It takes quite a bit of effort to bring together 30 of country music's biggest names onto one track, but Shane McAnally did just that for "Forever Country." The star-studded recording -- a mashup of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You," Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" and John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" that was produced and co-arranged by McAnally -- was created as part of the celebration of the CMA Awards' 50th anniversary, but as McAnally tells Nash Country Daily, there were a few other tunes in contention for the project.

"We had Glen Campbell’s "Gentle on My Mind" with "On the Road Again" at one point. We also tried Kenny Rogers’ "The Gambler." Ultimately, everyone felt like "I Will Always Love You" was the centerpiece that we needed," McAnally explains. "I was having a hard time figuring out how that song could sing with any other song because it’s such a personal song ... When it’s sung over "Take Me Home," it takes on a new life. It feels like you’re singing to the music. That was just insight others had that I couldn’t see because I was too in the middle of it ...

"[B]eing able to end on Dolly singing "I Will Always Love You" feels like you are looking back over the history of country music," he adds. "I was literally laying in bed thinking about these songs and how to make it work and got up and sang the idea into my phone one night."

Once the mashup itself was ready, the artists had to come together. And managing to get all 30 of them -- including Parton, Nelson, George Strait, Luke BryanAlan Jackson, Blake Shelton, Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire and more -- on board was a feat in and of itself.

"We said we’re going to do a mashup like "We Are the World," and people were like, 'What?'" McAnally recalls. "After Dolly and George Strait agreed to do it, it felt like everyone took a step back and were like, ‘Wait, what is this?' Then we were able to put all of those asks out to the stars."

The artists involved in "Forever Country" needed to come in once to sing the song, and then again to shoot the accompanying music video, directed by Joseph Kahn. Given that both the track and video came together during the summer -- in other words, tour season -- McAnally says they "got very lucky" that it all worked out.

"It was an act of God," he admits. "They shot the video during CMA Fest, so the artists were just running through. I think we were very lucky."

“Forever Country” is available for download on iTunes; the song debuted on the charts at No. 1. Proceeds go to the CMA Foundation’s music education work.

Go Behind the Scenes of "Forever Country"

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