“Gonna Get a Life”
Written by Frank Dycus and Jim Lauderdale
#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.
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