Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Don Williams, “Back in My Younger Days”

“Back in My Younger Days”

Don Williams

Written by Danny Flowers

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

November 9, 1990

Another Hall of Fame legend earns his final No. 1 hit.

The Road to No. 1

Don Williams had been a constant presence on the country charts for nearly twenty years as the nineties began, and his professional recording career dates back even earlier than that.

Born and raised in Texas, Williams first found success as a member of the folk trio the Pozo-Seco Singers, which recorded for Columbia records in the mid-to-late sixties.  Williams transitioned into a solo country career in the early seventies, with his albums selling well even before radio came on board with his second studio set in 1974.  By the mid-seventies, he was emerging as a major country star, regularly topping the singles charts and winning major industry awards, including the CMA for Male Vocalist of the Year in 1978.

Williams reached his commercial peak in the early eighties, with his studio album, I Believe in You, going platinum and winning the CMA Award for Album of the Year in 1981.   He was a mainstay on country radio throughout the decade, with nearly every single he released reaching the top ten and many topping the charts.   He maintained his popularity despite several label changes; a switch to RCA in the late eighties commenced with 1989’s One Good Well, which produced three top five hits.

Williams released his next album for the label, True Love, in 1990, choosing “Back in My Younger Days” as the lead single.

The No. 1

As a final No. 1 hit, “Back in My Younger Days” is fairly unassuming.  Then again, that was true of many Don Williams hits.  Known as “the Gentle Giant,” his records were known for their subtle delivery and his nuanced vocals.   If anything, “Back in My Younger Days” has an aggressive sound when compared to most of his records, if not when compared to everything else on the radio at the time.

The title notwithstanding, “Back in My Younger Days” is slight on philosophy.  It’s a heartfelt song about showing appreciation for a woman getting him on the right path, as well as for standing by him for so long.   His skill as a singer helps him add greater depth and a layer of humor to the lyric.

I don’t know that it would be necessary for inclusion on even a generous best-of set, but it’s still an enjoyable listen, even if it pales in comparison to most of the chart toppers from 1990.

The Road From No. 1

Williams scored two more top ten hits from True Love – the title track, and “Lord Have Mercy On a Country Boy.”   Despite this success, Williams chose to switch from longtime co-producer Garth Fundis to Allen Reynolds for his next RCA album.  Currents, released in 1992, featured two singles that barely charted.  After two decades of hits, Williams was no longer in rotation at country radio.

Williams primarily recorded for independent labels for the rest of his career, often to great critical acclaim.  Wildly popular in England, he staged several successful tours of the United Kingdom.  He did a farewell tour in 2010, the same year he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, but then he came out of retirement shortly thereafter.  His 2012 album, And So it Goes, was well-received, and he toured succesfully until 2016, when he retired for good.   Sadly, he passed away the following year.

“Back in My Younger Days” gets a B.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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  1. Really love this song! Like so many of Williams’ other songs, it’s just so full of charm, and it makes me smile and think of really good times when I hear it. Again, I was pretty lucky enough to have this on one of my tapes in the early 90’s before I was able to track down a copy of the True Love album many years later. I do remember it still getting some airplay on the independent station near us in the late 90’s/early 00’s, when all the other major ones had long forgotten about it.

    I’m a bit surprised to learn that “True Love” never did go to number one, since I remember one of our stations having it on heavy rotation in early 1991. Always loved that song, as well, and it ended up making it on quite a few of my tapes. Don’t quite remember hearing “Lord Have Mercy On A Country Boy” as much, though I really like that one, too. It’s really too bad that radio support stopped by 1992, as I think his style would’ve fit in very nicely with what else was mostly on the radio in ’92 and early 1993. I especially like “It’s Who You Love” from the Currents album.

    Even if Don’s newer singles were no longer getting airplay, he was still getting some really good recurrent action with his older songs throughout the rest of the decade. “I’ve Been Loved By The Best” is on one of my favorite tapes from early 1993, and I remember hearing classics like “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend,” “(Turn Out The Light and) Love Me Tonight,” “I Believe In You,” “Good Ol’ Boys Like Me,” etc. during the late 90’s and very early 00’s. One of our stations even played “I Keep Putting Off Getting Over You,” a non-single from the I Believe In You album, in the Fall of 1991 which I was also lucky enough to get on tape. :)

  2. It is hard to conceive of Don’s last #1 being over 30 years ago, especially since local country stations continued to occasionally play his songs until about a decade ago.

    Don wasn’t one of my top favorites but I don’t recall ever hearing a single from him that I actively disliked. His output, both singles and album tracks was consistently good throughout his career

  3. I will always be grateful to Keith Urban for sharing how important Don Williams’ music was to him growing up because Urban’s father was himself a huge fan of “The Gentle Giant.”

    In some ways lesser cuts like this one emphasize just how mesmerizing and hypnotic Williams very often was. The charm is hard to put a finger on. Critics call him sleepy and dull, fans celebrate a restrained, mature confidence.

    I am a huge fan even though I admit to barely remembering his final number one single amidst all the excitement of the newcomers.

    Williams’ singles consistently offered familiarity on the radio. Veteran artists like him anchored the format for the years.

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