After the monster hit that was ‘Swinging’ the only way was down for John Anderson. He continued to incorporate pop and rock influences in his music for few years after All The People Are Talking, with diminishing returns both commercially and artistically. He was still hitting the top 10 sporadically, but in 1987 the time came to move on from Warner Brothers and try a new start, with a new label (MCA), new producer (Jimmy Bowen), and new sound (back to country, albeit less hardcore than his earliest work). The appropriately titled Blue Skies Again was the first of John’s comeback attempts.
The leadoff single, ‘When Your Yellow Brick Road Turns Blue’, failed to crack the top 40, although it is an excellent song with a beautiful melody with nods to ‘Over The Rainbow’, and has one of John’s finest vocal performances, as he portrays a husband offering unconditional love to a restless wife in the process of leaving him to pursue her dreams:
“You say that somewhere over the rainbow there’s a star that youve been wishing on
Well, is the grass really all that greener than here where you belong?
I hope that you find what you’re after and all of your dreams come true
But remember that I’ll always be here when your yellow brick road turns blue.”
John’s most successful single on MCA was ‘Somewhere Between Ragged And Right’, a duet with Waylon Jennings which Jennings wrote with Roger Murrah. The only song on the album to venture away from relationship themes, it sets out a series of interesting similes but offers no real resolution:
“We’re all polyester poets and pickers of a kind
With far too many questions for the answers in our minds…
Like a busload of taxi drivers learning how to fly
We’re on automatic pilot driftin’ through our lives.”Sadly, the pairing of two of the most iconic and distinctive voices in country music doesn’t really work, as the two make no attempt to blend and seem to be fighting for precedence on the lines where they sing together.
The third and last single from the album was ‘It’s Hard To Keep This Ship Together’, which John wrote with Fred Carter Jr. It was the closest track to the more rock-influenced sound of recent years, but failed to make an impact at radio; not altogether surprising, as not only had the tide of commercial country music moved in the direction of the neotraditionalists, but the song itself is not very interesting. The metaphor of stormy weather addressed to a rocky relationship works better in the post-breakup title track, a mournful ballad written by Michael P Heeney with some sweet fiddle from Joe Spivey.
‘There’s Nothing Left For Me To Take For Granted’, written by John with Lionel A Delmore is another gloomy look at the aftermath of a broken relationship, and is a very good song as the protagonist finds all the couple’s old friends want nothing to do with him, and “the hardest part for me is stayin’ sober., and livin’ inthe past with broken dreams”. On a more positive note, John wrote a cheerful mid-tempo love song with his wife Jamie, ‘Just For You’. It is not particularly memorable, but pleasant filler.
By far the best of John’s four compositions here is the brilliant traditional-sounding ‘Lying In Her Arms’, which he wrote with Paul Kennerley. This starts out sounding like a cheating song (“I was lying in her arms, not a word I said was true”) but it is really about living with a substitute for a true love who has left:
“I didn’t mean to hurt her
But somehow I think she knew
I was lying in her arms
Wishing she was you.”
Then with time, and loved by a good woman, his feelings eventually change:
“She stood by me through long lonely nights
When you did me wrong, she did me right
Now I’m lying in her arms
And I’ve come to love her so
She’s been good to me
And I’ll never let her go
And now you want me back
Well, I don’t think you can see
I’m lying in her arms
‘Cause that’s where I want to be.”
The best of the outside songs is a great divorce song written by Paul Craft, ‘His And Hers’, as the couple have separate everything, culminating
“In the courtroom, two sides – his and hers
It’s a question of pride – his and hers.”
‘Quittin’ Time’ is an agonized ballad about realizing the relationship is over (“all we can do is call it a day ’cause we sure can’t call it love”), which is slightly spoiled by an intrusive 80s pop ballad backing, but well sung and well written (by John Jarrard, Ben Dover and Russell Smith). Finally folk-rocker Mark Germino’s ‘I Make It Hard to Lose’ is an interestingly oblique song which has an unhappy relationship at its heart.
Sadly, neither Blue Skies Again nor the follow-up, 10, sold particularly well. John tried one more major label (Capitol) for 1991’s Too Tough To Tame, with no better results. But a change in his fortunes was just around the corner….
Blue Skies Again is not currently commercially available, but used CDs can be found cheaply. Although it is not one of John Anderson’s best albums, it is worth a hearing.