Like most established artists, Alan Jackson recorded an album of songs in tribute to the artists that influenced him as a musician, singer, and songwriter. Some artists do this after their commercial stars begin to fade and others release covers albums while they’re at their apex, like Alan did. Aptly titled Under the Influence, the track list is taken directly from the jukeboxes of America. Though he picked some obscure hits, these tunes are all honky tonk classics and the subjects of drinking, cheating, and hard times are aplenty throughout. Meanwhile, Jackson and producer Keith Stegall stick close to the original arrangements on many of the songs, and even the album’s cover art is a throwback to yesteryear with its old-fashioned font and the listing of every track on the album’s cover.
Kicking things off is the album’s first single, ‘Pop a Top’. The tune was written by Nat Stuckey and was originally a hit for Jim Ed Brown, whose version included a sound effect supplied by the opening of a soda can. Jackson employed the same tactic here, but only on the song’s intro. The get high when you get low tune peaked at #6 on the Country Singles chart in late 1999.
Gene Watson took the darkly brilliant ‘Farewell Party’ to the top 5 in 1979. The slow country waltz features the narrator singing of his own funeral to the woman who he knows will ‘be glad when he’s gone’. On the brighter side is ‘Kiss An Angel Good Morning’. This is one that follows as close to the original as any on the album, and Alan’s warm vocal matches Charley Pride’s note for note.
One of my favorites on the set is the clever ‘Right In the Palm of Your Hand’. This med-tempo number tells of a man and woman who are never satisfied in their relationship, with both always looking for greener pastures. Neither realize that true love is ‘right in the palm of their hand’. Hank Williams Jr. penned the semi-autobiographical ‘The Blues Man’ in the late 70s . With its smooth melody and almost-love song chorus, it’s mostly melodically driven, but the real punch from the song comes from the lyrics. Many songs have been written about the ups and downs of touring life, but none as poignant or memorable as this song. Released as a single, the darkly honest lyric might have been a bit much for country radio in early 2000. The song failed on the charts, barely cracking the top 40 and now holds the distinction as Jackson’s lowest-charting single since his debut.
A fiddle-driven take on John Anderson’s early hit ‘She Just Started Liking Cheating Songs’ is another highlight. This light-hearted tale of a man worrying about his woman’s fidelity features a snazzy electric guitar solo mid-song and sounds like a dance-hall classic. Likewise, the bouncy ‘It Must Be Love’ is the most-modern sounding on the album. This cover of the Don Williams song went all the way to #1 on the Country Singles chart in 2000.
Alan has recorded several George Jones hits during his career. He appeared on the 1994 duets album, The Bradley Barn Session, performing ‘A Good Year for the Roses’ with the Possum. Alan has also appeared on tribute albums to Jones and name-checked him on more than one of his own songs. It was a no-brainer that Alan would include a Jones hit on his own tribute album and he went with George’s 1973 hit ‘Once You’ve Had the Best’. It was also during this time that Jones had a hit with his own song ‘Choices’. Jones was asked to perform an abridged version of the hit at that year’s CMA Awards while Alan was asked to perform ‘Pop a Top’. Jones refused to perform at all if he couldn’t sing his entire song. Jackson was furious about the treatment of his legendary friend and protested onstage. Mid-way through his own song, he stopped the band and launched into Jones’ ‘Choices’ before walking off the stage and directly out of the Grand Ole Opry House.
‘Margaritaville’ sounds a bit out-of-place among the country classics that make up Under the Influence. Still, Alan’s twangy delivery and the addition of the steel guitar to the song makes it sounds more like an Alan Jackson song than one would think. The Parrothead anthem will forever be associated with Jimmy Buffett no matter how country a singer makes it, and Jackson wisely played on that fact too, bringing Buffett out to perform the song’s final chorus with him.
A commercial and critical success, Under the Influence landed at #2 on the Country Albums chart and inside the top 10 on the all-genre chart. Like all of Jackson’s previous releases, it would earn a platinum certification. It’s a telling look into the music and songs that Alan Jackson would consider personal favorites and even though this is a collection of covers, the album isn’t really all that different from Jackson’s own studio albums, proving that he has held the banner for traditional country high throughout his career.
Under the Influence is widely available, including at amazon.