My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Alabama – ‘Roll On’

51HP6DKBDSLAlabama released their eighth album in 1984. Produced as per usual by Harold Shedd, Roll On was certified quintuple platinum and charted four number one hits.

The title track, an uptempo trucker’s anthem written by Dave Loggins, was issued as the lead single. Instead of focuses on the plight of the trucker, “Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)” centers on the man’s wife and her immense worry when she fears he may be dead. Randy Owen gives an inspired performance on what’s become one of the band’s most iconic singles.

The heavily AC-leaning “When We Make Love” came next. Owen led with his tender vocal, which added sincerity to the ballad. Shedd also give the number plenty of breathing room, which makes up for the country signifiers it was lacking. To this day it remains one of my favorite Alabama ballads.

They followed with another iconic single, “If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You Gotta Have A Fiddle In The Band).” The Dan Mitchell and Murry Kellum penned number has grown thin on me from over exposure, but it’s a great song and a bright spot from the barren landscape of 1980s commercial country music.

I also quite enjoy the album’s finale single, “(There’s A) Fire In The Night.” It’s a tale of lust, with the man far from the watchful eyes of his wife. Until writing this review I never knew RCA issued two videos for the song. The first featured a scandalous interpretation of the lyric, partial nudity, and bizarre tattoos. That was pulled in favor of the famous one featuring the band around the campfire. I like elements of the first one best, as it actually fit Bob Corbin’s campy lyric.

Robert Byrne and Alan Schulman co-wrote “The End of the Lyin,’” while Maurice R. Hirsch wrote “Country Side of Life.” The former is an Eagles influenced mid-tempo number while the former has an unappealing R&B influence.

Teddy Gentry takes a rare lead vocal on “The Boy,” a father-son relationship ballad he co-wrote with Owen and Greg Fowler. The track is written from the father’s prospective as he watches his son grow up. Gentry’s smooth vocal lessens the country elements of the song while the lyric suffocates the track with schmaltz. It’s not one of the album’s better numbers.

Owen also had writing credits on three other tracks, including the spectacular “I’m Not That Way Anymore.” A co-write with Gentry, Fowler and Mark Herndon, the song was recorded live at the now defunct Reunion Arena in Dallas. A giant missed opportunity; it should’ve been a single and another of their massive hits. I hadn’t heard it until now, but it might be one of my favorite things they’ve ever done.

The remaining two songs were credited solely to Owen. “Carolina Mountain Dewe” is a listless ballad about a lonely couple kept apart geographically. Thankfully he rebounds with “Food On The Table,” a homespun tribute to the loving home from which was raised.

Roll On is a quite enjoyable and consistently strong Alabama record. Shedd’s production doesn’t lean particularly country but it works more often then it fails. Roll On finds Alabama hitting their artistic stride.

Grade: A-

3 responses to “Album Review: Alabama – ‘Roll On’

  1. Ken September 10, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    Like their previous three albums Alabama released this LP early in the calendar year and mined it for singles for the balance of that year. The album made history because it was the first country album to be shipped platinum and the first country album by a group to score four #1 singles. Four songs from that album were remixed and/or edited for single release.

    Roll On (18 Wheeler) had three edits. The sound of the engine starting and CB radio effects at the beginning were deleted. (One of their tour bus drivers provided the CB talk) Also the air horns & sound of the truck driving away at the end were eliminated. A repeat of the chorus just before the final ending was also cut. The single version opens cold with their vocal.
    [album 4:24/single 3:42]

    If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You Gotta Have A Fiddle In The Band) released as the third single received a remix and edits. The remix increased the level of the drums that are heard more prominently. The 41 second “Eyes Of Texas” prelude on the LP was excised as was a repeat of the chorus just before the first fiddle breakdown. The fade-out of the final fiddle breakdown was also trimmed by several seconds. This record holds the distinction of having the longest title to ever reach #1 on the country chart!
    [album: 4:25 with Eyes Of Texas into & 3:44 without / single:3:20]

    I’m Not That Way Anymore preceded If You’re Gonna Play In Texas on the LP and was released as that single’s flip side. It received enough significant airplay to merit a “tag-along B side” listing on the Billboard survey. Randy’s spoken words over the intro were extracted for the single as was an extra chorus just prior to the guitar solo near the end. [album 4:47 / single 3:59]

    (There’s A) Fire In The Night was remixed for the single release increasing the volume of the drums and making the overall recording sound brighter. The ending faded 14 seconds earlier than the LP. [album 4:12 / single 3:58]

    I saw the original “banned” video for Fire In The Night in 1984 when the RCA promotion guy brought a VHS tape to my radio station. Thought it was an interesting interpretation of the song but also believed the video was a bit too intense for the 1984 country audience. Most people did not get tattoos back then. if you saw them on a guy it was usually a biker or somebody that served in the military. The only time you saw them on a woman was if she was a biker or in the circus. The fact that tattoos played a prominent part in the video made the story seem even creepier at the time.

  2. Occasional Hope September 11, 2015 at 3:21 am

    That banned video is really bizarre – compelling, but definitely creepy.

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