Classic Country Singles: Randy Travis, “Three Wooden Crosses”

Three Wooden Crosses
Randy Travis
2002

Written by Doug Johnson and Kim Williams

During the first decade of the twenty-first century, the antiseptic depictions of faith that have dominated contemporary Christian music began to seep in to country music.

This perception created records both good (“Jesus, Take the Wheel”) and bad (“The Little Girl”), but most of them were bland, adding going to church on Sunday or praying as just one of the token traits of southern life, no more or less significant than the fried chicken or football game that followed the morning services.

In one of the genre’s great ironies, Randy Travis had crossed over to contemporary Christian music, having had little luck on the radio since the late nineties.  He brought country music’s love of fallen angels along with him, and with “Three Wooden Crosses”, he managed to found his way back to the top of the country charts without even trying.

It starts off like an off-color joke that shouldn’t be told in polite company, let alone on the radio dial next to Martina McBride’s “Blessed” and Craig Morgan’s “That’s What I Love About Sunday”:  “A farmer and a teacher, a hooker and a preacher, ridin’ on a midnight bus bound for Mexico.”  The story that unfolds reveals that one of these four travelers will be instrumental in spreading the Good News for a long time to come.

But because it manages to humanize all four of them along the way, revealing how each of them helped make the world a better place, its ultimate message is that our lives are best defined by what we do when we’re at our best, not by the labels that may be assigned to us through occupation or personal choices.

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8 Comments

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8 Responses to Classic Country Singles: Randy Travis, “Three Wooden Crosses”

  1. Pingback: Country Universe – A Country Music Blog » Classic Country Singles … | Christian Contemporary music

  2. One of the best opening lines in a country song. I’ve always enjoyed this and love the twist in the end.

    “Three Wooden Crosses” stood out because it was so different for country radio in 2002/2003. Sure, it featured themes executed in countless other country songs during the decade, most which are cited in the review, but told them in a fresh and new way.

    This is an example of what great country music is all about and there is no one better than the neo-traditionlist pioneer, Randy Travis to tell the story. It’ll be a long time before I tire of hearing this song.

  3. JoJoNo Gravatar

    Great song!!

  4. BobNo Gravatar

    I see that the song was released in Dec of ’02. That may explain how I somehow missed this great song the first time around. NYC lost its only country radio station, Y-107, in May of 02. Shortly after moving to Nashville in late ’06, it seemed that every time I turned on the car radio I would hear Three Wooden Crosses. I bought it. Great write-up. I like the message in your last paragraph.

  5. plain_joNo Gravatar

    Nice review.

  6. KeithNo Gravatar

    Great review of an even better song. It’s been one of my favorite songs for a very long time because of its amazing message and clever delivery.

  7. Jon G.No Gravatar

    Great song. I’ve always wondered what happened to the drivers (of the bus and eighteen wheeler, respectively). Are we supposed to believe they survived? Ah, well. I guess ‘five wooden crosses’ doesn’t have the same ring and eliminates the parallel to Golgotha.

    “Three Wooden Crosses” is still a fantastic song, though. It’s just a small narrative oversight. I doubt many listeners care much about the drivers, anyway.

  8. We’re a band of faith, and harken back to the Carters, Hank Williiams Sr and Brother Clause Ely, with a modern element to it. I hope you’ll have a listen to us.

    http://www.reverbnation.com/adelaandjude

    thanks!