A Look Back at Vince Gill’s Timeless Album ‘I Still Believe in You’
Like most every genre, country music was searching for an identity in 1992. A newcomer from Oklahoma named Garth Brooks had just turned the industry on a dime, releasing his eponymous debut in 1989, No Fences in 1990 and Ropin the Wind in 1991. He transitioning the radio sound from its pop and rock vibes of the 80s into the catchy, singalong hooks for which the 90s would become known. Legends of the 60s and 70s weren’t churning out new music at their earlier pace. Even George Strait briefly stepped away to hone his acting skills in Pure Country.
But on Sept. 1, 1992, fellow Oklahoma native Vince Gill released his timeliness masterpiece, I Still Believe in You, ten tracks clocking in at a total of 36 flawless minutes.
A seasoned veteran of the music business, Gill first achieved commercial success when he recorded Can’t Hold Back with Pure Prairie League in 1979. He sang backup for Dire Straits on “On Every Street,” and his band Cherry Bombs backed Rodney Crowell in the early 80s. He signed a solo deal with RCA Nashville, which produced the records Turn Me Loose, The Things That Matter and The Way Back Home. Sonically, those albums recalled the early 80s stylings of artists like Dan Seals and Ronnie Milsap, but Gill struggled to mold his own unique sound.
He opted to leave RCA for MCA Nashville in 1989 and was reunited with producer Tony Brown, whom he had worked with while he was backing Crowell. Among many others, Brown had been a major key to Strait’s success, and helped Gill to reinvent his sound. Their debut together, When I Call Your Name, sold a million copies, fueled by the success of its title track. It also featured a duet with another of Brown’s biggest successes, Reba McEntire, called “Oklahoma Swing.” The followup, Pocket Full of Gold, enjoyed similar success, also catapulted by the title ballad. Gill was on an island. He never fell into "black hat country," he wrote the majority of his own songs, he was a brilliant musician and he had a voice like no other.
On his third release with Brown, Gill pulled out all the stops. It produced five singles, four of which went to number one: “I Still Believe in You,” “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slipping Away,” “On More Last Chance” and “Tryin’ to Get Over You.” The fifth, “No Future in the Past,” peaked at No. 3 on the charts. It was certified platinum five times in the U.S. and crossed over to Canadian charts.
The title track also earned Grammy Awards for Best Country Song and Best Country Vocal Performance. At the 1993 CMA Awards, he took home Album of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, Song of the Year and he dethroned Brooks’ two year hold on the Entertainer of the Year category, which he would also repeat in 1994.
I Still Believe in You opens with a bluesy track titled “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away,” a sound tailor-made for fans of The Eagles, arriving two years before Hell Freezes Over. Gill's second track was “No Future in the Past,” a song that quietly featured a young bluegrass prodigy named Allison Krauss on background vocals. At the time, Krauss was one of many artists that aided the album’s recording who would later become a titan in the industry.
It was followed by “Nothing Like a Woman,” a familiar track that didn’t achieve chart success, but further perpetuated his crossover into blue-eyed soul. “Tryin’ to Get Over You” was, sequentially, the first time that Gill returned to his tried and true ballads, while “Say Hello” served as a clear homage to his Oklahoma swing roots, featuring the fiddle of Andrea Zonn and the pedal steel of John Hughey.
“One More Last Chance” found Gill truly in his element. Co-written with Gary Nicholson and featuring Delbert McClinton on harmonica, the up-tempo tale of a husband begging for his wife’s forgiveness also supplied one of the decade’s most memorable videos. In the clip, Gill is joined by his golfing buddies, including then-head basketball coach of Belmont University, and his bandmates who arrive at the “19th hole” for a post-golfing drink break. When Gill heads back home on his tractor, he’s passed by another country artist known for using alternative means of transportation.
“Under These Conditions” is the seventh track on the album and could arguably serve as a sequel to “One More Last Chance.”
“I know we’re both married, but we’re both alone,” the track begins. “He’s always working and she’s never home.” The narrator imagines a perfect life with this flame, but certain life "conditions" remind him that it’s best not to act on those thoughts.
Remarkably, although the track that was never released as a single, it features background vocals by the late rock legend Lou Reed, a detail quietly hidden in the record's liner notes.
The album's eighth song, “Pretty Words,” extends the versatility of the album as a clear nod to Gill’s bluegrass beginnings with Ricky Skaggs and his own solo debut, Here Today. “Love Never Broke Anyone’s Heart” follows as the lead-in to the record’s titular final track, the career-defining breakthrough “I Still Believe in You.”
Bad Company later covered the track on their 1996 album Stories Told and Untold, and while the British rock band’s popularity had greatly waned by that point, it validated Deborah Evans Price’s Billboard review which proclaimed that the track possessed “delivery and production strong enough to pull on the ears of other formats.”
"I Still Believe in You" was a co-write with John Barlow Jarvis, who also played keys on the record. Jarvis also served as Rod Stewart’s pianist during the 70s and played with major artists of the time, including Herman’s Hermits, Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, McClinton, Art Garfunkel and John Cougar Mellencamp before becoming a go-to for many of Tony Brown’s artists in the 80s and 90s.
I Still Believe in You celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2022, marking a pivotal moment in Vince Gill's early career. Three decades later, it still stands as a colossal collection of writers and artists, polished by one of the most legendary producers in the business.