Vern’s final studio album for Compleat was released in 1985. Produced by Vern with Robert John Jones, a songwriter probably best known for the Kendalls’ big hit ‘Thank God For The Radio’, the sound is more subtle and less dated than his previous albums. There are still some string arrangements, but far less prominent than before, while Vince Gill and Beverly Gosdin (who was, I believe, Vern’s wife at the time) provide backing vocals.
Sadly, Time Stood Still was not nearly as successful as its predecessors. The lead single, an emotive and completely convincing cover of the heartbreak honky tonk classic ‘Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music)’ with great harmonies and piercing fiddle, peaked at a disappointing #20. Country radio was just beginning to be more receptive to traditional sounds than it had been in the past few years, but this record may have come just a little too soon.
The mid-tempo ‘I Know The Way To You By Heart’ was the record’s only other top 40 hit. It is a drifter’s wistful reminiscence and decision to go home (possibly addressed to mother rather than lover), and is a good song if not in Vern’s trademark style:
I’ve slept in some cars and I’ve slept in some bars
And I’ve slept in the arms of some fast falling stars
But there ain’t been one dream that’s come true
Since I left home, since I left you
In the cold just one memory is warm
And in the dark just one light comes on
Though I’m lost there’s one thing I’ve found
I know the way to you
I know the way to you by heart
I know what I’m feeling for you is real
Like the palm of my hand on this old steering wheel
And I’m still on the road I’ve come down
But thanks to you I’m homeward bound
While it wasn’t a big hit, the single did make Billboard writer Edward Morris’s list of the ten best of that year.
The three last singles all performed dismally and well below their deserts, perhaps because Vern was about to jump ship and the label to fold. The simple but beautifully interpreted ballad ‘It’s Only Love Again’ is something of a hidden gem, written by Tim Krekel. ‘Was It Just The Wine’ has Vern anxiously questioning whether his new love was just a drunken fling or rebound, and is another superb vocal on an excellent song, written by Vern with Buddy Cannon.
Was it just a memory of someone before you telling me we’re through?
Did I hold your body close to mine?
Did we make promises till the end of time?
Did we fall in love?
Or was it just the wine?
Finally, the absolutely lovely title track (penned by co-producer Jones) has an understated vocal and perfectly judged phrasing about the complete devastation of true love turned to heartbreak:
You made my heart complete
Then broke it at my feet
Time stood still
When you said goodbye
And now the seasons don’t change
The days have no names
Today’s like yesterday
I lean on the wine
But your memory, like time,
Baby, won’t slip away
To get you off my mind
Just takes a little time
Baby, time stood still
When you said goodbye
Beverly comes in effectively echoing Vern in the last chorus in the same style as Janie Fricke’s work with him. This is a stunning performance which stands up well against Vern’s classics and really didn’t deserve to be ignored by country radio.
‘For A Minute There’ is another excellent song with a melancholic feel song along the same lines as his later ‘Alone’, if not quite as intense. Written by Max D Barnes with Beverly, it has the protagonist briefly imagining losing a lover, with a beautifully measured, precise vocal:
For a minute there I thought my world was ending
For a minute there I thought you said goodbye
‘What A Price I’ve Paid’ is even better, a mournful, steel-laced lost love ballad written by Vern and Max D Barnes which stands comparison with Vern’s best work. A lovelorn Vern just can’t take his friends’ advice to move on:
If time does the healing
It ain’t done a thing for me yet
They say that love is life
And I guess they’re right this time
I nearly lost my mind when I lost you
And I was so afraid I’d never find my way
God, what a price I’ve paid to love you
‘Rainbows And Roses’ is a pretty sounding but lyrically unremarkable and slightly old fashioned love song, written by Max D Barnes and Rayburn Anthony. The mid-tempo ‘Two Lonely Hearts (Out Of Hand)’, written by Vern with Buddy Cannon and producer Robert John Jones, is about a couple falling in love with a girl met in a bar room, dancing to the jukebox, and Vern has a bit of a growl adding bite.
The hymn ‘Jesus Hold My Hand was repeated from If Jesus Comes Tomorrow ( What Then)?, Vern’s Christian album released on Compleat in 1984. It’s not as good as the title track of the latter, and feels a bit out of place here, but is a pleasant enough listening experience with solid piano-led backing and churchy backing vocals.
Vern’s relative lack of commercial success at this time was countered by the respect of his peers and the industry. He may have been in his fifties and have enjoyed a relatively low-level career to date, but he was soon to get a new opportunity with Columbia. Time Stood Still has been overlooked as it produced no big hits, and is overshadowed by its successor, which was to bring Vern an unexpected late career boost and some of the finest country music ever recorded. However, on its own merits there is some great stuff here. It was re-released on American Harvest and later on Vern’s own VGM Records in 1998, so is easy to find.