Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties: The Wilkinsons, “26 Cents”

“26 Cents”

The Wilkinsons

Written by William Wallace and Steve Wilkinson

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

September 18, 1998

The mini-Canadian invasion continues with the debut hit from a family trio.

The Road to No. 1

The Wilkinsons are a family trio founded in 1997, consisting of father Steve Wilkinson and his children Amanda and Tyler Wilkinson.  The band signed to Giant Records, and soon recorded their debut album, Nothin’ But Love.  While all of their music would be quite successful in their native Canada, their debut hit was their first and biggest hit south of the border.

The No. 1

The Wilkinsons were the fourth Canadian country act to score their first No. 1 hit in as many years, following Shania Twain, Paul Brandt, and Terri Clark.  They hit the scene with the perfect single to showcase their familial harmonies.

“26 Cents” may require some explaining for our younger readers.  There used to be these things called pay phones.  At the time of this song’s release, they usually cost a quarter.   The song is built around the touching idea of a mom’s farewell letter to her daughter, who has moved out on her own.  The letter includes “a penny for your thoughts” and “a quarter for the call,” should she get lonely and want to reconnect with her mom.

That this was a band that literally left their mother behind as they hit the road made the song all the more endearing, which I’m sure that their father was aware of when writing it.  It’s not quite 26 years later, but in 2022, it still gives all the feels, even if the communication technology hasn’t held up as well as the sentiment behind the lyric.

The Road From No. 1

The Wilkinsons earned a gold record in the United States and Canada for Nothin’ But Love.  The album’s second single, “Fly (The Angel Song),” went to No. 1 in Canada and top fifteen in America. The band would only score one more top forty single in the U.S. – 1999’s “Jimmy’s Got a Girlfriend” from their second album, Here and Now, but they remained consistent hitmakers through the next decade in Canada, with Amanda alternating between a solo career and her work with her family band, while Tyler fronted his own rock band.   Following father Steve’s official retirement, Amanda and Tyler have worked together under the moniker Small Town Pistols.

“26 Cents” gets a B+.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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5 Comments

  1. Amanda has such stunning vocals and I always thought it a shame they didn’t get more success in the U.S.

    As a Canadian though we got to hear much more from this talented family over the years!

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  2. I just simply adore this song so much! This would personally be another one of my top picks for 1998. And yes, it’s totally a tearjerker, and it’s still known to make my eyes watery today. I also really love The Wilkinsons and wish they had more success in the States!

    Between the touching lyrics of a mother’s ongoing love and support, the beautiful melody, Amanda’s impressive vocals that sound mature beyond her years, and the lovely family harmonies provided by Steve and Tyler, this song is just perfect to my ears. I also really love the production by Doug Johnson, Tony Haselden, and Russ Zavitson, which gives the song a warm and cozy atmosphere that perfectly frames the song’s theme of a strong bond between a mother and her daughter and the family harmonies that blend so well with Amanda’s vocals. The understated, acoustic driven approach to this record is totally appropriate, and the dobro playing throughout is also a very nice touch. Add all of that to the wonderful feelings of nostalgia that this song still gives me, and it’s no wonder why “26 Cents” still gives me such a warm and fuzzy feeling today. :) Oh, and I also like how this is one of those rare songs that gets its title from the first verse instead of the choruses.

    Another reason why I’ve always loved this song, and why it still sometimes gets me teary eyed, is that I’ve always personally loved songs that are about a parent’s continued love and support for their kids, even when they’re older and/or moved away from home. I’m one who firmly believes that your kids are always your kids, no matter how old they get, and this song just hits me in all the feels. And if I’m not too careful, I also lose it sometimes during the song’s bridge where the daughter is holding the quarter that her mother gave her on the day she left, years after she had apparently passed on. The thing is, I didn’t even know at first that that’s what the bridge was saying, and I originally assumed Mama being “gone” meant that she was still back home where she left her, but alive and well, at least. I’d love to be wrong about that and believe that my first instinct about the mom still being alive was right after all.

    As I hinted at earlier, “26 Cents” just brings back all sorts of wonderful memories and nostalgia from 1998 for me. Like Brooks & Dunn’s “How Long Gone,” this is another song I heard on the radio while my step dad was test driving this new sandstone colored Chevy Malibu around our neighborhood and area during the late summer of that year, shortly before we flew to California for vacation. The dealership let us keep the car for a day or two to make up our minds about it. I remember hearing “26 Cents” on the second day my parents and I took the car out for a drive, and I specifically remember hearing the chorus with Amanda singing “If you get lonely, call me..” just when we were pulling out of our neighborhood. I didn’t even know who it was singing, but I really liked her voice and the song, and it was probably the second or third time I’d ever heard it. Anyway, that Malibu eventually became our brand new car when my step dad bought it at the start of my 7th grade year. :)

    I also consider “26 Cents” to be one of the main songs that’s huge a part of the soundtrack to my 7th grade year. Not only was it still getting tons of recurrent airplay for us all throughout the Fall of 1998, but I was also lucky enough to get it on the first tape I recorded from the radio early into my 7th grade year. The earlier portion of the tape is occupied by an album my mom had called We Believe In Music, which we recorded on it years ago. For the country radio part I recorded in 1998, “26 Cents” is the first song, followed by “Dust On The Bottle” by David Lee Murphy, “You’re Easy On The Eyes” by Terri Clark, “There Goes My Baby” by Trisha Yearwood, “She’s Got It All” by Kenny Chesney, “Let Me Let Go” by Faith Hill, “How Long Gone” by Brooks & Dunn, and a partial version of “Shameless” by Garth before the tape ends.

    I actually recorded that side of the tape after school one afternoon in the early Fall while my mom was giving my dad a haircut in the backyard under the tree. After she was done with the haircut and I was done recording the tape, the three of us went out to dinner at Olive Garden. I remember excitedly listening to “26 Cents” on my newly recorded tape in the backseat on my Walkman while we were still sitting in the driveway. As I was listening to it, I heard certain guitar little parts in the second verse that I never noticed until I listened to the song with a pair of headphones, and I noticed the family harmonies a lot more, as well. On that evening at the Olive Garden, that’s also when I tried and fell in love with the Lasagna Classico for the first time, and from that point on, that’s usually what I always ordered there instead of my previous favorite, the kids’ spaghetti. Olive Garden pretty much also became a regular place for us to have dinner at, as well. :)

    I continued to listen to that tape regularly throughout the rest of the Fall of ’98 and into early 1999. I especially remember “26 Cents” being stuck in my head often during my homeroom science class earlier in the year, especially the bridge when Amanda sings “Oh it’s been years since Mama’s been gone.” To this day, when I hear this song, I still often think of my 7th grade science class and my homeroom teacher, “Mr. Bateman,” who was one of the nicest and most pleasant homeroom teachers I ever had besides my homeroom teacher in 6th grade. :)

    Later in the Fall of ’98, “26 Cents” was still getting insane amounts of recurrent airplay everywhere it seemed, and we heard it on the radio countless times when my step dad, Mom, and I went back to Pennsylvania during one weekend. However this time, instead of just hanging around the Lancaster area, we also decided to check out the King Of Prussia mall for the first time. Talk about one of the coolest and most amazing experiences of my life! Seeing and strolling through that huge, beautiful upscale mall for the first time was just absolutely everything to me, and it just felt so cool to be there the whole time. :) After the mall, we had dinner at the Chili’s nearby. When we were all finished with our dinner and my step dad was going through his change, he handed me a penny and quarter and in a jokingly serious tone, he said to me: “Well, here’s a penny for your thoughts, and a quarter for the call!” We all just started laughing at that moment because we had heard the Wilkinsons song so many times during the PA trip up to that point, lol. Besides that little moment, other memorable things about our night at that King Of Prussia Chili’s was when I got to enjoy hearing “Blame It On Your Heart” by Patty Loveless playing in the restaurant, and our waiter had a strong resemblance to Sean Connery (like the modern grey bearded Sean Connery, but minus the Scottish accent).

    I remember being surprised to eventually find out that Amanda was only sixteen when this song was recorded, since her voice always sounded much more mature to me. I also remember when seeing The Wilkinsons for the first time and discovering what they looked like, I thought it was pretty neat that Tyler appeared to be right around my age (he’s only a year older than me), and that Steve looked like a regular, everyday loving Dad who just happened to be in a famous group with his two kids. I really miss family acts being in mainstream country today. That these guys were able to find success in the late 90’s only added to the amazing variety of artists that were heard on country radio during that time. Country music was certainly a lot more family friendly in those times, though, while many modern day country albums almost need a parental advisory sticker.

    I also really love “Fly (The Angel Song)” and wish it was a bigger hit in the U.S. Once again, it features a beautiful melody, a nice warm production and arrangement heavy on the dobro, and the lovely family harmonies that blend so well with Amanda’s lead vocals. To me, Amanda has the voice of a country star, and I just don’t get how they weren’t able to duplicate the success of “26 Cents” south of the border. I have a few vintage Crook & Chase Country Countdowns from late 1998 and early 1999 that have “Fly” as their current single on the charts, and one even has the Wilkinsons as one of the “Front And Center” guests, along with Sara Evans.

    I even remember enjoying “Boy Oh Boy” when it came out in 1999. I first heard it while my dad, step dad, and I were all watching the 1999 ACM Awards, with the trio giving a brief performance of the song while being named as one of the new artist nominees. And despite it not being a big hit for us in the U.S. I did hear it quite a few times on the independent station we started listening to regularly in the Spring of 1999.

    Besides the singles, I also adore the title cut from their debut album “Nothing But Love (Standing In The Way),” which has been in my regular rotation for quite some time now. I enjoyed hearing it on my ipod quite a few times on our more recent trips to PA in the mid-late 2010’s. :) I particularly remember waking up to it just when we had arrived in PA during one of the last trips we took there with my step dad. I see that it made it to #12 on the charts in Canada, but sadly, I’m guessing the label never tried releasing it in the States. The very cute “Don’t I Have A Heart” featuring Tyler on lead is another one of my favorite cuts on their first cd, along with “Williamstown.”

    I also really enjoy their second Giant album, 2000’s Here And Now, featuring more great harmonies and lovely production from Doug, Tony, and Russ. My favorites on that one include: “Shame On Me,” “It Was Only A Kiss,” “Hypothetically,” “Don’t Look At Me Like That,” “I’ll Know Love,” and “Me Myself, and I.”

    Speaking of the great production work of Tony Haselden and Russ Zavitson, I’d also like to mention another one of my personal favorite albums from the early 00’s, which is Georgia Middleman’s Endless Possibilities from 2001. It features much of the same lovely warm and cozy production style of the Wilkinsons albums, and I love Georgia’s unique and charming voice, along with her creative lyrics that are often clever and witty. I honestly love every song on it, but I especially adore “Tap Dancing On The Highwire,” “No Place Like Home,” “Closets,” “Thrilled,” “Michelangelo,” “There Ain’t No Good In Goodbye,” and “A New Pair Of Shoes.” Again, I just love this album to pieces, and it easily gets my vote as one of the most underrated country albums from the late 90’s/early 00’s period.

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