“He Didn’t Have to Be”
Written by Kelly Lovelace and Brad Paisley
#1 (1 week)
December 11, 1999
Radio & Records
#1 (1 week)
December 10, 1999
A 21st century superstar earns his first No. 1 hit.
The Road to No. 1
Born and raised in West Virginia, Brad Paisley discovered a love for country music through his maternal grandfather, who gifted him with a guitar at a young age. He performed at his church, where his talent was quickly noticed and cultivated by his small town community. By age 13, he was a band leader and a songwriter, and he spent his high school years opening for major acts when they played local venues. After earning a degree from Belmont University, Paisley was quickly signed to Arista Nashville, the final major act to join the roster before label founder Tim DuBois exited to DreamWorks. His lead single, “Who Needs Pictures,” served as the title track for his debut album of the same name, and it went top fifteen. His second single became the first No. 1 single in a career full of them.
The No. 1
At the time of its release, Brad Paisley’s debut album stood out as a return to traditional country music, and he was definitely waving that flag alongside recent breakout acts like the Chicks and Lee Ann Womack.
In retrospect, given Paisley’s long and successful career, what’s more impressive now is how fully developed his talent already was. “He Didn’t Have to Be” has the sharp observation and intelligent wording that would define his best songwriting over the years, and it also is a perfect example of Paisley at his best as a singer. When he’s in full sincerity mode, he’s one of the all-time greats.
“I hope I’m at least half the dad that he didn’t have to be” is a classic chorus, capturing multiple emotions and a person’s entire life story from childhood to parenthood in just a handful of words. The verses are also full of strong lyrical turns, including the perfect opening couplet: “When a single mom goes out on a date with somebody new, it always winds up feeling more like a job interview.” The song then shifts to, and stays with, the perspective of the child: “He took my mom out to a movie, and for once I got to go.”
Paisley’s vocal is effectively restrained, previewing his strength as a storyteller as he hits all the right emotional beats without getting in the way of the song. Paisley is a slam dunk for the Country Music Hall of Fame, and this is the record that put him on that path. It still holds up today.
The Road From No. 1
Paisley will be one of the most prominent artists when we get to the 2000s, starting with another single from his debut album.
“He Didn’t Have to Be” gets an A.
Next: Faith Hill, “Breathe”