Bobby's One Hit Wonders: Volume 12: Pat Green - "Wave On Wave"
By: Bobby Peacock
The Texas country music scene is a strange beast. So strange that the Billboard Country Update has a separate chart just for Texas artists. But at the same time, it seems extremely insular — despite its history of rowdy male singers singing raw, emotional songs in intimate settings, it never seems to catch on outside its home state. And whenever it does, the artist usually has to adapt by shooting for the mainstream, instead of playing what made them famous.
Case in point: Pat Green. Born in San Antonio, he worked the bar circuit around Lubbock in his formative years. After self-releasing several albums between 1995 and 2000, he signed with Universal's Republic Records out of NY. Green's first chart showings were modest; "Carry On," the highest-peaking single from his first major label album of the same name, reached a mere #35. I remember hearing it on American Country Countdown a few times, and I didn't like it back then — perhaps I was just thrown by how much rowdier it was than what else was on the radio. But it grew on me immensely, with its upbeat carpe diem lyrics such as "grab your world with your own two hands / Let it spin off on a course all your own."
It was only one album later that Green got his lone major hit, "Wave on Wave." With its tightly-plucked guitar, weeping steel, and heavy backing vocals, it seemed to balance Radney Foster-level lyrical smarts with commercial polish, the perfect mix to please fans and program directors alike. The song clearly resonated with its message of a woman being the metaphorical guardian angel to save a lost man. Subtle yet powerful lyrics like "We're all looking for redemption, just afraid to say the name" bolstered the song's message greatly.
But if anything was lacking direction in 2003, it was the music scene. Nearly every male act seemed to be doing something different. Dierks Bentley had just come out with the rootsy "What Was I Thinkin'"; Jeff Bates and Billy Currington made their first bows with sensitive, emotional ballads; Joe Nichols was so neo-trad that he was nearly anachronistic; Toby Keith was well into braggadocio mode with "Beer for My Horses" and "I Love This Bar"; Brad Paisley had just begun to ramp up his wit with "Celebrity" and "Little Moments"; Tim McGraw was vacillating between rockers ("Real Good Man") and quasi-poetic gibberish ("She's My Kind of Rain", "Watch the Wind Blow By"); and George Strait had two of his weakest songs ("Cowboys Like Us" and "Desperately").
Pat followed up with the equally tight "Guy Like Me," which pontificated on love in a similar vein. But it may have been just a little too rootsy and slide guitar-driven — or maybe just a little too sloppy on the enunciation. Whatever the case, he tried again with two standout cuts from his last Universal Republic album. "Don't Break My Heart Again" and "Baby Doll" both made #21, no doubt fueled by huge airplay in Texas, but these still might've been too cereberal to stick. (Where else are you going to hear a line like "She says, 'I still look good for someone half of my real age'"?)
A change to BNA Records in 2006 could've had the potential to re-ignite him, but instead, it found him showing the first signs of desperation. The good-time "Feels Just Like It Should" was far more lightweight than he'd gone before, and while its debut inside the Top 40 suggested a huge hit, it instead limped to #13. Just to prove that he was no sell-out, he tried the emotional memorial to his father in "Dixie Lullaby" and the energy-packed nostalgia song "Way Back Texas," but both just barely made it into the 30s. And it was in 2008 that he seemingly threw in the towel, making his absolute blandest offering yet with the monotonous, overproduced, generic love ballad "Let Me." After that came "Country Star," a snarky song about wanting to break out of the small-potatoes gigs and aim for superstardom — oh, the irony — which was overstuffed with name-drops, including an ill-timed one of Brooks & Dunn. It probably rubbed a few people the wrong way, as it was quickly dropped in favor of "What I'm For." That song, a lazy and pandering "I believe in X, Y, and Z" song in the vein of Eric Church's "Love Your Love the Most," fared no better, and it was back to the indies for Pat Green.
Some one-hit wonders are so because they're in the right place at the right time. Others, like Pat Green, are total flukes. So many Texas acts never seem to hit it big until they sand off all their rough edges (Eli Young Band, I'm looking at you), but Pat Green is just the opposite. His lone big hit was also one of his best lyrics, keeping his singer-songwriter roots fully intact — but neither staying true to his style nor desperately diluting himself in search of a hit (as on the two BNA albums) worked. No matter how you look at it, "Wave on Wave" was a huge, huge fluke, but a killer song that, if only for a short time, showed that Texas and Nashville aren't so far apart after all.