Bobby's One Hit Wonders: Volume Nine: Perfect Stranger - You Have The Right To Remain Silent
By: Bobby Peacock
I've always wondered why bands seem to be such a hard sell at country radio. It seems that, for any band that achieves anything resembling longevity, ten times as many become one-hit wonders. Among the latter are Perfect Stranger.
Perfect Stranger was not an overnight success. Though founded in 1986, the quartet (composed of bassist Shayne Morrison, guitarist Richard Raines, drummer Andy Ginn, and lead vocalist Steve Murray) didn't score a record deal until 1994. Pacific Records, a small label in Oklahoma, introduced the band with "Ridin' the Rodeo," a Vince Gill-Kostas co-write which previously appeared on Gill's 1989 album When I Call Your Name. Although it did not chart, the song made enough buzz in the indie scene, leading to the release of It's Up to You. But it was the second single from that very album, "You Have the Right to Remain Silent," that gave Perfect Stranger their 15 minutes of fame. After getting some chart action through Pacific's distribution, the single caught the attention of Curb Records, who pushed "Right" up the charts re-released It's Up to You with a couple tracks changed. The song went to #4 on the country charts and #61 on the Hot 100, certainly a solid introduction. (Interestingly, a couple other acts have since followed the same pattern: Zac Brown Band, Eli Young Band, and Gloriana all had independently-released singles that got picked up by a bigger label partway through their chart run.)
"You Have the Right to Remain Silent" has a great, nonstandard hook — a lover who's been burned before and may not want to talk about the past is given the permission to stay quiet if she wants — and crisp production. Perhaps the only shortcoming is in the vocals: in very many spots, especially the first verse, Steve Murray's voice wavers and cracks a bit. But not unlike Jason Sellers on his two BNA albums, Murray's vocal imperfections only make him seem more authentic and human.
The album's next two singles, "I Am a Stranger Here Myself" and "Remember the Ride," both failed to make the Top 40. The former was a beautiful piano-heavy shuffle about the newness of love, and the latter contained a smart lyric comparing women and horses — "some were born to run, some will stomp you just for fun." Though both more than solid songs on their own, these latter two might have been just too much mid-tempo at once. Perhaps a re-release of "Ridin' the Rodeo," the cover of Mel Tillis' "I Ain't Never," or the Jim Lauderdale composition "It's Up to You" could've shaken things up. On the other hand, country music was starting to move back over to the pop side of the spectrum at this point, and Perfect Stranger was probably just too neo-trad to have staying power in the changing musical climates.
By 1997, the time came for that all-important second album. Curb had already signed a few other hot new groups — Smokin' Armadillos, Seminole, Burnin' Daylight, Blake & Brian — so one was bound to be a hitmaker, right? Unfortunately for Perfect Stranger, they weren't the ones (and neither were any of the aforementioned acts, for that matter). The clever "Fire When Ready" (basically a less angry "Take This Job and Shove It" that showed considerable growth in Murray's voice) stalled out in the 60s, and it was another two years before they tried their luck again. Now minus drummer Andy Ginn, the band made a valiant effort with "A Little Bit More of Your Love", once again finding themselves failing to get out of the 60s. After that, the somewhat apropos "Coming Up Short Again" notched a single week at #75.
After so many years of "try, try again," the now-trio finally got that second disc, The Hits, in 2001. Curb pushed the title track and "Miracle" as singles, but neither made the charts. "The Hits" in particular was a clever number that, in the vein of Gary Allan's "Songs About Rain" two years later, name-dropped several sad songs that accentuate just how heartbroken the man is. (A few off-the-board picks like "Help Me Hold On" and "One Night a Day" also help.)
The band's history post-2001 history is seemingly lost in the sands of time, but eventually, they resurfaced in name only in 2009 with only Morrison carrying over. Clint Williams and Marcus Eldridge shared the lead vocals, with Chad Ware on guitar and Doug Martin on drums. This rebooted lineup cut Shake the World for Smith Music Group. A year later, the core trio of Murray, Raines, and Morrison apparently came back with new drummer Scott Zucknick — and I know that only because I found their website from 2010 in the Wayback Machine. This lineup appears to have one some touring in 2011 on the "Back to the HonkyTonks" tour, but given that there is virtually no trace of them online — no official website, no YouTube channel, not even a Facebook or Twitter — I would assume that Perfect Stranger version 3.0 is defunct.