Though most of the country has been trying to shake off the winter chill, Joe Nichols has been basking in the warm glow of success as “Sunny and 75″ recently became his latest No. 1 single, topping both the Billboard country songs chart and Country Aircheck/USA Today chart. It was announced Thursday (Jan. 9) that the track has been certified gold by the RIAA for sales of more than 500,000 downloads.
The upbeat tune is the lead single from Nichol’s current album, Crickets, his debut on the Red Bow label.
“‘Sunny and 75′ is more progressive, more of a rockier tune for me, but it’s still me,” says Nichols, who admits it was a challenge to stay true to his traditional nature yet offer fans something a little different on his latest effort. “We kept the traditional style and we made it more modern at times. The one thing we discovered was no matter what I sang, it’s going to sound country when I sing it. I’ve got a very country voice.”
For more than a decade, Nichols’ distinctive voice has powered some of country music’s most memorable hits. With “Yeah,” the second single from Crickets, heading to country radio on Jan. 27, here’s a look at 10 tunes that have shaped the Arkansas native’s career.
Nichols signed his first record deal at 19 with Intersound Records and gained attention with the single “Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other.” He then served a short stint on Giant Records that failed to produce a hit, but his years of hard work paid off when he signed with Universal South Records and released “The Impossible,” which peaked at No. 3 on Billboard‘s country singles and tracks chart. The inspiring single was the first release from his critically acclaimed album Man With a Memory. Written by Kelley Lovelace and Lee Thomas Miller, the mid-tempo number finds Nichols singing about two situations that happen and seem impossible. In the first verse, his stoic father loses his composure when his own father dies. In the second verse, a friend who was paralyzed in a car accident fully recovers and stands up to speak at graduation. It all builds to the bridge of the song which finds Nichols trying to hold onto a failing relationship by telling his lover “there’s no such thing as impossible.” It’s a well-crafted tune that launched the career of one of country music’s finest traditional voices.
Nichols’ career momentum continued as the second single from Man With a Memory soared to No. 1 in March 2003. The single was buoyed by a video shot in downtown Nashville by director Trey Fanjoy that begins with Nichols having a drink at a local watering hole and then in the second verse, he takes the stage to share his song of lost love and heartbreak. Penned by Donny Kees, Blake Mevis, Randy Boudreaux and Clint Daniels, it paints a portrait of a man who loses his girl to a smooth talking guy in a Cadillac and in the chorus he laments, “I think the devil drives a Coupe de Ville/I watched ’em drive away over the hill/Not against her will, and I’ve got time to kill/Down in Brokenheartsville.”
“She Only Smokes When She Drinks”
The third single from Man With a Memory only climbed to No. 17 on the chart, yet Nichols’ carefully nuanced performance of this sad ballad helped cement his reputation as a compelling traditional vocalist capable of drawing listeners into a song. “She Only Smokes When She Drinks” was written by Tim Nichols, Tony Martin and Connie Harrington. (Harrington recently won a CMA Award for co-writing the Lee Brice hit “I Drive Your Truck.” ) The lyric reveals a world-weary girl who has had bad luck with men. In the song, there’s a guy trying to make a move on her, and though he’s lit her cigarette and thinks he has a shot, Nichols cautions him, “She only smokes when she drinks/She only drinks now and then/Now and then when she’s tired/Of bein’ let down by men/You can give her a light/But it’s not what you think/Everybody knows she only drinks alone/And she only smokes when she drinks.”
“If Nobody Believed in You”
Released in March 2004, this poignant tune was the lead single from Nichols’ second Universal South album, Revelation. Written by the late Harley Allen, the single peaked at No. 10. In the first verse a young boy’s heart is broken as his father berates him during a baseball game. In the second verse, an elderly man gives up on ever driving again after his son’s insensitivity breaks his spirit. The chorus says, “Tell me, how would you feel?/You’d probably give up too/If nobody believed in you.” The third verse packs even more of an emotional wallop as it speaks of God’s name being taken out of schools and Nichols sings: “What if God quit tryin’?/He just turned away?/There were teardrops on his face?/Tell me, how would you feel?/You’d probably give up too/If nobody believed in you.”
“What’s a Guy Gotta Do”
“What’s a Guy Gotta Do” was the second single from Revelation. Released in November 2004, the up-tempo tune climbed to No. 4 on Billboard‘s country songs chart and even cracked the trade publication’s Hot 100, peaking at No. 64 on the all-genre chart. Nichols co-wrote the song with Kelley Lovelace and Don Sampson, giving him his first hit as a songwriter. The song finds Nichols asking, “What’s a guy gotta do to get a girl in this town?” Peter Zavadil directed the accompanying video which features a guy trying to get a girlfriend and enduring obstacles such as being maced and even getting arrested when he’s charged with harassing a girl in Wal-Mart.
“Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let it Snow”
In addition to Revelation, Nichols released a second album in 2004 when he served up A Traditional Christmas. The seasonal album placed four songs on the Billboard chart, and this holiday classic scored the most airplay, peaking at No. 37. Produced by Brent Rowan, the album included such Christmas favorites as “White Christmas,” “Away in a Manger,” “Silver Bells,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “O Holy Night” and “The Christmas Song.”
“Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off”
Though this song received mixed reviews from critics — with some calling it “mind-numbingly inane” while others praised it as funny — fans and country radio programmers embraced the song and made it Nichols second No. 1 single. Released in August 2005, the song was the lead track from Nichols’ III album, which peaked at No. 2 on Billboard‘s country albums chart. The lyric paints a portrait of a party girl who can handle other types of alcohol, but tequila washes away her inhibitions and her clothing. To illustrate the point, Nichols sings, “She can handle any champagne brunch/A bridal shower with Bacardi punch/Jello shooters full of Smirnoff/But tequila makes her clothes fall off.”
“Size Matters (Someday)”
Written by Byron Hill and Mike Dekle, this song was released in January 2006 as the second single from Nichols’ III album. “Size Matters (Someday)” peaked at No. 9 on Billboard‘s country songs chart and won an ASCAP award in 2007 for being one of the most-performed country songs of 2006. Laced with steel guitar and propelled by a charming performance from Nichols, the song is an upbeat tune about a girl who definitely wants the finer things in life and dreams of a big house on a hill, a big ol’ Coupe de Ville and a big ol’ bank account someday, but right now what she wants most is a man “with a big ol’ heart/Who can love her like nobody can/Big ol’ kisses that go on and on/And never end with a big ol’ smile/He’ll fill her world with laughter/Size matters, size matters.”
“I’ll Wait for You”
This song was the third single from his III album and became the third Top 10 hit from that collection, peaking at No. 7. The song was penned by Grand Ole Opry veteran Bill Anderson and Harley Allen. The first verse finds a wife waiting for her husband to come home for Christmas. In another situation, she waited for him to come home for the birth of their son, but by the end of the song, he’s rushing to get home but doesn’t make it before she dies. She leaves him a note that says, “I’ll wait for you at heaven’s gate/Oh, I don’t care how long it takes/And I’ll tell St. Pete I can’t come in without my love and my best friend/Oh, this ain’t nothing new/Sweetheart, I’ll wait for you.” The song was accompanied by two videos. One is a black-and-white acoustic version of the song, and the other finds Nichols portraying the man in the song and aging 30 years with the help of makeup.
“Gimmie That Girl”
Culled from his Old Things New album, this smooth up-tempo song became Nichols’ third No. 1 single in May 2010 and remained at the summit for two weeks. “Gimmie That Girl” was written by Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson and Ben Hayslip, a trio of hit songwriters from Georgia who call themselves the Peach Pickers. Nichols says the song appealed to him because of its simplicity. The lyric finds a guy talking about how he likes his girl best without makeup when she’s barefoot in the kitchen singing her favorite song. The hit tune struck a chord with listeners because it says what a lot of guys want to say — and a lot of women would like to hear. In the chorus, Nichols sings, “Gimme that girl with her hair in a mess/Sleepy little smile with her head on my chest/That’s the you that I like best/Gimme that girl/Gimme that girl lovin’ up on me/Old T-shirt and a pair of jeans/That’s the you I wanna see/Gimme that girl, gimme that girl.”