[CU Archives] 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.

9 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. where is the original video that was on cmt? It is the very best version and I’m so tired of everyone’s video remakes. PLEASE PLEASE RELEASE THE ORIGINAL. I’m a music television 80’s child and videos make the songs even that much better. Video/pictures with words to relay the message. Three wooden crosses Randy Travis. I watched it with my stepmom who passed away last July 22cd 2020 and my mom this April 9th 2021 I have lost 7 very close friends and family members since Feb 1st 2020

  6. @Laurie
    They actually made a video for it, you say? If so, it looks as if even Travis would rather forget it exists, because his official channel has just one other song from that album, “Raise Him Up:” https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ShAfHM4npdk

    But since you say it aired on CMT, I believe that one had been blocked outright, a pretty annoying trend on YouTube. This channel’s got plenty of examples: https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCjhRja9ZBWHwm6q7VOHIkHw

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