George Strait’s fourth album, released in 1984, marked yet another advance in his career. He started working with a new producer (his third), label head Jimmy Bowen, but for the first time George himself received a co-production credit, something he has done ever since. There was no obvious change in musical direction, as the album was once more a solidly country production, still flying in the face of country radio’s pop influences. The musicians are in great form throughout, especially fiddle great Johnny Gimble, who positively sparkles. George’s vocals are still a little rawer than his more recent fans will be accustomed to hearing him.
The album offers a fine set of songs which have a pretty cohesive feel, despite a range of tempos, thanks to the solid production, and the subject matter. The songs here cover two basic themes: honky tonking, and lost love/trying to find someone new, with the two merging at times. Indeed, a number of the songs could be interepreted as parts of the same story, and with different sequencing and a couple of changes (omitting ‘The Fireman’ and possibly ‘The Cowboy Rides Away’), this could almost have been presented as a concept album.
The decisions paid off. This was George’s second straight #1 album, eventually selling platinum, and it supported three top 5 singles. It also won both ACM and CMA Album of the Year awards in 1985, and contributed to his winning the Male Vocalist title from both organizations. A massive sea-change was about to roll over the country music industry with an influx of new traditonally-inspired artists, but of all the established artists, George Strait was perhaps in the best position.
Favored songwriter this time around was the legendary Sanger D Shafer, who contributed four of the songs, including the title track, which he wrote with his then-wife Darlene Shafer. ‘Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind’ was a #1 hit single and is still one of George Strait’s great classics. Instantly recognisable from the plaintive fiddle opening, George’s vocal is perfectly restrained with just an underlying hint of the pain beneath, as his jilted husband speaks to the ex-wife who has abandoned him for another man in Dallas.
George also picked Shafer’s much-recorded ‘Honky Tonk Saturday Night’, which had been on John Anderson’s Wild And Blue a couple of years earlier. Shafer also wrote the beautifully measured ‘What Did You Expect Me To Do’, which is one of my favorite tracks. Here, another cuckolded husband, this time one who has moved on, offers a gentle reproach to his cheating ex:
“Each time I forgave you, you grew bolder
And each time you hurt me, my heart grew colder
Sure, I loved you, but I’ve found someone new
What did you expect me to do?”
Shafer’s fourth cut was the mid-tempo ‘I Need Someone Like Me’, which feels like a sequel to ‘Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind’. The lonely protagonist dreams of finding a woman in the same boat so they can cry on one another’s shoulders:
“Someone lonesome, someone hurtin, someone blue –
That’ll be you
We’ll help each other start all over
A tear for a tear, a shoulder for a shoulder
You’ll be someone that’s born to lose
‘Cause I need someone like me to hold onto.”
It may not sound like the most promising basis for a relationship, but George sells it in the song, as he conveys a mixture of hope and unhappiness. What might be a third stage in the same story comes with the charming waltz, ‘You’re Dancing This Dance All Wrong’, written by John Porter McMeans and Ron Moore, as the protagonist thinks he may have found new love:
“The way that you touch me I want to give in
But it’s not so easy holding you when
You’re dancing this dance all wrong
New steps don’t come easy when old memories hang on
I’m finding I’m falling as the music plays on
Keep dancing this dance all wrong.”
The second single was the melodic ‘The Cowboy Rides Away’, written by Sonny Throckmorton and Casey Kelly which allowed George to exercise the smoother side of his voice as he tracks the end of yet another relationship. The final single was the frenetic double-entendre of ‘The Fireman’ (written by Mack Vickery and Wayne Kemp), not one of my personal favorites despite some smoking fiddle.
Kemp also wrote ‘I Should Have Watched That First Step’, which I much prefer, a rueful admission of regret from a cheating husband who can see his wife slipping away as a result of his own actions:
“Though she’s still lovin’ me
It’s not the way it used to be
That first step did something to her mind
I watched her slip away a little more every day
For my conscience couldn’t live with all that shame
And she’s growing colder since the day I told her
And the love we had will never be the same.”
An unrepentant cheater makes his appearance in Fred J Freiling’s sprightly and surprisingly cheerful ‘Love Comes From the Other Side of Town’, as love has staled at home:
“The feelings that we shared are just no longer there
And love comes from the other side of town
When love means an hour with your stand-in
And not an empty house where love just has been.”
Finally, there is a very authentic-sounding helping of western swing in the form of ‘Any Old Time’; it is insubstantial lyrically but very enjoyable thanks to the impeccable musicianship.
This was George’s finest album to date, and one which helped to consolidate his status as one of the major male country stars of the mid 80s. Its pure country sound has not dated in the manner of more pop contemporaries, and with the success of this album George Strait was in an ideal position to compete on the same stage as the new traditionalists who were about to burst on the scene and change the face of country music, and for whom he had helped to pave the way.
It is still readily available.