Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Mark Chesnutt, “Brother Jukebox”

“Brother Jukebox”

Mark Chesnutt

Written by Paul Craft

Billboard

#1 (2 weeks)

February 9 – February 16, 1991

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

February 1, 1991

An essential new traditionalist earns his first No. 1 single.

The Road to No. 1

When we talk about all of the fully formed artists that broke through with their debut singles in the early nineties, it’s easy to overlook what distinguished most of them from the young stars that would do the same in the mid-to-late nineties.   Part of the reason the early nineties artists were stronger is because they were older, having honed their skills playing clubs and writing songs for many years before their “overnight success.”

Mark Chesnutt had dropped out of high school in eleventh grade to be a full-time performer, and spent the eighties as a popular local singer in Beaumont, Texas.   Although he released many independent singles and even a full-length independent album, Doin’ My Country Thing, he was stll received as a brand new artist when he signed with MCA Records.  Like his peers, he had a fully formed sound and musical vision, which was evident in the hardcore country of his debut single, “Too Cold at Home,” which went top five in 1990.   It served as the title track to his MCA debut album, and the label followed up its success with his second single, “Brother Jukebox.”

The No. 1

Am I being too generous with these early nineties singles?

I don’t think I am.

“Brother Jukebox” still sounds as good thirty years later as it did when it first hit the radio, balancing self-deprecating humor and lonely despair with its clever lyric and Chesnutt’s nuanced performance.

It has all those beer-sipping elements you find in great honky tonk songs, with the clean production that was becoming standard Music City practice as the boom years got underway. You could easily picture George Jones or Gene Watson having a big hit with it twenty years earlier, but it still sounds thoroughly modern and of its time.

The Road From No. 1

Mark Chesnutt became one of the nineties’ most consistent hitmakers, and there are two more No. 1 singles on deck from his debut album before 1991 is through.

“Brother Jukebox” gets an A. 

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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9 Comments

  1. Although the curmudgeonly Don Imus deprecated Chesnutt’s singing, I don’t expect everyone to be a Ray Price or Gene Watson in terms of their vocal chops and Chesnutt was certainly well above average as a vocalist. Although both had some missteps, I think that Tracy Lawrence and Mark Chesnutt were my favorite artists to debut in the early 1990s. This song is definitely worth the “A”

  2. Love this song and most of his early 90s hits. Most of his late 90s songs didn’t do much for me though.

  3. You are not being too generous, Kevin! The 90’s was a golden era of country music and this song is just one example of the seemingly endless musical nuggets the emerging new stars were consistently mining and in doing so, striking claims to serious country careers.

    I adore the music that emerged from this level of country artists which, which in my mind, includes acts from Tracy Lawrence to Tracy Byrd to Mark Collie to Aaron Tippin.

    I remember first hearing this song by Keith Whitley on his 1989 album “I Wonder Do You Think of Me.” Apparently, Don Everly also recorded it back in 1977.

    A great song.

    I love the music Chesnutt continues to record today, working with producer Jimmy Ritchie. His 2016 “Tradition Lives” is an amazing album.

  4. One of my all time favorite Mark Chesnutt songs! I remember liking it back then because as a little kid, like most other things music related, I also had a fascination with jukeboxes. As I got older, I got to really appreciate the cleverness in the lyrics, and I still love how he goes from listing “Brother Jukebox, Sister Wine…” to “You’re the only family I’ve got left.” Even my step dad really liked this song.

    Strangely enough, while I do remember hearing this song when it was new, it didn’t make it onto any of my tapes until early 1993. Chesnutt’s Too Cold At Home album was also one of the first ones I was interested in picking up when I started collecting artists’ debut albums in the early 00’s. Absolutely love the title track to that record, as well!

    Peter – Mark Collie is another great artist who debuted in 1990! It’s too bad he never had as much success as many of his peers did. “Let Her Go” is my favorite single from that album, and it’s the one I remember hearing the most in early ’91. Also totally with you on Chesnutt’s Tradition Lives album! It’s the kind of music that should’ve never gone out of style in the mainstream, imho.

    And Kevin, you are most definitely not being too generous! The early 90’s were a gold mine for the most part when it came to mainstream country.

  5. Just to echo everyone else…you’re not being too easy on these songs. Again, the mid-to late 80s/early 90s was just pure gold, and it just is amazing to see how much quality there was in terms of these up and coming artists. You wonder how the concept of “Brother Jukebox” was never written before, in an earlier decade. And the crazy thing is, while I greatly enjoy it…I still probably wouldn’t put it in my top five favorite singles that he released.

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