Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Dan Seals, “Everything That Glitters (is Not Gold)”

“Everything That Glitters (is Not Gold)”

Dan Seals

Written by Bob McDill and Dan Seals

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

May 30, 1986


#1 (1 week)

July 5, 1986

I had a lot of fun writing about “Bop,” which lived up to its title in the very best sense.  It was a great way to talk about how 70’s soft rockers had infiltrated the genre by this point of the eighties, bringing their own sanitized versions of rock and R&B on to the country radio dial.

I’m thankful to now have the opportunity to celebrate the benefits of having a singular talent from another genre set up shop in the country music world, where they can write a brilliant acoustic ballad and get enough stations to play it that it goes all the way to number one.

‘Everything That Glitters (is Not Gold)” is an astonishing feat of songwriting, with vividly drawn characters that ache from the pain of being left behind, but can still be enthralled enough by the glitter to miss the show that left town without them.

The narrative is more familiar from the male perspective, captured in one rodeo song after another: the chase of the bull matters more than the love waiting at home. Seals reverses the roles, but adds some subtle nuances into the mix.

Yes, the woman has become a phenomenal success on the rodeo circuit, but he’s so keenly aware of her ongoing success because he’s still working it too, just less successfully and as a single dad with his daughter in tow.  He’s struggling in very real ways, as his daughter grows and has questions about her changing body that a man in 1986 was simply ill-equipped to answer.  They see her face on posters and sometimes even catch a performance, but she’s a no show on their daughter’s birthday and it feels like they never cross her mind at all.

In the verses, he is always using we, referring to the man and child left behind as a unit.  But as he slips into memory during the choruses, he gets swept back into the memories of falling in love with this future superstar.  The cool and calm disconnect of his vocal in the verses pivots to a high-pitched wail as he recalls why he fell in love, before he could so clearly see through the illusion:

Sometimes I think about youAnd the way you used to ride outIn your rhinestones and your sequinsWith the sunlight on your hair

And oh, the crowd will always love youBut as for me, I’ve come to knowEverything that glitters is not gold

There are so many layers of broken dreams and broken homes that Seals shows us with his key eye to detail, with an assist from Hall of Fame songwriter Bob McDill.  It’s simply impossible to imagine this song breaking through in any other genre at this time, and it is an early indication of the sophisticated songwriting and challenging material that will overwhelm the genre in the coming years.

Now more than ever, it’s clear that these eighties artists weren’t barriers between what country was and what country could be.  They were building bridges that led to what it would ultimately become in the golden age to come.

“Everything That Glitters (is Not Gold)” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. Such a great song. I know you think it’s a bridge to more modern country but for me, it just makes me miss when country music was really just for adults, and not pandering to get the young audiences.

  2. Mm, yeah. This song really was peak Dan Seals, and one of ’80s country’s (and Bob McDill’s) finest moments. Much like Glen Campbell’s ”Wichita Lineman,” it is a song that I will never, ever tire of hearing. Pure greatness.

  3. This is, in my opinion, the best country song of the entire decade and one of my top 10 country songs of all time. The stripped back production, Seals’ vocal, and the poignant lyrics always stir such a strong emotion out of me. This song moves me in a way no other song seems to, and in the subjective world of music, being moved this much makes it an easy choice for my top song. I could go on forever about how brilliant this song is, but you do such a great job of doing that Kevin.

    • Oh, and if it’s even possible, I actually like Seals’ acoustic version on his 1995 album In a Quiet Room even better than the original version.

    • …just the other day i meet jordan davis and ashley cooke before their concert in zurich. i should have conducted an interview with jordan davis but it turned out to be a conversation about places you feel grandparents more than in front of their stone at the grave yard and much more – next thing you know all over again. a fully grown-up man was providing a “damn good time” for at least three generations in the audience just a little later that night.

      you should have seen the joy and amazement on ms cooke’s face, when i showed her that she’s been featured on the “horizon 2024” list of a magazine in a country, where you may have expected anything but that as an opening act. later, she sang “it’s been a year” and it really sounded like she’s been having one to remember lately.

      the great thing at the moment is, that almost anyone (generation) can find plenty of really good songs in country music again these days, which might fit their age or relate to some circumstances in their life. fair enough, something like this one is a little harder to come by, but isn’t that exactly part of the beauty of it?

  4. Beautifully written song from a different point of view – the wife/mother abandoning her family. It’s a very sad song about a situation that unfortunately happens. Seals sings it perfectly.

  5. As if to make a point, a brilliantly written song, full of narrative details and emotional complexity, comes on the heels of a Mike Smotherman’s “Tomb of the Unknown Love, ” a story that I felt was rushed and incomplete, more an interesting idea than an engaging or inviting tale.

    This Bob McDill and Dan Seals’ song trusts that listeners care enough about Casey, Red, and the rodeo to permit the story space and time to unfold. It is a completely compelling and always rewarding listening experience. The characters feel almost familial in their familiarity, as though the intimate details of their lives, from the rhinestones and the sequins to the one horse trailer and the mobile home, are ours to alternately hold, share, hide, reject, and embrace.

    And this song certainly makes me feel things about all the characters and their motivations.

    What is so captivating is that the song has a beginning and middle but no ending. There are no happy reunions, tidy resolutions, or even clear winners or losers. We don’t know what happens to any of the characters.

    To Kevin’s point about bridge building, the best songs and artists of the ’80s do carry an almost prophetic sense of authority and purpose. Their music did so much of the heavy lifting and hard work that loosened the expectations of what country music could become. Although in often unexpected and challenging ways, they prepared the way for what would unfold in the ’90s with their own sounds of significance and songs of substance.

    This is as great a song as the decade will produce.

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