I read recently that Earl Thomas Conley was considered “thinking man’s country” when he broke through in the early eighties.
I love that because of the sophistication of his lyrics, but I feel it also undersells his unique talent as a singer and a writer. He’s very insightful about human nature, and there’s an intelligence to how he presents his ideas.
But what makes his work resonate so powerfully is his emotional intelligence, and it extends beyond his own songwriting and into the material he chooses from other writers. This one is co-written by Walt Aldridge, who I’ll note again wrote my favorite Reba McEntire single (“The Fear of Being Alone”) and my favorite Pam Tillis single (“Deep Down.”)
The writers capture the agony here of a man who has fallen in love with another woman, but is still deeply in love with the woman who has stood by his side during hard times:
If she’d give me one good reason, I’d be gone She ain’t done one thing wrong So don’t expect me just to walk out of the door I still love her, but I love you more
She’s been good to me when things weren’t goin’ right She made my days long before you made my nights So the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do Is holding her and loving you
This is just so much more nuanced and interesting than songs about bedding war wives or leering at the neighbor down the hall. Every character in this song – the protagonist, his wife, and his new flame – are sharply drawn and believable. There’s a moral dilemma here that is left unresolved, though it leans heavily toward the conclusion that he’s going to stay in his marriage and let this new woman go. It’s an agonizing choice, and Conley’s pain and shame are palpable in his tortured vocal performance.
There’s simply no way out of this situation without someone getting hurt, and Conley’s character will carry pain and loss in his heart forever, no matter what he does.
One of my favorite songs of the 80s. I used to sing this at karaoke all the time and ppl really got into it! It’s the best kind of cheating song where there is no villain and you feel empathy for all involved. Country music at its best!
I added this song to my 80’s playlist when I saw it was the next song to be featured. I knew the grade couldn’t be anything other than an A. It’s one of my favorite songs of the decade and ETC favorites. Toss up if this or “Somewhere Between Right or Wrong” is my favorite but really no song better described the feeling of being torn between two lovers better than this.
I hope you’re enjoying this feature. You’re reminding us of some forgotten gems (Not this song) but it’s got to be cool to see what’s coming up and getting excited to write about it. I know I would be.
For me, this stands side by side with Steve Wariner’s “Some Fools Never Learn” as two ’80s songs that are legitimate contenders for my top ten country songs of all time.
Has there ever been a less partisan song about an affair than Conley’s hit here? It is devastatingly fair and honest. The situation is stripped down till there is nothing left but but raw nerves, true shares, and an impossible decision.
Hey, Dustin. This is funny. I came to discover a whole new appreciation for Clay Walker’s music after the nineties feature. I always sold him short as an artist and unfairly dismissed his music outright. I never gave hime a chance.
Here you are coming to the music of Earl Thomas Conley through Clay Walker’s discography.
I had no idea Walker covered this song.
I love that the door of discovery swings in both directions.