigated disaster, and Bush’s approval rating had plunged. March 2006 was the perfect time for country radio to quietly welcome the Chicks back into the fold, and most of Taking the Long Way offered just the kind of earthy, melodic mainstream country that would really hit the spot between regular toxic exposures to Rascal Flatts.
Instead, the Chicks chose to hand country radio the one song on the album that programmers absolutely could not have inserted into their playlists without admitting their jackassery of three years prior. “Not Ready to Make Nice” was a pointed diatribe aimed at those who denounced and even threatened the trio in 2003, a period vividly documented in the recent documentary Shut Up & Sing. The promo copies of “Not Ready” may as well have been labeled “Stick This Up Your Ass.”
Hearing “Not Ready” for the first time (especially in the context of its Crucible-inspired video, which addressed the latent misogyny beneath much of the backlash) offered a transgressive thrill that no other piece of music could in 2006: the spectacle of three young women announcing that they have no intention of conveniently forgetting just who steamrolled their CDs and dropped their songs from the air in order to curry corporate favor with a government that wished to see them silenced. It was a great big, beautiful fuck-you.