Every #1 Single of the Nineties: BlackHawk, “Every Once in a While”

“Every Once in a While”


Written by Henry Paul, Dave Robbins, and Van Stephenson

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

July 16, 1994

A pair of successful songwriters join an established lead singer to form a popular new band.

The Road to No. 1

BlackHawk was formed in 1991, following a solo attempt by founding member Van Stephenson and in the wake of several successful hit singles written by Stephenson and BlackHawk bandmate Dave Robbins.   Many of those hits were co-written by Tim DuBois, who became president of Arista Nashville in the late eighties and later signed BlackHawk to the label.  The band started hot, with their lead single “Goodbye Says it All” going top ten on the Radio & Records chart.   Their second single went the distance.

The No. 1

This is one of the smarmier hits of the nineties, with the narrator casually assuming that the girl he left behind says she only thinks about him “every once in a while,” but is secretly pining for him all of the time.

“She’ll face the fact,” he ruminates, “She wants to go back.”

But oh, what a soaring chorus.  Their harmonies are tight and high, bringing a bluegrass flavor to a very nineties country production.  Part of their ace in the hole is Henry Paul’s mandolin, which freshened up country radio in 1994 the same way “Losing my Religion” did for pop radio three years earlier.

So they get away with the smarminess of the lyric, as their harmonies and musicianship linger for longer than the bitter condescension of the lyric.

The Road From No. 1

BlackHawk was a huge debut album, eventually selling in excess of two million copies.  Three more top ten hits followed their first No. 1 single, all from their first set: “I Sure Can Smell the Rain,” “Down in Flames,” and “That’s Just About Right.”  The band had a second and final No. 1 hit in 1995 with the lead single of their sophomore set.

“Every Once in a While” gets a B+.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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  1. It sounds silly to mention on a country music site, but Henry Paul’s thin, pinched, nasally vocals made most of their output un-listenable to me. It really was reason for me to change the radio dial in a fit of rage every time the song came on at the time. I would later feel the same way about Gary Levox and Rascal Flatts. Brett Young similarly makes my ears bleed today.

    Listening to the song again I don’t find the bluegrass elements or musicianship compensate for the loudness of the production or that voice……

    Their output represents a low point of the decade for me.

  2. Agreed with the B+ rating, a solid song by a very good band. I also don’t like Brett Young (don’t tell my wife), and I don’t see the comparison.

  3. Arista was firing on all cylinders at this point of the nineties and knew how to package and promote artists to radio better than any other label. It didn’t always translate into big sales, but in the case of BlackHawk, that first album did exceedingly well. I think if they’d come along a couple of years earlier, they’d have had a longer run. Their sound was a logical continuation of late-80’s Restless Heart with a 90’s production, and that didn’t have a very long shelf life.

  4. I personally really love this song, and it’s always been one of my all time favorites from Blackhawk! Besides Faith Hill’s rendition of “Piece Of My Heart,” this is another one of the first songs in the feature so far that truly brings back a lot of great memories from when I got back into country in the mid 90’s.

    One of the first times I recall hearing it was on one of the Saturday afternoons around 1995 when my dad and I would always go to this indoor mini golf place that I loved back then. The young lady who worked there, who we were friends with, also liked country music, and one of the local country stations would always be coming through the speakers. I remember this song playing while we were on the final hole, and I remember telling my dad that I liked the song, with him replying “I do too!” Later in the Spring of 1997, I was lucky enough to record it on a tape from the radio. It was one of the songs on the tape I would just listen to over and over. One time while listening to the song, the tape nearly got messed up just when the second chorus was about to start because it was one of those faulty Memorex tapes in which the first wheel would sometimes get stuck when it was getting closer to the end. Fortunately, it survived, and I could still enjoy it many more times. :)

    One of the first things about this song I remember really liking was that signature guitar riff that’s heard after the first chorus, before the bridge, and at the end. I’ve also always loved the insanely catchy melody and the irresistible harmonies combined with Henry Paul’s unique vocals. That first part of the final chorus (around 2:29 in the video) when it’s nearly just down to the guys harmonizing always gets me, especially! This song has always just been so sonically pleasing to the ear, and with it’s overall sunny vibe, it’s always been really easy for me to overlook just how cocky the lyrics sound on paper, and it’s honestly something I never really thought about. I personally hear a bit of a yearning in Henry Paul’s vocals that may suggest that he is the one thinking about her all the time, and it’s just wishful thinking on his part that she is doing the same for him.

    I’ve always really loved the opening line, as well: “When the moon is bright on a Saturday night, there’s a thousand stars in the sky.” I just love how poetic that sounds, and it always puts a cool image in my mind. I always picture someone somewhere in the desert at night lying on top of the hood of their car, staring at the stars and thinking about that special someone that got away, wondering where and what they’re doing at the moment. And because of the overall sunny feel of the song, it’s always been one of those that’s ideal for any road trip playlist, and along with many other Blackhawk songs, it feels good coming through the speakers with the windows down. I’ve always pictured myself blasting this while driving through the plains in the Midwest or through the deserts in the Southwest. I’ve even always imagined it coming out of a radio at some old road side or small town gas station. It’s just always had that sort of feel for me, personally, lol. :)

    “That’s Just About Right” is the other Blackhawk song I remember hearing the most on the radio when I got back into country in the Summer of 1995, and I remember always enjoying that one, too. I’m bummed that it wasn’t a number one!

    I’ve personally always loved Blackhawk’s overall unique style and sound, and I consider them one of the brighter spots in mid-late 90’s country (Sorry, Peter!). I like the sort of alternative rock influence that they brought to country around that time. I just don’t see the similarities to Rascal Flatts or Brett Young, at all. I definitely agree with Kevin on the similarities with Restless Heart, though.

    • “That’s Just About Right” is one of my favorites, too. If I recall correctly, my absolute favorite back in the day was “I Sure Can Smell the Rain,” and the only one of the five singles that I didn’t care for was “Down in Flames.”

      I know that I bought their second album based on enjoying the first, but lost interest in it quickly thereafter. I really only liked the lead single from that one, and moving forward, I don’t remember caring for any of their singles thereafter. Many of my college friends were quite fond of “Postmarked Birmingham,” though.

      • Ooh, I LOVE “Postmarked Birmingham.” And for me, the video actually makes it even better, and I still can’t get through it without tearing up at least a little. Also interesting that it was written by a pre-fame Phil Vassar.

        I personally think Blackhawk’s debut album is their best one, though I do like most of the songs on the second album, too. The third one, Love And Gravity, is a bit more hit or miss, but there’s still some track on there I really like (including the already mentioned “Birmingham”). I personally also really like their fourth one, 1998’s The Sky’s The Limit.

        Oh, and I also do love “Down In Flames,” though.

  5. It’s the tone of Henry Paul’s adenoidal voice alone that was a mountain too high for me. Perhaps a sign of my immaturity, but I simply couldn’t get over it. My comparisons to Rascal Flatts and Brett Young were made to to highlight other vocalists I hear as having a similar timbre, if that’s even the correct term. However a musician technically describes that sound in my ears when any of those three sing is what has prevented me from ever even giving any of their music a chance. It was not my intention to directly compare Blackhawk’s musical output, sound, or significance as a band to either Rascal Flatts or Brett Young.

    To be clear, I just hate all their voices.

    Won’t somebody please think of the children?! I never intended for poor Brett Young to get caught up in what are obviously my own issues.

    • I totally get not liking a certain type of singing voice. Heck, it took me years to grow an appreciation for Lee Ann Womack, which is practically country music heresy. I’ve warmed to it over time, but for the first few years, no matter how much I liked a particular song, I’d think, “But this would be so much better sung by Pam Tillis.”

      I have similar feelings regarding Sara Evans. No matter how much I like the record, it would be better if it was sung by Patty Loveless.

    • Peter, I apologize if my comment regarding your comment on Blackhawk and those other artists came off as harsh, as I didn’t mean for it to come off that way. Reading it again shorty after making my post, I figured you might’ve just been generally speaking of voices you don’t like. Personally, I love Henry Paul’s quirky yet emotional delivery, but I definitely can’t stand Young, and I can only take Gary LeVox in small doses (And that’s just the Flatts’ early stuff. Don’t get me started on LeVox’s tendencies to screech on their later records).

  6. I think I’m going out on a limb here, but I personally think Blackhawk’s and Diamond rio’s first albums are two nearly perfect debut albums. While Diamond Rio remained my favorite group in the nineties, I did lose interest with Blackhawk after the first album. Strangely, I was not a fan of the Mavericks or the Tractors during the nineties (I especially couldn’t stand the Tractors!), but I love them now.

    • I don’t think that’s too far of a limb. I’d call it typical for Arista Nashville under Tim DuBois:
      Alan Jackson, Here in the Real World
      Pam Tillis, Put Yourself in My Place
      Diamond Rio, Diamond Rio
      Brooks & Dunn, Brand New Man
      BlackHawk, BlackHawk
      The Tractors, The Tractors
      Brad Paisley, Who Needs Pictures

      They didn’t always get it right the first time out, but their A&R batting average was otherworldly.

  7. LeAnn- I love to hear people go out on limb with their musical journeys and not play to the script (mainstream, alternative, bluegrass, Americana, Red Dirt, Appalachia, whatever!) with their opinions.

    A personal anecdote about why somebody does, or doesn’t, like a a particular artist, album, or single is so much more intriguing to me to than a historian or critic telling me all the reasons why I should.

    It’s why I enjoy this feature so much.

  8. Jamie, thank for being so thoughtful and apologizing in a comments section no less!

    I took no offense and didn’t find your comments harsh. I am excited when people have strong opinions and feel differently about artists and songs than I do.

    I look forward to crossing country paths again!

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