Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: George Strait, “The Chill of an Early Fall”

“The Chill of an Early Fall”

George Strait

Written by Green Daniel and Gretchen Peters

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

December 6, 1991

George Strait provides a breakthrough hit for Gretchen Peters.

The Road to No. 1

George Strait’s previous three singles had gone No. 1, including the first two from his 1991 album, Chill of an Early Fall.  MCA followed up with the title track, which has the distinction of being the first major hit for co-writer Gretchen Peters, who would later provide signature songs for many of the decade’s biggest female artists.

The No. 1

“The Chill of an Early Fall” has the lyrical imagery grounded in nature that Peters would frequently revisit in her later work, and it’s a treat to hear Strait sing something so metaphorical and reflective, let alone score a No. 1 hit with such a song.

To borrow from his previous No. 1, there are times where it sounds like he’s wearing a shoe that’s too small.  It’s like he knows he has a great song, but isn’t quite sure how to make it work within the confines of the typical George Strait sound.

This may be the first time in their long collaboration as co-producers where Strait is noticeably reaching the limits of what he can accomplish with Jimmy Bowen.  If this had appeared on, say, Easy Come Easy Go or Lead On, I think it would’ve been given some more room to breathe.

So it’s a solid record, for sure, but one that doesn’t reach its full potential.

The Road From No. 1

A fourth single from the project, “Lovesick Blues,” was Strait’s first single to miss the top ten since 1981’s “Down and Out,” and his lowest charting single ever for MCA Records.  He bounced back with the top five hit, “Gone as a Girl Can Get,” which previewed his final album with Bowen, Holding My Own.  The second and final single from that album will be covered in 1992.

“The Chill of an Early Fall” gets a B.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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8 Comments

  1. I was surprised that this was a #1 – it only reached #3 on Billboard and even that seemed odd, given that local radio stations gave this far fewer spins than most of his hits. It’s a good song, but nothing really special C+ / B-

  2. I think you’re right about this song. It’s a good song, but could’ve been performed better. As it is, it’s not one of Strait’s songs that is particularly memorable to me and I’m surprised it went number one.

    I’m surprised “Gone As A Girl Can Get” was only top five. I love that song.

  3. The song sounds like it doesn’t reach it’s full potential because the narrator can’t reach his own! He is held back by fear in his relationship. He is terrified and defeated by the closeness of his partner’s past. Strait captures the resigned certainty that “love and seasons” never stay with an almost defensive sigh of inevitability through the entire performance.

    Bowen’s production, with the gusty guitar runs and curlicue steel guitar, sounds like that same old chilly wind the narrator is so frightened of. He is a weak guy, vulnerable to the ebbs and flows of both love and the weather.

    The chorus of this song is guaranteed to run through my mind at least once every fall; it has staying power for me.

    I think Strait nails the tentative and chilly performance the lyric demands.

  4. This is another one of my very favorite songs from this late 1991/early 1992 period, and another one of my all time favorites from George Strait! As someone who personally loves both the Fall and Winter seasons, this song has always been right up my alley. I’ve always loved country songs that mention cold weather and the chillier months, even if it’s usually used as a metaphor for love gone wrong, loneliness, and in this case, a relationship that’s likely coming to an end.

    I pretty much agree with Peter’s assessment, especially the with the steel guitar almost reflecting the narrator shivering not only from the cold, but also from fear that his partner will leave him for her old flame. That opening guitar sort of symbolizes the changing of the seasons from Summer to Fall, as well. For me, the overall production/sound of the record has kind of a cozy feel which makes it a nice tune to listen to while sitting by the fire with a cup of hot chocolate on a cold Fall/Winter night. :) I also agree with Peter, in that I think Strait does a good job of portraying the fearful/defeated narrator in the song. The lyrics have always seemed to imply to me that he’s been in this type of situation more than once (especially the lines “Here it comes again, that same old chilly wind will blow” and “Loving seasons never stay”), which only adds to his fearfulness and feeling of defeat. Even though I personally love Jimmy Bowen’s production on it, I admit, it would’ve been interesting to hear how it would’ve sounded during the Tony Brown years.

    This is also yet another song that brings back wonderful memories for me from this time period. The first time I heard it was also the first time I recorded it onto one of my tapes from the Fall of ’91. It actually just barely made it on to the very end of the tape! Not too long after that, my step dad surprised me by bringing home two new CD’s with George Strait’s Chill Of An Early Fall and Ricky Van Shelton’s III (1990). When we first put in George’s album, I remember recognizing this song right away as soon as that signature opening guitar started and loving it all over again. This song has just really stuck with me ever since, and like Peter, it’s one that always comes to mind every time Fall comes back around and the weather gets cooler. It’s actually been sort of a tradition for me to listen to this song at least a few times every Fall/Winter season, along with other cold weather themed songs from this period like “Is It Cold In Here” by Joe Diffie, “What She’s Doing Now” by Garth Brooks, and “Take Your Memory With You” by Vince Gill.

    That album is also still one of my very favorite George Strait albums, and I especially love how he kind of showed off his Western Swing influences more than usual among the album tracks. I remember getting a kick out of his version of “Lovesick Blues” (as a little kid, I was amused by the yodeling) when I first heard it too, and for a long time, I didn’t even know it was a single since I don’t recall hearing it on the radio. Overall, I just love every song on it, and the entire album just transports me back to the Fall of 1991. :)

  5. Jamie, I have my own set of songs I revisit every year as fall arrives. In addition to Strait’s “Chill of an Early Fall,” my seasonal score for autumn’s arrival appropriately includes Skip Ewing’s “Autumn’s Not that Cold” (which I first heard on his 1988 “Coast of Colorado” album before Lorrie Morgan recorded it on her 1991 “Something in Red” album), Marty Brown’s “Blue Kentucky Skies,” and Fred Eaglesmith’s “Summer is Gone.”

  6. Huh. I played this song on the jukebox just today as we were eating out. Such an underrated work, one of my favorite GS songs.

    Jamie, “Lovesick Blues” was also a favorite of mine from this album, as well as “Home in San Antone” and “Milk Cow Blues.” The part in the latter song where he growls, “if you don’t think I’m leavin’, big mama, just count the days I’m gone” is one of my favorite moments in all of music. Fun fact: those three songs were recorded with George’s road band, where he normally records with studio musicians.

  7. the pistolero – Oh, I love his version of “Milk Cow Blues!” That part of him growling still catches me off guard every now and then, as it’s one of those rare times he just completely lets loose, it seems. In fact, that whole part of second half of the album with “Lovesick Blues” and the Western Swing tunes sounds like him and the band were just letting loose and having the time of their lives.

    Btw, I absolutely wish I could find a place that actually still has “Chill of An Early Fall” on the jukebox! So lucky. :)

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