Ricky Van Shelton released his debut album, Wild-Eyed Dream in May 1987. Produced by Steve Buckingham on Columbia Nashville the record went platinum and spawned three number one hits.
The title track, written by Alan Rhody, served as the first single. The mid-tempo traditional yet contemporary number, which is generic as far as Shelton singles go, peaked at #24. Second single “Crimes of Passion,” an uptempo number, was much better and marked his first appearance in the top 10.
Starting with his third single, Shelton would score five consecutive number one hits between Wild-Eyed Dream and his sophomore effort Loving Proof. The first of those was the stone cold “Somebody Lied,” which Conway Twitty also recorded the same year. It’s an excellent number that perfectly showcases Shelton’s unique vocal phrasing backed by a glorious helping of steel and piano.
The next single, my favorite track on the album, is sonically similar yet even stronger than “Somebody Lied.” “Life Turned Her That Way” is a brilliant Harlan Howard number previously recorded by a slew of artists including Little Jimmy Dickens, Mel Tillis, George Jones, Willie Nelson, and Ernest Tubb. Shelton’s version is the most recognizable, the perfect marriage of singer, arrangement, and lyric.
Roger Miller’s similarly structured ballad “Don’t We All Have The Right” served as the final single. The track is given a slightly more contemporary arrangement with less steel guitar, but works just the same.
For a debut album, it’s surprising how many cover songs Shelton was able to record. More than half of Wild-Eyed Dream is peppered with tracks nodding to country music’s heritage, which seems appropriate given Shelton’s vintage vocal stylings and throwback image.
Shelton resurrects the Buck Owens’ classic “I Don’t Care,” giving it a similar arrangement to the original. He makes the track his own, though, by singing it in his own style opposed to imitating Owens. It’s a smart move that pays off in spades. Shelton closes out the album with his version of Merle Haggard’s “Working Man Blues,” once again nodding to Haggard through the production while vocally making the song his own. Like “I Don’t Care,” it’s excellent and worthy of inclusion on the project.
“Crazy Over You” wasn’t a cover when Shelton recorded it, just another version of the song that would introduce Foster & Lloyd the following year. Both versions are nearly identical; marking one place Shelton doesn’t bring uniqueness to a track. The remaining tracks on Wild-Eyed Dream consisted of original material. “Baby, I’m Ready” is a bluesy honky-tonk number while “Ultimately Fine” is an ear-catching slice of rockabilly.
As a whole, Wild-Eyed Dream is an excellent introduction to Shelton as an artist who kept one foot in the genre’s past while staying on top of the neo-traditional trends that were dominating at the time. He also didn’t sound like anyone else on the radio, which helped him standout even more. As far as debut albums go, this is one of the better ones, and comes highly recommended.