Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties: Alan Jackson, “Between the Devil and Me”

“Between the Devil and Me”

Alan Jackson

Written by Harley Allen and Carson Chamberlain

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

January 9, 1998

A nineties legend earns the first No. 1 hit of 1998.

The Road to No. 1

This is the third consecutive No. 1 single from Alan Jackson, following two previous releases from Everything I Love: “Who’s Cheatin’ Who” and “There Goes.”

The No. 1

Alan Jackson goes big and dramatic on “Between the Devil and Me,” with a heavier production than anything he’d released before it.

Does it work in the service of the song? Somewhat. It’s like he was going for a Billy Sherrill-era George Jones epic, but couldn’t fully pull the trigger and book a string section.  So the song is fuller than usual for him, but it feels like it’s missing something.

It’s still nice to hear him experiment with his signature sound, something he’d do more thoroughly with Like Red On a Rose a decade later.

The Road From No. 1

Arista released a sixth single from Everything I Love, and it was one too many for country radio. “A House With No Curtains” snapped his string of 27 consecutive top ten hits, barely cracking the top twenty.  Jackson then released the ambitious spoken word ballad “I’ll Go On Loving You,” the first single from his High Mileage album.  It went top five.  We’ll see Jackson later in 1998 with the second single from that collection.

“Between the Devil and Me” gets a B.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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Next: Brooks & Dunn, “He’s Got You”

6 Comments

  1. I agree with Occasional Hope and would give it an A as well. Like it a lot better than “There Goes” which I liked. Alan was very consistent throughout his career with great material.

  2. I’ll have to echo everyone else, and say I absolutely love this one! Production and all.

    For me, this is, by far, one of the coolest sounding songs that AJ has ever done! The dark and menacing arrangement and atmosphere was such a perfect fit for the song’s hell theme and lyrics about facing temptation. I especially love the sinister feel of the piano playing throughout and even the creepy style of the steel guitar in the intro is so cool! I also love how the drums are louder and heavier than usual, especially the way they pound out the very ending. I also never heard this song as being overproduced, but it was certainly one of his most intense sounding records up to this point. To me, this is neo-traditional country that’s deliciously stylish!

    I also personally consider this to be one of Jackson’s most impressive vocal performances, with the song being a great showcase for his range as a singer. The way Jackson belts out “The gates of Heeeeeeell swing open wide!” in the chorus still sounds so epic to me after all these years! I also love the extra high note he hits on the second chorus, when he sings “The flames are spreaaaaadin’ everywhere!” Those high notes he sings are all the more impressive considering how deep into his lower register he goes for the verses and title line, and how his voice had gotten deeper with age, overall, by this time.

    Every time I heard “Between The Devil and Me” with my dad in his car during the Fall and Winter of late 1997, it always made me immediately think of the Doom games with the song’s hell theme. Additionally, it made me think of the movie The Devil’s Advocate (starring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves), which I had seen with my mom and step dad pretty recently. :) I also remember hearing it one evening when my dad and I were almost back to my house after I had ordered my chicken strips from KFC to go. I remember really enjoying both the song AND the smell of the chicken which was making me more hungry, lol. “Between The Devil And Me” was also becoming yet another one of my dad’s favorite AJ songs, as well, and this is one of the main songs that still makes me think of how big of an Alan Jackson fan he was during the 90’s and early 00’s. :)

    And yes, this is yet ANOTHER late 1997/early 1998 song that makes me think of Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax, VA, which we went to regularly during that time. Same with the follow up single, “A House With No Curtains.”

    Similar to “There Goes,” “Between The Devil And Me” was yet another one of those songs that didn’t get played as a recurrent as much as I’d wanted it to, but when it did suddenly come on, it sure was such a pleasant surprise and a joy to hear again! And even then, I’d still always think of Doom, lol. I also remember my step dad really liking this one when hearing it as a recurrent in the car with him, and when it was playing on a mix CD featuring most of these late ’97/early ’98 hits (He too, was also a big AJ fan :) ).

    I also absolutely LOVE “A House With No Curtains,” and really wish it had been a bigger hit! Almost everyone in early 1998 seemed to be coming out with such great traditional sounding songs that sounded perfect during the winter, and that was yet another one I loved the first time I heard it. I especially remember enjoying it on Saturday nights whenever it came on Chris Charles’ Weekly Country Countdown show. I even remember hearing it one afternoon at the McDonald’s closest to our house while Dad and I were eating there after he picked me up from school. :)

  3. The country music world burdened Jackson with a ton of pressure to remain the one staunch traditionalist as the genre was evolving and growing. Any deviations from his expected musical path were often met with unfair resistance and criticism. Look at the crap he ate critically for “Red on a Rose” which I beleive history will recognize as one of his greatest and most ambitious albums.

    As for this song, Jackson sounds amazing. The production is simultaneously menacingly lean while being fuller than his other works. It’s atmospheric and moody. This songs sounds intense and cool despite singing about hell with all its flames and smoke. It is super stylish.

    I love this AJ single.

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