In 1987, Kenny Rogers released “Twenty Years Ago,” though many other artists had already cut it.
“It took about six years for someone to record it. The great songwriter Fred Knobloch had a [record] deal, and I think he recorded it first. Then Juice Newton cut it. And Kenny Mims, who was a great guitar player and producer, was working with Van Stephenson before there was a group called BlackHawk, and they recorded it in a 16-track studio in an attic on 16th Avenue,” one of the songwriters, Wood Newton, recalled.
When Kenny Rogers was looking for new songs to release, he heard “Twenty Years Ago” and knew right at that moment that he had to cut it before Van Stephenson could get a record deal.
“In fact, the music tracks to his version of the song are the ones that were recorded for Van Stephenson,” Newton added. “Kenny tried to record it and beat the tracks Van did, but he couldn’t, so they were wise enough to say, ‘Let’s just buy the tracks that have already been done.’ They did a few overdubs, but basically, they used the tracks that had already been cut.”
But no one had a version that was as big a hit as Kenny Rogers’. Released as the second single from his album They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To, Rogers’ version hit No. 2 on the US Hot Country Songs as well as on Canadian RPM Country Tracks charts.
A Walk Down The Memory Lane
Written by Wood Newton with fellow songwriters Dan Tyler, Michael Noble, and C. Michael Spriggs, “Twenty Years Ago” tells the tale of a man visiting the old town where he grew up.
He found the old movie house he frequently visits twenty years ago and saw that it has now been closed down. He recalls working at the drugstore down the street, but nobody’s left there he would know. He also remembers his childhood friend who died in the Vietnam war in 1964. He reminisces how much simpler and perhaps better life was back then.
“All my memories from those days come gather round me, what I’d give if they could take me back in time. It almost seems like yesterday. Where do the good times go? Life was so much easier twenty years ago,” the song goes.
Newton also recalled to The Boot the time they wrote “Twenty Years Ago.”
“It had been about twenty years since I had graduated from high school. The song was just the idea of going back to your hometown twenty years later and reminiscing, and all the memories and things that come up,” he recalled.
“The last verse of that song talks about Joe, who joined the Army in 1964: ‘How could we know he’d never come back twenty years ago?’ I think that line might have made some people hesitate about the song because, at that time, the country was trying to forget the war and get over it.”
Tune in and watch Kenny Rogers’ breathtaking performance of “Twenty Years Ago” in the video below.
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