It was the best of times or the worst of times Monday (Aug. 25) as a lunch-time crowd gushed into Nashville’s Music City Tippler bar to celebrate the No. 1 success of Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert’s “We Were Us.”
Either you artfully snagged one of the rare free-drink tickets or else you shelled out an exorbitant $9 for a minuscule (but essential) gin and tonic.
At the center of the celebration were the song’s three writers: Nicolle Galyon, Jon Nite and Jimmy Robbins.
In addition to topping Billboard’s country singles charts, “We Were Us” also won the Academy of Country Music’s vocal event of the year prize.
BMI’s Jody Williams opened the ceremony by calling Urban and the writers to the stage. Williams announced this was Urban’s 16th No. 1.
While Urban is an awarded songwriter himself, Williams noted that “he completely appreciates [other] songwriters” and praised him for his “philanthropic heart” in supporting a variety of charities and good works.
Chronologically, “We Were Us” was Galyon’s first No. 1 single. However, she was earlier honored for co-writing “Automatic,” the Miranda Lambert No. 1 that followed “We Were Us” on the charts.
ASCAP’s LeAnn Phelan then came forward to honor Nite and Robbins. She described the trio standing behind her as “soulmate writers” because of their instinctive feel for each other’s creativity.
This was Nite’s first No. 1, as well, Phelan said, and Robbins’ fifth.
Alluding to Nite’s struggle to establish himself musically, Phelan observed, “It’s almost like songwriting wouldn’t let him go.”
Oddly enough, she continued, his first “hold” was for Urban. [A hold is a request that a song be reserved for a period of time for a certain artist to record before it’s offered to others.]
“He’s crazy talented,” she proclaimed before presenting Nite a guitar to commemorate his first No. 1.
Phelan told the crowd all five of Robbins’ No. 1 songs were written within his first year of getting a publishing contract. He currently has three songs on the country charts, she said.
Both “We Were Us” and “Little Bit of Everything,” the first single from Urban’s current album, Fuse, have now been certified platinum, signifying the sale of a million copies each, Williams announced.
Galyon said she was 13 when she and her mother flew to Nashville for the event then called Fan Fair but now known as the CMA Music Fest.
During that trip, she said, she stopped by the Tower Record store on West End Avenue and saw a young artist performing in the aisles. It was Urban, who at that point had never charted, much less had a hit.
“I never heard anyone play a guitar like that before,” she recalled, “and I sure hadn’t heard anyone talk like that before,” an allusion to Urban’s New Zealand/Australian origins.
Robbins praised the promotion team at Urban’s label, Capitol Records, “Without you guys [working the song at radio], this would have just been the most-played song on my dad’s iPod.”
He went on to thank his father for allowing him to drop out of school when he was 14 to pursue songwriting. “It kind of worked out,” he added modestly.
Nite expressed heartfelt thanks to his wife for standing by him, even as economics and common sense told him to get and keep a “real job.”
Moreover, he said he was grateful to his publisher for “shutting me down when my head gets too big and lifting me up when I feel like nothing.”
Lambert could not be there for the celebration, but she sent a video in which she agreed that the song “should be celebrated” and voiced her appreciation for “having had a little part” in the song’s success.
When Urban came to the microphone, he immediately corrected Lambert, asserting that she played a lot more than a little part.
He said it was the images in the song’s lyrics that first attracted him to it, noting that such images allow the listener to “fill in the blanks.”
Once he’d heard the demo of the song, he continued, “Miranda’s face and voice were the first things that popped into my mind.”
He said he was also happy Lambert actually came into the studio with him to sing her part rather than recording it separately and sending in her track.
Because Lambert records for another label that competes for airplay with Urban’s, there was initially a question of whether their duet could be released as a single. There was even a suggestion someone else be brought in to sing Lambert’s part so the song could be released without legal hassle.
Urban said he was resolute in not allowing this to happen. Either their duet would go out as recorded, he insisted, or else it would remain an album cut.
He noted the prospect of losing a single kept the writers on edge since it is singles that make them the most money and earn them the most prominence.
Urban thanked everyone assembled for the work done on his behalf. He agreed it’s exhausting getting a record cut and up the charts and that some of his colleagues wondered aloud if the work would ever end.
He said that it would, alas, and that he wanted to continue working as long as he could.
“I want to be like [guitar master] Les Paul and playing when I’m 92,” he said.
He explained that his wife, actress Nicole Kidman, would have been at the party had she not been shooting a movie in New York.
To wrap up the celebration, Urban, as is his custom, called the three songwriters and his co-producer, Nathan Chapman, to the stage to perform with him an acoustic version of the song being celebrated.
Then the crowd streamed reluctantly back into Nashville’s scorching streets.