Single Review: Jamey Johnson, “Heartache”

When I was a very young child, maybe five or six, there was a song that used to scare me a little bit: “Maneater.”

When Hall & Oates sang about her only coming out at night and warned, “Watch out boy, she’ll chew you up,” my literal little mind thought she was a monster that was going around eating people.  It creeped me out.

Somewhere tonight, there must be another small boy or girl listening in terror to Jamey Johnson’s “Heartache.”

Written in the first person, no less, it has Johnson playing the role of heartache, which is “hungry and huntin’ someone I can eat alive.”  Johnson is all evil and growling as he vows to chow down on a cheating man later on, after he finishes “gnawin’ on your pretty little wife.”  If this is what heartache is truly like, it’s no wonder Suzy Bogguss failed to reason with it.

This is a record that could only be pulled off convincingly by Jamey Johnson.  I wrote recently that, like with Miranda Lambert, I get confused when he splits the difference between playing a character and being authentic and real.   Johnson is in full character mode here, and it’s the musical equivalent of Anthony Hopkins playing Hannibal Lecter.  It’s creepy, off-putting and deeply uncomfortable to listen to.

It works.

Written by Jamey Johnson and Rivers Rutherford

Grade: B+

Listen: Heartache


  1. Totally agree. It works because Johnson goes all the way with his particular persona, which is already over-the-top in its way. This is my favorite Jamey Johnson mode – it’s the same one he’s in on “Mental Revenge.”

  2. Great review. Yes, this song is definitely a bit creepy, but Jamey is an expert at pulling off dark subject matter like this. (He is clearly the polar opposite of artists like Sugarland, Martina McBride, and Kellie Pickler)

    That said, it’s still incredible that such a Heartache doesn’t melt at the sweet sounds of Suzy Bogguss. Love that song!

    By the way, props for the way you’ve been keeping up with the daily posts and fulfilling your New Year’s Resolution! I’ve enjoyed getting to read new CU posts on a more frequent basis than before.

  3. Heartache is my favorite song on the album. It is creepy, haunting, and downright cleaverly written. I’m glad it’s getting a review, even though I wonder if this song get’s a B+, what get’s an A?

  4. Enjoyed reading the review and the “Heartache” lyrics. Seems a bit weird that Rivers Rutherford co-wrote this w JJ and also co-wrote “Brown Chicken Brown Cow”. We all have bad days.

    Thanks for mentioning “Maneater”. Love that song so I’ll play some H&O today. Those guys still sound great. Saw their “Live at the Troubadour” show from ’08 on TV about a year ago. Suzy B may have been only #65 on your greatest women of country list but she’s #1 on mine.

  5. This is one of my very favorite tracks from ‘The Guitar Song.’ It’s definitely the one I listen to the most. I think I’d have given it an A-.

  6. I remember my Dad playing ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ by Queen a lot, and that song used to scare my young self into terrors. I can’t pin down why – I’ve been thinking about it again – but my guess is it was mostly the sinister-sounding bass lines combined with lines like ‘Hey, I’m gonna get you too’. I had forgotten about that.

    Back to Johnson, I am a little surprised this was released as the next single. After two failed singles from this album, I was betting on Jamey’s cover of ‘Set Em Joe’ or even the title track to be released as a way to mine at least one radio hit from this album. And while this is not my favorite from the album, I like it a lot, and couldn’t agree with Kevin’s review more. Especially digging the Anthony Hopkins reference.

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