Every #1 Single of the Nineties: Mark Chesnutt, “Gonna Get a Life”

“Gonna Get a Life”

Mark Chesnutt

Written by Frank Dycus and Jim Lauderdale

Billboard

#1 (1 week)

May 20, 1995

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

May 5, 1995

A nineties traditionalist stalwart stagnates.

The Road to No. 1

After three consecutive No. 1 singles from Almost Goodbye, Chesnutt missed the top ten for the first time with his cover of “Woman, Sensuous Woman.”  Then MCA leaned into the “new imprint” major label trend and relaunched Decca, with Chesnutt as the flagship artist on the spinoff label’s roster.  His first release for the imprint was What a Way to Live, which produced the top five hits “She Dreams” and “Goin’ Through the Big D.”  Chesnutt returned to No. 1 with the third single.

The No. 1

What a Way to Live was Chesnutt starting to stagnate, and it entirely wasn’t on him.  Despite him having three platinum albums under his belt, he was still having limited input into his studio albums.  As he described in an interview for his album Wings, Chesnutt would go in, do his vocals, and then go back on the road, receiving a final mix from producer Mark Wright once the album was complete.

This stretch of the nineties already wasn’t doing well by many of the era’s new traditionalists.  Chesnutt’s strong taste in material and talent as a singer was still enough to carry him to success.  After all, this entry is about a No. 1 hit.  But creatively, this particular record doesn’t reach its potential.

Jim Lauderdale songs are very hard to sing.  The writing is idiosyncratic and the phrasing is difficult to make work in a standard country arrangement. It’s no coincidence that the best versions of Jim Lauderdale songs come from outstanding vocalists with producers that understand more complex song structures.

Chesnutt has the vocal goods, no doubt.  But the arrangement of “Gonna Get a Life” lets him down, relying too heavily on a Cajun arrangement for its distinctiveness.  His vocal is buried in the mix when it should be up front and center, especially during the verses where he needs to deliver lines with irregular rhythms and rhymes.

If this had been part of the studio sessions for Wings, it would’ve been a home run.  As is, it’s a middling effort from Mark Chesnutt, which means it still compared favorably to everything else on the radio, even if it wasn’t as good as it could have been.

The Road From No. 1

Chesnutt missed the top twenty with the final single from this album, “Down in Tennessee.”  He then previewed his major label career-best effort Wings with a stunning cover of Todd Snider’s “Trouble,” which just made the top twenty. That album also produced one top ten hit with “It Wouldn’t Hurt to Have Wings.”  Chesnutt regrouped with a hits collection of exceptional quality. We’ll cover the first single from it in 1996.

“Gonna Get a Life” gets a B.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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Next: Ty Herndon, “What Mattered Most”

 

8 Comments

  1. I can’t say I recall hearing this song much on the radio at the time. Again, it’s not a terrible song, but pretty mediocre for Chesnutt’s standards and I agree with the notion that the production drowns out Mark here.

    To your point about Jim Lauderdale songs, they are difficult, but when one is sung and produced properly, it doesn’t get much better than that.

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  2. I feel like I didn’t fully appreciate how good Mark was until I saw him live. Having him free of the restraints of the studio really let his talent shine.

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  3. Do you actually like the song “Trouble”? I loved the album cuts on Wings but really disliked the singles. I remember hating it the first time I listened to it lol.

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  4. I am too much in love with Mark Chestnut to be objective here. The album this single is from didn’t sound like a stagnant career to my ears.

    Similarly, this single didn’t bother me because I am also a huge Lauderdale fan. I was happy anytime his material was covered by other artists and released as a single, as radio never allowed him his opportunity to shine as a singer. I guess I feel the same way about “Trouble” and what it meant for Todd Snider’s exposure.

    I would have to do a deep dive into Chesnutt’s discography to actually rank my favourite cuts. I can say with certainty some of his more recent material ( which is still over ten years old!) is top of mind for me.

    “Things to Do in Wichita” from “Rollin’ with
    The Flow” is stellar.

    Wasn’t his entire “Tradition Lives” album pure gold? Honestly, one of the best albums of all time. “Is it Still Cheating,” “Oughta Miss Me by Now,” “What I Heard, and “There Won’t Be Another Now” are all career highlights.

    I am all bothered now just thinking about how Chestnut keeps improving as an artist.

    Many of his peers did not stay on a similar trajectory of growth and maturation.

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  5. This has never been one of Chesnutt’s most memorable singles for me, and it’s also not one that’s really stuck to my brain compared to the other then current country songs that were on the radio when I got back into country in mid 1995. That being said, it’s still a fairly enjoyable and fun song to hear, and you can never really go wrong with a Jim Lauderdale cut. As Kevin pointed out, I believe the song’s biggest weakness lies in the production. It lacks anything truly memorable about it, and it ends up sounding not much different from many of Chesnutt’s other uptempo songs. I agree that it probably would’ve sounded better as part of the Wings sessions or even Thank God For Believers.

    I tend to agree with Peter that Chesnutt pretty much got better from here on out, minus the misstep that was “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing.” I totally agree with Kevin on the Wings album, and the album after that, 1997’s Thank God For Believers, is one of my personal favorites of his latter day albums. And yes, Tradition Lives, is definitely one of the very best modern country albums to come out in recent memory. So many great tracks on that one, and it’s a real shame that radio no longer makes room for quality songs such as those to be heard. Peter, “Things To Do In Wichita” is one of my all time favorites, as well! Also from Rollin’ With The Flow, I love the title track, “When I Get This Close To You,” “When You Love Her Like Crazy,” “Woman,” “If The Devil Brought You Roses,” and “She Never Got Me Over You.”

    The only single from What A Way To Live that I actually love and has held up the best for me is “Down In Tennessee” (also love John Anderson’s earlier version from the 80’s). I also love the album’s title cut, but overall, it isn’t really one of my favorite albums of his.

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    • I’m looking forward to writing about Thank God For Believers when we get to it. Definitely a top five all-time single of his for me. Once we get to I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, I’ll talk about some of the best highlights of his post-radio career in the wrap up.

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