Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Vince Gill, “When I Call Your Name”

“When I Call Your Name”

Vince Gill

Written by Tim DuBois and Vince Gill

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

August 3, 1990

A moderately successful eighties country artist jumps right on to the nineties A-list.

The Road to No. 1

Vince Gill had been flirting with country stardom for nearly a decade by the time he joined the roster of MCA Nashville in 1989.  He got his first big break with a stint as lead singer of the Pure Prairie League, where his notoriety was limited to his vocals on the top ten pop hit “Let Me Love You Tonight” and famously flipping off the audience after their poorly received opening set for KISS.   Gill turned down joining Dire Straits after leaving Pure Prairie League, choosing instead to join Rodney Crowell’s backing band.

Gill released a bluegrass album with four fellow musicians in 1983, then joined the roster of RCA Nashville.  Throughout the eighties, he’d release several singles for them, as well as two LPs and an EP.   Three singles for the label made the top ten, but once he broke through in the nineties, RCA would capitalize on those early years with one platinum and another gold compilation.  Gill was also an in-demand session singer at this time, with his vocals easily heard on hits by Rosanne Cash (“I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me”) and Patty Loveless (“Timber, I’m Falling in Love.”)

Gill followed former bandmate and RCA label executive Tony Brown over to MCA, where his first single, “Never Alone,” just missed the top twenty.  His second, a duet with Reba McEntire on “Oklahoma Swing,” fared better, almost going top ten.  For the third single, MCA pulled the title track of his first studio album for them.

The No. 1

It isn’t often that a breakthrough record so fully defines an artist and their ethos.  “When I Call Your Name” is one of those records.

With harrowing harmony vocals from Patty Loveless, “When I Call Your Name” is a desperate, longing ballad that captures the shock and grief of being left behind by a woman who has “grown weary of living a lie.”

The setup is classic country, with the title first referring to Gill calling his lover’s name as he gets home from work, and later calling it out in agony and despair.  Either way, “nobody answers when I call your name.”

It’s becoming very evident going through the No. 1 singles of 1990 not only why so many superstars broke through, but why country music itself was becoming ground zero for the best singing and songwriting of any genre at that time.

This is as good as country music gets.

The Road From No. 1

“When I Call Your Name” won CMA Single of the Year in 1990 and Song of the Year in 1991, eventually powering its album to double platinum status.  Gill stayed busy on the charts and the awards circuit, taking home CMA’s Male Vocalist in 1991 and 1992.   More hit singles followed “When I Call Your Name,” and they all went top ten.  “Never Knew Lonely” was the fourth and final single from When I Call Your Name, and it was followed by three big hits from his double platinum 1991 set, Pocket Full of Gold: the title track and “Liza Jane” in 1991, and then “Look at Us” in 1992, which won Gill another CMA Song of the Year trophy that fall.  We’ll see him in the spring of 1992 with the fourth single from that set.

“When I Call Your Name” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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  1. This is another 90’s country song that stopped me dead in my tracks when I first heard it. I was stunned by how by how classically country a contemporary recording could be. Up until now, songs this perfect were only from the past, found only in my parent’s record collection.

    I will always remember pulling into my mom’s garage with her Pontiac Grand LeMans after buying some bedding annuals for the garden at Frank’s Nursery and Crafts in Crystal, Minnesota as this song played on KEEY K102 on the car radio. I am pretty sure my mouth hung open as I just sat there mesmerized, listening to the the entire song: the vocals, the harmonies, the instrumentation, production, the subject matter.

    Such a cool feeling to sense something truly special was happening with so much of this new music from these young artists.

    A mind-blowingly good song.

  2. A wonderful song that was elevated by the plaintive background vocals of Patty Loveless! No one in the 90s did sad country songs as much justice as those two!

  3. Top 10 of all time. Stunningly great. Not many songs reach me to the point I experience the singer’s feelings, but this grabs me by the heart and shakes the joy out of me.

  4. Quite an amusing story about Vince giving the KISS Army the bird after he and Pure Prairie League were Bronx-cheered off the stage by them. It seems difficult to imagine a more bizarre pairing of opening act and headliner…except for Linda Ronstadt opening for The Doors, which also happened (in 1968).

  5. Besides having such a great classic country ballad like this serving as an artist’s breakthrough moment, was was also amazing was that it was a big hit in the dead of Summer. Needless to say, this was way before everyone thought that people only wanted to hear mindless ditties and Summer anthems during the warmer months, and quality was more important than anything else. Sadly, like Leeann, I can’t imagine a song like this being successful on the radio today no matter what season.

    I’ve always enjoyed Vince Gill’s music even when I was little (“Take Your Memory With You” and “Never Knew Lonely” were some of my earliest favorites of his), but I became a big fan when I went back and revisited this song on one of my tapes around 1996/1997. I remember just getting lost in the song, and even though I couldn’t relate to the sadness the singer was expressing at the time, there was just something about it that had me hooked, and it’s what got me into loving traditional country waltzes in general. Even today, whenever it comes on, I have to stop everything and just listen. From the great piano playing, the crying steel, Vince’s performance, and Patty’s harmonies, it’s such a perfect record!

    This was also the song that made my step dad a fan of Vince Gill, and I remember him telling my mom how much he loved his voice while he was performing on TV in the early 90’s. Even though he still mostly liked older country, Vince, Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks were a few of the 90’s artists he came to like, as well. BTW, I also didn’t know about that whole PPL/KISS incident. Pretty interesting!

  6. My Dad wasn’t a big fan of modern country but even he liked this song. If I recall correctly Sirius had this song somewhere around 850 or 900, proof positive they are totally clueless. I recall thinking at the time that the song belonged at least 500 slots higher (and probably more)

    I always wondered why this song didn’t make it to #1 on Billboard’s Country chart. A definite A+ and a top

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