Alan Jackson's introspective love song, "Remember When," maintains a place in the hearts of fans as one of the singer's most tender and truthful nods to the country music traditions he proudly upholds.
Jackson wrote the autobiographical song about the ups and downs of relationships as a tribute to his bride Denise. The teenage sweethearts met at Dairy Queen in their hometown of Newnan, Georgia, and married in 1979. From rolling the dice by moving to Nashville to capturing chart success with "Don't Rock the Jukebox," "Midnight in Montgomery," "Little Bitty" and other hits, and becoming a duet partner for musical idol George Jones, Jackson's wife stood by him every risky and rewarding step of the way. He was just a small-town Southern boy in the big time, making any songs about his real-life. Whether singing about being raised by Daddy Gene and Ruth Musick-Jackson or his lasting marriage, Jackson resounded with his listeners.
Produced by Keith Stegall, the song first appeared on 2002's Greatest Hits Vol. II. The brand-new song was the second single off the compilation album. It was one of two new songs on the album, with the other being Jimmy Buffett duet, "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere."
A music video directed by Trey Fanjoy helped propel it to the top of the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. It was the 22nd of Jackson's 25 career number one hits.
The term "nostalgia" is often tossed around when people talk about the cartoons they watched as kids, the music that fueled their teenage rebellion, and the clothes they bought once they could work and save their own money. By these parameters, neon clothes and Jackson's "Chasin' That Neon Rainbow" define the '90s for the same fans moved by "Remember When."
For those lucky enough to have a significant other, loving family, or trusty mentor, memories of the past are more about people than popular songs and trends. The truths in a song like "Remember When" point back to when a grandparent's own children were small. Or maybe nostalgia points back farther to when Grandma and Grandpa first met at a local cotton mill. Through this scope, Jackson's song captures the best kind of memories of decades passed, turning his life story into something that's been lived by many of his fellow Southerners.
A Legacy Artists' Lasting Hit
By the time "Remember When" topped the charts in 2003, country music had changed drastically since Jackson's heyday. Suddenly, hits were hard to come by for traditional-minded artists, unless a song really spoke to the public. Fortunately for Jackson, his early-aughts output included a couple of songs that stroked the heartstrings of old-school and mainstream fans.
First came "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)," a reaction to the 9/11 tragedy that put human sorrow ahead of politics. Jackson could've hung up his hat for good after the 2001 CMAs and fully deserved his Country Music Hall of Fame induction off that night, paired with his prior hits.
Nationwide catharsis and a song about long-time personal relationships hardly compare thematically, but the same honesty and integrity that made Jackson's voice the right one to lament one of America's greatest tragedies helped make "Remember When" a relatable and still relevant number one hit.
Keeping It Country
Jackson was a much a traditionalist in his heyday as a Chris Stapleton or Margo Price are today. Fame was no compromise, forcing a Newnan country boy to go uptown. Instead, Jackson helped Clint Black, George Strait, and other famous peers bring a sense of the great storytelling that long defined country music to the mainstream. Whether he sang carefree songs about the "Summertime Blues" or poured his heart and personal life into memorable lyrics, Jackson always served up something undeniably country.
With all of that said, take in these lyrics and appreciate the candidness of perhaps the most moving Alan Jackson song.
"Remember When" Lyrics
Remember when I was young and so were you
And time stood still and love was all we knew
You were the first, so was I
We made love and then you cried
Remember when we vowed the vows and walked the walk
Gave our hearts, made the start, it was hard
We lived and learned, life threw curves
There was joy, there was hurt
Remember when old ones died and new were born
And life was changed, disassembled, rearranged
We came together, fell apart
And broke each other's hearts
Remember when the sound of little feet
Was the music we danced to week to week
Brought back the love, we found trust
Vowed we'd never give it up
Remember when thirty seemed so old
Now lookin' back, it's just a steppin' stone
To where we are, where we've been
Said we'd do it all again
Remember when we said when we turned gray
When the children grow up and move away
We won't be sad, we'll be glad
For all the life we've had
And we'll remember when