30 Years Ago: Alan Jackson’s ‘Chattahoochee’ Climbs to No. 1
On July 17, 1993, Alan Jackson's "Chattahoochee" began its first of four weeks at No. 1 on the charts. Co-written by Jim McBride, "Chattahoochee" was Jackson's seventh chart-topper.
"Chattahoochee" appears on Jackson's 1992 album A Lot About Livin' (and a Little 'Bout Love). Driven by twangy riffs and a honky-tonk vibe, the brisk song describes an idyllic season full of late nights, summer flings and drinking and daydreaming with friends. All of these memories are laced with sentimentality, giving the song a nostalgic, happy tone: "Never knew how much that muddy water meant to me," Jackson sings. "But I learned how to swim and I learned who I was / A lot about livin' and a little 'bout love."
McBride tells The Boot that "Chattahoochee" is based on the real Chattahoochee River, which borders Georgia, Florida and Alabama. The tunesmith is an Alabama native and, therefore, was familiar with the river.
"Sydney Lanier was a poet who had written a poem called "Song of the Chattahoochee" that was in high school literature books," McBride recalls. "I was sitting in my home office in Nashville one day, and I had just read a book about the Chattahoochee. I started playing a little melody, and then I got the first two lines of the song."
McBride then discovered that the Chattahoochee River ran near Jackson's hometown of Newnan, Ga., and made a note to himself in a songwriting notebook he kept. Things snowballed from there.
"I went out on the road shortly after that with Alan, so I showed the song idea to him," McBride remembers. "I sang the first couple lines, and he was all over it. We stared working on it in Tallahassee, Fla., and then we finished it the next afternoon in Thibodaux, La. We finished it before soundcheck, and he showed it to the band. They actually worked it up in soundcheck and performed it that night!"
In the liner notes of 1995's The Greatest Hits Collections, Jackson relays where his mind was as the pair wrote the tune: "It's a song about having fun, growing up and coming of age in a small town — which really applies to anyone across the country, not just by the Chattahoochee," he explains. "We never thought it would be as big as it's become."
In addition to its four-week run at No. 1 on the charts, "Chattahoochee" ended up at No. 1 on Billboard's 1993 year-end Hot Country Songs list. In 1994, the song won CMA Awards trophies for both Single of the Year and Song of the Year.
True Story: Alan Jackson's Label Wasn't Sold on "Chattahoochee"!
Country's Greatest Love Stories: Alan + Denise Jackson + More