It’s really hard to write a hit song. I’m not talking about one that tops the chart, but one that grabs the listener and won’t let go, that makes you feel good every time you hear it.
I’m a fan of this guy. Primarily because of his 1983 LP on Geffen, “Nothing But The Truth.” At that point Geffen put out very few records, after the label’s initial splash it was relatively cold, carried by Quarterflash and other acts lost to the sands of time. But then they signed a country act?
Well, that was the pitch, but the truth is “Nothing But The Truth” is closer to a singer-songwriter LP from the seventies than country, but Mac is definitely country, he hails from Mississippi, a state northerners still don’t understand, still don’t know is just a stone’s throw from Graceland.
The radio track on “Nothing But The Truth” was “Minimum Love,” and it actually got some traction, but it was generic whereas the rest of the cuts on the LP were more specific, kinda like “Doctor My Eyes” from the first Jackson Browne LP. But the killer cut is the title track.
We were skippin’ the pages in the bookstore baby when I realized we hit the skids
I got a book about contraceptives and you got a book about kids
These are not the lyrics you hear over the air, but they’re the ones experienced by people all over the world every day. Are your interests aligned? Are you working towards marriage and kids or should you break it up, is someone gonna jump ship.
I was knockin’ around in the grocery store baby on the night of the last election
“Nothin’ But The Truth” is wistful. Reserved. Someone who’s had a lot of experience and is testifying as to their truth. And every four years the above line goes through my brain, whenever there’s an election, funny how music rides shotgun, how it’s our own personal milepost even if no one else knows it, music may be heard in groups, but it’s utterly personal.
But there was never another Mac McAnally album on Geffen.
Next thing I knew Mac was playing with Jimmy Buffett. A sideman instead of the main man. He’d gotten his chance, but he hadn’t connected.
But there was one song, from 1990, about the time Garth Brooks was initially triumphing, but I never heard it, this was still when there was a distinct line between country and rock, despite so many rock acts including country elements in their records, it wasn’t until the twenty first century that old rock fans realized if you wanted to hear guitars, if you wanted more of what used to be, you had to go to Nashville, in your mind anyway.
And I became aware of that song when it was covered by Kenny Chesney, it’s one of his staples, it’s entitled “Back Where I Come From.”
Well in the town where I was raised
The clock ticks and the cattle graze
Time passed with amazing grace
Back where I come from
It sounds like Mayberry. A slower pace. Where people live life as opposed to race it.
And as good as Kenny’s studio version is, the definitive performance is the one included in his 2006 LP “Kenny Chesney Live.” It’s slower, it’s pregnant with meaning. And when Kenny steps away from the mic and lets the audience sing…your heart pitter-patters, this is the unity too often lacking in the U.S. today. Kenny’s #1 venue is outside of Boston, where the Patriots play, but this southern music resonates just as much there. You see we all come from somewhere. Most probably a place where there was no spotlight, where we became who we are today.
But the most poignant lines are:
Some say it’s a backward place
Narrow minds on a narrow wage
But I make it a point to say
That’s where I come from
Not only do most Americans not go overseas, most haven’t been far from where they grew up. In the seventies, prior to cheap air travel, never mind the internet, it was a rite of passage, with your family, while you were in college, to get behind the wheel and explore, to see America, Paul Simon even wrote a whole song about it.
“Back Where I Come From” is a hit, the kind I mentioned above, indelible, above the rest, a statement, that penetrates your soul, that you can hear over and over again and never burn out on.
Now the original Mac McAnally version is more upbeat, your mind drifts less, you’re caught up in the groove, smiling, like you do when you hear his new track “Once In A Lifetime.”
Every day is truly once in a lifetime. It’s not coming back. Which is what bugs me about this Covid-19 era, being in suspended animation, watching my life go by, the grains of sand flowing through the hourglass, with only so many left.
Every day is once in lifetime
And right now just me be the right time
I must admit, I’m a glass half-empty kind of guy, but my glass is full when I listen to music, the right music, it not only makes me happy, it emboldens me.
I didn’t get “Once In A Lifetime” at first. Close, but no cigar. But then I listened a second time, now I pull it up and let it play over and over again, I don’t want the mood to end.
I only met McAnally once. Back in the earlier part of this century. At a Jimmy Buffett show in Chula Vista. It was still sunny, he was wandering around backstage with no airs, he could have been a roadie to those out of the loop, or a lumberjack, with his red hair and beard. But I had to talk to him, I had to tell him how much I liked “Nothing But The Truth,” I figured it would mean something to him, that the unheralded work reached a listener and still meant something to him.
But what stunned me in the reaction was the accent. This guy was truly from Mississippi. And he kept his head down, he was humble, he didn’t want to talk about it, he just wanted to move on, he seemed to be embarrassed by the attention. Funny how you think you know who someone is based on their records. That someone sensitive in their music, plumbing their emotions, would be eager to have that conversation in real life, but not Mac, at least not that day, he wasn’t dismissive, he just wanted to elude the spotlight.
Now “Once In A Lifetime” sounds like it’s being sung by the riverbank, with only a few in attendance, made for the joy of music as opposed to the audience, as opposed to the money.
And I don’t think there’s gonna be a lot of money in “Once In A Lifetime,” unless it’s covered by one of Nashville’s stars. The recording is a blueprint, they’d just find someone with a rich voice with little character and gussy up the production, make it slick, but what makes “Once In A Lifetime” so good is its roughness.
It used to be different. If you were the kind of person who could get a record deal, get a song on the radio, you were established, you could turn it into a career. But today if these same people make music very few hear it. You can’t be doing it for the money, you’ve got to be doing it because you love it.
And I love “Once In A Lifetime.”