“Thank God For Believers”
Written by Tim Johnson, Mark Alan Springer, and Roger Springer
Radio & Records
#1 (1 week)
November 7, 1997
Mark Chesnutt returns with his best No. 1 single in years.
The Road to No. 1
After “It’s a Little Too Late” went to No. 1, “Let it Rain” was a top ten hit, closing out the singles run from Greatest Hits. Chesnutt then previewed his sixth studio album with its title track.
The No. 1
The nineties brought a more thoughtful approach to alcoholism and its consequences than was typical for the genre. Collin Raye’s “Little Rock” was featured earlier, and there’s an upcoming Kenny Chesney hit with similar themes.
The Mark Chesnutt entry is unique in that it is sung from the perspective of the struggling alcoholic, but deeply explores the impact of his struggle through the eyes of the woman who is supporting him. He doesn’t consider himself worthy of her love, but is deeply grateful for it.
There are so many little details in this song that bring it to life, especially in the first verse, where we get a glimpse of how his wife has gotten herself through the night as her husband was out drinking. We also see how he supports her in return, joining her at church and trying to see things her way with his bloodshot eyes.
By this point, Chesnutt’s voice had matured from his earlier days, drawing an even sharper contrast between him and the cowboys come lately that didn’t have nearly the same staying power as he did. He has one more No. 1 hit on deck, but this is his artistic peak from his later days at radio.
The Road From No. 1
Thank God For Believers struggled at radio after its lead single, with “It’s Not Over” going top forty and “I Might Even Quit Lovin’ You” squeaking into the top twenty. It was Chesnutt’s first album to fall short of a gold certification, which would inform the creative direction of his next album. We will see Chesnutt one last time with the lead single from that project.
“Thank God For Believers” gets an A.
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Chestnutt sounds so utterly sick, sober, and sorry about what he has done to his partner that the listener feels disgusted and sad for him.
The Nashville A team of session players bring all their insane talents to bear on this performance. Larry Franklin’s keening fiddle shines throughout the song, spotlighting the hurt. Buddy Emmons’ steel guitar swells throughout and fills the song with strength, sympathy, and hope at all the right points. Brent Rowan is on the electric guitar and Pat Flynn on the acoustic. Michael Rhodes on bass and Owen Hale on the drums. Steve Nathan handles the keys. Chestnut increasingly has control of his maturing voice and uses it to full effect here.
This is another stunning performance about breaking vows. I have always assumed the narrator cheated when he shares breaking the promise “I swore I’d never break.” That it’s left unsaid is a testament to the songwriting, and leaves a wonderful openness to the story and situation. It feels messy and real, heavy and weary. No easy answers lay ahead for the couple.
I wonder if replacing the partners’ trust and confidence in their spouses from the couple in the recent Brooks/Yearwood song “In Another’s Eyes,” with the wonder at his partner’s faith and loyalty in this song, makes the indiscretion and infidelity of more palatable? Are both songs attempts at trying to uncomfortably rationalize some imagined better version the narrators have of themselves? Some external justification for their wandering ways?
Interpretations aside, Chestnutt has recorded another country classic for himself in 1997!
This is absolutely one of Chesnutt’s finest singles of his career, and unfortunately, for whatever reason, it tends to be one of his more often overlooked hits, as well. This one still never fails to draw me in from the beautiful opening fiddle and hold my attention all the way to the end. It’s easily one of my most favorite Mark Chesnutt songs!
One thing I’ve always liked about this song is how the main alcoholic character, who would usually be seen as unlikeable for all of his wrong doings to his partner, actually manages to have redeeming qualities because of his mature and honest confessions of “putting her through hell” countless times and not feeling worthy of her ongoing faithfulness, and he is trying his best to pay her back and earn the love she’s still giving him. Mark’s earnest performance does an excellent job of capturing not only the regret and shame of the main character, but also the gratitude for his partner for remaining loyal and supportive after all this time. Peter brings up an interesting point about “broke the promise I swore I’d never break” possibly meaning infidelity on the main character’s part, which I myself never thought of until now, since it is never actually mentioned what that promise was. I always assumed the promise was to never touch the bottle again. What I also love about “Thank God For Believers” is that it’s not just alcoholics that can relate to it, but it’s also relatable for anyone who’s full of self doubt and feels counted out, abandoned, and doubted my most but still has at least one special person who continues to believe in them. The lines “Heaven knows how much I need her. Thank God for believers.” are relatable for many who are lucky to still have someone always in their corner, even when they don’t have faith in themselves.
I agree with Peter that the musicianship on “Thank God For Believers” is superb, and it perfectly captures all the emotions in the song. I particularly like how the opening instrumentation is sad and gloomy as the song starts with the narrator coming home drunk and having broken his promise, but in the end, the same instrumental part is played in a more brighter, hopeful tone which likely represents the wife’s undying faith and support and possibly the slow but sure recovery of the narrator. The signature fiddle parts are so pretty, and I’ve especially always loved the steel solo. Overall, Mark Wright did an excellent job here of taking Mark’s signature neo-traditional sound and making it just a bit modern enough for the late 90’s. The sound of the electric guitar, especially, makes it more modern sounding than any of his previous work, imo.
The first few times I ever heard “Thank God For Believers” was when the video had just recently come out, and I’d see it often on GAC. I always really enjoyed it back then, and today, I still think it’s one of Mark’s best videos, as well. I enjoy seeing Ed Bruce play the main character and how it also features a rodeo/cowboy theme, which is rarely seen in country videos anymore. I also love how it actually shows two believers in the story: The first one, of course, being the strong, faithful wife of Bruce’s character, and then Bruce himself becomes a believer for the young cowboy as he’s letting him ride his bucking horse and is cheering him on. I just love how the story ends on a positive, heartwarming note for all characters in the video.
A little while later when “Thank God For Believers” came on the radio in my dad’s car, he was explaining to me what the saying “three sheets to the wind” meant, which I wasn’t familiar with until then. This is also another song that particularly takes me back to that both exciting and nervous time for me when I was starting middle school in the 6th grade as I was going to a whole different school and meeting a bunch of classmates I didn’t know yet, and seeing a few I did know from my previous school. And like many other Fall of 1997 songs, “Thank God For Believers” also reminds me of when my mom, dad, and I started going to Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax VA on Sundays. :)
As I mentioned in Mark’s “A Little Too Late” thread, I think him and Roger Springer joining forces was one of the best things that happened to his career, and “Thank God For Believers” is further evidence of that. The album of the same name also includes several others co-written by Springer that I love, such as “Any Old Reason,” “That Side Of You,” “Goodbye Heartache,” and “Wherever You Are.” I actually think Thank God For Believers is one of Chesnutt’s best and most underrated albums, and Mark Wright’s solid neo-traditional production is excellent throughout, and so are Mark’s more mature sounding vocals. This album also reminds me of when I really started getting interested in reading the record reviews of Country Music Magazine, and I always remember Bob Allen’s enthusiastic review of this album from the November/December 1997 issue, which is the first issue of CMM I ever had.
For more excellent Roger Springer co-writes, he’s also responsible for one of my all time favorite Sammy Kershaw singles, early 1998’s “Matches.” He also had a hand in composing one of my newest favorite songs, which is “Everything Burns” by neo-traditional newcomer Will Banister. Banister’s latest album, also called Everything Burns, is very much recommended for anyone who enjoys late 90’s style traditional country from guys like Chesnutt and Daryle Singletary. Roger Springer himself also released a great overlooked traditional country album on the Giant label in 1999 as part of the Roger Springer Band, which is one of the more hidden gems from the late 90’s that’s well worth discovering, imho.
I also really love the re-recorded version of “It’s Not Over (If I’m Not Over You)” that he sent to radio during the Winter in late 1997/early 1998, which really should’ve been a bigger hit. It actually did make the top 30 on R&R, since my dad and I heard it on Chris Charles’ Weekly Country Countdown a few times. On one of the times it came on, it featured Mark himself exclaiming as the song was beginning: “Hey this is Mark Chesnutt, and I’m on my way to number one!” Sigh…if only that came true! Despite not being a big hit, it always stuck with me, and it’s actually one of the songs that made me want to get this album in 2001 for Christmas (other than Bob Allen’s review, of course, lol). That version of the song also brings back great memories of that Winter and being in 6th grade, playing Diddy Kong Racing, etc. :)