Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Ricky Van Shelton, “Backroads”


Ricky Van Shelton

Written by Charlie Major

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

May 22, 1992

Ricky Van Shelton tops the chart for the last time.

The Road to No. 1

Since breaking through at radio in 1987, Shelton had been one of the genre’s most consistent hitmakers, reaching the top ten with fourteen consecutive singles.  Following his most recent No. 1, “Keep it Between the Lines,” Columbia released “After the Lights Go Out,” which was Shelton’s first single to miss the top ten since his debut release, “Wild-Eyed Dream.”  Shelton rebounded with the title track and fourth single from Backroads.

The No. 1

“Backroads” is an unassuming single, despite its distinction as Shelton’s final chart topping hit.  A fun and enthusiastic driving anthem, it doesn’t break any new lyrical ground, but has a loose rockabilly feel that compensates for the barely there songwriting.

It’s an early example of what will become very common as the decade progresses, with tempo and backbeat becoming more important than lyrics and melody.  Shelton sings “Backroads” well, but it’s just album filler that happened to become radio filler.

The Road From No. 1

Ricky Van Shelton’s audience stuck around a lot longer than radio did.  After a one-off Elvis cover for the Honeymoon in Vegas soundtrack, he previewed Greatest Hits Plus with “Wild Man,” which became his final top five hit.  The album still went platinum, and it did so on the heels of another gold album, Don’t Overlook Salvation, a gospel collection that sold well despite no radio airplay at all.

In 1993, he released another studio album, A Bridge I Didn’t Burn.  Despite the lead single missing the top forty and the second single barely scraping the top twenty, it also went gold.  His final studio set for Columbia, Love and Honor, followed in 1994.  It produced no hits and remains his only major label release to not be certified gold or higher.   A budget compilation, Super Hits, rounded out his work for the label, and it also became a gold seller.

After a hiatus to focus on his health and wellness, Shelton re-emerged in 1998 with Making Plans, a studio album that was sold exclusively at Wal-Mart.  He followed with Fried Green Tomatoes and Blue Christmas in 2000.

In 2006, Shelton announced his retirement from the music industry, choosing to focus on his family and his hobbies of antiquing and restoration of classic cars.

“Backroads” gets a B.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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  1. I was a big Ricky Van Shelton fan when I was younger and, while this song wasn’t as good as some of his other hits, it’s always an enjoyable listen. (Also nice to see some Canadian content here with songwriter Charlie Major, who had some decent singles and chart success in Canada in the mid-90s).

  2. I got into country music thanks to this man, but not through the avenue you’d expect.
    I’d just become a spotty oik of a teenager in the early 90’s and was a huge fan of Baywatch, as were most lads of my age. One Saturday I settled down to watch and the episode in question was about a country singer (RVS) who’d lost his son, enlisting the lifeguards to help him in the search and singing a few songs as they went. The episode also starred a young Martina Mcbride. Now living in England I’d not been exposed to country music before and the songs hit me like a barn door in the face. I was hooked from that moment on. I recorded the audio onto cassette via my dictaphone but could never find the album the songs were on so it was the only copy I had until 20 years later when the internet became prevalent. so
    So thanks Ricky, for a love affair that lasts to this day.

  3. This should have just been a ho-hum bridge to a slew of later potential hits from his subsequent albums, but it turned out to be Shelton’s swan song.

    A solid song, but you can almost hear Shelton getting lost in the backwoods as he pig-headedly keeps to the backroads of country music as the rest of the industry barreled down the interstate headed to town.

    I am a huge fan of those later albums that didn’t find favour with country radio.

    I am still simply swept away by the sound of his voice. My country crush!

  4. This is also not one of my top favorites from Shelton, nor is it one of his most memorable songs for me, but it’s still a fun listen from time to time. I especially like the rockabilly style of it. One interesting this about it is how it was one of the very few songs on the radio at the time about cruising back roads with the windows down, and not too many people probably would’ve guessed that the theme would be done to death a couple decades later thanks to countless Bro-Country and “I’m Country” checklist songs. Of course, I much prefer Shelton’s song.

    I fully agree with Peter that it’s too bad that this ended up being his very last number one, when it should’ve been just another in many more to come. I’m actually kind of surprised that “Wild Man” didn’t reach the top, since I remember that one being played a lot around late ’92/early ’93, and it made it on to quite a few of my tapes. Always loved that one! The Bridge I Didn’t Burn album deserved a much better fate at radio, as well, though I’m completely amazed that it still went gold, which says a lot about how big and loyal of a fan base he still had. I also quite like the Making Plans album, which in a perfect world, would’ve given RVS another successful run of hits in the late 90’s.

    Frank The Tank – I had forgotten that Charlie Major wrote this song. I really like a lot of his music, too! “I’m Gonna Drive You Out of My Mind” and “Some Days Are Better” are a couple of my favorites that come to mind. Another great Canadian artist!

  5. @Jamie – Charlie Major was never one of my favourites, but he did have a few songs that I quite enjoyed, particularly “I’m Gonna Drive You Out of My Mind.” I’m assuming that I’m one of the few Canadian regular commenters here, so I’ll make sure to highlight the Canadian content when it comes up. Canadian country music in the 90s was really good!

  6. @ Frank The Tank…”I’m Gonna Drive You Out Of My Mind”..I Do It For Money”… As a fellow Canadian, I Loved and miss Patricia Conroy!

  7. I am a Minnesota-born raised American currently living in Toronto.

    I have fallen in love with Canada’s Jason McCoy, Fred Eaglesmith, Prairie Oyster, and Gord Bamford.

    I love the unexpected Canadian connections here!

  8. @ Peter Saros – that’s awesome! Jason McCoy has had quite an interesting career. I felt that most of his albums were of a similar style and fairly consistent in sound/production, but then he came out with Honky Tonk Sonatas in 2000, which was a departure from his usual sound and it was fantastic (his best album IMO). Then he later formed the Roadhammers and his career went off in a different direction.

    The 90s was a golden era in Canadian country music.

  9. I’ve discovered and fallen in love with so much 90’s Canadian country over the last decade or so! Besides the names already mentioned, I also really love both George Fox and Chris Cummings. I also recently discovered Tracey Prescott & Lonesome Daddy/Prescott Brown, and I especially love their debut album from the early 90’s.

    Peter – I also absolutely love Prairie Oyster! They have such a cool and unique sound and style to them.

    Frank – Honky Tonk Sonatas is such a great album! I gave that one a listen on Spotify fairly recently, and it’s become another one of my many favorites!

    As for Patricia Conroy, I’ve absolutely fallen in love with her first two albums from the early 90’s! I really love her voice, too. “Cat And Mouse” has been a big standout for me from the Bad Day For Trains album, especially, and her voice is absolutely gorgeous on that track!

    One huge plus for me about streaming services like Spotify is getting to hear all these great Canadian country albums that are otherwise hard to track down in the States. However, there are still quite a few Canadian albums missing from Spotify, like all of Prairie Oyster’s albums are strangely missing for some reason. Luckily, I have both Everybody Knows and Only One Moon on cd.

  10. RVS was one of my favorites. This one always stuck in my head way harder than it should have. I think the performance is just so winning with its rockabilly style. Where was all that energy when he cut “Wild Man”?

    “Backroads” made my best of the ’90s list over at Farce the Music, by the way.

  11. @Jamie – George Fox is one of my favourites! Sadly, he’s retired now, but I saw him live once many years ago in a tiny community hall down the road from where I grew up.

    Prairie Oyster is excellent too! Sean Burns recently interviewed Russell DeCarle (formerly of Prairie Oyster) on the Northern Report Podcast and he indicated that he and the other former members of the band were working some things out, which makes me wonder if this has something to do with the limited streaming options for their albums. (This is a great podcast, btw).

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