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Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)


Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)

"Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)"
B-side "Drive (For Daddy Gene)"
Released November 26, 2001
Format Promo-only CD single; 7"
Recorded November 7, 2001 (live)
Genre Country
Length 5:05 (studio version)
5:47 (live version)
Label Arista Nashville 69129
Writer(s) Alan Jackson
Producer Keith Stegall
Alan Jackson singles chronology

"It's Alright to Be a Redneck"
"Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)"
"Drive (For Daddy Gene)"

"Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" is the title of a song written and recorded by American country music artist Alan Jackson. Written in the wake of the September 11 attacks, it was introduced at the Country Music Association's annual awards show on November 7, 2001. It was released in November 2001 as the lead single from the album Drive, and reached the top of the U.S. Billboard country charts.[1]


Jackson wanted to write a song expressing his thoughts and emotions, but he found it hard to do so for many weeks.[2] "I didn't want to write a patriotic song", Jackson said. "And I didn't want it to be vengeful, either. But I didn't want to forget about how I felt and how I knew other people felt that day."

Finally, on the Sunday morning of October 28, 2001, he woke up at 4 a.m. with the melody, opening lines and chorus going through his mind. He hastily got out of bed, still in his underwear, and sang them into a hand-held recorder so he would not forget them.[2][3][4] Later that morning, when his wife and children had gone to Sunday school, he sat down in his study and completed the lyrics.[2]

The verses focused on others' reactions in the form of questions. One verse asks, "Did you lay down at night and think of tomorrow?/Go out and buy you a gun?/Did you turn off that violent old movie you're watchin'/And turn on I Love Lucy reruns?" In between, he asks about the locations of people when the tragedy played out, "Were you in the yard with your wife and children?/Or workin' on some stage in LA?" In the chorus, Jackson tries to sum up his own feelings, first by calling himself merely "a singer of simple songs", and "not a real political man", and finally by paraphrasing the Biblical New Testament's first letter of Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 13: "Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us/And the greatest is love."

Initially, he felt squeamish about recording it, much less releasing it, because he disliked the idea of capitalizing on a tragedy.[5] But after he played it for his wife Denise and for his producer, Keith Stegall, and it met with their approval, Jackson went into the studio to record "Where Were You" that week.[6] On Stegall's advice, Jackson played the finished track for a group of executives at his record label. "We just kind of looked at one another", RCA Label Group chairman Joe Galante said later. "Nobody spoke for a full minute."[4]


Jackson was scheduled to perform at the Country Music Association's annual awards ceremony on November 7, 2001, to be aired on CBS. Originally, he planned to perform "Where I Come From",[7] which at the time was the #1 hit on the Billboard country charts.[8] But mere days before the awards show, Jackson's manager, Nancy Russell, played a recording of "Where Were You" for four of the CMA's top executives. All four were crying by the time the song ended.[7]

The day before the show, CMT had a brief note on its web site that Jackson would be introducing the new song during the awards telecast.[9] The next night, after an introduction from the show's host, Vince Gill, Jackson performed "Where Were You" seated on a stool, with an orchestra and backing singers behind him. At the conclusion of the five-minute-long song, the audience gave him an immediate standing ovation. This performance, along with the Vince Gill introduction, is used as the song's music video.



The next morning, many stations already were playing Jackson's new song after taking it from the broadcast.[4] Several pop-oriented stations, including one in New York, started to play it as well.[4] Based almost entirely on that unsolicited airplay, "Where Were You" debuted at #25 on the Billboard country chart the week ending November 24, 2001, the highest debut since "The Thunder Rolls" by Garth Brooks debuted at #19 in 1991.[10] A week later, with Arista finally having serviced a promotional single to radio, it jumped to #12. On the December 29 country singles chart, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" was the #1 song. It had taken only six weeks to get there, the fastest rise to the top in four years.[11] The song spent five weeks at the top,[8] and it also became a Top 40 pop hit, peaking at #28.[12] At the time, it was Jackson's biggest country and pop hit.

Jackson's record label determined that it could not manufacture a commercial single fast enough to meet demand.[4] Instead, Arista pushed up the release date for the new album, Drive, from May to January 15.[4] Arista also chose to include both the studio version and the live CMA Awards version on the new album. The pent-up demand for "Where Were You" helped propel the album to the top of both the Billboard country and pop album charts, becoming Jackson's first #1 on the main album chart. It spent four weeks at the top.


Critical response to the single was largely positive. Deborah Evans Price (with Billboard (magazine)) remarked "A multitude of songs have been written and recorded in the wake of September 11, but none captures the myriad emotions unleashed by the terrorist attacks on an unsuspecting nation more perfectly than Jackson's eloquent ballad".[13] Stephen Thomas Erlewine of the All Music Guide remarked, "Given the enormity of the subject-- it's simply not something that can be summarized in song-- it's a surprisingly effective and moving tune".[14]

Later in 2001, "Where Were You" won both the Academy of Country Music and CMA honors for "Song of the Year" and "Single of the Year". In 2003, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" earned Jackson his first Grammy award, for "Best Country Song". It was also nominated in the overall "Song of the Year" category, a rarity for a pure country song, but it lost to "Don't Know Why", written by Jesse Harris and a hit for Norah Jones.[15] It was also ranked 28th on CMT's list of the "100 Greatest Country Songs".[16]

Jackson's reaction to "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" was this: "I think it was Hank Williams who said, 'God writes the songs, I just hold the pen.' That's the way I felt with this song."[4]

Dan Milliken of Country Universe rated the song #7 on his list of the 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade. He stated that the song "cannot travel forward into the future the way other songs on this countdown can; its full impact will remain locked in the memories of those of us who lived through September 11th, 2001, and will never be experienced quite so deeply ever again." [17]

Chart performance

Chart (2001-2002) Peak
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[18] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[19] 28

Year-end charts

Chart (2002) Position
US Country Songs (Billboard)[20] 24

Track listings

US promotional CD single Arista Nashville 69118

  1. Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) 4:58
  2. Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) 4:58
    (same version appears twice)

US 7-inch single Arista Nashville 69129

  1. Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) 5:05
  2. Drive (For Daddy Gene) 4:03


External links

  • Template:MetroLyrics song
Preceded by
"I Wanna Talk About Me"
by Toby Keith
Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks
number-one single

December 29, 2001-January 26, 2002
Succeeded by
"Good Morning Beautiful"
by Steve Holy
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