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This Memorial Day, Let’s Pause and Tune to “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”


Ranked as the 28th song on CMT’s list of the 100 greatest country songs, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning ” deserves to be counted among the list of patriotic country songs we play on Memorial Day.

On twitter, this Alan Jackson song is also among the most picked by users to commemorate our soldiers during Memorial Day.

So on this fateful day, let’s put aside all political differences and together remember all the brave soldiers who fought for our country. Let’s also extend the honor to all medical personnel, firefighters, servicepeople, and other workers on the frontline. We honor their sacrifices of putting their lives on the line so we may continue on our own.

A Song that Heals

To help people rise from such a devastating event, several artists from the music industry tried to ease the sadness and pain that their countrymen are experiencing. Several songs were written but the most moving were penned by Dolly Parton (Hello God) and Alan Jackson (Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).

Like any of us, Alan Jackson was caught off guard with what happened. He has just returned home from a walk when he turned on the television and found out what had happened. Seeing the damage and devastation brought by the attack, Jackson broke down. During that time, Jackson knew he had to write a song.

Jackson said that he didn’t want it to sound like a patriotic song. He also didn’t want to write a song that was centered on vengeance as its theme. These things were on his mind while considering what people felt.

The Back Story of Jackson’s Songwriting Process

On the 28th of October, 2001, Alan Jackson started to pen the lyrics for “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).”

The song’s chorus was in Jackson’s mind for a long time. He then figured out the other verses for the song. Jackson said that he wouldn’t forget how he finished the song on one Sunday while his wife and daughters were in Sunday school. Jackson, however, thought to better not record it because it felt like he was capitalizing on a tragedy. Denise, Jackson’s wife, and his manager listened to the new song and told Jackson that he should record it.

Jackson’s heartfelt single was all based on the mixed emotions he felt watching the terrible 9/11 scene unfold. Throughout the verses of the song, Jackson filled it with questions like, “Did you lay down at night and think of tomorrow,” and “Were you in the yard with your wife and children?,” but the highlight was in the chorus. Jackson used a biblical reference and paraphrased 1 Corinthians chapter 13 verse 12.

Faith, Hope, and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love.

Debut and Reception

Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) had its debut on the 2001 Annual Country Music Association Awards. The single was also released in the same month and topped the Hot Country Charts for 5 weeks. When asked, Alan Jackson said that the song was heaven’s gift to him and to his fellow Americans.

Initially, the CMA executives scheduled a different song for Jackson to sing on the awards show. Jackson’s manager asked for the top executives to consider Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning). After hearing the song, the executives were also in tears. They then asked Jackson to present his song live during the awards. Jackson then used the live performance as his official music video.

Various critics offered positive responses. Deborah Evans Price said that many songs were dedicated in the wake of the tragedy, but none was like Alan Jackson’s song. The myriad of emotions unleashed by the terrorist attack was completely portrayed in Jackson’s ballad. Jim Bessman of Billboard also said that the song was deeply personal. The song was simple song but with a huge emotional statement. The big plus was its centrality on the theme that “Love is still the answer.”

The song “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” in 2002 won both the Academy of Country Music and CMA for “Song of the Year.” This also earned Jackson his first Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 2003.

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