Lee Ann Womack, “I Hope You Dance”

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September 15, 2008

I Hope You Dance
Lee Ann Womack
2000

Written by Mark D. Sanders & Tia Sillers

Although her traditional leanings are the cornerstone of her career, the most notable song of Lee Ann Womack’s career is the international smash “I Hope You Dance,” a message of belief that struck a chord with millions of country music fans and brought Womack’s music to a mainstream audience.

Written by Tia Sillers and Mark D. Sanders, it expresses the need to make positive choices and take chances in life, regardless of their consequence. As Sillers explained, “For ‘I Hope You Dance,’ I had written the opening line, ‘I hope you never lose your sense of wonder’. I had just broken up with someone, (and was) going through a brutal divorce.” During a vacation to the beach, Sillers was inspired by her surroundings and found the direction for the rest of the song, with lyrics such as “I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean/Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens”.

The following week, Sillers returned to Nashville and collaborated on the song with Mark Sanders. Once the demo was recorded, Sillers’ publishing representatives played “I Hope You Dance” for Lee Ann Womack’s producer, Mark Wright. Wright then relayed the song to Womack, who loved the universal message of perseverance and built her third studio album around the Sillers-Sanders creation. Womack sang the song accompanied by harmony vocals from country group Sons Of The Desert, who provided the perfect stamp to the song about living life to its fullest and loving unconditionally with their harmony in the chorus:

Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along, tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder where those years have gone

“I Hope You Dance” was named the title of Womack’s album, and the single had an immediate impact at radio. The inspiring ballad soon turned into Womack’s first No. 1 single, and it eventually became the No. 2 country single of 2000 and the No. 1 adult contemporary single of 2001. Womack’s album of the same name went triple-platinum, and the song won the Triple Crown, the achievement of winning Song of the Year at the Grammys, the ACMs and the CMAs. It also claimed the Single of the Year categories from the ACMs and CMAs, and launched Womack into another level of her career, culminating in a victory as Female Vocalist of the Year at the 2001 CMAs.

Nashville book publisher Rutledge Hill Press asked the songwriters to write a book about the song, and it entered the New York Times bestseller list shortly after release. Also, Womack was asked to perform the song at the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. At any number of weddings, graduations and other lifetime milestone events, “I Hope You Dance” continues to be a popular anthem, rich with the ideas of faith, fight and fearlessness on life’s long and winding road.

“I Hope You Dance” is the latest in a series of articles showcasing Classic Country Singles. You can read previous entries at the Classic Country Singles page.

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  1. ZachNo Gravatar says:

    I love this song! It is a great song by Womack :)
    soo glad it gave her much deserved success!

  2. J.R. JourneyNo Gravatar says:

    Lyrically it’s top notch. Production is also superb, albeit very pop-leaning. One of my favorites …

  3. Lynn DouglasNo Gravatar says:

    This isn’t one of my favorite songs, but there is something to be said for songs that have a positive impact on so many people.

  4. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar says:

    Personally, I didn’t much care for this song and feel that it did long-term harm to Womack’s career by leading her off in the wrong direction.

    Admittedly, Womack got a short-term boost from the song, but it wasn’t a sustaining boost. The song itself isn’t terrible but the sound and production were easy listening schlock.

    The version with the Sons of the Desert was the better of the two mixes circulated for the song, but the Adult Contemporary and Rock stations usually played the other mix, at least around Florida and that version was terrible

  5. RussellNo Gravatar says:

    I wasn’t a country music fan when this song came out but remember it from its cross-over success. A couple of years ago when I was sophomore at UNC-CH, Tia Sillers came to my “History of Country Music” class and spoke of this song and what it meant to be a song-writer. Whenever I see a new video on CMT or GAC I always wait until the credits to see if she wrote the song. While this isn’t really reflective of the song, it will always be something I associate with it, as it was an important part of my development as a country music fan.

  6. Ben JNo Gravatar says:

    If we’re going to use the term “classic” so loosely that a mediocre pop song from the beginning of this decade like “I Hope You Dance” gets that title we may as well give Jessica Simpson album of the year.

    It’s not a poorly written song but a classic? really? To be a classic shouldn’t a song be at least old enough to drive down to the record store and buy itself?

  7. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t know if I think this is a classic, either. Certainly a smash hit, but I don’t think it stands as one of the artistic pinnacles of that era of country music. Great post, though.

  8. Matt BNo Gravatar says:

    Age need not be a requirement for a song to be deemed a classic. It is a well-written song with an arrangement that suited the song and the genre of the moment. Regardless of what you think about Rascal Flatts, “Bless The Broken Road” is a classic song. Bar none. That lyric and melody are just too good to not be deemed that.

  9. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar says:

    Call me crazy (no Womack pun intended!), but I actually like “Bless The Broken Road” better than “I Hope You Dance.” On the other hand, I think the standards for what constitutes a classic single of the 00′s are a good deal lower than for the 90′s.

  10. Matt BNo Gravatar says:

    Dan, to be fair, “Broken Road” is a song written in the early 1990s and recorded by it’s writers (Jeff Hanna and Marcus Hummon) on their own albums in 1995-ish.

  11. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar says:

    Ooooh, I forgot about that. Good point.

  12. ElevenNo Gravatar says:

    Not a bad song, I suppose but it really, really (IMHO) tinkers on the edge of cheeziness. Perhaps it was better before it became so commercialized, ie. a pop version, accompanying book, etc.

    I agree that while it brought Ms Womack a much deserved spotlight, it’s not really indicative of her greatest talent… singing real country.
    Love Ms Womack tho and MUCH prefer her newest song, “Last Call”.

  13. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    I agree with Matt that age need not be a requirement for a song to be considered a classic. While it’s not among my favorite songs either (because I’m heartless), I recognize the great impact that it had on people. Since I’m sure it will be a song that endures for many years to come, I’d say it’s a classic. I’m pretty sure Simpson’s “Come On Over” will have no lasting effect like Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.” So, the comparison of the two isn’t quite fair.

  14. MarcNo Gravatar says:

    Yeah, not a criticism, but its quite the pop song for the “classic country” selection ;)

    I think the song was ruined a little for me by the incredibly heavy rotation it got. Does bring it a bit of cheez.

  15. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar says:

    After posting this archive piece last night, I was curious to see what conversation it would prompt. While writing about “Stand By Your Man” or “Coal Miner’s Daughter” is rewarding, it often leads to the same conclusion. Those songs are seen as timeless. This song, for all its quality, can stir up some debate.

    The term “classic” is dangerous admittedly, but I do believe “I Hope You Dance” will still be important 30-40 years from now. There’s a certain poeticism to which people connected. (Also, the Sons version is the best.) I will leave the pop-or-country argument alone. It’s obviously not traditional country and was not intended to be.

    Paul, I’m not convinced that Womack’s career took a long-term downturn due to this song. Although it influenced her next album, I think a variety of factors were at play. The album I Hope You Dance only secured one Top Ten single besides the track, and she’s only had one more Top Ten since then. Womack is likely never going to settle on one style, and she will always have an uphill battle at radio, especially now with her age (!) and her distinct musical personality. That was never more true than in 2002-2004 (the period I assume you reference), when radio was very fickle towards her recordings and women in general (not just Womack) failed to enjoy much commercial success.

    I also was in the minority in that I felt Something Worth Leaving Behind wasn’t a disaster and that There’s More Where That Came From, although deserving of its CMA award, had a few minor shortcomings.

    On a side note, Rascal Flatts did a nice job of staying out of the way of “Bless the Broken Road”. It’s probably the best song they have released so far.

  16. Chris N.No Gravatar says:

    It’s a classic, folks. This song is never going to die.

  17. Jim MalecNo Gravatar says:

    It’s a classic that also somewhat derailed her career, as it built a bridge between two very distinct kinds of music–a more traditionally tinged country and a more pop based country. She hasn’t had a #1 single since.

  18. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar says:

    Fair point. I will note, though, that “I Hope You Dance” is Lee Ann Womack’s only #1 single. If Womack would’ve stayed on the traditional path, I feel she still would have struggled commercially in the 2000s. She’s just not as easy of a sell to radio as other female artists.

  19. I’m planning on featuring another Womack single in this series during the build-up to the CMA’s, and I suspected that one might cause a couple of raised eyebrows. But I never would’ve expected “I Hope You Dance” being questioned. It’s one of the definitive singles of the decade.

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