Every #1 Single of the Nineties: Alan Jackson, “(Who Says) You Can’t Have it All”

“(Who Says) You Can’t Have it All”

Alan Jackson

Written by Alan Jackson and Jim McBride

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

March 25, 1994

Another stone cold country classic from Alan Jackson.

The Road to No. 1

After “Chattahoochee” lit the world on fire, Arista kept the beat going and released Jackson’s cover of “Mercury Blues,” which topped out at No. 2.  They closed out the Little ‘Bout Love project with a ballad every bit as good as the earlier hit from the set, “Tonight I Climbed the Wall.”

The No. 1

It’s amazing to look back and realize how easy it was to take records like this for granted by 1994.

With everyone hopping on the New Country bandwagon, the charts were flush with traditional-sounding records sung with a twang by young guys in cowboy hats.

But as with any bandwagon, once time goes by and tastes change, it’s only the very best artists and records that stand the test of time.

With Alan Jackson, we had a radio artist who was every bit the singer-songwriter as the greats of previous generations, worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton.

“(Who Says) You Can’t Have it All” is as good as anything he ever did, with striking visual imagery – “A stark naked lightbulb hangs over my head” is the opening line – and misery-soaked self-deprecation.

Jackson never talked down to his audience, which is why he could deliver a line as majestic as “I’m lord and master of a fool’s Taj Mahal” shortly after rhyming “Chattahoochee” with “hoochie coochie.”

I may be on record about how miserable I found his most recent album, but listening to this again reminds me that my disappointment stems from the casual greatness that he embodied for the better part of three decades.

The Road From No. 1

He’s going to keep mining that dance mix vein for some time, so when we see Alan Jackson next, it will be with another revved up rock and roll oldies cover.

“(Who Says) You Can’t Have it All” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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6 Comments

  1. KJC, this is some of your best ever prose. Yes, the imagery of a stark naked lightbulb is stunning in its imagery, a quick phrase that evokes a sense of time and place reminiscient of the best poetry. A+ on the song, just a fabulous masterpiece.

  2. I think the best part of this song, and quite a few of Alan’s traditionalist ballads, was only having one set of verses before the two choruses. I feel an extra verse in place of the instrumental break would have diluted the song, and these days you almost never hear a song constructed this way.

  3. I absolutely love this song, and it’s another one of AJ’s wonderful ballads that often seems sadly overlooked often today. Classic country styled waltzes such as this have always been right up my alley, and Alan proves here that he can handle (and write) them as well as any of the other neo-traditionalists that emerged in the late 80’s and early 90’s. While many other “hat acts” were switching over to the more polished, contemporary style of ballads, like John Michael Montgomery and Neal McCoy, this was sort of a return of the early 90’s stone country ballad that was more common from 1990-1992. I also consider this as a brief return of “Classic Alan Jackson” (1989-early 1993/pre “Chattahoochee”).

    Because it seemingly got so little recurrent airplay in our area, this is another one I didn’t get to hear until well after I got back into country radio in the mid 90’s. Besides Brooks & Dunn’s Greatest Hits Collection, my dad also surprised me with Alan Jackson’s Hits Collection for Christmas in 1997, as well, and I was first introduced to this song while playing that album for the first time. It quickly became one of my favorites on that cd, and one of my “new” favorite Alan Jackson songs. I just loved the overall sound and feel of it, and I always loved that “Fool’s Taj Mahal” line despite not knowing at the time what it meant. It just sounded pretty cool and unique. Because it was around late 1997/early 1998 that I first really got into this song, it still tends to bring back great memories from that time period for me. Strangely enough, it was also shortly after hearing the song on that cd that I heard it on the radio as a recurrent for the first time.

    Stephen H. – Some of my favorite traditional country ballads have that one verse, two chorus structure. One of the first ones that comes to mind is Trace Adkins’ “The Rest Of Mine,” which was actually one of my then current favorites from that late ’97-early 98 period. Another one is B&D’s “I’ll Never Forgive My Heart.” I REALLY miss songs like that!

    On a final note, one thing I always found pretty fascinating about this early 1994 period we’re in was how many 1992 released albums were still spinning off successful hit singles, as seen not only here, but also in recent entries by Vince Gill and Mary Chapin Carpenter. Even Confederate Railroad and Radney Foster’s ’92 albums still had songs on the charts that were at least a minor success. It’s just one of the many ways that early 1994 feels like the very tail end of the “early 90’s” country period to me.

  4. Every once in a while I encounter a fool who claims Alan Jackson is responsible for killing country music. While I’ve never bought in to those claims, this is one of many songs that quashes that notion. Hank Williams may have been the original Hillbilly Shakespeare, but Alan Jackson sure seems like he inherited that crown.

    It’s a shame this song isn’t one of his most remembered hits; the songwriting is simply phenomenal.

  5. This was the song that was on the charts for Jackson when I got into country music. I remember that first line was a jolt to me at the time. What a great song!

  6. I think so many people were jolted and stunned by his songwriting skills right out of the gate, that we almost couldn’t beleive what we were hearing. We listened in stunned silence muttering to ourselves,” Wow! That is soooooo good.” It would be interesting to try to dig up or source the first comparison between Jackson and Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, or Dolly Parton. I recall that it actually took some time for critics to start making those connections. In the meantime Jackson would keep providing example after example of brilliant little “hillbilly haikus” until his skills became impossible to ignore.

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