Joe Nichols Talks ‘Brokenhearted’ And The Resurgence Of Traditional Country Music
“When country music’s more receptive to traditional country music, I can carve out my niche in there and have a place at radio,” Nichols explains.
Joe Nichols; Photo by Ford Fairchild
Joe Nichols’ second radio single off of his Good Day For Living album, “Brokenhearted” delivers a playful critique of the lack of heartache in country music today. The ironically upbeat tune is the followup to Nichols’ “Good Day for Living,” which climbed the country radio charts earlier this summer, marking his first Top 20 in nearly a decade. The single and title track to the critically acclaimed album peaked at No.15 on the Country Aircheck/Mediabase Chart and No.18 on the Billboard Country Chart.
Written by Rhett Akins, Marv Green, and John Thomas Harding, the lyrics of “Brokenhearted” describe the current state of country music as a place full of parties, but nowhere to nurse a heartache.
“Ain’t no cryin’ in your beer /Ain’t no she walked out the door /Ain’t nobody brokenhearted / In country music anymore,” he sings.
“I like that it’s playful,” Nichols tells Country Now. “It’s not really an angry point or anything like that. It’s just a story about a guy looking for a place to be sad.”
Nichols knew the song was a perfect fit as soon as he heard it and saw the title, which is reminiscent of his first No. 1 hit, 2003’s “Brokenheartsville.” He recalls listening to it for the first time in his headphones as he walked off an airplane to the parking lot. “Brokenhearted” was in a group of songs that Quartz Hill Records label head Benny Brown had sent over to Nichols. “I replied immediately, this is a hit! This is a great song for me. That’s how it sometimes happens. Sometimes it’s just one in the pile of dozens of songs at one time.”
He added, “I think this song for me is like having one of my old songs back, like a ‘Brokenheartsville’ or a ‘Tequila’ or something like that. It just feels like that kind of song and it has tremendous potential.”
“Brokenhearted” was co-written by Rhett Akins, who has a long history with Nichols. “I’ve written with Rhett, I’ve cut a lot of his songs.” Nichols commented about the irony of Akins writing about the overabundance of party songs in country music. “He’s written a lot of songs that this song’s talking about,” Nichols chuckled. “He’s written a lot of the party songs on the charts that ‘Brokenhearted’ is talking about.”
One memory with Akins that stands out to Nichols is a writing session they had together with Dallas Davidson. “I remember just sitting in that room thinking, man, I’m not in my league,” he laughed. He recalls how quickly Akins and Davidson fed off each other, and Nichols felt “like a wet boot in the middle of the floor, just kinda slopping around amongst the guys that are slinging great phrases and great lines.” It was a learning experience for Nichols. “It just kind of reminded me, ah, be a little humble with your songwriting. Pick your moments.”
The country traditionalist fondly reflected on some of his favorite classic heartbreak tunes, including Keith Whitley’s “I’m Over You,” Randy Travis’ “Promises That I Love,” and Merle Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again.” Nichols’ all-time favorite is the iconic “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones. And when it comes to party songs, Nichols loves classic Hank Williams, Jr. “I used to love all the old Hank Jr party stuff… His first Greatest Hits record is just, put it out on track number one and just let it repeat, front to back over and over again. That’s a party there.”
When fans hear Nichols singing “Brokenhearted” in concert, they may be surprised to learn what’s going through his mind while he’s performing it. “It’s a harder song to sing than it sounds,” he admits. “There’s just not a lot of breath,” he laughs. “There’s just a lot of lines that are actually deceivingly difficult.” He also focuses on bringing the appropriate vibe to the crowd. “In my mind, it’s making it feel like a Hank Jr. type of vibe. That’s what is important to me every night, making sure this feels like a party song.”
Nichols’ recent success with the first two singles from his Good Day for Living album are indicative of the return of traditional country music to the landscape of the genre. “I think it’s kinda hard to overlook that,” says Nichols. “It’s guys like Cody Johnson breaking through, Luke Combs. I think there’s just some traditional stuff that’s making its way out there, cutting through… It’s really good for a guy like me, a traditional guy. So when country music’s more receptive to traditional country music, I can carve out my niche in there and have a place at radio.”
With a more than two-decade-long career and six No. 1 singles under his belt, Nichols still has a wish list, including some bucket list collaborations. “My wife and I talked about this not too long ago, and I’ve done a couple now with Dolly Parton … that’s the most incredible thing ever. I’ve always wanted to do a duet with Emmylou Harris. I don’t even know if she would’ve heard of me,” he jokes. He also listed Patty Loveless, Allison Krauss, Alan Jackson, George Strait and Garth Brooks among his dream duet partners.
On the Good Day for Living album, fans can hear Nichols’ most recent collaboration, a duet with Blake Shelton. Nichols recorded “I Got Friends That Do” as a solo track for the album, but he was asked if he’d consider cutting it as a duet with Shelton. “We’ve been idiots for a long time that have been in each other’s company and known each other somewhat,” he joked. “I texted him and I sent him the song and said, ‘Hey man, you want to sing this with me?’ He said, I’m in. Let’s do it. And he did it. He came in and added a lot of personality to it, like he always does with everything. And I thought he made it real fun, with his kind of personality.”
Nichols is currently on his Good Day for Living 2023 tour, which includes a packed schedule of stops across the country through this fall. For more information, visit www.joenichols.com
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