“Who’s Cheatin’ Who“
Written by Jerry Hayes
Radio & Records
#1 (1 week)
May 30, 1997
Alan Jackson strips both the nerve and the charm from an Urban Cowboy classic.
The Road to No. 1
After spending multiple weeks at No. 1 with “Little Bitty,” the title track from Everything I Love went top ten. Jackson then kicked off a string of three consecutive No. 1 hits.
The No. 1
The typical Alan Jackson production works best with his self-written material, and nearly as well with newly written songs from the Music Row songwriting machine.
But as we saw already with his faceless cover of “Summertime Blues,” this approach can falter when applied to a song that incorporated pop elements in its original hit version.
Charly McCain’s “Who’s Cheatin’ Who” is an incredibly nervy record, with a relentless groove that creates the perfect atmosphere for a suburban cheating song. It’s an early highlight of the Urban Cowboy era, which was frequently maligned during the new traditionalist years.
Thing is, Nashville will run any sound into the ground until it stops making money. But the new traditionalist era had this odd undercurrent of moral shaming to it, as if country music had sullied itself by incorporating sounds from other genres. This overshadowed the fact that all these young cowboys, Alan Jackson included, had done the same thing, borrowing heavily from seventies California rock to make country more palatable to aging boomers.
The fatal flaw in Jackson’s middling cover of “Who’s Cheatin’ Who” is the assumption that making it sound like an Alan Jackson record would elevate it because New Traditionalist Country is always superior to Pop Country.
That’s a load of hooey. Jackson’s cover stripped the nerve and the charm from a pop country classic, and took away everything that made it interesting in the process.
The Road From No. 1
Two more No. 1 hits are on the way from Everything I Love, and they’re both significantly better than this one.
“Who’s Cheatin’ Who” gets a C-.
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