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Songs You Forgot You Loved: Pam Tillis' 90s Hit 'Maybe It Was Memphis'

Pam Tillis, the famous daughter of country music legend Mel Tillis, carved her own niche in the '90s, beginning with the success of "Maybe It Was Memphis." Although it was less successful in its time than her lone No. 1 single, 1994's "Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life)," the once-obscure power pop song went on to help define a time when talented women in country music got a fair shake.

A Powerpop Ballad

Power pop star and Tom Petty collaborator Phil Seymour's bassist, Michael Anderson, wrote the song in 1983. A version recorded by Seymour, resembling Cheap Trick more so than a country song, found the light of day in 2001.

Anderson wrote the final verse first, knowing the song would remain open-ended without a heart-warming reunion or crushing breakup. He later added the literary references to Tennessee Williams plays and William Faulkner novels. In a nod to pop-leaning country, he also directly lifted the line "summer night beauty took my breath away" from the Allen Toussaint-penned Glen Campbell hit "Southern Nights."

Once its writer's beloved powerpop was out of vogue, this song remained as a Southern-centered country love song in the making.

Too Pop For Country

When Pam Tillis cut her first album for Warner Bros. in 1983, it sounded more pop than country -- think Dolly Parton meets the Pointer Sisters. Still, she came right out the gate lending her country pedigree to crossover-friendly material, placing her nearly a decade ahead of the times.

Her second album and first on Arista, Put Yourself in My Place, came in 1991 and includes pop-wise country songs that suited Nashville's changing tides. On Nov. 25, "Maybe It Was Memphis" was released as the album's fourth single. Initially feared to sound too pop for country radio, the song cracked the top three.

Southern Gothic Pop

The song tells a simple yet fleshed-out story about a boy, a girl and a romance that heated up on "Southern summer nights." We don't know if the couple split after the narrator returned home or if they're trying to make a long-distance relationship work. All we know is that at least one of them can't help but think about late nights spent snuggling on a front porch swing or under a willow tree, gazing at that misty moonlight.

Such a detailed yet open-ended story transports listeners to a place like Memphis, or wherever their own "Tennessee Lullaby" took place.

A Decade-Defining Hit

Tillis' version became one of the songs most associated with women in '90s country music. It was released the same year as Trisha Yearwood's "She's in Love With the Boy," placing both artists on the ground level of what ended up being a pretty solid decade for creative women in Nashville.

As kids who grew up hearing it became singers (or journalists), the song started getting a little more credit in the mainstream. Take for example two high-profile performances by reality TV singing contestants. Lauren Alaina's 2011 arrival via American Idol included a memorable performance of the song. Two years later, The Voice's Danielle Bradbery also sang it on the show and saw her version crack the top 25.

"Maybe It Was Memphis" Lyrics:

Lookin' at you through a misty moonlight
Katy did sing like a symphony
Porch swing swayin' like a Tennessee lullaby
Melody blowing through the willow tree
What was I supposed to do
Standing there lookin' at you
A lonely boy far from home

Maybe it was Memphis
Maybe it was Southern summer nights
Maybe it was you maybe it was me
But it sure felt right

Read about you in a Faulkner novel
Met you once in a Williams play
Heard about you in a country love song
Summer night beauty took my breath away

What was I supposed to do
Standing there lookin' at you
A lonely boy far from home

Every night now since I've been back home
I lie awake drifting in my memory
I think about you on your momma's front porch swing
Talking that way so soft to me

What was I supposed to do
Standing there lookin' at you
A lonely boy far from home

Maybe it was Memphis
Maybe it was Southern summer nights
Maybe it was Memphis
Maybe it was Southern summer nights

What was I supposed to do
Standing there lookin' at you
A lonely boy far from home

Now Watch: Underrated Country Love Songs of the 90s

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Songs You Forgot You Loved: Pam Tillis' 90s Hit 'Maybe It Was Memphis'