“What Mattered Most”
Written by Gary Burr and Vince Melamed
#1 (1 week)
May 27, 1995
Radio & Records
#1 (1 week)
May 12, 1995
Ty Herndon launches with a classic single.
The Road to No. 1
Ty Herndon grew up in Alabama, playing piano and singing gospel music, before moving to Nashville after high school graduation to pursue a music career. He worked diligently throughout the eighties and early nineties, performing at Opryland and auditioning for Star Search. He then moved to Texas, becoming a popular local performer who was named Texas Entertainer of the Year in 1993. That same year, he signed to Epic Records, releasing his debut single in early 1995.
The No. 1
“What Mattered Most” is the best debut single we’ve covered in this feature in a good while, and it is especially notable for how it deviates from the template that had worked for so many new male artists that we covered earlier in the decade.
Instead of donning a hat and singing an uptempo number targeting young listeners and the dance floor, Herndon arrives with a sophisticated and heartfelt ballad that deftly weaves a pop sensibility into its country arrangement. His understated vocal packs a powerful punch, as it cracks at all of the right moments, communicating the guilt, regret, and quiet desperation that he is feeling as the woman that he knows so well is slipping away from him.
The specificity of each observed detail reinforces how he “missed the forest for the trees,” and all he has “to show when she walked out the door, is cold facts and nothing more.” It’s all so mundane, and it makes it all the more sad that he noticed everything about her except her dreams, feelings, and all the other things that mattered most.
Herndon’s debut record is a classic, and in retrospect, it’s also an early indication that the new traditionalist sound that fueled the early nineties boom was getting a bit long in the tooth. Many of the artists who are going to make the most interesting and compelling music moving forward will remain rooted in country instrumentation but start incorporating the pop elements needed to keep the music fresh.
Herndon won’t quite reach the dizzying heights of this record again, but he still has some great singles on deck, some of which we will see in this feature.
The Road From No. 1
After “What Mattered Most” topped the charts, “I Want My Goodbye Back” went top ten and “Heart Half Empty,” a duet with fellow newcomer Stephanie Bentley, just missed the top twenty. Herndon will return to the top with the lead single from his second album. We’ll cover it when we get to 1996.
“What Mattered Most” gets an A.
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