Music

How Randy Travis’ First No. 1 Failed Before It Succeeded

Tom Burns/Getty Images

Not many songs fail as many times as Randy Travis’ first No. 1 single. That’s because not many songs get a second — or third — chance.

In several ways, “On The Other Hand” mirrored Travis’ career. Travis tried several times to land a major label deal after moving to Nashville. He struggled mightily. Warner Brothers Records rejected Travis three times, telling him he was “too country,” before finally giving him a shot in 1985.

But the tune that would eventually break him onto the scene actually already had a home on Keith Whitley’s debut record, L.A. To Miami. While Whitley later became a big success, his first record more or less flopped.

That didn’t stop Travis from recording “On The Other Hand,” though. In theory, the song should have been a hit right away. Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz penned the tune. Both writers had big hits to their name: Overstreet wrote George Jones’ “Same Ole Me” and Schlitz wrote Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.”

Overstreet shared the story behind the song with Nash Country Weekly. The pair actually meant to write a song with a different theme entirely about not going from relationship to relationship.

“Right in the middle of that song,” says Overstreet, “We kind of bantered some lines back and forth. And Don said, But on the other hand,’ and I said, ‘There’s a golden band.’ From that point, we looked at each other and kind of got that glitter in our eyes, and finished it real quick. Then we went to lunch.”

Lunch is a vital part of the songwriting process.

So, there was this song that didn’t have much success with one debut artist (Whitley), and had another who wanted to release it too. Travis put his version out to radio, and just like that… it petered out at No. 67.

Travis moved on, finding much more success with his second single, “1982.” That tune made it all the way to No. 6. And, though this almost never happens, Warner Brothers decided to re-release “On The Other Hand” back to radio, now that DJs and music supervisors knew Travis’ voice.

The strategy worked. “On The Other Hand” soared to No. 1 in both the United States and Canada. In 1986, both the Academy of Country Music (ACMs) and Country Music Association (CMAs) named it Song of the Year.

recommended for you

How Randy Travis’ First No. 1 Failed Before It Succeeded