On April 7, 1990, Randy Travis’ “Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart,” the second single off Warner Bros. Nashville album No Holding Back, topped the charts for the first of four consecutive weeks. No single had reigned atop the Hot Country Songs chart for that long since Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson’s version of “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” held the number one spot for a whole month in 1978. Grabbing the public’s attention for that long required the right artist, singing the right song about faith, hope and love. Here’s a quick look at why Travis was up to the task.
Charting New Ground
In those 12 years between an outlaw staple penned by Ed Bruce owning the charts and Travis’ longest-reigning number one, country artists jostled for what amounted to the hit of the week. This takes nothing away from their successes and talents, but many of those number ones racked up by Travis, Alabama, George Strait and other legendary acts came when singles rarely stayed in the top spot for long. Only a select few songs topped the chart for two or three weeks between 1978 and 1990, with the handful of three-peats including Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler,” Jennings’ “Amanda” and Travis’ “Forever and Ever, Amen.”
In prior decades, hits would dominate that top spot for weeks. For example, look at the year Webb Pierce enjoyed in 1955. Whether that makes someone like Pierce better than the stars of the 1980s is subjective, although it’s fair to assume that more country music fans pick up a guitar or start a record collection because of the long-term impact of short-reigning ’80s and ’90s hits.
A Believer’s Look at Love
Although it’s a love song at its heart, the Hugh Prestwood-penned hit points to how effectively Travis used faith-based analogies. Talk of prayer, temptation and building a foundation on solid ground wouldn’t have sounded out of place on those later country-gospel albums that begat “Three Wooden Crosses.” A few Biblical buzzwords don’t make a song gospel, but in this case they do paint an image of a Christian pleading with his partner and God for a little Earthly redemption.
A Hit With Staying Power
“Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart” was no one-month wonder. Certainly not to the folks at Billboard Magazine, who ranked it second only to Clint Black’s “Nobody’s Home” on their year-end chart. RPM Magazine’s Canada Country Tracks chart loved the song even more, rewarding it the top spot on their year-end list. Keep in mind that this sustained praise came the same year that brought country fans three of Garth Brooks’ first four number one singles, including his truest masterpiece “The Dance.”
Chart history aside, this and other Travis hits aged well as products of a true traditionalist movement. His success helped allow such diverse artists as k.d. lang, Patty Loveless and Lyle Lovett to be in the conversation when it came to weekly hits and year-end lists.
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