Alan Jackson’s debut album, Here in the Real World, straddles the musical and chronological line between the Class of ’89 — a neo-traditionalist new wave marked by the debut albums of Clint Black, Garth Brooks, Lorrie Morgan and others — and the more commercial-driven rise of ‘90s country.
Jackson became the first signee of Arista Nashville on June 26, 1989, and many of his early songs mirror Black’s honky-tonk affinity and Brooks’ storytelling bent. Yet fame stalled after his lone major-label single of the ‘80s, “Blue Blooded Woman,” failed to crack the Top 40.
Jackson's follow-up single, “Here in the Real World,” arrived on Jan. 15, 1990. It became a Top 3 hit, making Jackson the original ‘90s country star. From there, he proved to be not just a fantastic vocalist but also one of the best new songwriters in Nashville.
Like Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams before him, Jackson often wrote from experience. Jackson’s reference points came not from hard living but from a happy family life in his Newnan, Ga., hometown, and a lasting marriage that predates his music career. From these sources come songs reflecting the struggles and triumphs of common, rural people.
Jackson’s first outing as the people’s poet helped close the book on one retro-crazed decade and penned the forward for a new 10-year stretch of stars with knowledge of past greats and hunger for the impending flood of stadium tours and multi-platinum albums. Read on to find out how The Boot ranks the songs on Here in the Real World, a truly great album.
"Ace of Hearts"
When it comes to traditional country songs built on card game analogies, only Dennis Robbins’ “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House” — made famous in 1990 by Garth Brooks — played a better hand.
“She Don’t Get the Blues”
With its vivid character building and Bakersfield-style stroll, this one could pass as an older Merle Haggard deep cut.
"Short Sweet Ride"
Runaway trains, alcohol and other song tropes help Jackson get across an “age-old story” about the unavoidable ups and downs of love.
"Dog River Blues"
A clap-along bass line guides this modern fiddle tune about love and loss on the banks of Alabama’s Dog River. It would’ve made a worthy single in the throwback-crazed year of 1990.
"Blue Blooded Woman"
A country boy with an affinity for Walmart clothes and home-cooked meals finds just enough common ground with a high-flautin’ city slicker in this romantic fiddle tune. It’s reminiscent of the fun side of ‘80s country, as represented by Mel McDaniel, Ricky Skaggs and others.
Jackson flaunts his diploma from the George Jones School of Storytelling, Class of ’89, with this gentle song of love and pain. It’s not the first or last Jones comparison earned by one of the Possum’s future friends and duet partners.
There’s something special about any Jackson song that references his Newnan, Ga., upbringing. This one tells the true story about the expanded tool shed that became home for the Jackson and Musick families.
“Here in the Real World”
Some of the best country songs deal with real-life emotions and consequences. With his first title track, Jackson points out the glaring differences between make-believe movies and the truth in his lyrics.
“I’d Love You All Over Again”
Jackson wrote this confessional about his 10th wedding anniversary with wife Denise. It’s the first great example of his emotionally deep songwriting.
"Chasin' That Neon Rainbow"
This ode to touring capped off the 1980s — a decade that began with Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again.” Likewise, this catchy, danceable tune previewed the commercial rise of ‘90s country.
What's Your Favorite 'Here in the Real World' Song?
Jackson fans, did we get this one right? Or is your favorite of the country icon's earliest work something different? Share your thoughts in the comments section!