Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Randy Travis, “Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart”

“Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart”

Randy Travis

Written by Hugh Prestwood

Billboard

#1 (4 weeks)

March 9, 1990

Radio & Records 

#1 (2 weeks)

March 16 – March 23, 1990

One of the best Randy Travis singles has a lengthy run at the top.

The Road to No. 1

Before the Class of 1989, there was the Class of 1986.  In a year that saw the breakthroughs of Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam, it was Randy Travis whose star shone the brightest.   His debut album, Storms of Life, was the watershed moment for the New Traditionalist movement which had been gaining momentum for several years.  With that classic album and its follow-up, Always & Forever, Travis proved that a traditional country singer could sell multi-platinum without even a hint of crossover elements to his music.   The entire ethos of the nineties boom can be traced to that “a-ha!” moment on Music Row, where crossing over was viewed with contempt and disdain for many years following Randy Travis becoming the genre’s biggest star.

By the turn of the decade, Travis had a shelf full of awards and millions of album sales under his belt, as well as a long string of chart-topping hits.  Travis previewed his fourth studio set, No Holdin’ Back, with a cover of the Brook Benton classic, “It’s Just a Matter of Time,” which topped the charts in the fall of 1989.   For the second single, the label remixed a Hugh Prestwood song that would ultimately become the longest running chart-topper that Randy Travis has had to date.

The No. 1

“Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart” is a damn near perfect country record.  Impeccably produced, it incorporates elements of seventies pop and rock without veering from its country core, and Travis sings the fire out of it.

The importance of his delivery of this song cannot be overstated.  The narrator here is an absolute cad who is painting his spouse as being a cold-hearted shrew unwilling to forgive, while he’s doing everything he can to “roll up his sleeves and repair” their broken home.   Your heart breaks for him as he laments that “I feel like a stone you have picked up and thrown to the hard rock bottom of your heart.”

Only one problem: he’s entirely in the wrong.  He’s the one who cheated.  He’s the one who broke their home.  He isn’t entitled to – or worthy of – forgiveness, as he’s placing the burden of rebuilding love and trust on the person who had nothing to do with breaking them in the first place.

But try – just try – to hold it against him while the song is playing.  It’s not possible.  He’s so heartfelt in his performance that he gets you to take the wrong side.  That’s a damn fine country singer, right there.

The Road From No. 1

Travis kept his chart-topping success going throughout the nineties, so we will be seeing a lot more of him as the list progresses.

“Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart” gets an A.

 

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

Previous: Paul Overstreet, “Seein’ My Father in Me”

Next: Garth Brooks, “Not Counting You”

 

9 Comments

  1. I’m really enjoying this feature. I haven’t commented in a while, but I still try to read everything you all post.

    I totally agree with you about this song. It’s pertnear perfect. Randy’s vocal is endearing to the listener, though I always thought it was the bright, spunky musical backing track that was the most startling disconnect from the somewhat dark lyrics. But I’ve always been a big fan of Kyle Lehning’s producing.

    I hear a similar dichotomy in lots of country music from this era. It’s definitely something I miss. Pam Tillis’ “One of Those Things” is a good one. The production and performance sound like a classic country weeper while the lyrics are downright inspirational.

    Thanks again for all the work you guys and gals put into this site. I’ll keep reading as long as you’re posting.

  2. There is no question that Randy Travis could sell a lyric better than nearly anyone else of his generation. I travelled to Nashville frequently during the 1983-1985 and saw him sing a few songs at the Nashville Palace restaurant where he was part of the kitchen staff (using the name Randy Ray) and wondered when someone would discover him. Fortunately that day was not too long in coming.

    This isn’t my favorite Randy Travis song but it is a really fine song. I’m not sure that it was his biggest selling single – the number of weeks at #1 isn’t always indicative of sales as the charts were just beginning to emerge from the “spin-o-rama” era of the 1970s and 1980s when there was a new #1 every week (even Kenny Roger’s “The Gambler”, a really massive seller, spent only one week at #1 according to Cash Box and Record Vendor although Billboard gave it three weeks at #1)

    An easy A, almost an A+

  3. One of my go to karaoke songs! As soon as I hear those first guitar strums, instant joy comes over me!

  4. This may be my all time favorite Randy Travis song (“Look Heart, No Hands” comes very close), which is very fitting as it’s also a Hugh Prestwood song. Love how you highlighted the importance of Randy’s delivery of this one, and it really is one of the few instances in which you actually sympathize with the cheater. I love everything else about it too, from the arrangement, the bright cheery melody, and even the lovely ending with the “ooh ooh’s” from the backup vocalists, the harmonica, and banjo plucking. Such a well deserved multi week number one!

    J.R. Journey – “One Of Those Things” is one of my all time favorites from Pam! Love that song.

    Paul- So cool that you got to see Randy before he was famous!

    The_trouble_with_the_truth – I have the same reaction every time this song comes on!

  5. I knew country music had broken through to the mainstream when English teacher Mr. Rondesvedt approached me in my high school to discuss this song.

    I wrote a country music column for my high school newspaper and couldn’t believe my insane good good luck that country was suddenly cool. Mr. Rondesvedt simply wanted to deconstruct this song with me and celebrate the brilliance of the lyrics.

    As cool as that was to a country music geek it was even cooler because I never had Mr. Rondesvedt as a teacher. The song was reason enough for him to reach out to me to discuss a Randy Travis single.

    Country music was happening like it never had before in my life, and this Travis single will always symbolize how widespread interest in country music was becoming….even in a high school English department in suburban Minneapolis.

  6. @Paul,
    I imagine that “Forever and Ever, Amen” would’ve been Randy’s biggest Billboard hit if BDS Airplay Monitoring and SoundScan were in place.

    Also worth noting: Billboard’s country chart at this point in time had changed over to airplay-only; sales were no longer included, as vinyl availability was drying up and country artists didn’t consistently release cassette singles the way that their pop counterparts did.

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