My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Class of ’89 Album Review: Clint Black – ‘Killin’ Time’

Killin' Time by Clint Black (1989, RCA Records)

Killin' Time by Clint Black (1989, RCA Records)

I remember well the day back in February 1989 that I first heard a new song on the radio called “A Better Man”. I stopped what I was doing to give it my full attention, and thought to myself, “That is the best Merle Haggard song I’ve heard in years. I can’t remember the last time Merle sounded so energetic.” I was shocked when the song was over to learn that it wasn’t sung by Merle Haggard, but by a newcomer named Clint Black. Apparently I wasn’t alone in thinking it was Merle, because there was a lot of talk in the media at the time about the similarity of Black’s vocal style to Haggard’s.

“A Better Man” quickly shot to #1, and 27-year-old Clint Black was suddenly the hottest commodity in country music. Fans waited anxiously for his debut album Killin’ Time, to be released. It finally hit record stores on May 2, 1989, around the same time that the title track was released as a single. It too quickly shot to #1. Black swept the 1989 CMA awards, winning in six different categories. When Billboard published its year-end chart for 1989, “A Better Man” was the #1 single country record for the year, followed by “Killin’ Time” which finished at #2 — no mean feat for a newcomer who only one year earlier had been playing the club circuit around Houston.

Twenty years after its release, Killin’ Time remains my favorite Clint Black album. In total, it produced five singles, four of which (“A Better Man”, “Killin’ Time”, “Nobody’s Home”, and “Walkin’ Away”) went to #1. The fifth and final single, “Nothing’s News” peaked at #3, breaking the streak of consecutive #1s. All of the songs on the album were either written by Black, or co-written by Black and Hayden Nicholas.

The remaining album tracks are of sufficient quality that they could have been released as singles. The album opens with “Straight From The Factory”, a Western swing number which immediately sets the tone for the rest of the album. At the time I hoped it would be released as a single, but I suspect the double entendre “you’re the only lock that’s made to fit my key” was considered too risque for mainstream country radio. By today’s standards, it seems pretty tame, especially when one considers that songs like “Bob That Head” have gotten airplay.

Another favorite is the uptempo “I’ll Be Gone”, which treats the listener to Black’s harmonica-playing skills. This track was only included on the CD version of the album. Those who purchased the LP or cassette missed a real treat. “Winding Down” is a more mellow track, to which anyone who’s ever stopped by happy hour on the way home from a rough day at work can relate.

Killin’ Time was a breath of fresh air when it was first released; it infused country music with a little high octane, which it needed at the time. Twenty years later, it remains a breath of fresh air, but for different reasons. It’s nice to listen to an album that was able to appeal to the mainstream (it was certified triple platinum) without dumbing down the lyrics or implementing a highly-layered “wall of sound” production approach, or dragging out two-to-three-minute songs to four or five minutes.

By the end of 1990, Black had been ousted as the top male newcomer by Garth Brooks. The media had manufactured a rivalry between the two, which Brooks ultimately won, but few would have foreseen that outcome when Killin’ Time was first released. It established Clint Black as a major country music star. Though his future musical choices were sometimes disappointing,he remains my favorite alumnus of the Class of ’89.

Grade: A

Listen to Clint Black at Last FM:

Killin’ Time
Nothing’s News

Killin’ Time can be purchased at Amazon or iTunes.

25 responses to “Class of ’89 Album Review: Clint Black – ‘Killin’ Time’

  1. Leeann Ward April 6, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    Yes, this is a fabulous album!

    I think Clint sounds the closest to Merle on “The Kid” from his Christmas album.

    • Razor X April 6, 2009 at 9:23 pm

      Is that the one where the kid is trying to wait up for Santa to come?

      • Leeann Ward April 7, 2009 at 4:32 pm

        No, I think you’re thinking of “Milk And Cookies?”

        The one I’m talking about goes like this:

        Last night I dreamed I was a kid again
        All the things I used to do I went and did again
        Spent the afternoon with my best and closest friend
        Wanderin’ through the days we thought would never end
        It was back when I’d still get things from Santa Claus
        Back when he believed in me and overlooked the flaws
        That can grow inside until it hides the perfect little boy inside the man

        I’m not a kid anymore, but I still believe that those miracles occur
        That’s not something up his sleeve
        And that the reindeer pull the sleigh and the elves still make the toys
        Santa gives away to all the girls and boys

        Tonight I’ll climb back in that bed again
        Try to live out all my dreams inside my head again
        After Christmas Eve with my best and closest friend
        Who still believes the world’s greatest dad just tucked him in
        And I know that he’ll be looking out for Santa Claus
        And I’m sure beyond a doubt he’ll overlook the flaws
        That will grow inside until it hides this perfect little boy inside a man

        I’m not a kid anymore and I still believe that miracles occur
        That’s not something up his sleeve
        And that the reindeer pull the sleigh and the elves do make the toys
        Santa gives away to all the girls and boys

  2. J.R. Journey April 6, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    I have a feeling if I’d been listening to country music at the time (I didn’t jump on board until 3 years later) that I I would have preferred Clint to Garth too, based on their debut albums. But it’s also easy to see why Garth quickly eclipsed Clint when you listen to their respective singles from the early 90s.

    Great review of a great album though.

    • Razor X April 6, 2009 at 9:22 pm

      To be honest, I’ve never understood why Garth was so much more successful than the rest of the Class of ’89. I’m not saying he wasn’t good, but they were all good and I’ve never thought of him as being that much better than the rest of them were.

      • J.R. Journey April 6, 2009 at 10:45 pm

        I think Garth totally outdid everybody else largely due to his live shows and his acute marketing sense. But, it’s undeniable that his single releases back then were just one classic after another … ‘The Dance’, ‘Friends In Low Places’, ‘The Thunder Rolls’, ‘Rodeo’, ‘The River’, etc. are all now standards.

        • Razor X April 6, 2009 at 10:53 pm

          There’s no denying that he knew how to market himself. I was never impressed with his live show theatrics. I liked his first two albums a lot — the first one more than the second. The third one was OK. I didn’t buy any more of them after that.

          From a vocal standpoint, I don’t think he can hold a candle to Clint Black, Alan Jackson or Travis Tritt. I can appreciate that he wanted to push the envelope a bit, but I think at times he pushed it too far. Some of those power ballads just don’t suit his voice at all.

  3. Occasional Hope April 7, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    It is a great record. I think Clint Black’s career wound down because he kept on insisting on recording his own material, after his muse had left him. Some of his later recordings are unbelievably dull.

    • Razor X April 7, 2009 at 3:12 pm

      On the other hand, his D’Electrified album, which I believe was his last release for RCA, is brilliant.

      • Occasional Hope April 7, 2009 at 3:39 pm

        Yes, that one’s pretty good, and actually Nothing But Taillights isn’t bad. One Emotion is terrible.

        • Razor X April 7, 2009 at 3:47 pm

          I didn’t like One Emotion much, either. Killin’ Time, Nothin’ But The Taillights and D’Electrified are my three favorites and the ones I keep coming back to. I also liked his “Long Cool EP” which was released digitally last year.

        • Acca Dacca July 18, 2014 at 4:53 pm

          You think One Emotion is terrible? Have you heard his 2004 release Spend My Time? One Emotion isn’t a favorite of mine, either, but at least it has a bit of soul and grit to it. Spend My Time is one of the most anemic country music albums I’ve ever heard.

      • Leeann Ward April 7, 2009 at 4:25 pm

        I LOVE that album! I think it was underrated. It’s just so much fun.

  4. Leeann Ward April 7, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    Sorry, I was talking specifically about delectrified.

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  6. Paul W Dennis April 9, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    Still his best album, or at least his most consistent album. The album did point out a problem that would plague him in later albums – the unwillingness to use songs by other writers.

    Later albums would contain fairly weak self-penned songs where some outside help might have bolstered the album. Mustn’t give up those songwriting royalties , I suppose .

    • Razor X April 9, 2009 at 10:17 pm

      The songwriting royalties may have been a factor, but here’s another downside to using only material that you write yourself: I can remember a discussion on the radio sometime in ’89 or ’90 when Garth started to break away from the pack. There was speculation that he was having more success at the awards shows, because he did use outside writers for some songs, whereas Black did not. That translated into more people voting for Garth.

  7. Kevin J. Coyne April 10, 2009 at 10:19 am

    This album has huge sentimental value for me, as it was my Dad’s favorite country album for a long time. (He’d eventually end up spinning Put Yourself in My Shoes the most.)

    For all the hits it produced, my favorite song wasn’t released: “I’ll Be Gone.” (“You’ve got questions I don’t care to answer, and I don’t get off on leading people on.”)

    • Razor X April 10, 2009 at 10:26 am

      “I’ll Be Gone” was just a bonus track on the CD version. It didn’t appear on the LP or cassette so it’s not surprising that it wasn’t selected to become a single, though it was definitely of sufficient quality to stand on its own and probably would have done well at radio.

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  10. Tom April 29, 2010 at 6:06 am

    …i know you like to get into the mood for the christmas season rather early, but this year you’re even surpassing yourselves, leeann – lol. i’ll have a glass of milk and cookie on that one.

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  12. Acca Dacca July 18, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    Very good album but surprisingly not my favorite as a big Clint Black fan. I’m partial to Nothin’ But the Taillights and The Hard Way, myself. Personally I was a tad letdown by the entirety of this album. I’m not saying that you can’t have diversity, but I wish that more of the songs adhered to the edge and grit of the title track and the somber feel of “A Better Man.” “Straight From the Factory” sounds like its trying to be cute in a Brad Paisley sort of way and makes me cringe a bit when I listen to it (and I’m also a BP fan so that’s saying something). It stinks because I don’t think Clint has devoted an entire album to the honky tonk sound of “Killin’ Time,” with the debatable exception of 2005’s Drinkin’ Songs & Other Logic.

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