Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties: Tracy Lawrence, “Is That a Tear”

“Is That a Tear

Tracy Lawrence

Written by Kenny Beard and John Jarrard

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

January 24, 1997

Tracy Lawrence’s final No. 1 single of the decade.

The Road to No. 1

“Is That a Tear” followed “Time Marches On” and “Stars Over Texas” to No. 1, making Time Marches On the fourth Tracy Lawrence album to produce at least three No. 1 hits.

The No. 1

“Is That a Tear” is an exercise in wishful thinking.

A scorned ex-lover gets an answering machine message from his old love.  She’s just saying hi, but upon repeated listens, he moves from irritation that she’d dare to call him after breaking his heart to serious concern that there might be something wrong.

Well, he’s only concerned that what might be wrong is that she feels bad for leaving him and wants to come back home.  He’s hanging his entire heart on a thin, dangling thread that is more than likely just a figment of his imagination.

It’s a difficult song to perform convincingly, given the range of emotions that the protagonist must feel over the course of the song.  Lawrence again demonstrates why he’s one of this decade’s underappreciated MVPs, as he is able to deliver the song with ease.

The Road From No. 1

Lawrence’s fifth album, The Coast is Clear, produced two top five hits: “Better Man, Better Off” and “How a Cowgirl Says Goodbye.”  The final two singles from the album were his first Atlantic releases to miss the top ten entirely.  His label released The Best of Tracy Lawrence afterward, but it didn’t include any new material that was sent to radio.  He resurfaced in 1999 with “Lessons Learned,” his final top five single for Atlantic Records.

We’ll see Lawrence again with an award-winning collaboration when we cover the 2000s.

“Is That a Tear” gets a B+.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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Next: Mark Chesnutt, “It’s a Little Too Late”


  1. Look who was patiently waiting in line behind Kevin Sharp! Only Tracy Lawrence and Mark Chesnutt.

    Fiddles, growling vocals, and a lilting melody provide one more example of how capable and confident Lawrence was. He is still selling country music with ease and passion.

  2. Yet another very solid entry from Tracy Lawrence!

    Some of his best sounding songs of the mid-late 90’s are the ones that Flip Anderson and Tracy himself produced, imo. I love the opening fiddles, along with the prominent steel guitar, and the heavy sounding drums. Also love that smooth electric guitar throughout the second verse. This is simply classic Tracy Lawrence. It’s the kind of mid tempo song that he’s always performed with ease, and once again, it has a very beautiful and catchy melody. All of his signature vocal licks are here, as well, such as the growls and the “croaking.” It’s amazing how he could get so much emotion out of a song that’s ultimately about listening to an answering machine tape over and over and wondering if there’s something more to it. I especially love how he intensely growls out a couple of the higher notes near the end.

    I remember seeing this song’s video when I started watching GAC more often in early 1997. It was the first of his time travel videos that I ever saw, and it was also one of the first more “violent” country videos I’d ever seen, as well. I was especially caught off guard when it got to the part where Tracy and the girl and the mob guys’ cars were bumping into each other with Tracy’s car flying off into the water. I also had no clue what that whole zapping out of existence thing was about yet, either, lol. When I first heard the song on the radio while in the car with my dad one day, I told him about the video and how Tracy and this girl were in a car chase and his car crashed into the water. He had evidently never seen the video yet, and he was just awkwardly silent for a little while like he didn’t believe a thing I just told him, and he just said, “Well, it sounds like a pretty song to me.” lol. This actually ended up being one of my dad’s favorite songs from this late 96-early 1997 period, and when I made a mix cd of hits from this time period, he would always turn it up and quietly sing along.

    I’m quite bummed that none of the singles from his 1997 The Coast Is Clear album went number one. I especially love the harder rocking “Better Man, Better Off” which was such a big part of my life’s soundtrack in the Spring of ’97. It takes me back to my days of playing TNT: Evilution from Final Doom and listening to it over and over on a tape I recorded it from the radio during that time. I especially love that song’s guitar solo at the end! It was also a big deal then that Tracy had gotten rid of his signature mullet and mustache for a new clean cut look. My dad even told me about it one day while in the car with him. I finally saw it for myself when I caught the video for “Better Man, Better Off” on GAC one day.

    The Tex-Mex flavored “How A Cowgirl Says Goodbye” is another one of my all time favorites of his, as well, which takes me back to the Summer of 1997. That one has always been another one of my dad’s favorites, too. I was still not used to his clean shaven face and short haircut when I first saw its music video, lol.

    I also really love Lawrence’s comeback single from late 1999/early 2000, “Lessons Learned.” It was such a pleasant surprise hearing him on the radio again with that song, and it always brings back great memories from that Y2K/millennium time period. I really enjoy its parent album of the same name, too!

    His super underrated 2001 self-titled album is also really good (imho), and it should’ve continued his steak of hits (“What A Memory” never fails to get me teary eyed, especially, and I’m still mad it wasn’t a hit).

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