“He Walked On Water”
Written by Allen Shamblin
Radio & Records
#1 (1 week)
July 13, 1990
Randy Travis earns his second No. 1 single of the nineties with an ode to a late great-grandfather.
The Road to No. 1
As noted above, this single was preceded by another No. 1 hit, “Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart,” which served as the second single from his 1989 studio album, No Holdin’ Back.
The No. 1
Country music can boast of some fantastic “ode to grandpa” songs. “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days)” by the Judds remains the gold standard. Kenny Chesney’s “Grandpa Told Me So” is criminally underrated. “He Walked On Water” is an earlier versoin of the latter approach to celebrating a family patriarch.
What makes “He Walked On Water” work so well is that it captures how a young child idolizes – and idealizes – an older family member. Despite being able to see the withering effects of age, they seem at once all-knowing and immortal. Never mind the mouth full of missing teeth. Their stories of their younger heroics still ring true.
But for me, the clincher is this verse right here:
Then he tied a cord to the end of a mop,
And said, “son, here’s a pony, keep her at a trot”
And I’d ride in circles while he laughed a lot
Then I’d flop down beside him
One of the reasons there’s often such a strong bond between a small child and a grandparent or great grandparent: they both have the free time to amuse each other. For me, it was my mom’s dad teaching me checkers and taking me up to the roof of their Bay Ridge apartment building to look at the Verrazzano Bridge. He’d tell me stories about the bridge being built while feeding me Andes chocolate mints. Then we’d go back down and he’d play me ABBA records, proudly talking about how they were from Sweden, too. Just like him.
Kudos to the songwriter, Allen Shamblin, for capturing something universal while writing about something so specific to one child’s memory. Our backgrounds couldn’t be more different, but our truths are the same.
The Road From No. 1
No Holdin’ Back became the first Warner Bros. album for Travis to only produce three singles, as the label moved on to a duets project called Heroes & Friends. We will see something from that set in 1991. Its first single, a duet with George Jones on “A Few Ole Country Boys,” went top ten.
“He Walked On Water” gets an A.