After signing him in 1977, Warner Brothers took their time developing John Anderson, testing the waters with a series of singles at country radio, most of which failed to chart. Finally, in 1980 they took the plunge, and released his self-titled debut album, produced by Norro Wilson. It did not sell particularly well, but it was a launching pad for his career and although some aspects of the production have dated a little (particularly the background vocals), it stands up very well today. Indeed, it remains, in my opinion, one of the best debut albums by any country singer ever. The album showcased John’s hardcore country voice with some excellent songs, five of them co-written by the singer himself. The overriding theme is heartbreak, and John’s sometimes raw voice imbues them with authentic sadness.
The first song likely to have brought John Anderson to the ears of county fans was ‘The Girl At The End Of The Bar’, which just squeezed into the top 40 back in 1978, and deserved to do much better. It was written by John with Lionel Delmore (son and nephew of the Delmore Brothers, one the most successful early country duos), who has been an enduring writing partner for John Anderson over the years. Rather along the lines of Joe Nichols’ more recent hit ‘She Only Smokes When She Drinks’, this song paints a portrait of a woman who has been unlucky in love and now just wants to be left alone with her drink:
“She’s not there for company
She don’t like to remember
She once let herself go too far
She’s not there to complain
She just wants to remain
The girl at the end of the bar…
She don’t play the jukebox
She’s lived all those sad songs first hand
What’s made her so bitter
And why love has quit her
Is because she has loved the wrong man.”
The follow-up single stalled just outside the top 40, and was not included here, but ‘Low Dog Blues’, another Anderson/Delmore collaboration did better, just missing the top 30, although it is by far the least interesting track on the album. The pair wrote two further songs here, both very good: the sorrowful ballad ‘It Looks Like The Party Is Over’, about the end of a relationship, and the bluesy hillbilly groove of ‘Havin’ Hard Times’, a lament on the subject of hard economic times which strikes a topical chord again today, as John complains, “What used to be a dollar ain’t worth a silver dime”.
John’s other writing credit on this album is for one of my favorite tracks, ‘You’re Right, I’m Wrong, I’m Sorry’, which he wrote with Betty Gallup and Ervan James, and which closes the set. This sweet-sounding but desperately sad song is very reminiscent of Lefty Frizzell:
“You’re right, our love is over
It’s wrong to still pretend
I’m sorry – oh, so sorry –
This love of mine won’t end
You’re right, I’m wrong, I’m sorry,
I know I must let go
I don’t know how I’ll do it
‘Cause I still love you so”
John’s career had finally started to get some real momentum going with the 1979 release of his #15 single, the now-classic ‘Your Lying Blue Eyes’ (written by Ken McDuffie), as the in-denial protagonist is disillusioned about his cheating wife:
“All these stories I’ve been hearing
I wouldn’t believe that they were true
But just this morning over coffee
You lying blue eyes just told on you”.
It was followed to radio by the equally-classic ‘She Just Started Liking Cheatin’ Songs’, which reached #13. Written by Kent Robbins, the irresistible mid-tempo singalong tune belies the protagonist’s concerns about his woman’s new taste in music, and just what that might imply about her fidelity:
“I don’t know if it’s the cheatin’ she likes, or just the melody“.
I think she could be absolved of any dubious motives if she was listening to songs of the quality of the cheating song contributed to the album by producer Norro Wilson and Wayland Holyfield, ‘Something Borrowed, Something Blue’, which is another of my favorites. The phrase usually associated with weddings is here applied to an illicit love:
“Oh, something borrowed, something blue,
It’s the only kind of love for me and you
Oh there’s nothing any sadder
Than to know I can’t have you
Our love is something borrowed, something blue
In the darkness we escape
To our secret hiding place
Wanting the sun not to shine
And begging for just one more hour of time”.
There is a break from the heartbreak in the entertaining romp of ‘Shoot Low, Sheriff!’, written by Monroe Fields and Carmol Taylor about running moonshine.
‘If There Were No Memories’, which was a top 30 hit for John, is another fine heartbreak song:
“If there were no wishes, perhaps I wouldn’t want
For things I’d like to have and someone I likely won’t
If there would have been no fate
Perhaps we never would have met
And if there were no memories, I wouldn’t have to forget.”
The same writer, Ronal McCown, wrote the shuffle ‘The Arms Of A Fool’, a cover of a hit for Mel Tillis, as the protagonist offers his cheating ex the chance to return. He is so desperate for her presence in his life, he
“Even if I’m standin’ in for someone
It’s all right because I’m standin’ next to you”.
The very last single released from the album (the sixth, counting those which had preceded the album itself) was the most successful, providing John with his first top 10 hit in ‘1959’, written by Gary Gentry. Technically, John was rather too young to sing a song with 20-year-old memories of first love, but he sells it entirely convincingly as he plays the part of the guy reminiscing tenderly of the high school sweetheart who marries “some guy well-to-do” while he is away serving in the army. He is sad rather than bitter as he reads the soon-to-be-broken promise in girlfriend Betty’s letter from 1959:
“Baby I’m yours, I’ll love you always, I’m gonna stand by you til the end of time”.
The album was re-released both digitally and on CD in 2007 and is well worth seeking out.