Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties: Brooks & Dunn, “How Long Gone”

“How Long Gone”

Brooks & Dunn

Written by Shawn Camp and John Scott Sherrill

Billboard

#1 (3 weeks)

September 12 – September 26, 1998

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

September 11, 1998

Brooks & Dunn deliver another pretty good No. 1 single.

The Road to No. 1

The Hall of Fame duo Brooks & Dunn is in the midst of their final nineties run of No. 1 singles.

The No. 1

“How Long Gone” is crisply produced and well performed, hitting that Brooks & Dunn sweet spot that made them the Mariah Carey of nineties country:  one chart topper after another, with most of the No. 1 records sounding pretty good in isolation, but fading from the collective memory once their chart run was over.

There’s nothing wrong at all with “How Long Gone.”  There’s just nothing too special about it, either.  An astute review of a Brooks & Dunn album from around this time noted the dilemma.  For many radio artists, their studio albums were their hit singles surrounded by filler.  For Brooks & Dunn, the radio hits often were the filler, designed to make sure the dominance on the dial continued, but with diminishing creative returns.

So it’s a pretty good record, but if you swap “How Long Gone” out with, say, “He’s Got You” or “We’ll Burn That Bridge” or “Whiskey Under the Bridge,” would it make much of a difference as you listened to country radio on your evening commute home?

The Road From No. 1

A Roger Miller cover will be the duo’s final No. 1 single of the decade, and we’ll cover it when we get to December 1998.

“How Long Gone” gets a B.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

Previous: George Strait, “True” |

Next: The Wilkinsons, “26 Cents”

5 Comments

  1. Gosh, does this one make me so nostalgic for the late summer and early fall of 1998! This song was literally ALL OVER the radio during that time period, and it provided a great soundtrack to all kinds of events that occurred in my life during that period. It’s still one of my personal top favorite B&D songs today. Just the sound of the opening electric guitar brings me so much joy!

    Similar to George Strait’s “True,” this song for me also marked a slight shift towards a more modern and contemporary sound and style than what B&D had mostly been known for previously, which was more honky tonk sounding and dance driven material. To me, it also started the trend of them releasing mainly contemporary mid-tempo cuts to radio which continued on into the very early part of the 2000’s with the Tight Rope album era.

    The most noticeable change for me is in the production. While much of Don Cook’s production from the mid 90’s now sounds dated to my ears, his production on “How Long Gone” and the rest of B&D’s late 90’s material still sounds more modern and fresh to me today. The drums on “How Long Gone” especially sound a lot cleaner and more sophisticated than the typical loud and airy sound of the drums on Cook’s mid 90’s work, almost as if it’s Eddie Bayers doing the drumming (think George Strait’s late 90’s records) instead of Lonnie Wilson. And also like Strait’s “True,” there’s a more contemporary and alternative feel to the electric guitar playing featured throughout, especially during the signature “ringing” guitar parts and the lovely chiming sound it makes throughout the second verse. I especially love the sound of the electric guitar right after Ronnie sings “But I do believe you forgot to mention just how long gone are you gonna be” in that second verse. But once again, despite the slightly more contemporary and sophisticated production, Bruce Bouton’s steel guitar, which is a main stable of B&D’s 90’s music, still comes through loud and clear and sounds as great as it ever has.

    And while this is likely a break up song with the woman likely being “long gone” for quite some time, Ronnie turns in a performance that’s full of likeable charm. While the title line with its drawn out vowels of the words “long,” “gone,” and “be” could’ve been made irritating to listen to in the hands of lesser vocalists with a more forced/put on southern accent, Ronnie Dunn manages to make it one of the most catchy and likeable parts of the song with his natural twang. I’ve also always liked the way he belted out the opening line of each chorus, “How am I supposed to make any plans…” and him ending each one with that falsetto note when he sings “Tell me pleeeeeease!”

    “How Long Gone” is one of the first songs on this feature that reminds me of when we were test driving the new sandstone colored Chevy Malibu around our neighborhood shortly before we flew to California in the late summer of 1998. It was the car that would eventually become our brand new car at the start of my 7th grade year. :) Just when my step dad pulled the car out of the driveway and was about to drive around the neighborhood, “How Long Gone” came on with the DJ announcing it as Brooks & Dunn’s new song. It was like only the second time I’d ever heard it. One of the dealers from the dealership was also riding with us. I remember at that moment, I was still thinking about one of the movies we saw earlier that summer, which was Six Days, Seven Nights (starring Harrison Ford and Anne Heche (RIP)). Not only was it one of the most memorable movies we saw that summer, but it was also one of my personal favorite ones we saw, as well. I also had a short haircut that was a bit similar to Anne Heche’s in the movie at the time. :) I was and still am very saddened to hear about her passing just recently. :( Coincidentally, B&D’s previous single and duet with Reba, “If You See Him/If You See Her” also takes me back to around the time we saw Six Days, Seven Nights.

    Of course, we ended up hearing “How Long Gone” many more times during the vacation to California we went on shortly afterwards, and coincidentally, the car we rented and drove around in CA also ended up being a Chevy Malibu, this time a White colored one, which absolutely thrilled me and just made the vacation even better. :) Even my parents seemed to always enjoy “How Long Gone” when it came on, and I especially remember being surprised that Mom didn’t appear to mind it, since she usually didn’t like songs that were too repetitive.

    “How Long Gone” was still getting tons of recurrent airplay in the Fall of 1998, and I even got it on both of the tapes I recorded during my 7th grade year, with it being the last song near the end of the tape on both of them. One of the “How Long Gones” made it all the way through, while the other one gets cut off somewhere during the final chorus due to there not being enough tape left. I remember when listening to it on the first tape I recorded earlier in the Fall and even when hearing it on the radio, that main guitar part at the end of the song would always get stuck in my head. Even when Dad and I heard it in his car together, he’d hum along to that guitar part. “How Long Gone” also just brings back great memories of my 7th grade year, and it sounded just as great during the colder months as it did in the warmer months of late summer. :)

    B&D’s If You See Her album was another one I got for Christmas in 2002 and was one of many 1998 albums I picked out that year.

    While “How Long Gone” did continue to get recurrent airplay for the rest of the decade and into the earliest part of the 2000’s, by 2004/2005, it was no longer getting played anywhere near as much as I’d like, and it was around that time that I was growing more hungry and nostalgic for late 90’s country. I remember hearing “How Long Gone” out of the blue suddenly on one of our stations in Dad’s car during that time and thinking it was so refreshing compared to the more obnoxious and/or boring current stuff that was mainly getting played, including some of B&D’s own current music from the mid 00’s. The only other time I could enjoy “How Long Gone” was if I listened to it on the If You See Her cd.

    I’m also so looking forward to the next B&D entry, which is another one of my personal top favorites of theirs.

    • As are many of Brooks & Dunn’s No. 1 singles. I’m referring more to things like “I Don’t Wanna Cry,” “Heartbreaker,” “Thank God I Found You,” etc. No. 1 singles using the same template as the signature hits that are largely forgettable. Both Carey and B&D were using formulas that were running thin by the end of the decade. Both also successfully recreated themselves in the oughts following disappointingly received projects.

  2. Just happy to have Shawn Camp’s name out there as a co-writer on this one. He is a wildly unrecognized musician, singer, and songwriter. This song is a good introduction to his left-of-centre approach to songwriting.

    Just like Strait dialing it in with his last number one, Brooks & Dunn becoming predictable with their signature sound is oh so fine with me when their offerings are this tasty. This is country music comfort food for the ears.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.