December 18

The Story of “Tennessee River” by Alabama

This is about Tennessee River, a song written by Randy Owen and recorded by Alabama. Released in April 1980, it was the third single from their My Home’s in Alabama album. The song was the American country music band’s first No. 1 song on the Billboard magazine Hot Country Singles chart.

After signing with RCA Nashville in March 1980, the label released became Alabama’s first official track under them. Apart from Tennessee River, the album also includes two earlier singles: “I Wanna Come Over” and “My Home’s in Alabama”. Before RCA released their chart-topper, MDJ Records released the previous songs. Despite RCA pressings of “My Home’s in Alabama” and an offer for retail sale later, RCA got a hold of it.

The Song’s Context

The song features a fiddle-heavy celebration of growing up near the Tennessee River. The said river flows fairly close to Alabama’s home base of Fort Payne. By listening to this song, there are three significant points imparted. First, the song expresses the regrets of having gotten the urge to roam. The second is the gratitude of the few times the singer gets to enjoy spending time by the river. Finally, it is about the desire to eventually settle down and raise a family in the river’s vicinity.

In an essay by Country music historian Bill Malone, Classic Country Music: A Smithsonian Collection, he noted that

“’Tennessee River’ exhibits a deep love for their state and region … and in the unpretentious sense of place and loyalty to home and family that they display in their personal lives and performances”.

Other songs—“My Home’s in Alabama”, “Song of the South” and “Born Country” including their Christmas song “Christmas in Dixie”—exhibit those same sentiments.

Considered as a lucky charm,Tennessee River began Alabama’s breakthrough. From here, they started to have a string of 21 consecutive No. 1 singles for many releases. This good luck spanned from 1980 through 1987. For the record, many say that “Christmas in Dixie” is generally not a part of the 1982 Christmas song.



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