George Strait’s winning streak, which began in the 1980s, showed no signs of abating as the 1990s began. The Country Music Association named him Entertainer of the Year for the second year in a row in 1990, and that same year he released what went on to be the biggest hit single of his career. “Love Without End, Amen”, the lead single from his 1990 album Livin’ It Up, became his 19th #1 hit overall, and the first multi-week #1 of his career, spending five weeks in the top slot in June and July. This feat is particularly impressive considering that at the time Strait was an artist about to enter his second decade on the charts. At a stage in his career when most artists begin to experience a commercial decline, Strait’s commercial fortunes were continuing to expand.
Written by Aaron Barker (who also wrote Strait’s earlier hit “Baby Blue”), “Love Without End, Amen” examines the relationship and unconditional love between a father and a son. In the first verse, the protagonist is a child afraid to face his father after getting into a fight at school. In the second verse, he finds himself in the role of father, when his own son finds himself in similar circumstances. In the third verse, the singer dreams that he has died and is ready to face his maker on Judgment Day. Between each verse is the chorus that delivers a simple yet profound message:
Let me tell you a secret about a father’s love
A secret that my daddy said was just between us
You see, daddies don’t just love their children every now and then,
It’s a love without end, amen.
Livin’ It Up was released in May 1990, while the lead single was still climbing the charts. It became Strait’s ninth consecutive #1 album. The cover art shows a confident Strait, in a tuxedo and jeans, and proudly displaying a belt buckle that acknowledged his status as the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year. His Ace in the Hole band joined him on two tracks — the Harlan Howard-penned “Someone Had To Teach You”, which opens the album, and “She Loves Me (She Don’t Love You)”, which was written and originally recorded by Conway Twitty. Eight years later, it would also be covered by Gary Allan. Strait was also joined once again by steel guitarist Paul Franklin and the legendary Johnny Gimble, who played fiddle throughout the album.
The second single released from the album was “Drinking Champagne”, written by Bill Mack, a DJ who wrote LeAnn Rimes’ breakthrough hit “Blue”. A perfect showcase for Strait’s crooning, this tune features some saxophone, an instrument I normally dislike on a country record, but in this case it works nicely. “Drinking Champagne” peaked at #4 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.
No George Strait album would be complete without a Dean Dillon song or two, and Livin’ It Up is no exception. Dillon contributed two cuts this time around — “I’ve Come To Expect It From You”, which was co-written with Buddy Cannon, and ” We’re Supposed To Do That Now And Then”, which was co-written with David Anthony and Joe Royer. “I’ve Come To Expect It From You” was the third single released from the album, and like “Love Without End, Amen”, it spent five weeks at #1.
Joining an already impressive list of songwriters on this album is the legendary Carl Perkins, who wrote the retro-sounding “When You’re A Man On Your Own”, one of my favorite songs on the album.
Livin’ It Up demonstrated a shift, albeit a very subtle one, from Strait’s 80s work. It is less Western-swing oriented and a little more radio-friendly than most of his 80s albums, but “radio-friendly” was not yet a pejorative term in 1990. The neotraditionalist movement was still in full swing, though this was about to change in the near future. Strait and co-producer Jimmy Bowen managed to put together a very satisfying album that was contemporary by the standards of the day, without being overproduced, and which still holds up nearly two decades after its release. Still readily available from Amazon and iTunes, it is a worthy addition to any country music lover’s collection.