Prime Cuts: Alan Jackson

Karlie Justus Marlowe | February 1st, 2012

In the Prime Cuts series, we’ll take a look at songs that didn’t show up on country radio, staying under the radar on records packed to the brim with memorable tunes. Album by album, we’ll point out the quiet keepers of some of our favorite artists, and hopefully these songs will reintroduce you to artists that have made a big impact on the genre and its fans – and maybe even surprise you with a few gems you missed the first time around.

Alan Jackson’s knack for producing quality songs across the entire span of his 22-year career has resulted in a long list of some of country music’s best recordings. From “Here in the Real World” and “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” to “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” and “Remember When,” it’s easy to see how the self-professed singer of simple songs has made such an important impact on American music.

But his contributions don’t end there: Here are 15 songs from Jackson’s catalog (listen along to a Spotify playlist) that may not have shot up the charts, but established the singer as both a songwriter and an artist.

1. “Dog River Blues” (Alan Jackson, Jim McBride) – Here in the Real World, 1990

One of country music’s best debut albums, Here In the Real World introduced the world to Jackson as both a talented writer and performer. While it’s full of beautiful, wistful songs such as the title track, “Dog River Blues” is a romp of a heartbreak story set on the bank of a river full of memories. This is one of three Jim McBride co-writes on the album, and the beginning of a long partnership between the two writers.

2. “Short Sweet Ride” (Alan Jackson) – Here in the Real World, 1990

Closing out his first record, “Short Sweet Ride” marries the fiddle with one of country music’s founding truths: “Lord, can’t a woman make a man a fool.”

3. “Just Playin’ Possum” (Alan Jackson, Jim McBride, Gary Overton) – Don’t Rock the Jukebox, 1991

“Just Playin’ Possum” may be the lesser-known King of Broken Hearts reference on 1991’s Don’t Rock the Jukebox, but Jackson’s reverent roots are just as apparent on this ode to George Jones. And lest you think it’s nothing but a name check: By 1991, Jackson was already making his mark on the new traditionalist scene with an eye to the past, and the Possum himself sings the song’s closing lines.

4. “Working Class Hero” (Alan Jackson) – Don’t Rock the Jukebox, 1991

Jackson’s talent for portraying the regular guys was present from the beginning, along with his acknowledgement that small-town, blue-collar life isn’t all warm and fuzzies: “He knows he’s too old to really start over, besides he wouldn’t really know how.”

5. “If It Ain’t One Thing (It’s You)” (Alan Jackson, Jim McBride) – A Lot About Livin’ (And A Little ‘Bout Love), 1992

A weeper of a waltz, this tune played well with A Lot About Livin’ (And A Little ‘Bout Love)’s collection of heartbreak songs. Its hardest kick in the gut: when all the protagonist wants is a nice steak, he finds a piece of old wedding cake in the freezer. Ouch.

6. “Hole in the Wall” (Alan Jackson, Jim McBride) – Who I Am, 1994

This song was also included on 2003’s Greatest Hits Volume Two…And Some Other Stuff, on a second disc of songs Jackson thought should have received more attention. Between its melancholy production and delusional lyrics, it’s easy to see why: The song’s beautiful phrasing produces some of Jackson and McBride’s best hillbilly prose, including “I guess a saner man would simply paint it/But I’m not sane and after all, it’s my wall, ain’t it?

7. “Job Description” (Alan Jackson) – Who I Am, 1994

Jackson’s more domestic version of Merle Haggard’s “Footlights” finds the singer bracingly honest about life on the road and his relationship with fans, while the weepy steel guitar reflects the effects of life on the road on relationships at home.

8. “Another Good Reason” (Harley Allen, Carson Chamberlain) – High Mileage, 1998

Jackson recorded many Harley Allen songs, including popular singles “Between the Devil and Me” and “Everything I Love,” but this cut may be the most fun of them all. A run-in with the law provides the most amusing verse, with Jackson singing “I’m gonna sue the city about that policeman/Last night as I left the bar he stepped right on my hand/He said, ‘Are you drunk or blind?’ I said ‘Let me think’/That’s another good reason not to drink.”

9. “Right in the Palm of Your Hand” (Bob McDill) – Under the Influence, 1999

If Jackson’s country music heroes weren’t evident from the material he churned out throughout the 1990s, Under the Influence left no doubt. This Bob McDill song appeared on Mel McDaniel’s 1981 album I’m Countryfied, but its straightforward observations about the end of a relationship sound like they could have come straight from Jackson’s own pen.

10. “Three Minute Positive Not Too Country Up-Tempo Love Song” (Alan Jackson) – When Somebody Loves You, 2000

On the last song on When Somebody Loves You, Jackson can’t help but take a swipe at the industry he’s come to dominate. It wasn’t the first or last stand he took against the Powers That Be, but it’s probably the most upbeat. Note: It actually clocks in at 3:03.

11. “First Love” (Alan Jackson) – Drive, 2002

In this charming ode that the cashier from “Hotter Than a Two Dollar Pistol” would appreciate, Jackson sounds nearly as in love with his first car as he does on any of his human love songs.

12. “Burnin’ the Honky Tonks Down” (Billy Burnette, Shawn Camp) – What I Do, 2004

Jackson smokes his way through this scorcher with help from some fancy guitar pickin’, while the background vocals come courtesy of The Oak Ridge Boys’ Richard Sterban.

13. “Had It Not Been You” (Sidney Cox) – Like Red on a Rose, 2006

This critically acclaimed album only produced two singles on country radio, but it offered up a distinctly different look at Jackson’s creative process. He deviates from longtime producer Keith Stegall to team up with bluegrass darling Alison Krauss, who helps showcase simple, sparse lyrics such as “I make it known it’s just time that I kill/When I’m gone and without you.

14. “Never Loved Before” (Alan Jackson) – Good Time, 2008

While Good Time may have suffered from too much of a good thing, Jackson scored with this throwback duet with Martina McBride.

15. “Long, Long Way” (Alan Jackson) – Good Time, 2008

After introducing each of this song’s breakneck-speed instrumentalists for a solo, Jackson sums it up best in the closing line: “Whew, that was good.”

  1. carolina
    February 1, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Great list. I also love “Where do I go From Here (A Trucker’s Song)” from Like Red on a Rose.

  2. Andrew
    February 1, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    “Never Loved Before” should have been a single. Great song.

  3. Occasional Hope
    February 1, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Some I would add:

    Walk On The Rocks (from Everything I Love) – wonderful song about a man in prison advising his son not to copy him
    That’s All I Need To Know (Don’t Rock the Jukebox)
    A Little Bluer Than That (Drive)
    Til The End, w Lee Ann Womack (Freight Train)

  4. Rick
    February 1, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    Gosh, one of my all time favorites is “Tropical Depression”! Just thinking about it gives me the blue water blues…

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