The musically curious will learn more than lonely diving deep into Eric Church’s latest hit “Record Year.” The song’s lead character tunes out the heartache and pain of a breakup with a record collection stacked with some of the music’s most iconic names, albums and songs.
It’s time to go down the rabbit hole. Here’s a comprehensive look at the music mentioned in Church’s summer smash.
Everything from Jones to Jennings
Church is referring to two of country’s most famous Texans, George Jones and Waylon Jennings. After breaking out with “White Lightning” — a song written by the Big Bopper, J.P. Richardson — Jones’s first dominance in country music came in the early ‘60s with a stream of hits including “The Window Up Above,” “Tender Years” and “She Thinks I Still Care.” While most know him as the Possum, Jones will forever be remembered through the generations as a singer’s singer, who has influenced many including Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, James Taylor and Merle Haggard.
The textbook Country Music U.S.A. says of Jennings, “There has been no better singer in country music.” Jennings’s first big break came from working with rock legend Buddy Holly, who arranged his first official recording session, “Jole Blon” in 1958. By the end of the year, Holly hired Jennings to be his bass player, and the plane crash that killed Holly, Bopper and Ritchie Valens on February 2, 1959, left him dispirited for a long time (Jennings gave up his plane seat to the Bopper before that fatal flight). Jennings went back to radio in West Texas, began performing again, and got a regular gig at a Phoenix, Arizona, bar called J.D.’s. While passing through town, Bobby Bare caught one of his sets and called his producer Chet Atkins at RCA in Nashville to tell him what a phenomenal talent Jennings was. He signed with the label, moved to Nashville and by total chance, became roommates with Johnny Cash. “The Chokin’ Kind” and “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line” became Top 10 hits in the late ‘60s and through the ‘70s, Jennings developed a reputation as an outlaw by demanding to record whatever he wanted, wherever he wanted. He was also part of the first platinum-selling country album Wanted! The Outlaws with Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser.
One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer
Church is referring to the blues standard that was first recorded in 1953 by Amos Milburn and later recorded again by blues legend John Lee Hooker for his 1966 album Real Folk Blues. George Thorogood also did a version for his 1977 debut George Thorogood and the Destroyers.
Quarter notes and Hank’s half time
Church is possibly referring the sleepy tempos of Hank Williams classics “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Cold, Cold, Heart” or “Ramblin’ Man.” But country has other famous Hanks including Hank Snow, Hank Thompson, Hank Williams, Jr., Hank III and Hank Wilson, which is Leon Russell’s country alter ego.
Songs in the Key of Life
I rediscovered Red Headed Stranger
Red Headed Stranger is the Willie Nelson LP spinning on Church’s turntable in the “Record Year” video. The concept album was a blockbuster hit for Nelson with song-poems about a preacher on the run after murdering his wife and her new lover. Side one features Nelson’s version of the Fred Rose classic “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”
Got down with old James Brown
In his Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame biography, it’s written, “What Elvis Presley was to rock and roll, James Brown became to R&B.” Beginning with his first R&B hit “Please Please Please” in 1956, Brown’s influence can be heard throughout ‘60s soul, ‘70s funk, ‘80s rap and the music of the present. He’s known as the godfather of soul and the hardest working man in show business.
And found New Grass Revival
Started in 1972, New Grass Revival is a super-group of progressive bluegrass musicians that started with an initial lineup comprising of Sam Bush, Curtis Burch, Ebo Walker and Courtney Johnson. Through 1989, the band had a few lineup changes. In 1981, banjo virtuoso Belá Fleck and guitarist Pat Flynn replaced Burch and Johnson. Their third major label release Friday Night in America featured the original version “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” which Garth Brooks later recorded for his 1993 album In Pieces.