Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Waylon Jennings, “Rose in Paradise”

“Rose in Paradise”

Waylon Jennings

Written by Stewart Harris and Jim McBride

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

April 3, 1987


#1 (1 week)

April 25, 1987

Following some personal struggles and a departure from his longtime home of RCA Nashville, Waylon Jennings was getting back on track when he returned to No. 1 as part of the Highwaymen in 1985.

Building on that success, Jennings moved from RCA to MCA, where he co-produced a string of successful albums with Jimmy Bowen.  He made a deliberate attempt to move away from the outlaw sound, and it worked.  His 1986 album Will the Wolf Survive became his first solo No. 1 studio album in six years, and it produced three top ten hits.

He continued his momentum with 1987’s Hangin’ Tough, which featured his final No. 1 single, “Rose in Paradise.”   This song truly benefits from his non-outlaw approach to it.  It’s a story song that feels no need to tie up any loose ends, though it is heavily implied that the Georgia banker who married a gorgeous woman eventually killed her out of jealousy.

Evocatively, a rose grows in the garden of his mansion, and it blooms during all times of the year.  That Georgia banker is often caught staring at that part of the garden, and it certainly seems like those who believe that she ran off with the gardener are engaging in some wishful thinking.

Jennings stayed on MCA for the remainder of the decade, before pivoting to Epic in 1990, where The Eagle produced his final top ten hit, “Wrong.”  He continued to record throughout the nineties, garnering critical acclaim for his work with producer Don Was.  The decade ended with his induction into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, which was followed by induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

Sadly, his health took a turn for the worse at the turn of the century, and diabetes complications soon claimed his life.  Jennings passed away in 2002 at the age of 64, leaving behind a musical legacy that altered the course of country music for the better.

“Rose in Paradise” gets an A.


Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. I was too young to connect any of the dots of this song’s story back when this was on radio but was fortunate enough to rediscover it in the last few years as the classic country station in Des Moines has it in its rotation. It’s a very smartly crafted southern Gothic story song and the use of the rose in the garden as a metaphor for his late lover’s ongoing legacy is genius. Ironic twist that 10 years later in “Titanic”, it was “Rose” who lived on and her suitor sacrificed to the ocean, whereas here it’s Rose who is sacrificed to the soil.

    Given the historical context, it’s understandable that this marked Waylon’s post-Outlaw era. It was hard to take him too seriously as an “outlaw” any longer after seven-year-old Mark saw him in the theater a year earlier in “Follow that Bird”!!!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bytm8YoeFYg

    Grade: A

  2. I think by that time the idea of being an “outlaw” per se was kind of, pardon the pun here, old hat to Waylon. And as a result, like his good friend Willie, as well as Johnny Cash, he became more of what I’d like to call an Ambassador of country music.

    And yet, with all the changes going on with him and the country genre, he was and always would be A Man Called Hoss.

  3. As a Sesame Street watching country music fan as a kid in the ’80’s, how did I miss out on “Follow That Bird?”

    As a professional gardener as an adult, how can I not love a song about formal gardens, a gardener, and a winter rose that blooms in the dead of night? “A Rose in Paradise” was so poetic and evocatively cryptic in its mystery and imagery.

    Despite his recent success with The Highwaymen and “Will the Wolf Survive”, Waylon Jennings was a mysterious, almost mythic, artist in his own right and this was a wonderful introduction to him as a vocalist to me as a young fan.

    As for Chris Young’s cover, I love hearing the importance of contemporary artists covering older songs to a younger audience.

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