Jesus Take the Wheel
AP Photo/Richard Drew

Story Behind the Song: Carrie Underwood's Introductory Statement of Faith, 'Jesus, Take the Wheel'

Faith plays a huge role in Carrie Underwood's story, from her ascent as the first American Idol winner promoted as a country music artist to her ongoing run as a major Nashville star. She shared her testimony from the word "go" when "Jesus, Take the Wheel" became the first single from her debut album, Some Hearts.

The Oct. 2005 release hits home for anyone who, when facing a horrifying situation, reassesses their spiritual health. It topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and cracked the Christian songs charts' Top 5 before winning Underwood two Grammy awards (Best Country Song and Best Female Country Vocal Performance) and a CMA trophy (Single of the Year).

Brett James co-wrote the song with Gordie Sampson and Hillary Lindsey.

"'Jesus, Take the Wheel' was written at Hillary's house on her living room floor," James told Roughstock in 2013 (as quoted by Songfacts). "It was done like any other rainy day in Nashville. We walked in, started drinking coffee and talking about what we wanted to write that day. As writers, you kill about a half an hour just shooting the bull, and then it's like, 'OK what do you want to write today?' Gordie says, 'Man, I've got this title... 'When Jesus Takes the Wheel.'' Now, we're kind of used to that phrase, but that was the first time I'd ever heard it, and I kind of laughed it off.

"We talked about some other ideas, and fortunately after we went through about three or four other ideas, that one kept coming up," continued James. "So I was like, 'What about that 'When Jesus Takes the Wheel' idea. What would we write that one about?' We came up with a little girl driving through Cincinnati. There are some personal stories involved. My wife almost had that experience. She had a very miraculous car crash that she walked away from. Since then, a lot of people have. You hear those stories all the time where they say I don't know what happened, I just know that it was a miracle that I got out of there.

"We write all kinds of songs," reflected James. "We write fun songs and songs you can dance to, and songs that are stupid and silly that sound good on the radio. Occasionally you need to write something that means something to people. Those are the most fun songs to be part of, and this one was definitely one of those."

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Underwood's earliest hit has helped at least one person keep their eyes on Jesus Christ. In 2017, a woman left stranded in the woods in Washington state sang the song to herself constantly while "letting go and letting God."

"Jesus, Take the Wheel" and subsequent singles "Some Hearts," "Don't Forget to Remember Me," "Before He Cheats" and "Wasted" anchor the best-selling country album of this young century's first decade.

In June 2020, Some Hearts got it first vinyl release.

This story originally ran on July 6, 2020.

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