Written by Rosanne Cash
In the 1980s, Rosanne Cash earned 11 #1 singles, more than any female artist other than Reba McEntire. The one that still resounds most is her take on the seven-year itch. With “Seven Year Ache”, Cash showed a skill for writing (and performing) songs in the progressive country movement, songs with smarts and the ability to appeal to diverse audiences.
Throughout her career, Cash has created music that sends a distinct message, and “Seven Year Ache” is no different. The song matches a tough-girl delivery with a biting, cynical lyric about a man and his restless ways, culminating in another night out on the town. It’s a cutting indictment that is equal parts attitude and apathy, with Cash seeming both angry with her man’s transgressions and tired of scolding his behavior.
Her antagonist is “face down in a memory, but feeling alright,” no doubt gaining the pleasure in the female attention while experiencing the pain of past memories that haunt him. Both the men and women in the bar are entranced by his every move as he flirts and finds a way to inspire both jealousy and attraction. Cash admonishes her man for being “someone he’s not” and “looking careless” as he barely bothers to consider his surroundings, but instead searches for the next cheap thrill.
Cash’s ex-husband and former producer, Rodney Crowell, is often credited for inspiring “Seven Year Ache,” but, in an interview with Bill Deyoung, Cash said, “The real inspiration came for me because Rickie Lee Jones’ first album came out, and I was so moved by it, and so inspired, I thought ‘There’s never been a country song about street life, about life on the streets.'” This inspiration led her to write more than four pages of lyrics before trimming the song into a three-minute master class of love’s longing, loneliness and lingering frustration.
“Seven Year Ache” earned Cash her first Grammy nomination, and remains her signature song, a #1 single in 1981. It was the title track of her second country disc, a four-star effort in Rolling Stone, and a staple in modern mainstream country music in the early 1980s. Country fans were re-introduced to the classic song in 2001, when Trisha Yearwood (with some assistance from Cash herself) included her own take on the track on her album Inside Out. But it is Rosanne Cash, eloquent in her words and aware in her actions that defined love’s ups and downs with this trademark tune.
“Seven Year Ache” is the latest in a series of articles showcasing Classic Country Singles. You can read previous entries at the Classic Country Singles page.