Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties: Lee Ann Womack, “The Fool”

“The Fool”

Lee Ann Womack

Written by Marla Cannon-Goodman, Gene Ellsworth, and Charlie Stefl

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

September 26, 1997

A genre legend earns her first No. 1 hit.

The Road to No. 1

Lee Ann Womack was born and raised in Jacksonville, Texas, where she earned a deep knowledge and appreciation for country music as the daughter of a local principal who moonlighted as a country music disc jockey.  After high school, she attended Belmont University in Nashville.  While she didn’t complete her degree, she did intern at MCA Nashville while still a student there.  She married fellow aspiring musician Jason Sellers, and after taking some brief time off to raise her daughter, future Americana star Aubrie Sellers, she returned to pursuing her music career. By 1996, she’d signed with MCA’s revived Decca imprint.  Her lead single in 1997, “Never Again, Again,” went top thirty.  She made it to No. 1 with the second single from her self-titled debut album.

The No. 1

“Never Again, Again” was a breath of fresh air upon its release, fully committing to a traditional country arrangement to launch a new female artist during a time when pop crossover was gaining momentum.

“The Fool” fulfilled the promise of that first single, even as it demonstrated Lee Ann Womack could do more than just a steel-and-fiddle ballad.   This ballad is more piano-driven, and it helps set the stage for the song’s storyline.  It’s easy to imagine someone singing alongside a piano to a song like this while the scenes play out.

Womack is “the fool in love with the fool who’s still in love with you,” making an appeal to her lover’s former flame who has left his life but not his heart.

She counts the fools correctly, in the sense that the former lover isn’t actually doing anything wrong.  It’s not her fault this guy is still holding on to her memory.  Him saying his old flame’s name in his sleep is a cue to leave the relationship, not barter with the woman who is not in any way responsible for him still being in love with her.

It’s that sad self-awareness in the lyric that makes the song’s desperation so palpable.  He’s a fool for hanging on, and his new beau is just as much a fool for thinking this conversation is going to solve the problem.

The Road From No. 1

Womack followed “The Fool” with the top five “You’ve Got to Talk to Me” and the top thirty “Buckaroo,” which was enough to power her debut album to platinum sales and earn her new artist trophies from the American Music Awards and the Academy of Country Music Awards.  We’ll see Womack two more times in the nineties with singles from her sophomore release.

“The Fool” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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4 Comments

  1. I’m so happy and thrilled that this one actually went number one on Radio and Records! This song was my introduction to Lee Ann Womack when I’d often see the music video on GAC in the middle of 1997. I always enjoyed it back then, and today, I still consider it to be one of her finest songs ever. And yes, this song is just about perfect in every way! :)

    First off, Lee Ann’s vocals on this song are simply gorgeous, not to mention very soothing to listen to, as if she’s singing a lullaby. But you can still hear the pain and feeling of defeat in her vocals as she realizes she’s in a no win situation. The production and arrangement is also perfect, from the opening piano, the beautiful strings in the background, and the lonesome fiddle in the verses. Even Paul Franklin’s steel gets to shine a little bit. It was simply a great way to bring the neo-traditional country style into the late 90’s and make it modern and sophisticated enough to fit in on country radio at the time. On top of it all, the melody of the song is simply beautiful, especially in the song’s main title line.

    Sonically, “The Fool” is already perfect, but that’s really only half of it. “The Fool” is also probably one of the best written songs we’ve seen in this feature for 1997, yet. It’s still one of the most original and creatively written songs I’ve heard about being in love with someone who’s still in love with an old flame. My personal favorite line is “You hold his heart in the palm of your hand, and it’s breaking mine in two.” It’s made all the more effective with Womack’s aching delivery of that line. My other favorite part of the song is just before that line when she reassures and comforts the other woman by telling her: “Just one more thing before I go: I’m not here to put you down.” And then she lets her know she’s not judging her or blaming her for anything as she goes on saying “You don’t love him, and that’s a fact. Girl, I’ve seen you around.” I love how in this song, instead of starting a catfight, the narrator is mature enough to realize it’s not the other woman’s fault that the man is still holding on to her memory. For me, it’s such a breath of fresh air to hear the two women having a mature, heart to heart talk about the situation compared to the “woman vs. woman” songs from the past decades and (unfortunately) later on in the 21st century.

    As mentioned above, my introduction to Lee Ann Womack and “The Fool” was seeing its music video on GAC many times during the Summer of 1997. I always enjoyed it then, but it seemed like radio wasn’t spinning it quite as much, just yet. The first time I remember hearing it on the radio was in August while we were in Maine, just after we had been in the Maine Mall in South Portland. “The Fool” was playing on the rental car’s radio on a cool, cloudy day as we were about to leave the parking lot of the JCPenney. Both my mom and step dad seemed to be enjoying it, and I actually remember Mom saying that it sounded like Patty Loveless with my step dad agreeing. It was also during that moment I truly realized how much I really liked the song, with especially the main line (“I’m the fool in love with the fool…”) getting stuck in my head. I also remember hearing it a few more times on the way back home, and it’s another song besides Toby Keith’s “We Were In Love” that makes me think of the Hampton Inn in Fishkill, NY. From that moment on, “The Fool” became yet another song I always associated with that 1997 trip to Maine, and one that brings back great memories from that time period. :)

    This is one of the songs that always came to mind immediately whenever my parents talked about going back to Maine, and even when we finally started going back in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s, I always had “The Fool” on either the mix cd or ipod playlist that I listened to while up there. And especially when we went back to that JCPenney in the Maine Mall, which hadn’t changed a bit since 1997, it always brought back great memories of hearing it on the radio just outside the store on that one cloudy day in ’97. :) “The Fool” also became a song I’d hear regularly on my late 90’s/early 00’s country playlist whenever we went to Pennsylvania, especially in Lancaster. I specifically remember enjoying it while strolling around the Rockvale Outlets on a nice cloudy day on one of our most recent visits. Likewise, it’s also another song I’d always enjoy hearing whenever we were in Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax, VA.

    Lee Ann Womack’s self-titled debut album is extra special to me, not only because it’s one of the earliest cd’s I picked out myself for my collection, but it’s also the first one by a female artist that I collected. I caught the music collecting bug in the Spring of 2000, and that’s when I started picking out cd’s for myself instead of my parents picking them for me. Up until the Summer of 2001, though, all of the cd’s I’d picked had been by male artists, and I just finally decided (and also from some nudging by my dad, lol) that I needed to add some female artists to my collection, as well. Since I was still into collecting debut albums, and I still leaned heavily towards traditional country then, Lee Ann’s first album was a great place for me to start. Boy, was I not disappointed! :D It ended up being probably my most played cd throughout the Summer of 2001. Many of the songs on the album were going through my head when my mom, dad and I went down to Williamsburg, VA around that time, and it even brings back memories from when we had a freaky problem with our doorbell that year, in which it would ring by itself in the middle of the night on numerous occasions. Some of my other favorites on the album include: “Montgomery To Memphis,” “Am I The Only Thing You’ve Done Wrong,” “Do You Feel For Me,” “Trouble’s Here,” and “Make Memories With Me (w/ Mark Chesnutt).” I was not properly introduced to “Never Again, Again” until getting that album (I only saw the video once on GAC in ’97 after “The Fool” was a hit), but it’s also went on to become another one of my very favorites from her! I still think the excellent “Montgomery To Memphis” would’ve made a great single, as well. Btw, my dad also ended up getting a copy of this album for himself later on, since he loved both “The Fool” and “You’ve Got To Talk To Me.”

    I also really love “You’ve Got To Talk To Me,” and I’m so bummed it didn’t also reach number one. It’s another song that really takes me back to 6th grade, and I remember often having it stuck in my head during some of my classes and even while I was in Fair Oaks Mall one Sunday night. My dad and I heard it a lot on Chris Charles’ Weekly Country countdown on Saturday nights, and it’s been one of Dad’s favorites ever since. I even remember laughing at the way Chris Charles always said the song’s title, lol. I believe it did at least make it to #2 on R&R which is what that countdown followed.

    I also love “Buckaroo” which brings back great memories of hearing it on the airplane to California in the Summer of 1998. That song was even still going through my head when we ate at the TGI Friday’s around Orange County, lol.

    Btw, I absolutely love this gorgeous pic of Lee Ann! I personally LOVED her with brown hair. :)

  2. Such a compelling and convincing performance of the shy, reticent partner who recognizes the hopelessness of a love triangle. There is no anger and no judgement, no moralizing. Just a tender, wistful, and honest share of a song. So vulnerable and heartbreaking because there is no obvious way out of these tangled feelings.

    Wow! What a song. I was a life-long Lee Ann Womack fan after just two singles! Her entire debut album is brilliant and a necessary tether to tradition in country music.

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