Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Ricky Van Shelton, “Keep it Between the Lines”

“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+.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

Previous: Garth Brooks, “Rodeo” | Next: Joe Diffie, “New Way (to Light Up an Old Flame)”


  1. One of my all time favorite RVS songs from the early 90’s! I simply love everything about it, and it always instantly transports me back to the Fall of 1991. It’s also been known to still get me misty eyed every now and then, and I always found the second verse pretty touching, in particular. As a six year old at the time, I remember liking the part where he mentions his son’s coloring book, since I was also into coloring books myself at the time. Always just loved Steve Buckingham’s production on this one, as well, and Ricky’s heartfelt performance.

    The first time I heard this one was actually when I was over at my dad’s house, and we were watching the video to this song together. It’s one of the many videos from the late 1991-early 1992 period that brings back great memories of being at my dad’s house and getting to watch CMT since my mom and step dad’s house didn’t have that channel. This song is also on one of my very favorite tapes that I recorded around the same time, which also includes some of my other personal favorites like Randy Travis’ “Heroes And Friends,” “Somewhere Tonight” by Highway 101, “Tempted” by Marty Stuart, “Where Did I Go Wrong,” by Steve Wariner, “I Keep Putting Off Getting Over You” by Don Williams, “It’s Like We Never Said Goodbye” by Crystal Gayle, “Still Burnin’ For You” by Rob Crosby, “That’s What Your Love Does To Me” by Holly Dunn, “Some Guys Have All The Love” by Little Texas, “Chill Of An Early Fall” by George Strait, another great RVS tune in “Living Proof,” plus others.

    Btw, it’s such a shame that “After The Lights Go Out” wasn’t a bigger hit. I absolutely love that one too, and always thought it was very underrated.

  2. “A Couple of Good Years Left” was fantastic. His material never really went downhill. He only has one chart topper left. But he put out two albums that went gold anyway without any radio support.

  3. I really love “A Couple Of Good Years Left,” as well, along with its video. What a shame that radio had already cooled on RVS by then. The 1993 Bride I Didn’t Burn album in general deserved better, imo. That’s actually one of my favorite albums of his, and the fact that it still went gold without much radio support speaks volumes about how popular he actually still was. I especially love the title track to that album, co-written by Tracy Byrd who was just getting his own career started at the time.

  4. This song made parental doubt and insecurity real for me as a teen. I had not really reflected on parental vulnerability before in song other than Elvis’ “Don’t Cry Daddy.” The 2005 film “Thumbsucker” similarly challenged me to see parents as flawed but complex, full people with histories independent of my own.

    But back to Shelton. I am still as in love with the richness of his voice today as I was in 1991. This song suits him so well and he nails the performance. A true contemporary sentimental country tear-jerker!

    Have I mentioned I love Ricky Van Shelton’s singing before?

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