Every #1 Single of the Nineties: Alan Jackson, “Gone Country”

“Gone Country”

Alan Jackson

Written by Bob McDill

Billboard

#1 (1 week)

January 28, 1995

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

January 13, 1995

Alan Jackson’s long history of bemoaning country music interlopers begins here.

The Road to No. 1

A string of four consecutive No. 1 singles comes to a close, as the third release from Who I Am tops both charts.

The No. 1

Let me establish immediately that I love this song.  I think it’s a hilarious takedown of those looking to capitalize on the nineties country boom, despite having no commitment at all to country music itself.

I also love the layers of irony embedded in the song and the record.   Songwriter Bob McDill was an interloper himself, starting his career as a pop songwriter and moving to Nashville when work in that field started to dry up.

The record itself is awash in pop and rock sounds as well.  Much like George Jones was always deified as a pure country traditionalist despite having enough strings on his records to make Frank Sinatra blush, Alan Jackson’s positioning as a guardian of country music’s tradition has always given him a free pass to throw some fiddle and steel on a rock and roll track and still be hailed as the second coming of Merle Haggard.

Jackson’s self-proclaimed right to decide who gets included and who gets excluded from country music has grown increasingly strident over the years, and these days seems to be more defined by how much people look and think like him, rather than anything to do with the sound of their records.

But his point was astute, witty, and ultimately inclusive of the new out-of-towners back in 1995, to the point that when NYC country station WYNY had listeners vote on their favorite country songs of all-time, “Gone Country” came in at No. 1.

Those were the days.

The Road From No. 1

Jackson’s exquisite cover of Rodney Crowell’s “Song For the Life” went top ten, and Jackson then returned to the top with the fifth and final single from Who I Am. We’ll get there later in 1995.

“Gone Country” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

Previous: Tim McGraw, “Not a Moment Too Soon” |

Next: Reba McEntire, “Till You Love Me”

15 Comments

  1. I’m not a huge AJ fan. I only have 2 Greatest Hits albums. But I love “Gone Country” so I agree with your A. (not just because of the “grew up on Long Island” line.) It’s the lead song from a playlist I have in my I-Tunes library of country songs with “Gone” in the title.

    1
  2. I have such a hard time with this one. It’s obviously a brilliant record, and the lyrics are tied so specifically to the trends of its era. That, “they’re not as backward as they used to be,” line still stings almost 30 years on. But it’s so hard now to separate from Jackson’s late-career proclivities toward gatekeeping: Storming out of the CMAs during The Chicks’ and Beyoncé’s performance of “Daddy Lessons,” forever bemoaning the state of the genre on things like the manipulative “Where Have You Gone.” Some of the ugliness in his elder statesman era is on a straight line back to this hit: I don’t think it diminishes the record itself– I’d still give it an A, no question, and have it on my own playlist of the 90s’ best country singles– but I do think it hits a bit different now.

    1
    • What drives me crazy is that there is so much great traditional music out there, deeply embedded in the roots of the genre. It’s just not being made by people who look like Alan Jackson and George Jones. The failure to acknowledge those artists, to even be able to see them, is on him. Yes, the white dudes on the radio have been defiling the genre for years. Look beyond them. The great country music is out there, and there is more of it than at any time since Alan’s own heyday.

  3. It’s the challenge of being proud and protective of something you cherish; hold it too tightly and you risk killing that which you love so dearly.

    Under attack, and in the moment, Jackson’s stance felt protective and brave, deliciously defiant even.

    Once the perceived attack passed and the barbarians didn’t arrive at the gates, this kind of attitude felt reactionary and clannish, increasingly ugly even.

    But context is king. Jackson was certainly capturing the musical mood as country was experiencing an uncomfortable changing of the guard in the mid-nineties. The comments section of this feature have largely echoed that same sentiment. This song is a wonderful snap-shot of that moment.

    But country music always finds a way. The No Depression/alt country scene was the celebration of the still country sounds and music Nashville was letting slip through the ever tightening fingers of its clenched creative fist. Similarly the Red Dirt, Americana, and Appalachia scenes (and many others) today provide a platform to promote the traditional country music Nashville will not.

    Look at how Kane Brown circumvented traditional promotional routes to success. Zac Bryan is doing the same. So many other country artists are doing the same. Sturgis Simpson. Kip Moore.

    Nashville consistently seems to lose its bearings, but Country music has never “gone” anywhere.

    2
  4. Absolute classic for 90’s country and one of many highlights in AJ discography. He’s been so consistently great his entire career.

    3
  5. This is another one of the Alan Jackson songs that brings back the most memories from the mid 90’s for me. Besides, “Livin’ On Love,” it was the one I heard on the radio most often as I was getting back into country in 1995. However, it’s one of the main songs that specifically takes me back to when my parents and I often went bowling around that time on weekends. The bowling alley was always playing GAC on the TV monitors for the lanes that were vacant, and even if you couldn’t always see the videos playing, you could still hear the songs well enough blaring through the speakers. I enjoyed many a country song and occasionally getting to peak at a video here and there while also having fun knocking down pins. I remember this song/video playing on more than one occasion while we were there, and I still remember one time when my dad was moving to the beat of the song while he was in his bowling position and at the same time trying to concentrate before throwing the ball, lol.

    What I always loved about the song was that even though it’s a jab at people with no country connections coming to the genre, it just has that good time, sunny feel to it sonically, which makes it still highly enjoyable in fun settings like the one I described above, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously (which is even more evident when learning that Bob McDill was originally a pop songwriter, which I didn’t know). In fact, in my earliest times of hearing this song as a kid, I thought the song was actually celebrating all kinds of people “going country,” especially since country music seemed to be everywhere at that time. I wasn’t quite paying as much attention to the verses yet, but the chorus was always so catchy and fun, and I always loved the parts when Alan would exclaim “Look at them boots!” and later “Here she/he comes!” I would always picture some dude or lady walking in like a model through old saloon like swinging doors sporting their brand new western clothes with a big grin on their face, lol.

    I had a renewed love for this song in late 1997/early 1998 after my dad got me Alan’s Greatest Hits Collection for Christmas, but it wasn’t until somewhere around the early 00’s, I guess, in which I started to really get what the song was saying and the general sentiment of it, which I felt was becoming even more relevant as the decade went on (and of course, even more so in the following decade). What gets me about it now, and I believe Jonathan made a good point about this a while back, is that I bet the characters described in the song “going country” would’ve made better music than a lot of what we had to put up with in the last decade of mainstream country.

    It’s too bad that “Song For The Life” missed the penthouse, as that’s one of my favorite singles from the album, which strangely, I don’t recall hearing on the radio much, if at all. I heard it (along with the rest of the album) playing in one of our favorite barbeque restaurants in the early 00’s, and because it wasn’t on his Greatest Hits, that’s one of the things that made me want to get the Who I Am album.

    2
    • Jamie,
      I interpreted this song the same way when I was a kid. At the time, I thought it was celebrating the popularity of country music, which was fitting for me, because I was still a pretty new country music fan and I liked the idea that it was a popular genre and not something that I had to defend anymore.

      I have to admit that I’m more in line with him about country music these days and I liked his most recent album pretty well. While I love that there are so many ways to find great country music besides radio, I still hate that radio is no longer a place where I can hear good country music anymore.

      2
      • Same. While Alan has never specified so (to my knowledge), I still believe his more recent sentiments towards the state of country are mainly about what’s going on in country radio and the mainstream in general. Since he seems to be someone who genuinely loves country music, I have a hard time believing he isn’t at least aware that there are thousands of traditional country artists out there not on the radio who are doing it independently and can be heard elsewhere.

        I myself also know this, and I’ve been guilty of only looking at the mainstream a lot of the time, as well (old habits die hard), but I too wish traditional country still readily available on the radio like it still was when I was growing up. Back then, it was just there at the turn of a dial for anyone to hear (and sometimes even played in stores, restaurants, and other public places), but now you have to go look for it, which not everyone is willing to do. A lot of people still actually listen to radio, and unfortunately, they’re missing out on a lot of great new music that truly sounds country. And unless things change, it’s mainly the mainstream stuff that gets spotlighted the most in the history books and ultimately becomes a part of the genre’s legacy. I believe these may be just some of the things that upset Alan the most. It can be a hard pill to swallow seeing a type of music you’ve loved all your life go from being popular and widely accepted to being a “niche” genre that’s heard and recognized by much fewer people, while those still listening to the radio and watching the award shows think what they’re hearing is what the genre is really all about.

        1
        • Yeah, but he walked out on Beyonce and the Chicks performing at the CMA Awards, on the same night he was given a platform to perform twice – in the opening number, and in a duet with George Strait – for the fiftieth anniversary of the show. It was rude and unnecessary, and not connected at all to some concept of WHAT country music should be, but rather WHO should be allowed a seat at the table.

          It seems to be more about identity and worldview for him these days than the music itself.

          1
  6. Out of all of his protests, Alan Jackson telling his drummer to play without sticks on this song at the 1994 ACMs will always be my favorite. So clever and subtle.

    1
    • One of my favorite moments, as well! Not only was he risking his career by doing this “no drumsticks” protest on live TV, but he also did it while performing a song like “Gone Country,” AND wore a sleeveless Hank Williams t-shirt during his performance when most artists were still required to dress up more at these shows. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEPNgJ17kGQ

      2
    • He wrote “Everything that Glitters is Not Gold” by Dan Seals, which might be one of, if not my favorite song of all time. He truly was a gift.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.