Starting around 1986, in what Steve Earle deemed “the great credibility scare” of country music, Nashville opened its doors (and ears) to such left-of-center artists as Earle, Nanci Griffith, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Lyle Lovett. At the same time, acts with a more traditional country bent were also enjoying tremendous success, including Dwight Yoakam, Ricky Van Shelton and Randy Travis. But by the end of the decade, a brand-new crop of (mostly) cowboy-hatted country stars was looming on the horizon. The debut albums and singles of the likes of Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Travis Tritt and Alan Jackson signaled the start of a revolution in country music that is undeniably tied to what’s happening in country today. Dubbed “the Class of ’89,” the freshmen soon graduated to multi-platinum album sales and created the template for Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, Luke Bryan and countless others.
But if a career path relied on the success of an artist’s debut single, Alan Jackson could be back in Newnan, Georgia, working on cars in his back yard. As the first act signed to Nashville’s Arista Records, the fledgling label had high hopes for their new act, but hopes were seemingly dashed when “Blue Blooded Woman,” from the lanky performer’s debut album, peaked at Number 45 on the chart. It was only when the second single, the title track from the album, Here in the Real World, was released that Jackson’s career began to catch fire. Like the opening line, “Cowboys don’t cry and heroes don’t die,” the Western-movie-themed tune received a cinematic video treatment and rode all the way to Number Three on the country singles chart, as did its follow-up, “Wanted.” Two more singles from the album were released: “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow,” and “I’d Love You All Over Again,” reaching Number Two and Number One, respectively. And once Jackson had reached the summit, he would return there 25 times.
“Here in the Real World” hit radio airwaves exactly 25 years ago today, on December 8, 1989. Just a few months later, Jackson played Willie Nelson’s annual Farm Aid event, taking the stage the same week the tune hit Number One. (Watch above.) Clad in a fringed suede jacket and roomy Levi’s, a cowboy hat atop his mullet cut, the then 31-year-old dedicated his first hit song to farmers “who wake up in the real world every morning.”
And although he laments in the fiddle-and-steel-soaked ballad that “the boy don’t always get the girl,” here in the real world, Jackson and his childhood sweetheart, Denise (who already shared his last name) will celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary on December 15th of this year.