After his wildly successful Wild and Blue album, propelled by the smash crossover hit, ‘Swingin’, John Anderson’s next album featured much of the same formula as the previous release. So while there are still plenty of stone-country moments here, we also find John branching out into the rock and roll sound that he embraced for the rest of the 1980s. All The People Are Talkin’ was released in September 1983 and reached the #9 spot on the albums chart as the lead single was climbing the singles charts. ‘Black Sheep’ would reach the top in December of that year and the follow-up single would also reach the top 10 in early 1984.
Danny Darst and Robert Altman penned the growling rocker, ‘Black Sheep’. This clever tune tells the tale of a truck driver who, in his family’s eyes doesn’t measure up to his professional siblings. Though his parents don’t seem to understand, he’s just as happy in his own element as they are in their ivory tower lifestyle: ‘Yeah I drive me a big ol’ semi truck I’m makin’ payments on a two room shack/My wife she waits on tables and at night she rubs my back’. It’s a very relatable song. The message of living your life on your own terms, even though it doesn’t meet your family’s expectations, is very universal.
Another grooving track was released to radio with ‘Let Somebody Else Drive’, and crested at #10. Merle Kilgore and Mack Vickery wrote the song, which was adopted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving as an anthem for the group. Though the song’s message is anti-drunk-driving, it’s a rocking tune in zydeco fashion complete with horns and strings.
The album opens with the title track, an uptempo ditty written by Fred Carter Jr. In this tune, driven by some snazzy sax, the narrator’s friends are all telling him the things his lady has been up to, but he chooses not to believe them. Love is blind and blindness is bliss. Twin fiddles kick off ‘Blue Lights and Bubbles’, one of my favorite songs on the album. A twist on the old ‘get out to a smoky, neon-lit bar to get over you’ tune, you can almost hear the beer caps popping off as it plays.
The horn-driven ‘Haunted House’ sounds a bit out of place, but it’s one of John Anderson’s best vocal performances on the album. Listening to the album to write this review was my first exposure to most of these songs, and from the title I expected the haunted house to be an analogy for loneliness. But this is a tune about a house inhabited by a spirit who ring bells, clang chains, and even tells the house’s owner ‘don’t you be here when the morning comes‘. John’s southern drawl is in full force as he sings his reply, ‘Yes, I’ll be here when the morning comes/I’ll be right here and I ain’t gonne run/Cause I bought this house and you know I’m boss/Aint’ no haint gonna run me off.‘
‘Things Ain’t Been The Same Around The Farm’ also has the horn section in full swing. John Anderson can really sell a novelty song, even one with lyrics as silly as this. He convincingly sings about the ‘hound dog sleeping with the house cat’ and how ‘that ain’t right’. There’s not much country about the song aside from the lyric – the band rocks with the force and power of any R&B or rock group. And they sure do it well.
For a healthy dose of steel, provided ably by Buck Reed, ‘Look Followed Me Home’ is a good choice. Mark Sherrill and Becky Hobbs penned this stone-country waltz about a man who finds another heartbroken soul in a honky tonk. The barrom ballad, ‘Call On Me’, will also help you get your steel fix on and will provide you with just the right amount of honky-tonk piano and fiddle to spare. Anderson sounds completely lovesick on both tracks as well.
‘Occasional Eagle’ could have been the prequel to Anderson’s 1992 hit, ‘Seminole Wind’. Another Fred Carter Jr. song, it tells of the majesty of the birds. The poignant and meaningful tune was the first of John’s championing of those who couldn’t speak for themselves. John Anderson sang about these things dear to his heart in his music without being preachy or pointing the finger of blame. The second verse is about the dwindling population of our national bird:
When I was younger and without a care
For granted I thought he would always be there
But now I only hear stories that the great bird of truth is alive
With a fist in my pocket I’m prayin’ an eternal prayer that the great bird of truth will survive
The saxophone and the flute are credited to Bill Poetz. And they’re back on the album’s closer, ‘Old Mexico’. This follows the theme of recent hits by Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith: the singer rendezvous in Mexico, meets a pretty senorita, and comes back home broke, but with a helluva memory. I can dig this laid-back arrangement though, and the flute-playing in the chorus gives the song a really cool vibe.
All The People Are Talkin’ was produced by John Anderson and Lou Bradley, and features John’s sister Donna Kay singing harmony throughout. John Anderson was always very family-oriented and that dedication to both the people he loves and his craft is very evident on this record. John Anderson cemented his status as the good ol’ boy’s good ol’ boy with this release. In the process, he gave us one of his most eclectic and enjoyable sets, and certainly one of the most varied. The down-side was that some of John’s more traditional-minded fans didn’t quite know how to take this new side of him. ‘Black Sheep’ would be his last chart-topper for a decade, before he saw major resurgence in popularity with the country boom on the early 1990s. The up-side, however, was that John Anderson conquered these new styles artfully and with ease.
Listen to ‘Black Sheep’ or check out this live performance from Farm Aid ’87.
All The People Are Talkin’ was re-released in 2008 and is available readily from Amazon.