“Keep it Between the Lines”
Ricky Van Shelton
Written by Kathy Louvin and Russell Smith
#1 (2 weeks)
October 12 – October 19, 1991
Radio & Records
#1 (1 week)
October 4, 1991
A tender ballad becomes another No. 1 smash for Ricky Van Shelton.
The Road to No. 1
Backroads was proving more successful at radio than its predecessor, RVS III, with Shelton’s third single from it becoming his third consecutive No. 1 hit.
The No. 1
Shelton had certainly earned his stripes as a balladeer by the time he released “Keep it Between the Lines,” but the song still charted new territory for him. Rather than being a typical love or love gone wrong song, it’s one of those message story songs in the vein of “Where’ve You Been” or “Love, Me.”
Like on those two records, the chorus means something a little different each time, as we take a journey through different stages of life. Here, it’s a man learning to drive with his father, then coloring with his young son, before finally hearing a prayer for help answered as he wonders how he will raise that son by himself.
The metaphor feels a bit more forced than it does on the songs above and on “Love Without End, Amen,” another recent hit that had used this structure.
But Shelton’s incredibly sincere and heartfelt performance papers over that, keeping the lyric from collapsing onto itself. It’s one of his best vocal performances, which is a high bar to clear.
The Road From No. 1
The first signs of trouble for Shelton at radio surfaced with the fourth single, “After the Lights Go Out,” which missed the Billboard top ten, despite being of the same high standard as the rest of the singles from Backroads. He bounced back with the title track, which we’ll see in this feature when we get to 1992.
“Keep it Between the Lines” gets a B+.