After more than two decades in the spotlight, virtually all of that time at the top of their game and the top of the charts, you’d think Alabama had done it all. After all, they were country music’s first supergroup…they’ve sold millions of albums…and they’ve received nearly every award and accolade. But there was one thing that remained—one thing Alabama had to yet to attempt…and it was the one thing no one ever thought they would do—say “goodbye.”
In May 2002, Alabama stunned the world, announcing plans for a Farewell Tour in 2003. Fixtures on the scene—four men who, as a group, were contemporary superstars before George Strait or Reba McEntire ever achieved such stature—are leaving? It hardly seems possible. But, true to the form we’ve come to expect from Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry, Jeff Cook and Mark Herndon, they’re planning to make their departure from touring with class and grace…and with one last note—a musical one—to be left behind for their fans. In the Mood: The Love Songs.
Romance and love have given Alabama some of their most enduring—and endearing—hits. So it was only natural that the foursome would turn to them as they compiled this collection of love standards. Billed as “the final chapter” in the band’s unparalleled RCA recording career, In the Mood: The Love Songs, features 23 tracks—21 of their best known love songs and two new recordings.
Two newly-recorded tracks, “I’m in the Mood” and “The Living Years,” lead off the album. The former is a smoky love song that glows with the trembling intensity of smoldering embers, recalling the sensuality of “Feels So Right” 20 years earlier. The latter may be a new take on Mike and the Mechanics’ 1989 number-one pop anthem, but Randy’s plaintive vocal backed by Teddy and Jeff’s signature harmonies convey the same love between a parent and child that made “In Pictures” a number-one hit.
The classics that fill out In the Mood: The Love Songs represent love in nearly every form and stage—that first spark of interest and desire illuminated in “Touch Me When We’re Dancing,” “If I Had You” and “Fallin’ Again”…the passion of “When We Make Love” and “Face to Face”…the surrender of “Love in the First Degree”…the pledge made by “There’s No Way”…the security found in “Nothing Comes Close”…the fading romance of “We Can’t Love Like This Anymore”…the seeds of love that save a relationship in “Then Again”…the needs that send a “Lady Down on Love” in search of it again…the warm reflection on a shared lifetime in “Here We Are.”
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“We love these songs—these songs are very special to us,” says Randy Owen, looking back at some of the old favorites included on In the Mood: The Love Songs. The fact that two generations have lived and loved to this music and these lyrics isn’t lost on the guys. “To be able to find songs that other people have written, and to be able to just have the opportunity to record these songs and to be able to write some of them as well—it’s a very special honor,” he adds.
Alabama’s fans have honored them in countless ways, securing the group’s place in country music history. But the millions of albums they’ve sold…the awards they’ve won…and the hits they’ve created tell only a small portion of Alabama’s story.
Theirs is an amazing career, stretching across more than two decades…and for three of the guys, it’s been more than 30 years. In the late ‘60s, cousins Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry discovered they shared a common interest in music. Joined by Jeff Cook, they started playing on a regular basis, eventually leaving their hometown of Fort Payne, Alabama to hone their talents on the club scene, most notably in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina under the name “Wildcountry.”
“The first time that Randy, Jeff and I got together and started singing, we felt like we had something different there…something special,” Teddy Gentry recalls. “The harmony and vocals were the first things that jumped out [and showed me] that this was something unique that we could build on.”
With a name change…the addition of drummer Mark Herndon in 1979…a major label deal…and songs like “My Home’s in Alabama” and “Tennessee River,” Alabama became, seemingly overnight, a driving force in country music, essentially changing it forever.
“It’s really hard to measure or quantify, because the fact is they opened the door for a lot of the modern-day bands that are there. And at the same time, musically, they pushed the boundaries,” RCA Label Group Chairman Joe Galante remembers. “They opened a whole generation’s ears to what became country music and drew them into the format—it was enormous.”
“They really have a way of saying something different,” Galante adds. “I’m always amazed at how they can come up with a little turn of a phrase or a little guitar lick or an entire approach to a melody that is different. And there was an energy and a personality that they put into it. They’re a band that all of us will talk about for a long, long time to come.”
Energy and personality were just the start – Alabama put a new face on country music. Teenage boys and 20-something men who had been sporting T-shirts emblazoned with the names of bands like Yes, Boston and Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1978 had Alabama's trademark logo across their chests by the time they left high school and graduated college a few years later. At the same time, the group's soulful southern ballads stirred emotions in women of all ages, drawing huge female audiences to their shows.
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Alabama was, quite simply, blazing a path that would take country music to new places and in new directions. Sure, established country superstars like Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers were enjoying crossover success at the time, but the foursome—relative newcomers in 1981—made their way into the Top 20 on the pop charts as well. “Feels So Right,” “The Closer You Get,” “Love In The First Degree” and “Take Me Down” all received pop airplay.
At the time, male and female soloists shared the country spotlight with a handful of vocal duos and harmonizing groups. The word “band,” by and large, only applied to the musicians that backed a high profile singer. Suddenly, there was a “band” on the charts—and Alabama was
that “band.” They played and sang…and country music was rocked in much the same way as the pop world in 1964, when the arrival of a “band” called The Beatles ended the era of the vocal “group,” ensembles like The Drifters and The Ink Spots.
“Alabama knocked the door down for self-contained bands to come along and be a part of country music,” explains Mark Miller of Sawyer Brown. “Before [them], it was Merle Haggard and The Strangers…Buck Owens and The Buckaroos—the bands were always backing up the artists. There was never a self-contained band, truly, until Alabama came along.”
Mark and his band walked through the door Alabama had opened…and others followed. “From day-one we watched Alabama. They were the thing that you looked at. ‘Hey, man—look what they did!’” says Dana Williams of Diamond Rio. Marty Roe adds, “They were the hope for bands in country music.”
And their legacy extends into the new millennium. “They’re the people that have influenced me and the band the most,” says Dean Sams of Lonestar. “They’re a class act. I will make one of their [Farewell Tour] shows—you can count on it.” Kenny Chesney has opened for Alabama, and, he explains, “To a lot of people it’s a big ego trip. But Alabama, they just go out and they play music. They were the first guys to treat me like I belonged out on the road.”
It’s impossible to quantify Alabama’s impact—numbers, however huge, fail to fully depict the role they’ve played. Perhaps because the numbers themselves are so massive, it’s hard to grasp and place them in any real perspective. Nonetheless, consider these facts:
Alabama was the first group in history to win the Country Music Association’s “Entertainer of the Year” award…and the only artist to win this award for three consecutive years. They were “Entertainer of the Year” for five straight years for the Academy of Country Music.
Starting with “Tennessee River” in 1980, they racked up a string of 21 consecutive number-one hits. 21 more would follow.
With 65-million albums sold worldwide, they’re one of the 20 best-selling acts of all time. In the U.S. alone, Alabama has sold more albums than Eric Clapton or Bob Dylan. They’ve outsold veteran rock bands like Chicago, Journey, Foreigner, Boston and even The Doors. And Alabama is one of the five biggest-selling country acts and the best-selling country group of all time, with career album sales that surpass those of Willie Nelson and Reba McEntire. The band was named Recording Industry Association of America’s “Country Group of the Century.”
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Attempting to find a numerical means to “sum up” Alabama’s success actually becomes a staggering prospect…until you realize that all you need is one figure—one statistic—to say it all. Set aside the millions of albums…the awards, the accolades…even their unprecedented collection of hits…and look simply to the fans—the countless fans they’ve touched over the years. Picture the husband who sees his wife in “Close Enough to Perfect”…and the wife who thinks of him when she hears “Once Upon A Lifetime.” The teenager who got his first kiss as “Feels So Right” played on the AM radio in his parents’ car…and his daughter who thought it was so cool when her dad’s favorite group teamed up with hers to sing “God Must’ve Spent a
Little More Time on You.” The couple who heard “Love In the First Degree” when they met…had “Forever’s As Far As I’ll Go” played at their wedding…and now recall strains of “How Do You Fall In Love” as they turn the pages of their wedding album during a shared evening in front of the fire. Look at those people…add up those numbers…count every person who’s been touched by the music of Alabama—then and only then will you truly see the incredible legacy these four men have created. Alabama’s magic will always be preserved on discs like In the Mood: The Love Songs…and it will always live in the hearts of their fans.
“We’ve done a lot of things in our career by pure accident—there’s been a lot of luck involved,” says a humble Randy Owen. But there’s one other rule that Randy knows has served Alabama well—“Following our hearts and our feelings.”
They may have followed their hearts, but they expressed our feelings. With In the Mood: The Love Songs, they remind us of that all over again.