There are a lot of great country songs chronicling the breakup of a relationship, but it’s the female characters who have often shown a particular propensity for leaving their lovers by car. Sometimes she changes her mind and turns the car around; most of the time she doesn’t. Either way, it’s been the making of many a great country song.
There are obviously numerous songs that fit this mold, but here’s my whittled-down list of six personal favorites. I look forward to reading about your favorites in the comments section below.
“Nothin’ But the Wheel”
Written by John Scott Sherrill
Whenever I attempt to rank my many favorite Patty Loveless songs, “Nothin’ But the Wheel” is always one of the top three. Loveless’ mournful drawl is gorgeously framed by the weeping fiddle and steel guitar as she gives voice to a woman striking out on the road in the wee hours of the morning. The real gut punch comes with the line “And the only thing I know for sure is if you don’t want me anymore…” as the narrator reveals that she’s leaving not only because she’s unhappy, but because she knows she will not be missed.
“Three Chords and the Truth”
Written by Sara Evans, Ron Harbin, and Aimee Mayo
Evans is in full neotraditionalist mode on this early release, still one of her finest moments on record, which just missed the Top 40. A spiritual kinsman of sorts to Trisha Yearwood’s “The Song Remembers When,” “Three Chords and the Truth” is likewise a tribute to the power of a great song. Whether it’s a certain lyric, the right melody, or just “a voice…sweet and low,” Evans’ narrator finds that even a song heard for the first time on the radio has the ability to evoke an emotional response. The emotions lead to actions, and she is moved to the point of turning her car around and returning to reconcile with her significant other.
Written by K.T. Oslin
In an insightful cut by one of country music’s most distinctive songwriting voices, a marriage is put under strain by everyday anxieties of life until not only the wife but the husband as well decide to hit the road and call it quits. Eventually, both reconsider and return home as they come to realize that they need to run, not away from each other, but towards each other.
Jo Dee Messina
Written by Rory Michael Bourke and Phil Vassar
The only uptempo track on this list, “Bye Bye” may seem little more than catchy radio bait on the surface. But there’s a subtle undercurrent of frustration and resignation in this breezy hit as Messina sings “I’ve lost the game, I guess. I did my best to win the part, but now I’m leaving here with what’s left of my heart.” Ultimately, however, “Bye Bye” is a celebration of newfound freedom – fitting coming from one of country music’s most optimistic women – as Messina leaves a dead-end relationship in the dust and speeds off toward a bright new future.
“A Little Past Little Rock”
Lee Ann Womack
Written by Jess Brown, Brett Jones, and Tony Lane
Few contemporary country hitmakers know there way around a great breakup ballad like Lee Ann Womack, as evidenced by this Grammy-nominated hit. Enhanced by gently moaning strings and harmonica, “A Little Past Little Past Little Rock” is a stark portrayal of a woman at a crossroads in her life, having left her lover behind in Dallas and been driving nonstop ever since. Womack’s performance vividly channels a mix of uncertainty and confusion with mounting determination. It may be “too soon to know what’s up ahead,” but it’s “too late to change my mind.” She’s made her choice, and there’s no turning back.
“Baby’s Gotten Good at Goodbye”
Written by Tony Martin and Troy Martin
While songs of this theme are perhaps most often sung from the perspective of the departing woman, it can be every bit as interesting and compelling to hear from the man who is being left behind. In Strait’s classic 1989 chart-topper, a man watches his woman load up the car and drive off as she has done many times before, but he notices that “this time she didn’t cry.” The wistful whine of a fiddle accompanies his gradual, painful realization that he just might have watched that car drive away for the last time.