Capitalizing on his newfound superstar status, McGraw found an even stronger set of songs for his fifth album A Place In The Sun that bowed in May 1999. Another CMA Album of the Year winner, it was accompanied by a print campaign (in Country Weekly) that read – “how do you follow up the album of the year? With the album of the decade.”
The first single, “Please Remember Me” followed “For A Little While” and hit #1 in May of 1999. A cover of Rodney Crowell’s song co-written with Will Jennings, it marked a departure for McGraw, as it was darker in tone than most of his previous singles. A soaring ballad, the string section, drums, and softer elements combined to create his most pop sounding song to date. But it worked since it was also his most ambitious lyrically and a fine moment of introspection from the singer who brought “Indian Outlaw” into the top ten five years prior.
“Something Like That,” the infamous “barbecue stain on my white t-shirt” song would follow, spending a month at #1 that September/October and amassing a life of its own. Written by Rick Ferrell and Keith Follesé, it spoke of summer love and a memorable Labor Day weekend “when I was seventeen:”
I had a barbeque stain on my white tee shirt
She was killing me in that miniskirt
Skippin’ rocks on the river by the railroad tracks
She had a suntan line and red lipstick
I worked so hard for that first kiss
And a heart don’t forget something like that
I never actually minded the song, and in the years since its proven quite strong for an ode to summer romance. Compared to the awful summertime songs of today (“Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” “Water,” and “All Over Me” to name a few), it strikes the tone perfectly and doesn’t go overboard with frat boy humor (references to hot babes, beer, “country girls,” etc) or mention time spent riding around dirt roads in trucks. it was also the most played song of any genre during the 2000s racking up 487,343 spins at radio between Jan 1, 2000 and Dec 17, 2009.
“My Best Friend,” an obvious ode celebrating McGraw’s marriage to Faith Hill came next, topping the charts in Feb 2000. A sweet love song, written by Bill Luther and Aimee Mayo, it was an effective ballad and featured a memorable opening with nice acoustic guitar riffs and much like Blake Shelton’s “God Gave Me You” it chronicled (only much better) the ways in which the love of a woman saved the man’s life:
You stand by me you believe in me
Like nobody ever has
When my world goes crazy
You’re right there to save me
You make me see how much I have
And I still tremble when we touch
And oh the look in your eyes
When we make love
The fourth single “Some Things Never Change” would struggle up the charts and peak at #7, the first single of McGraw’s not to hit #1 or #2 since “Maybe We Should Just Sleep On It” peaked at #4 in 1996. I never really cared for the song myself, it was kind of vanilla and I found nothing particularly memorable in the soft fiddle and gentle percussion laced production.
McGraw would come roaring back with “My Next Thirty Years,” the fifth and final single. Written by solely by Phil Vassar, it was a rare example of introspection meets novelty. The protagonist is listing out all the elements of his life he’s planning on changing during the next 30 years of his life including eat more salads and drink less beer. But in the end he makes a confession about what’s most important:
My next thirty years will be the best years of my life
Raise a little family and hang out with my wife
Spend precious moments with the ones that I hold dear
Make up for lost time here, in my next thirty years
In my next thirty years
I always liked the song but wouldn’t rank it among my favorite of his singles. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s always grown thin on repeated listening and is one of those songs that once you’ve heard it a few times, the novelty tends to wear off. But it has a nice upbeat production of acoustic guitars and drums that compliment the lyrics well.
Unlike Everywhere, A Place In The Sun showed marked growth in the picking of album cuts. There is less filler here than on any album McGraw had released thus far. My favorite of these tracks, “Señorita Margarita,” should’ve been a single in place of “Some Things Never Change.” It’s upbeat, irresistibly catchy, and more country than any of the singles that were released.
Written by Bob DiPiero and George Teren, I first heard this story of a man drowning his loneliness in a margarita, at George Strait’s country music festival tour (remember those days?) stop at Gillette Stadium in May 1999 and fell in love at first listen.
My other favorite album track is “The Trouble With Never.” The opening track on the album, it’s a fiddle-laced country shuffle in which McGraw displays the twangy qualities of voice. The lyrics, written by Mark Nesler and Tony Martin, offer a clever take on the ways in which never can be a catch-22:
If I never bring her flowers I’ll never see her smile
If I never try to kiss her she’ll never drive me wild
And I’ll never feel the need to say those three little words
But the trouble with never is never, never works
Other worthy album tracks include the tender ballad “You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” the steel guitar laced and radio ready “Carry On,” the power ballad “Eyes of a Woman,” and the title track.
Overall, A Place In The Sun builds on the success of Everywhere and is a stronger album in every way. It’s nice to see effort here placed towards finding strong album cuts opposed to disposable filler. But for me, I find it very hard to top the irresistibly charming accents of Everywhere.
Copies can be obtained very cheaply on Amazon and iTunes.