Every #1 Single of the Nineties: Trisha Yearwood, “The Song Remembers When”

“The Song Remembers When”

Trisha Yearwood

Written by Hugh Prestwood

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

December 10, 1993

Trisha Yearwood arrives with the best No. 1 single of the decade.

The Road to No. 1

Trisha Yearwood last appeared on this feature with “The Woman Before Me,” the final single from her self-titled debut album. She followed that set with the critically acclaimed Hearts in Armor set, widely seen as one of the strongest albums in a consistently excellent catalog.   It produced two top five hits: “Wrong Side of Memphis” and “Walkaway Joe.”   After two additional top twenty singles, Yearwood previewed her third album with its title track.

The No. 1

And yes, it is the best No. 1 single of the decade.

Brilliantly composed by Hugh Prestwood, delicately produced by Garth Fundis, and flawlessly performed by Trisha Yearwood, “The Song Remembers When” is the pinnacle of nineties country music, where all the best elements come together to form a great record.

I’ve written about what it gets right so many times, but let’s talk about what could’ve gone wrong.  The lyric could’ve been ham-fisted instead of subtle with its metaphors.  The production could’ve been drenched in strings or electronic keyboards, like any number of AC-leaning country ballads of the decade.  Yearwood could’ve tapped into her limitless vocal power and gotten in the way of the song, undercutting the nuance and longing nostalgia of the lyric.

Instead, we got the best singer of her generation delivering the best song she ever sent to radio, and in that brief window of meritocracy, it actually went to No. 1.

I don’t think I’ll ever miss the nineties more during this feature than I do right now.

The Road From No. 1

MCA stopped after two singles from this album, after “Better Your Heart Than Mine” peaked outside the top twenty.   Yearwood released a well-received Christmas set, then a stopgap single that went to No. 1 well before it was featured on her fourth studio album.  We’ll get to it in 1994.

“The Song Remembers When” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

Previous: Little Texas, “God Blessed Texas” |

Next: Tracy Lawrence, “My Second Home”

 

9 Comments

  1. As much as I often think country radio was going in the wrong direction around this time in the 90’s, as far as song quality is concerned, seeing that a masterpiece such as this song was still able to top the charts is proof enough that even the weaker (imo) periods of the decade were still a whole lot better than today.

    Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to get much recurrent airplay at all on either of our two main stations, and I wouldn’t get to hear it until we started tuning in more to an independent station near our area in the late 90’s and early 00’s. I still remember that very moment when I heard it come on while we had that station on in the car one night. I had already really liked Trisha, but now I was suddenly hearing this incredibly beautiful song by her that I had never heard until then, and it just had me completely mesmerized from beginning to end. Even my parents, who I used to get annoyed with whenever they would talk a lot over one of my favorite songs, had seemingly dropped everything and were just quietly listening along. It’s one of those rare moments in which all three of us in the car were just simply appreciating a great song that still sticks in my mind today. It was also that moment in which I truly realized just what a great singer Trisha really was.

    The early 00’s was also when I started collecting Trisha’s albums in chronological order. While I was already head over heels for her on the first two albums, when I got to The Song Remembers When and could enjoy the title track whenever I wanted, it pretty much sealed the deal on me being a Trisha Yearwood fan for life. I initially got that album because of the title track, and well, because it was Trisha, but I really got to loving that album as a whole, and I still believe that if radio had not been generally trending away from ballads and mature lyrics around this time, she could’ve scored at least a few more hits from it. It’s still one of my favorite Trisha albums to this day, and probably her most underrated 90’s album, imo.

    Otherwise, I completely echo Kevin. It’s simply a fine example of a brilliant singer, a brilliant songwriter, and a brilliant producer all coming together perfectly to create one of the most magical moments in 90’s country. No arguments on this being the best number one of the decade from me!

    Btw, another great Hugh Prestwood song I’ve been pulling out lately that also has that same power to make me stop whatever I’m doing is Kathy Mattea’s recording of “Asking Us To Dance.” Another one of the most criminally underrated records of the decade, imo.

  2. It was right here with “The Song Remembers When”, both the song and the album, where I started taking Trisha seriously as a singer. It sold me on her a fair amount more than “She’s In Love With The Boy” had done two years earlier.

    What I think also became clear with both the song and the album, however, was that Trisha was not simply aiming for mere hits or awards or money, which, for the most part, has been true for her ever since. She seemed to sense that you can’t have a long career if you’re just chasing trends, which country music during the last twenty years unfortunately has too often seemed willing to do. And whatever one might think of some of her questionable decisions near the end of the 1990’s (Where Your Road Leads), I think she has largely hewed to the spiritual leanings of her role models Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. Today’s female artists could learn a lot of what Trisha learned from those legendary ladies (IMHO).

    • Erik, I’ve always said that Yearwood has Ronstadt’s vocal power and prowess combined with Emmy’s nuanced delivery and exceptional taste in material. Best of both worlds for me. Yearwood’s work was critical in me discovering Ronstadt and especially Harris, who caught my eye when Yearwood popped up singing backup in one of her nineties music videos.

  3. Just like Jamie described, this is one of those stop-you-in-your-tracks, pull-over-to the-side-of-the-rode for a dedicated listen kind of songs.

    Like a musical guardian angel, this song hovers just above all the others songs from its time. It has a purity of spirit that threatens to transcend trends or time. Every song we have loved, do love, or will ever love is somehow part of this song.

    Obviously, this song goes into our increasingly full live well of classic 90’s keepers!

    As an aside, it is so upsetting to read about the financial hardships Hugh Prestwood is currently facing.

    I add Michael Johnson’s “That’s That” and Ty England’s “Smoke in Her Eyes” as two of my personal favourite Prestwood songs.

    Jamie- Master’s “Asking Us to Dance” is criminally underrated. Ditto for Shenandoah’s “Ghost in This House.”

  4. @ Kevin John Coye:

    Yes, Trisha’s advocacy for Linda and Emmylou was, in a sense, what you might call a “gateway drug” (although that’s a term that, like the term “fellow traveler”, has some sinister connotations to it [IMHO]) to those two legendary ladies’ left-of-center approach: respectful to the traditional spirit of country, but with a realization that those traditions can be brought forward into the present with a folk and rock sensibility.

    I just feel sad that Trisha and Linda weren’t able to get into the studio to sing at least one or two songs together. Still, we all got compensated by Trisha saluting Linda at the Kennedy Center in 2019.

  5. I can’t say that Trisha ever introduced me to anything since my record collection was full of Ronstadt, Harris, Sinatra long before she came around, but I always regarded her as the best of the (at the time) recent female vocalists. This song may be the apogee of career, but maybe not since her catalogue is simply full of superior performances

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