Wide Open Spaces
Written by Susan Gibson
When songwriter Susan Gibson began writing “Wide Open Spaces,” she was living out the experiences of the girl described in the song. A forestry student in Montana, she began writing the lyrics while home for the holidays. Her mother found the notebook after she’d returned to school, and mailed it to her as part of a care package, inspiring her to complete the song.
Gibson began performing the song in the clubs around Montana while still in college, and when she became the lead singer of Americana band The Groobees, she included it on their debut album. The producer of those sessions was Lloyd Maines, who thought it would be a perfect fit for his own daughter’s band, who were getting ready to leave the Texas music scene for some broader horizons of their own.
The Dixie Chicks had been regionally popular for several years and had released three independent albums before Natalie Maines became their lead singer. The band already had a development deal with Sony when they made the switch, but Maines’ aggressive vocals and youthful energy made the band instantly more palatable for mainstream country music in the late nineties.
While recording their Sony debut, the assertiveness that would become their calling card first surfaced in relation to “Wide Open Spaces.” The producers didn’t want the track on the album; the band insisted. They didn’t want to include banjo on the track; the band insisted. Far from burying the song on the album, they made it the title cut. After a top ten debut single and a #1 follow-up (“There’s Your Trouble”), it was sent to radio in August of 1998.
By the time it started garnering spins, the album Wide Open Spaces was already platinum. But the theme of a young girl going out into the world on her own struck a deep chord with listeners across the country, and album sales skyrocketed, selling a stunning seven million copies in the year that followed, en route to total sales of twelve million copies. “Wide Open Spaces” won CMA awards for Single and Video, just two of the five trophies the Dixie Chicks earned from the organization during the lifespan of the project. They also earned a pair of Grammys and two ACM Awards, including Album of the Year.
By the turn of the century, the Dixie Chicks commanded a following of young girls and women that has yet to be matched, and they did so without pandering to them. “Wide Open Spaces” was an anthem for that fan base, and has accrued an impressive legacy of its own, having been named among the RIAA’s “365 Songs of the Century” in 2002.
Meanwhile, the band that the song launched to superstardom has lived out the spirit of the song ever since, quickly leaving behind the conventional country of that first album and aggressively pushing the boundaries of the genre ever since. Fittingly, when the band launched their 2006 tour, the set list was fully comprised of songs from their more ambitious albums Fly, Home, and Taking the Long Way, with only one exception: “Wide Open Spaces.”
“Wide Open Spaces” is the latest in a series of articles showcasing Classic Country Singles. You can read previous entries at the Classic Country Singles page.
This was immediately my favorite single by the Chicks and it’s still one of their best song.
I didn’t really get into them until the stuff from Fly and especially Home. Strangely, the sister of mine who can’t stand country music now, absolutely loved this album from The Chicks. I still can’t believe that she fell for them before I did.
I remember the days when this song was maybe every fourth song played on country radio. (How soon they forget… ;)
Part of what makes this song a classic is the timelessness of it. It came out the year after I left for college and I found a connection with it, and now young girls on YouTube or wherever are hearing this song and connecting with it all over again. The song acknowledges this: “Who doesn’t know what I’m talking about…Many precede and many will follow…It didn’t seem like that long ago when she stood there and let her own folks know…”
The song also manages to be strong and thoughtful without being cheesy. This is probably due to the fact that the Chicks owned the song; it was about experiences and emotions that they related to. That has always been a big theme for them and is probably the biggest reason they have been able to attract and maintain such a huge female fan base. For the most part, the Chicks record music that reflects them and where they are in their lives. Their music has grown up with them, from young girls striking out on their own, to falling in love, getting divorced, getting married, having babies, growing in your relationship… There are other songs on their albums, but the core is always the same, and people relate to it, especially women.
I also love that Emily stuck up for herself and they kept the banjo in the song. I love the opening.
A smart song that spoke to a wide audience, far beyond the young female fanbase. The strength of it is in the details, most notably how “…her dad yells ‘Check the oil'” in the last verse. One of the best coming-of-age songs in country music, fit for a generation that embarked on this journey more than any generation before.
I was young when this song was out and it touched me then. It’s a song that could be covered by a band again and be a hit (given radio’s objections to playing the Chicks).
It’s not my favorite Chicks song (that is reserved among several songs from the group’s original line-up, but it is quite good and probably the best of their major label effort singles
One of the better “leaving home for the first time” songs, for sure.
The Chicks are so incredibly talented and I do miss hearing them on country radio.
Ridiculous …. (and I’m looking at ALL parties) … but I digress.
Couldn’t agree with you more Eleven.
I love the song…
A true anthem for young ones expecially with every new school year, still love the song and yes of course would love to hear more on radio from them. On that note hear in Canada they do play alot of the chicks music, but being on a boarder city we mostly get U.S. stations which don’t.
I agree 110% with Eleven. I miss the DC’s sound.
My favorites by them:
Long Time Gone
Cowboy Take Me Away
Wide Open Spaces
Excellent write-up for this single, which I do think is a contemporary classic and certainly one of the Dixie Chicks’ best.
I think it’s a shame that they’ve otherwise disregarded the material from their Wide Open Spaces album, though. Songs like “You Were Mine,” and their covers of “Give it Up Or Let Me Go” and “Am I the Only One (Who Ever Felt This Way)” all have strong enough melodies and the actual substance to hold up to new arrangements that could move beyond the now-dated production and arrangements of their album versions.
This song is only okay to me. The message is good but the melody isn’t. The chorus is okay but the melody during the verses sound choppy. “You Were Mine,” on the other hand, is a really touching song that has both good lyrics and melody.
Yeah, it’s definetly a great debut single :)