Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties: Kevin Sharp, “Nobody Knows”

“Nobody Knows

Kevin Sharp

Written by Don DuBose and Joe Rich

Billboard

#1 (4 weeks)

January 11 – February 1, 1997

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

January 17, 1997

Kevin Sharp earns his only No. 1 hit.

The Road to No. 1

Kevin Sharp grew up enamored with music, performing in musical theater throughout high school. His family hailed from California, and after spending many years in Idaho, Kevin and his family moved back to their state of origin, where he continued to pursue music.  He was soon stricken with a rare form of bone cancer, with the prognosis so dire that he received a meeting with producer David Foster from the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

His cancer treatments were ultimately successful, and Foster played a role in connecting Sharp with Asylum Records.  His first single for the label’s Nashville division was a cover of the massive pop and R&B hit, “Nobody Knows.”

The No. 1

There’s a long history of cross-pollination between country and R&B.  While country shied away from covering R&B hits in the early-to-mid nineties, R&B stars like Whitney Houston (“I Will Always Love You”) and All-4-One (“I Swear,” “I Can Love You Like That”) had major hits with country covers.

Sharp’s smash cover of “Nobody Knows” was an early indicator that Nashville would be looking to the R&B charts again for hit material.  He delivers the song competently, with a little break in his voice that services the lyric well.

Still, it’s a paint by numbers cover that doesn’t bring anything new to the material.  Thankfully, it’s a very good song, so the wheel wasn’t in need of being reinvented for it to work.  It just doesn’t have the personality of the other hits from his debut album.

The Road From No. 1

Measure of a Man ultimately went gold on the strength of this hit and two additional top five entries: “She’s Sure Taking it Well” and “If You Love Somebody.”  His second and final album for Asylum, 1998’s Love Is, failed to produce a hit.  He resurfaced in 2005 with the independent project Make a Wish, which was his final release during his lifetime.  After many years on the inspirational speaker circuit, Sharp fell ill again and required stomach surgery.  He died from complications that arose during that surgery, and passed away in 2014 at the age of 43.

“Nobody Knows” gets a B.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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9 Comments

  1. 1997 is one of my favorite years in country music, and it’s off to a great start so far, imo!

    I just love this song so much! Kevin Sharp is one of my many favorite artists from the 1997-2002 period. For me, seeing “Nobody Knows” here signals that we’ve officially reached the late 90’s. It’s a great example of the smooth, mellow, and melodic style of late 90’s country that I’ve always loved. This song and plenty of others on his Measure of a Man album are still a part of my regular rotation.

    While I remember hearing and liking this song in the late 96/early 97 period, I truly started falling in love with it while seeing its music video for the first time on GAC a little later in 1997. At 12, I was starting to become a lot more mature, and I was beginning to understand the lyrics to many of the songs a lot better than I ever had before (though I’ve always continued to notice the sound of a song before the lyrics). While I was a very happy 12 year old in 1997, the sadness in the lyrics to “Nobody Knows” and the pain in Kevin’s performance somehow just really appealed to me. Of course, I loved its beautiful melody, as well. I also remember hearing “Nobody Knows” one time while we were driving through New England on the way to Maine that summer. Then on the way back home while we were in Pennsylvania, it came on again. It actually came on shortly before we stopped at the Eat’n Park restaurant to have dinner that night. :) I absolutely loved hearing “Nobody Knows” on the radio both of those times I heard it on the trip, and it’s been one of my all time favorite songs ever since. The line, “Like a clown I put on a show” in the first verse, in particular, stood out to me back then. It was one of the first times in song where I understood the concept of some people putting on an act and pretending they’re fine when they’re really hurting inside. I also always liked the line “Just like a jigsaw puzzle, it’s been torn all apart.” Hearing that part always made me realize just how bad the narrator was really feeling. So, not only does this song bring back great memories for me in 1997, but it’s always had a special place with me because it’s one of the first heartbreak songs I got to enjoy while feeling more like a young adult and not as much like an immature kid anymore. While it’s a sad song, it just makes me so happy whenever it comes on! :)

    What I’ve always loved about “Nobody Knows” ever since then is how the sad lyrics and the beautiful, melancholy melody compliment each other so well. I like how it doesn’t hold back just how bad the narrator is feeling, and it’s simply him pouring his heart out from beginning to end. The first verses are so relatable because a lot of us tend to pretend we’re fine when we’re really falling apart on the inside. The song also perfectly describes the feeling of isolation and loneliness a lot of us often have when we’re feeling sad or depressed about something, especially if everyone else around you appears to be happy with their lives, and you just don’t think anyone of them could truly understand or relate to what you’re going through. Even though it’s technically written as a break up song, this song is one I’ve been able to identify with a lot since losing both my dad and step dad a little over three years ago. They were two of my best friends ever, and I just keep thinking about the wonderful times we had together. I’m still really missing them!

    Also, I’ve always loved the emotion in Kevin’s vocals in his version of this song. You can really feel his pain as he sings each line. I’ve also always loved Chris Farren’s smooth production on this record, with Paul Franklin’s gorgeous steel playing standing out for me, especially. Even the sad tone of fiddle solo is almost enough to put a tear in your eye.

    As I mentioned above, the music video for “Nobody Knows” reminds me of the days I started watching GAC religiously in 1997, and it’s still one of my all time favorite videos today. I’ve particularly always loved the aesthetics and the design of the hotel building that Kevin checks into. I always thought it fit the song so well because the production has kind of a warm, cozy feel to it (despite the sad lyrics), and that’s how I usually feel when in a hotel. This is actually one of the songs I always loved to listen to whenever my parents and I were staying at a hotel (usually Hampton Inn) while I’d be lounging in the comfy and cozy lobby rooms with hot chocolate or tea. I always thought Kevin did a great job looking very sad throughout the video, as well. I also love the part where all the people around him are blurred out as he sings “A million years from now you know, I’ll be loving you still.” To this day, whenever this song comes on, I still picture him walking in through those doors into the hotel with his suitcase and blue denim jacket. :)

    Worth noting: The track featured in the video linked here is actually NOT the original 90’s recording from Kevin’s Measure Of A Man album. It’s the re-recording from the 2005 Make A Wish album. Someone likely dubbed the re-recorded version on to the original video because of some copyright law or whatever. Here’s a version of the video with the original audio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C59HgiSjj4U

    As much as I love “Nobody Knows,” I also absolutely adore the next two singles he released after this:

    – “She’s Sure Taking It Well” is one of my all time favorite songs from 1997, and it’s actually one of my most played songs from my iTunes library. The melody is just so friggin’ catchy, and I just love Kevin’s emotional performance on it. It also features more great production work from Chris Farren. I especially love the signature electric guitar part! Its video is also another one that brings back great memories of my GAC watching days in 1997. :)

    – “If You Love Somebody” is just a great feel good song that still makes me so happy and brightens my mood whenever I hear it! Not to mention, it brings back wonderful memories of our 1997 Summer trip to Maine and early Fall when starting 6th grade. I love Kevin’s joyful, enthusiastic performance on it, plus the background vocals that are always singing the song’s title. Even the song’s ending, the “BA BA BA BA!” with the drums and fiddles is so happy sounding! I always picture a choir conductor waving his hands and stick to the beat of that ending, lol.

    I got the Measure Of A Man album in the Fall of 2001, not only because I loved “Nobody Knows” (which was still a steady recurrent for us then), but because I also wanted to enjoy those other two singles again, which I hadn’t heard in a while. It ended up becoming one of my all time favorite albums with me loving several of the non-singles, as well. My most favorite one is “I’m Already Loving You Too Much.” I also love “The Strength To Love,” “Love At The End Of The Road,” “Somebody’s Baby,” and the should’ve been a hit (imo), “There’s Only You.” This is also another album I loved listening to whenever we went to York and Lancaster, Pennsylvania in the early 00’s. :)

    I also like many cuts on his follow up album, 1998’s Love Is. Especially “If She Only Knew,” “Still Love,” and “We Can Get Through This.”

    I first learned about Kevin’s cancer when reading an article on him in the November/December issue of Country Music Magazine, which my dad bought back then and eventually he let me have. I was amazed by his story of recovery, and it only made me like him and his music even more. He had a great, emotion filled voice that was unique, and I wish his run of hits lasted longer than just one album. Needless to say I was pretty saddened by his passing, and I still miss him today.

    • 1997 is indeed a very good year, probably the last of my personal “golden era” stretch. The music I loved from 1997 won’t be very well represented on this list, but even the songs that do make it to No. 1 feel collectively stronger than that middle run of 1996. Just going by No. 1 singles, things definitely started trending upward again in late 1996 and there are a lot of strong entries throughout 1997 and 1998. 1999 has some winners too, but R&R switched to a similar chart methodology that year, so there are far fewer No. 1’s in 1999 than in previous years.

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      • 1997 and 1998 are two of my most favorite years, ever, not only because I think they were great years in country music, but they were also two of the best years of my life, personally. 1999 was great, too, and I did notice a change in the charts later in that year with them moving a lot slower than before.

        From this feature, it’s been quite evident that a lot of what I personally love about late 90’s country actually started around 1996 and maybe even late ’95. I agree that the late 1996 run of number hits has been pretty great, especially!

        • I have a similar attachment to 1992-1997ish. It was a good time in my life and also when I was in full country music obsession mode. Couldn’t learn enough, couldn’t discover enough.

          I remember 1997 being a great year, to the point that I was taping music videos at college in Nashville to bring home to NYC because we didn’t have CMT on our cable lineup anymore. Most of my favorite singles didn’t go to No. 1, but it was a great year anyway.

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          • Late 1990-early 1993 is also a special period for me because those were my earliest times of being a big country music fan as a little kid and recording countless songs on to cassette tapes from the radio. :)

            There’s also a good number of 1997 songs that I love that sadly, I’m pretty sure weren’t number ones (Some of which I learned from this feature). Some of them are:

            “You And You Alone” – Vince Gill
            “It’s All The Same To Me” – Billy Ray Cyrus
            “Down Came A Blackbird” – Lila McCann
            “Go Away” and “Good As I Was To You” – Lorrie Morgan
            “Whatever Comes First” – Sons Of The Desert
            “Shut Up And Drive” – Chely Wright
            “Let It Rain” – Mark Chesnutt
            “Better Man, Better Off” and “How A Cowgirl Says Goodbye” – Tracy Lawrence
            “All The Good Ones Are Gone” – Pam Tillis
            “This Night Won’t Last Forever” – Sawyer Brown
            “Little Things” – Tanya Tucker
            “Loved Too Much” – Ty Herndon
            “On The Verge” – Collin Raye
            “Please” – The Kinleys (Though this one might’ve peaked in early ’98)

  2. By all accounts he was a great guy. An inspiring story and the charts were better for having him on them. But the Tony Rich Project original just had so much more emotion and personality. But still nothing against Kevin Sharp personally.

    I’ll also steal my James Bonamy comment. For paint-by-numbers R&B covers, Kevin Sharp walked so that Mark Wills could run.

  3. I liked this song pretty well, but I did love “She’s Sure Taking It Well” and “If You Love Somebody.”

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