Borrowing: “Little Rock”

Today I’m spotlighting “Little Rock,” an early cut by acclaimed Nashville songwriter Tom Douglas. It became a hit in 1994 when Collin Raye recorded it, and it’s one of my favorite pop/country songs. I say pop/country because while the song has thematic elements that are familiar to country music (family, alcoholism), the production and vocals lean more in the pop direction. And while I do feel that the “popification” of country music has been taken to extremes in recent years (cough, Taylor Swift, cough cough), the blend actually works well in this particular instance. It’s got a great piano line, and Raye’s voice is warm and clear, putting the listener right into the story.

It occurred to me upon listening to it recently that it could work very well in the hands of one our own vocalists, who’s similarly gifted at telling a story through song—Doug Anderson. While Raye’s voice is pitched a bit higher than Doug’s, Doug has repeatedly demonstrated that he has a fine range and an excellent upper register despite his official baritone position. I don’t hear any notes in this song that would be a stretch for him. It’s not a group song, but I think it could work on one of Doug’s solo projects.

Lyrically speaking, the content might be a little darker than what Anderson is known for. Alcoholism is rarely treated in southern gospel songs. There are also some hard words put in the mouth of the main character’s father-in-law: “Your daddy told me when I left Jesus would forgive, but a daddy don’t forget.” But it’s very emotionally poignant, and that’s what made me think of Doug. He could bring out that emotion in a similarly powerful way.

What do you think? Does anyone remember this song from country radio, and do you think it could work in a southern gospel setting?

A side note about this music video: One thing that always confused me before was the depiction of what looked like two different couples fighting over the father’s alcoholism. Upon re-watching, it seems clear to me now that one of them is actually the speaker’s father and mother, and the little boy watching them in those scenes is his younger self. As he reflects on these memories, the connection is made to his own alcoholism, with his own son watching from the side. This would make sense since alcoholism is often a hereditary thing.

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3 Comments

Filed under Borrowing, Songs

3 responses to “Borrowing: “Little Rock”

  1. Lydia

    I can certainly hear Doug’s voice singing it, but as you conjecture, the content might be too raw and be considered too secular by Doug’s usual audience.

    One thing that’s poignant about the video is that in one respect it flatly contradicts the words of the song. The song says “I’m solid as a stone” but the video shows him buying liquor and sitting around wavering for hours over whether to drink it down or not.

    That raises an interesting question about the words of the song itself, in light of what alcoholism is really like: On the one hand, naturally this is the message the man wants to send to his wife so that she will come and join him and so that their marriage can go on. On the other hand, recovery from alcoholism is very often a one-day-at-a-time matter, and especially in the early stages the person is not “solid as a stone.” The video seems to show more realistically what it’s probably like for him in Little Rock, which makes one wonder if we are supposed to hear the words of the song itself as a bit more optimistic than the reality of his recovery.

    • I think you answered your own question in this. Each piece reflects a different aspect of the reality of alcoholism. You can easily believe that the husband would be eager to paint as good a picture as possible for his wife because he wants to be with her again so badly. So his letter is true to life in that sense. On the other hand, as you said, the video shows that recovery is actually a slow process with lots of faltering and potential for relapse along the way, which is also very true to life. Together, they present a very balanced picture.

  2. Lydia

    The remaining question is this: If you take the song by itself, just as a song without the video, are we as hearers supposed to _believe_ that he is “solid as a rock” now, or are we to surmise that this is partly wishful thinking?

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