“When I Call Your Name”
Written by Tim DuBois and Vince Gill
Radio & Records
#1 (1 week)
August 3, 1990
A moderately successful eighties country artist jumps right on to the nineties A-list.
The Road to No. 1
Vince Gill had been flirting with country stardom for nearly a decade by the time he joined the roster of MCA Nashville in 1989. He got his first big break with a stint as lead singer of the Pure Prairie League, where his notoriety was limited to his vocals on the top ten pop hit “Let Me Love You Tonight” and famously flipping off the audience after their poorly received opening set for KISS. Gill turned down joining Dire Straits after leaving Pure Prairie League, choosing instead to join Rodney Crowell’s backing band.
Gill released a bluegrass album with four fellow musicians in 1983, then joined the roster of RCA Nashville. Throughout the eighties, he’d release several singles for them, as well as two LPs and an EP. Three singles for the label made the top ten, but once he broke through in the nineties, RCA would capitalize on those early years with one platinum and another gold compilation. Gill was also an in-demand session singer at this time, with his vocals easily heard on hits by Rosanne Cash (“I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me”) and Patty Loveless (“Timber, I’m Falling in Love.”)
Gill followed former bandmate and RCA label executive Tony Brown over to MCA, where his first single, “Never Alone,” just missed the top twenty. His second, a duet with Reba McEntire on “Oklahoma Swing,” fared better, almost going top ten. For the third single, MCA pulled the title track of his first studio album for them.
The No. 1
It isn’t often that a breakthrough record so fully defines an artist and their ethos. “When I Call Your Name” is one of those records.
With harrowing harmony vocals from Patty Loveless, “When I Call Your Name” is a desperate, longing ballad that captures the shock and grief of being left behind by a woman who has “grown weary of living a lie.”
The setup is classic country, with the title first referring to Gill calling his lover’s name as he gets home from work, and later calling it out in agony and despair. Either way, “nobody answers when I call your name.”
It’s becoming very evident going through the No. 1 singles of 1990 not only why so many superstars broke through, but why country music itself was becoming ground zero for the best singing and songwriting of any genre at that time.
This is as good as country music gets.
The Road From No. 1
“When I Call Your Name” won CMA Single of the Year in 1990 and Song of the Year in 1991, eventually powering its album to double platinum status. Gill stayed busy on the charts and the awards circuit, taking home CMA’s Male Vocalist in 1991 and 1992. More hit singles followed “When I Call Your Name,” and they all went top ten. “Never Knew Lonely” was the fourth and final single from When I Call Your Name, and it was followed by three big hits from his double platinum 1991 set, Pocket Full of Gold: the title track and “Liza Jane” in 1991, and then “Look at Us” in 1992, which won Gill another CMA Song of the Year trophy that fall. We’ll see him in the spring of 1992 with the fourth single from that set.
“When I Call Your Name” gets an A.