Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Ricky Van Shelton, “I am a Simple Man”

“I am a Simple Man”

Ricky Van Shelton

Written by Walt Aldridge


#1 (1 week)

July 27, 1991

Ricky Van Shelton keeps the hits coming with his fourth album.

The Road to No. 1

Shelton actually preceded his Backroads set with two No. 1 hits, as sharing a label with Dolly Parton allowed their chart-topper “Rockin’ Years” to be included on both of their new studio albums.

Columbia’s long range plans for Shelton’s album kept changing, as evidenced by the 45 issued for “I am a Simple Man,” which features later single “Backroads” as the B-side and has the album’s tentative title, Between the Lines, based on the lyric of his next chart-topper.  But “Simple Man” had no issue keeping the hits coming for Shelton.

The No. 1

There’s an irritability to “I am a Simple Man” that works very well in its favor.  Shelton’s got more of an edge on this single than he showed on earlier records, adding heightened believability to his bewildered annoyance that his partner can’t figure him out.

It’s a working man’s anthem, with the frustration rooted in having to explain himself when he just wants to ease his sore backache and relax after a hard day’s work.  Like we keep seeing with great nineties songs, its sentiment is universal while the details remain specific to a particular country lifestyle.

The Road From No. 1

Shelton has another two chart-toppers on the way from this album, and we’ll see the next one before the end of 1991.

“I am a Simple Man” gets a B+.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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  1. I loved the cranky intrusion of a working class sensibility to Shelton’s output with this song. It’s like the gloves came off with this hit as Shelton stepped out from the past and announced himself as his own man.

    I love the groove this song gets into as it flirts with a funk base line. The song is simultaneously combative and conciliatory.

    God, Shelton was so damn good!

  2. Counterpoint: This is a brilliantly produced single that Shelton performs convincingly, and the narrator is one of the least likable characters ever to top the charts. I hope the wife he’s singing all of this to leaves his belligerent ass. Which is surely a believable, true-to-life story, just not one that I enjoy listening to, especially when Shelton has so many killer tracks in his underrated catalogue.

  3. The narrator is bluntly sharing he needs a break. I can think of a lot more unlikable characters in country songs throughout its history who have cheated, stolen, lied, and killed!

    As listeners, I imagine most of us can sympathize with just needing to put a losing game of a day behind us and not overanalyze everything within a relationship when we know we aren’t at our best.

    The song is believable because the couple isn’t seemingly walking away from the relationship. That being said, they will likely have this argument again next Friday night. Probably an exhausting couple to have as friends or neighbours.

    Timing and tone are everything when working on relationship stuff, and I will agree that neither he nor she seem to have figured it out.

    I think this song is so good because it makes us uncomfortable more than it offends.

  4. Yet another great upbeat song that was probably a lot of fun to crank up with the windows down in the Summer of 1991. Too bad I was ten years too young to drive then, lol. For me, this one took Shelton’s rockabilly influences that he displayed in the 80’s and successfully updated them for the 90’s. It just has such a great, fun groove to it! I remember hearing this one a lot in the car with my parents when this came out, as well.

    As for the lyrical content, I can understand the frustration coming from both characters in the song. Unfortunately, there are many couples on the planet who can relate to this very well, as Peter mentioned, and I actually like how bluntly honest it is compared to many modern small town/working class country songs that just go on and on about how perfect everything is.

    The Backroads album is probably one of my all time favorite RVS albums, btw.

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