September 14

The Story Behind “What’s Forever For”

What’s forever for? Have you ever asked this question to yourself? Well, as for me forever is a state of being where there’s happiness and love between two people. Forever is a vow we make to stick through it all.

A Look-Back

35 years ago this month, Michael Martin Murphey hurtled to #1 on Billboard’s country singles chart with a tune that he personally considered as lyrically one of the greatest love songs to ever come his way: Rafe Van Hoy’s “What’s Forever For.” Many big names had recorded it before Murphey did, but Michael’s version proved to be the definitive cut and the first of his two #1 country hits. It’s Michael Martin Murphey’s “What’s Forever For:”

Behind the Song

Oak Cliff, Texas native Michael Martin Murphey is a native of Oak Cliff, Texas, seemed like a newcomer to country music in 1982.However, he has been given a talent in writing short stories and poems even as a child. At the age of 20, while studying Ledbetter’s in Westwood. He brushed with country-rockers such as Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Jerry Jeff Walker and the Eagles. Michael also formed a duo with Boomer Castleman which they called the “Lewis & Clark Expedition.”

In 1971 Murphey moved back to Texas, landing this time in Austin where he lived for three years during the formative stages of Willie Nelson’s “outlaw” movement. During 1972 he made his first appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart with “Geronimo’s Cadillac,” obtaining the marginal tally of #37. Moving to Colorado in 1975, Michael achieved his huge pop hit “Wildfire,” which climbed all the way up to #3.

Yet another move to Taos, New Mexico in 1979 found Murphy writing the script for a film called “Hard Country,” and the following year he placed one of his songs, “Cherokee Fiddle,” on the soundtrack of “Urban Cowboy” (sung by Johnny Lee in the movie, and a fair-sized country hit, reaching #10).

The Long-Awaited Success

It was in 1982 when Michael’s efforts found a more permanent home in country music with his signing to the Liberty label and his second release for that company called “What’s Forever For.” Murphy discovered the song when he heard its writer, Rafe VanHoy, singing it at an event commonly referred to as a “guitar pull,” where a group of local songwriters gather in a circle, pass a guitar around and each writer sings his or her latest compositions.

Upon hearing it for the first time, “What’s Forever For” made a remarkable impact on Murphy. He thought that it was lyrically one of greatest love songs he had ever heard, and it packed a powerful, thought-provoking message not normally found in love songs. VanHoy had written the number after a couple (personal friends of his) that he thought would stay together ended up divorcing. At least ten artists recorded “What’s Forever For” before Murphey cut the song, including John Conlee, Anne Murray, T. G. Sheppard and even pop singer Johnny Mathis, yet Michael’s track remains the definitive version. It skyrocketed to #1 on Billboard’s country singles chart on September 25, 1982, and also proved to be a solid hit on the Hot 100, reaching #19.

That, my friends, is how this song made it to the top, it really takes a good ear and talent to make a certain success.


michael martin murphey, what's forever for

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