Every #1 Single of the Nineties: Sawyer Brown, “All These Years”

“All These Years”

Sawyer Brown

Written by Mac McAnally

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

February 12, 1993

Adultery doesn’t get any better than this.

The Road to No. 1

Sawyer Brown followed their No. 1 hits “The Dirt Road and “Some Girls Do” with the title track from Cafe On the Corner, which is arguably the greatest single of their entire career.  But if one were to argue it was something else, it’d probably be this.

The No. 1

Country music is known for its cheating songs.  Sometimes they’re playful, sometimes they’re desperate, and sometimes they’re vengeful.

But to write a song about the very moment a husband discovers his wife with another man in their bed, and for it to lead to a deep and reflective conversation about their married life together? That’s a tour de force of songwriting.

The band is smart enough to keep the arrangement sparse, and Mark Miller’s warm vocal makes both the husband and wife sympathetic characters.   If I were to start quoting the song, I’d end up quoting the entire thing.  It’s that damn good.

These days, a song this complex, challenging, and grounded would go straight to Americana without passing go and without collecting $200.

That it went to No. 1 in 1993 just further documents what an extraordinary moment in country music history that this time period was.

The Road From No. 1

“Trouble On the Line” was the third and final single from Cafe On the Corner, and it went top five.  The band was back on top with another No. 1 single later in 1993.

“All These Years” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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  1. I offer this as the most heart-breaking song to reach number one in the nineties. It has some stiff competition for sure, but it is singularly stark and sad. Can anyone hear this song and not be touched by it? It simply sticks.

    From Miller’s vocals to the Tom T. Hall like lyrics to the spartan production and instrumentation, it is arresting and disarming. This is what regret, confusion, responsibility, shame, loneliness, disappointment, frustration, and love sound like when run through the emotional blender of an affair. A YouTube commenter pointed out that “All These Years” is simultaneously “sensitive, defensive, and neutral.”

    This is the gut-wrenching consequence of the two characters in K.T. Oslin’s “Hold Me” not turning their cars around.

    For as much as this song scars, it’s real wonder is that it permits hope that “all these years” may still be reason enough to save the relationship. MacAnally’s ability to flip what all these years represent from something having been endured too long to something to celebrate and rally around is genius.

    I love and admire this tender song.

    Without reservation, I consider this another classic of this era.

  2. I’m in full agreement with both Kevin and Peter here. I absolutely love this song! Both “Cafe On The Corner” and this have always been about neck in neck when it comes to Sawyer Brown’s best singles, but I certainly wouldn’t mind giving “All These Years” the edge.

    As a kid, I simply loved this song for the beautiful melody, the acoustic guitar playing, and Mark Miller’s voice. As a still seven year old at the time it came out, I had no idea just how truly sad this song really was, nor did I quite yet pick up on the brilliance in much of the song’s lyrics. As I got older, I especially got to really liking the lines “She said you’re not the man you used to be. And he said neither is this guy” and also “I made your supper and your daughter and your son.” Just really great stuff! As Peter mentioned, I also love the use of the double meaning of the saying “all these years.” Also, I love how they left it up to the listener to decide whether the couple tried to mend things afterwards or call it quits. It’s just a truly great song about a truly unfortunate situation all around, especially for the kids involved. This is indeed yet another ultimate classic from the early 90’s!

    This is also another one of the many early 90’s country videos I remember seeing while I was over at my dad’s house, which had CMT, and it’s another one of my favorite ones from this era. I especially remember the shot of the light fixture when Mark sang “He turned on the lights and turned them off again.” Even though just the song itself hints at a possibility that the couple could turn things around eventually, the video kind of gives off a much darker feel to me, at least. To me, the abandoned house tells me that they did indeed go their separate ways, and the shots of all the family’s belongings left as they were after the incident happened really add an extra layer of sadness and a haunting quality to the song. The shot of the abandoned kids’ bicycle and wagon is especially heartbreaking.

    This is also another song that made it on to quite a few of the tapes I recorded during early 1993. The first one I remember recording it on was on the tape I mentioned in Doug Stone’s “Too Busy Being In Love.” And of course, as I mentioned in Alan’s “She’s Got The Rhythm,” this song is also on one of my all time favorite tapes that I recorded from this time period, which is that old 80’s TDK tape that I’ve listened to countless times all throughout my childhood. I actually remember this song playing on the tape while we were visiting Oregon around 1994. My parents were driving through a neighborhood and looking for the house they used to live in before I was born, and I had popped the tape into the rental car’s tape deck. Later at one point, my mom actually forgot we were listening to a tape and accidently switched it off, thinking she was changing the station, lol.

    Finally, I completely agree with Kevin’s last sentence in his review. It’s simply amazing that a song like this could still go to number one in early 1993, and unfortunately I also agree that it would have zero chance on today’s mainstream country radio. Even more amazing was that it continued to get recurrent airplay for us going into the early 00’s.

    Nearly 30 years later, I’m still blown away by how many songs I love were released during this late 1992/early 1993 period, alone.

  3. This is one of my favorite songs ever, but it had to be incredibly awkward for the guy who hooked up with a woman, and then she and her husband had a spirited discussion with him right there in bed.

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