Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Randy Travis

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July 26, 2008

Randy Travis

Randy Travis

Randy Travis has one of the most distinctive voices in country music.  Moreover, his unbridled twang is credited for helping to pull country music out of the doldrums of the Urban Cowboy phase that plagued the eighties.

With his unmistakable rich baritone, Randy Travis was able to hook me from the first time I heard his voice sing “Before You Kill Us All” in 1994.  Since then, of course, I have been pleased to be able to go back and discover his music that began in 1986 with Storms of Life and continues to this day with his recent release of his July 2008 offering, Around the Bend.

While his deep catalog of music, which consists of 17 studio albums, has made it somewhat difficult to choose just 25 of my favorite Travis songs, I have enjoyed the excuse to immerse myself in his music for the past week in preparation for this list.

#25
“Pray for the Fish”
Rise and Shine (2002)

This tongue and cheek account of a baptism finds a man who must have been quite a scoundrel prior to his redemption: “Then the preacher said/People take a moment or two/There’s something we need to do/Pray for the fish/They won’t know what’s coming/When the sin starts rolling off the likes of him/Lord, be with them they ain’t done nothin’/Please, won’t you just leave them a little bit of room to swim/Pray for the fish.” Randy’s delivery makes this song fun and not judgmental.

#24
“Love Lifted Me” (with Mack Powell from Third Day)
Worship & Faith (2003)

This song starts slow and gives the illusion that it’s going to be another somber rendition of an oft sung song, but it is pleasantly deceiving. After delivering a few slow bars, the song picks up the pace with a rousing rootsy production. The addition of Third Day’s Mack Powell, with his soulful growl, is a welcome one. Travis turns this song that I usually find mundane into something fun and uplifting.

#23
“A Man Ain’t Made of Stone”
A Man Ain’t Made of Stone (1999)

I love Travis’ vulnerable, yet passionate, vocal delivery in this song. This man thought it was important to seem strong and unflappable, but realizes that she needed to see the softer side of him at times. Unfortunately, he reached this conclusion too late. Her leaving unearths his emotions and he abruptly learns that “a man ain’t made of stone/A man ain’t made of steel.”

#22
“An Old Pair Of Shoes”
Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (1992)

As one might expect, Randy can turn out a good self pitying song with the best of them. Using an old pair of shoes as his metaphor for feeling unimportant, he complains, “There’s a hole in my soul/And I’m really feeling used.”

#21
“Too Gone Too Long”
Always & Forever (1987)

This starts with a cool guitar riff that makes the song instantly identifiable. Travis’ is telling his ex that she’s “been too gone for too long”, which means it’s too late to come crawling back now. My favorite line is the bitter punch of “It’s been so long since you walked out my door/Now you’re just an old song that nobody sings anymore.”

#20
“The Unclouded Day”
Worship & Faith (2003)

This is my favorite version of “The Unclouded Day” that I’ve heard…and I’ve heard many versions. The unapologetic bluegrass production, complete with the banjo (my favorite instrument), is what makes it so perfect.

#19
“Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart”
No Holdin’ Back (1989)

This man is pretty pathetic. He is entreating the person that he has, apparently, cheated on to forgive him. He can’t quite understand why it’s taking her so long. He complains, “I feel like a stone you have picked up and thrown/to the hard rock bottom of your heart.” To me, this song is amusing because it is performed so earnestly and logic seems to be eluding the man.

#18
“There’ll Always Be a Honky-Tonk Somewhere”
Storms of Life (1986)

This is a great honky tonk song. No matter how the world will change, Randy is certain that “there’ll always be a honky tonk with a jukebox in the corner.” Like so many other drinking songs, this makes for a great sing-along song.

#17
“Point of Light”
High Lonesome (1991)

While this song was associated with the Republican President George H. W. Bush, it conveys a universal and hopefully bi-partisan message that is worth adopting. One person can make a difference: “If you see what’s wrong and you try to make it right/you will be a point of light.”

#16
“Small Y’all”
This Is Me (1994)

Many may find this song to be inane, but I think its silly rhyme schemes are amusing. Travis is appealing to various couples to stop their petty fighting by asking, “Don’t it make you feel small, Y’all?” Fun stuff!

#15
“Heroes and Friends”
Heroes and Friends (1990)

This song is the title track of an album where Randy actually sings with both his heroes and friends. So, it is appropriate that the project starts with this short song about the significance of heroes and friends: “Your Heroes will help you find good in yourself/your friends won’t forsake you for somebody else/ they’ll both stand beside you through thick and through thin/and that’s how it goes with heroes and friends.”

#14
“Three Wooden Crosses”
Rise and Shine (2002)

While I’ve never been in love with the melody, the message of this song is impossible for me not to embrace. Its story of acceptance without harsh judgment is inspiring and important for me to remember.

#13
“Better Class of Losers”
High Lonesome (1991)

I’ve always thought this song that Travis wrote with Allan Jackson went well with Garth Brooks’ “Friends In Low Places.” Randy is fed up with living the good life and says, “I’m tired of you spending every dime I make to finance this way of life that I’ve grown to hate.”

#12
“Before You Kill Us All”
This Is Me (1994)

This song is hilarious! Randy goes to extremes to show how everything falls apart when she’s gone. In fact, if she doesn’t come back everything is going to die, including the plants, the fish, the dog and the cats: “ You’ve turned us all into nervous wrecks/We just sit around and wonder who’s gonna be next/I know I had it coming/And it’s all my fault/But baby come back/Before you kill us all.” To make the song even better, the production is awesomely quirky.

#11
“Don’t Think Twice”
Around the Bend (2008)

So far, this is my favorite song off of Randy Travis’ less than month old album. In fact, it’s also my favorite version of the Bob Dylan classic. The jaunty production is brilliantly original and fun.

#10
“Is It Still Over?”
Old 8×10 (1988)

I’d say this man is pretty self absorbed and in denial: “Is it still over?/Are we still through?/Since my phone still ain’t ringin’, I assume it still ain’t you.” What’s even more infuriatingly bold is the song’s opening line: “Being without you has turned out to be so inconvenient.”

#9
“He’s My Rock, My Sword, My Shield”
Worship & Faith (2003)

This song is from my very favorite Randy Travis album. Although the album technically represents a hiatus from country music and his foray into gospel music, it still stands up as one of his most rootsy records to date. Its message is similar to Josh Turner’s “Me And God”, but even more energetic.

#8
“Whisper My Name”
This Is Me (1994)

This could either be a secular love song or a spiritual one. At any rate, Randy sings it with a gospel fervency fit for a congregation.

#7
“On the Other Hand”
Storms of Life (1986)

The opening guitar strums let us know that this is going to be a hard core country song and it does not disappoint. It plays with the “on the other hand” phrase to explain why he needs to pry himself away from the affair that has already gone too far.

#6
“Just A Closer Walk With Thee” (with John Anderson)
Worship & Faith (2003)

Again, this is my favorite version of this gospel classic. Not only is accompanied by an awesome acoustic production, John Anderson adds a whole new dimension to an already well sung song. His voice is smoother than usual and the two country legends trade and share lines to create a wonderful blend that is nothing short of inspiring.

#5
“If I Didn’t Have You”
Greatest Hits Volume One (1992)

I love the production of this song. It starts with a lone percussive beat, then a guitar is added and finally the rest of the instruments kick in, including fiddle and dobro. It’s understated, yet creative. And of course, Travis’ voice does a perfect job of hitting the low notes and his version of high notes. Moreover, the song is light and infectiously fun.

#4
“Diggin’ Up Bones”
Storms of Life (1986)

This is one of those songs that sound fun on the surface, because its production is light and easy. The song’s narrator, however, is miserable. He spends an entire night going through the remnants that remain of his ended relationship “I went through the jewelry and found our wedding rings/Put mine on my finger/And gave yours a fling.” He realizes: “I’m diggin’ up bones/I’m diggin’ up bones/ exumin’ things that’s better left alone/I’m resurrecting memories of a love that’s dead and gone/Tonight I’m sittin’ alone just diggin’ up bones.” My favorite thing about the song is that, in interviews, Randy has observed that both adults and kids enjoy this song for obvious different reasons.

#3
“Look Heart, No Hands”
Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1992)

Now, this is just a sappy love song. Believe it or not, one can seep through my cynical heart from time to time. It helps that the production is sparing and Travis sings the song with sincerity and understated vocals.

#2
“Deeper Than a Holler”
Old 8×10 (1988)

I love this simple, but catchy melody. Likewise, I love the simplicity of the lyrics that compare love to the reliability of certain aspects of nature. I always think of this song and my number one Randy Travis song choice together.

#1
“Forever and Ever, Amen”
Always & Forever (1987)

One thing that I’m sure neither Randy Travis nor its writers ever thought would emerge from this song is its ability to touch so many people’s lives. I’m sure they simply thought it was a top notch love song, but it’s turned out to be so much more to so many people.

While most love songs seem to naturally focus on the physical attractions between two people, this song declares: ““They say time takes its toll on a body/Makes a young girls brown hair turn gray/Honey I don’t care I ain’t in love with your hair/And if it all fell out well I’d love you anyway.”

Such a message of non-superficial love is priceless and rather noteworthy all on its own. So, the fact that this song touches people on an even deeper level is even more incredible. Since one of the most obvious outward effects of cancer radiation treatment is the loss of hair, this song has greatly touched people who have been vulnerable to cancer, along with their families. There are countless stories of people, including the parents of a close friend of mine, who have leaned on this song to get them through a horrifyingly vulnerable time in their lives.

One of Randy Travis’ most popular songs is a classic due to its ability to be one of the sweetest love songs without being too syrupy. This is a fine balance that most songs aren’t able to achieve. It is a song of commitment and love that avoids eliciting an “Oh great…another love song” feeling that often accompanies songs of its nature. Such a feat is quite impressive in a genre that is so replete with love songs. It is simple on the surface, but has reached far beyond its initial assumed impact.

That, my readers, is a testament to a truly impressive song and an equally impressive artist.

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  1. LJNo Gravatar says:

    Wow! Bless your heart for taking on that feat. I’ve loved Randy Travis from the git-go and still love him today. I love his stories and jokes. I appreciate that he has stayed true to real country music and especially his faith.

    I would have to say my all time fave Randy tune is “I Told You So” off his second album, “Always & Forever”.
    I was surprised to hear Carrie Underwood cover it, and she does a fine enough job on it, but Randy really brings something to the song that gives it a whole other dimension.

  2. KevinNo Gravatar says:

    Awesome work, as usual! Though now you outnumber me 4 to 1 on these things, so I need to get my butt in gear. You included most of my favorite Randy songs.

    Here’s my top ten:

    1. Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart
    2. Out of My Bones
    3. Three Wooden Crosses
    4, Diggin’ Up Bones
    5. Before You Kill Us All
    6. Dig Two Graves
    7. On the Other Hand
    8. An Old Pair of Shoes
    9. Look Heart, No Hands
    10. I Told You So

  3. LeeannNo Gravatar says:

    Dare I say it? I like Carrie’s version of “I Told You So” better than Randy’s….and I’m certainly a bigger fan of Randy’s than Carrie’s. Go figure.

  4. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar says:

    I wouldn’t know where to start although I will say that all ten songs from STORMS OF LIFE would make my top 25. My top ten:

    1) 1982
    2) Forever and Ever Amen
    3)Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart
    4) On The Other Hand
    5) Reasons I Cheat
    6) Send My Body
    7) Three Wooden Crosses
    8) Diggin ‘ Up Bones
    9) Love Is a Gamble
    10) There’ll Always Be a Honky Tonk Somewhere

    One song I do not like at all is “Deeper Than The Holler” which sounds completely ersatz to me. Randy’s vocal is fine, but the song itself is phony

  5. RNo Gravatar says:

    I have been to many, many RT concerts over the years, 20 in the last 24 months alone. If you all haven’t seen him live you don’t know what you are missing! It is very hard to limit to just 25 but here they are in no particular order, except for the #1 song which gives me chills every time I hear it.

    25. A Horse Called Music
    24. Precious Lord, Take My Hand
    23. It’s Just a Matter of Time
    22. Pray for the Fish
    21. Angels
    20. Storms of Life
    19. Promises
    18. Dig Two Graves
    17. You Didn’t Have a Good Time
    16. This Is Me
    15. A Man Ain’t Made of Stone
    14. King of the Road
    13. If I Didn’t Have You
    12. Rise and Shine
    11. Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright
    10. On the Other Hand
    9. Diggin’ Up Bones
    8. Whisper My Name
    7. The Hole
    6. Nowhere Man
    5. He Walked on Water
    4. Labor of Love (I know it’s a Christmas song, but it’s outstanding!)
    3. Before You Kill Us All
    2. Forever and Ever, Amen
    1. Raise Him Up

  6. Mike M. says:

    Just wanted to say I’m glad this feature is back! My number one would have to be “On the Other Hand”, classic country song.

  7. stormeNo Gravatar says:

    Longtime reader, first time participant.

    Everyone has their favorite Randy tunes.
    A lot of the same ones have appeared on the lists in this chain.
    I agree with them all, though my choice for #1 is the title track from his best album “8 x 10″.
    In my opinion it’s the perfect blend of lyric, melody and vocal interpretation.
    20 years later, it’s still my favorite Country song.

    I must agree with the writer of the first list.
    “Being without you has turned out to be so inconvenient” is the single best opening line to a song I’ve ever heard.

  8. LeeannNo Gravatar says:

    Hey Storm,
    Thanks for being along time reader. I’m glad Randy Travis inspired you to comment for the first time.
    That is a pretty crazy line, isn’t it?

    Mike M,
    While I initially find it challenging to choose and order the songs, this is my favorite feature to write. I’m glad you like it.

  9. Dan M.No Gravatar says:

    I used to despise “Deeper Than The Holler.” Now I think it’s my favorite Travis song ever, and I’m not sure what made the change. But something about it is so gosh darn cute. It’s so incredibly cheesy as a piece of writing, but Travis is so earnest and mild-mannered in his delivery that the humor comes off as gentle and vaguely self-deprecating, which in the end just comes out very charming. It’s a classic.

    I have to say, though, that I’ve never been as big a fan of Travis as I’ve wanted to be, though I’m really only acquainted with his hits and haven’t delved much into the album cuts yet. Hopefully going through this list will help fill in my frame of reference so I can make a more informed judgment. Well done!

  10. Tad says:

    I totally agree with Dan M. on “Deeper Than the Holler” – it’s a song that in other hands would probably make me wince, but Travis carries it off so well.

    Also like Dan, I just know the hits. I own Storms of Life, but have never seemed to get beyond the four songs that I knew and loved.

    With that lack of album knowledge in mind, here’s my top ten:
    10. Forever and Ever, Amen
    9. Too Gone, Too Long
    8. On the Other Hand
    7. If I Didn’t Have You
    6. 1982
    5. He Walked On Water
    4. No Place Like Home
    3. Look Heart, No Hands
    2. Diggin’ Up Bones
    1. Hard Rock Bottom of My Heart

  11. ScottNo Gravatar says:

    some of my favorites, in no particular order
    1. Forever and Ever Amen
    2. Is It Still Over
    3. Too Gone Too Long
    4. He Walked on Water
    5. Better class of Losers
    6. Diggin up Bones
    7. On The Other hand
    8. 1982

  12. LJNo Gravatar says:

    Glad to see the numbers songs represent: “1982″ and “Old 8×10″. Those are definitely on my all-time fave list.

    I also agree that if you are a country music fan and never seen Randy Travis live, you gotta do yourself a favor and mark that off your list. He’s incredibly entertaining not only through his music but his storytelling and jokes. He is able to truly connect with the audience without the now too common theatrical effects.
    I saw him years ago when none other than Alan Jackson opened for him. Those were the days…. :-)

  13. J.R. JourneyNo Gravatar says:

    Nice list, but my favorite Randy Travis song isn’t mentioned. “I Told You So” is so stark and unforgiving and Randy sings this self-penned tune with a fire that makes you sit up and take notice. I love how the first line is just Randy’s voice and a faint bass (I think it’s a bass) framing the lyrics. I just love that song.

    Glad to see it’s in your top 10, Kevin! Here’s my 10 favorites by Randy Travis …

    10. On The Other Hand
    9. Out Of My Bones
    8. 1982
    7. He Walked on Water
    6. Whisper My Name
    5. Look Heart, No Hands
    4. No Place Like Home
    3. This Is Me
    2. Reasons I Cheat
    1. I Told You So

  14. J.R. JourneyNo Gravatar says:

    To Leann: I gotta say it before somebody else does … blech! @ Carrie’s version of Randy’s classic. It is my least favorite cut from Carnival Ride … While I normally prefer a female vocal on almost any song, she just isn’t there when she’s singing that one. As usual, she is hit and miss with her delivery of a lyric, and I think she missed ‘I Told You So’ by a country mile. I would really like to hear a great song stylist like Alison Krauss or Jennifer Nettles, or Reba or even *sigh* the great Trisha Yearwood tackle the song. Dare I dream that high?

  15. TomNo Gravatar says:

    great job leann. perhaps you can clear something for me that’s been a nagging (minor) question since 1987. the opening line of “the storms of life” goes: ” there’s a dirty piece of cardboard that reads my …….-reward, taped across the window of my old ford”

    what kind of reward is he refering to? my take so far has been: gun-reward. if that’s what he sings about – what is a gun-reward?

    thanks for your help

  16. LeeannNo Gravatar says:

    Actually, Tom, the first line is:

    “There’s a dirty piece of cardboard that reads Montgomery Ward”

  17. TomNo Gravatar says:

    hahahaha, wasn’t there a thread lately dealing with this phenomenon?
    what is montgomery ward – any idea?

  18. LeeannNo Gravatar says:

    I won’t pretend to have already known the answer, but a quick search on the internet says that it used to be the name of a department store and now is a mail order store?

  19. LJNo Gravatar says:

    I feel very old now because I totally remember Montgomery Ward.
    Yes, it was a department store. Now if you aren’t old enough to know what a “department store” is… you’re on your own. LOL!

  20. TomNo Gravatar says:

    that makes sense in the cardboard context. sorry for bothering you – could have thought of googleing it myself.

  21. LeeannNo Gravatar says:

    Tom, no problem! Now, you’ll have to wonder no more.:)

    LJ, ha! I know what a department store is, but I’d never heard of Montgomery Ward. I do live just about in the middle of nowhere though.

  22. BradyNo Gravatar says:

    Montgomery Ward was actually the first mail order catalog back when most Americans lived in rural areas. They predated the Sears and Roebuck catalog and it was really the only way that rural Americans could purchase things that the local general store didn’t carry. They later became a department store and we had a few around here, but I think they went out of business a few years ago. I don’t think there’s really any significance to it being mentioned in the song, other than that’s where the box came from.

  23. LeeannNo Gravatar says:

    By the way, JR, I cannot justify the reason I like Carrie’s version better than Randy’s. It’s just one of my dirty little secrets, though I suppose it’s no secret anymore. I guess I’ve just never really been too fond of the song. I don’t hate it or anything, but it’s never ealy done anything for me. Maybe what’s appealing to me about Carrie’s version is Vince Gill singing on it. Everyone knows what a sucker I am for Vince.

  24. John MagliteNo Gravatar says:

    Someone’s a Worship & Faith fan… 4/25! I agree. For my money, that’s the best of his gospel work.

    Excellent feature. Randy’s one of my favorites and it’s nice to see some of his lesser-known songs getting mentioned. I won’t take the time to do a list of my own, but will throw out “My Daddy Never Was” from Passing Through as a song that deserves consideration.

  25. stormeNo Gravatar says:

    Wow…forgot another Randy treasure….
    “Promises”….also on “8×10″
    Kick you in the butt heartbreaker.

  26. David Lovell says:

    Decent list, but wheres ‘He Walked On Water’?

  27. bobby says:

    great list!
    my favorite by him is probably diggin’ up bones, but i can’t argue with forever and ever amen!

  28. MichaelNo Gravatar says:

    Since I haven’t seen anyone mention these, if you get a chance to pull out some of your old Randy Travis CDs, give another listen to “Are We In Trouble Now”, “Spirit of a Boy, Wisdom of a Man” and “Out of My Bones.” :)

  29. Mike J.No Gravatar says:

    10. Whisper My Name
    9. Forever and Ever, Amen
    8. Too Gone, Too Long
    7. Love is a Gamble
    6. Deeper Than the Holler
    5. Heroes and Friends
    4. He Walked on Water
    3. Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart
    2. If I Didn’t Have You
    1. Out of My Bones

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