My Kind of Country

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

Class of ’89 Album Review: Alan Jackson – ‘Here In The Real World’

hereintherealworldAlan Jackson was not one of the obvious ‘stars’ of the ‘Class of ’89’. His debut single, ‘Blue Blooded Woman’, was released in 1989 to very modest success, and it was not until the following year, when Here In The Real World was released, with the best songs from the album making a genuine impact at radio, that Alan became a star. Even then, I don’t think many people would have predicted that of all the ‘Class of ’89’, Alan Jackson would be the only one still consistently scoring hits on country radio in 2009. In the liner notes to Here In The Real World, Alan is quoted, modestly saying, “You know that country song, ‘Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?’ I don’t know whether I can fill ’em, but I’d sure like to try ’em on.” In retrospect, they seem to have fit pretty well.

Alan was actually one of the first artists signed to Arista Records’ country imprint, which was newly created in 1989, no doubt to capitalize on the burgeoning success of country music in the aftermath of the neotraditional breakthrough of acts like Randy Travis in the previous few years. His debut album was recorded during 1989, but not released until early 1990. It was eventually certified double platinum, and coupled with the successful radio performance of later singles, helped to win Alan the title of the Academy of Country Music’s Best New Male Vocalist in 1990 (following Clint Black).

Alan wrote or co-wrote every song on the album, with the exception of the opening track, the pleasant but unremarkable ‘Ace Of Hearts’. It is hard to tell why this was thought worthy of inclusion, because it does not appear to add much to the record. Perhaps it was thought to be potentially radio-friendly insurance, in case Alan’s own songs did not find favor at radio.

The first single, ‘Blue Blooded Woman’, is one of those songs about a wealthy woman who unaccountably falls for the redneck narrator. This theme was not the tired cliche it is twenty years on, and the lyric is neatly put together (by Alan, producer Keith Stegall and veteran writer Roger Murrah), but already reeked of wishful thinking. Would any girl who shops at Saks Fifth Avenue, really be seriously interested in the guy who lives ‘in Wal-Mart fashion’? It is however rendered an enjoyable track by a vivacious production. It would probably be a massive hit today (unless it was rejected as too country musically), but radio was a little choosier in its material in 1989, and the single failed to crack the top 40.

Arista then released the two instant classics on the album as singles, and
the reward was a pair of top five hits. Alan’s breakthrough hit was the album’s title track, written with Mark Irwin – a gorgeous yearning sad song of resignation, as the protagonist learns that life isn’t like the movies with a guaranteed happy ending, set to a beautiful tune, ornamented with some lovely fiddle and steel guitar. George Jones, cited by Alan in his nod to ‘Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes’, implicitly included Alan in that company by picking this as one of the songs he included on Hits I Missed… And One I Didn’t, his 2005 covers record.

The next single was an even better song – the utterly beautiful, part-spoken ‘Wanted’, which stands as one of Alan’s best written songs and finest vocal performances. Alan and co-writer Charlie Craig crafted a metaphorical conversation in which the narrator places an advertisement for his loved one to forgive him, with carefully constructed, low-key verses and a soaring chorus.

These two songs both made #3 on Billboard, and the follow-up, ‘Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow’, an engaging autobiographical mid-tempo piece about life as a struggling musician, went one place better. The fifth and final single, ‘I’d Love You All Over Again’, was a tender ballad inspired by Alan’s ten-year marriage, and this was his first #1 hit (although ‘Wanted’ and ‘Here In the Real World’ are both better songs, and better remembered today). As befits so personal a lyric, it was one of the songs Alan wrote without outside assistance.

Another very personal lyric Alan wrote alone was ‘Home’, the first in a series of tributes to his parents he has produced over the years. It is both sweet and true, and was probably a little too specific for radio play, despite the very singable chorus. The album is filled out by a selction of mid to up-tempo tracks which are pleasant, and would have been reasonably radio-friendly, but which are not that memorable. ‘Short Sweet Ride’ is lifted by some fine fiddle playing from Rob Hajacos; ‘She Don’t Get the Blues’ offers a lightly bluesy picture of a heartbroken femme fatale’; and ‘Dog River Blues’ has a little story about a failed marriage which could do with some more details to flesh it out.

The production by Keith Stegall and Scott Hendricks is solidly country and sympathetic to Alan’s voice, a long way from the flashy production offered on most of today’s debut albums. It is not the best album Alan Jackson has ever made, or his most commercially successful, but it did allow him to set out his stall as a genuine country singer-songwriter who combined a common touch with the ability to craft a good song, and launched a career still in full swing twenty years later. It is still worth checking out, and readily available.

Grade: B+

13 responses to “Class of ’89 Album Review: Alan Jackson – ‘Here In The Real World’

  1. Leeann Ward April 15, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Am I remembering correctly that “Home” was released later from his first Greatest Hits collection?

  2. Razor X April 15, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Nice write-up. Back when this album was new, I could look a the Top 10 albums on any given week and I’d have at least 7 or 8 of them, as opposed to now when it’s a rarity to own even one album that charts that high.

  3. Mike K April 16, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Good job on the review. Played this (the cassette version) til it literally wore out mid-play. I would have bet you dollars to donuts that Clint Black would’ve been the one to still be around (and I don’t mean on ‘The Apprentice’).

    I don’t know if Alan would make it today if he showed up in Nashville. Lanky, goofy haircut, kinda bashful in interviews.

    Razor, I agree about looking at the charts and being happy that I had several of the albums. I looked at this week’s chart and I own 1 of the top 10 (Jamey still holding on at number 9) and I buy a ton of music.

  4. Hubba April 16, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    I remember listening to the whole album for the first time a few years ago and after “Ace Of Hearts” thinking “I’m glad we gave this guy a chance to show us what else he could do.”

  5. Paul W Dennis April 17, 2009 at 4:06 am

    Probably the most consistant member of the Class of ’89 and certainly the most “real” , this was a fine debut album, one I still play occasionally.

  6. Leeann Ward April 17, 2009 at 10:21 am

    I think my favorite Jackson album is Who I Am, but this is a good indicator of what was to come from him.

    • J.R. Journey April 17, 2009 at 10:54 am

      That’s definitely my favorite one too, Leeann. Everything I Love and Under the Influence are excellent too.

      • Occasional Hope April 17, 2009 at 4:01 pm

        I agree with both of you – Who I Am is his best overall, followed by Everything I Love and Under The Influence. After that I think I’d go for Don’t Rock The Jukebox.

  7. Meg April 17, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Just picked this album up on the $5 rack at Walmart thanks to our emphasis on the Class of ’89 this month! Am loving it! Great write up!

  8. Karlie April 17, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    Oh Alan, I love you!

    Great write-up, great trip down memory lane.

  9. Pingback: “Here In The Real World” | Alan Jackson « 3 CHORDS A DAY

  10. Pingback: Spotlight Artist: Alan Jackson « My Kind Of Country

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