Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)

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"Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)"
Single by Alan Jackson
from the album Drive
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(s) 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 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 number 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 number 25 on the Billboard country chart the week ending November 24, 2001, the highest debut since "The Thunder Rolls" by Garth Brooks debuted at number 19 in 1991.[10] A week later, with Arista finally having serviced a promotional single to radio, it jumped to number 12. On the December 29 country singles chart, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" was the number 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 number 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 number 1 on the main album chart. It spent four weeks at the top.

As of April 2015, the song has sold 368,000 digital copies in the United States.[13]


Critical response to the single was overwhelmingly 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".[14] 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".[15]

Later in 2002, "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.[16] It was also ranked 28th on CMT's list of the "100 Greatest Country Songs".[17]

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 number 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." [18]

South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker parodied the song in the episode A Ladder to Heaven.

Cover versions[edit]

Country singer Scotty McCreery covered the song while on the tenth season of American Idol. He would later win the season.

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (2001–2002) Peak
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[19] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[20] 28

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (2002) Position
US Country Songs (Billboard)[21] 24

Track listings[edit]

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


  1. ^ Mansfield, Brian (September 6, 2002). "Country music, in 9/11 time". USA Today. Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  2. ^ a b c Owen, Linda (January–February 2003). "Story Behind the Song: "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)"". Today's Christian. Archived from the original on 2007-05-10. Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  3. ^ Willman, Chris (March 15, 2002). "Cat in the Hat (part 1)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Mansfield, Brian (November 21, 2001). "Inspiration awakens Jackson to country hit". USA Today. Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  5. ^ Grossberg, Josh (November 6, 2002). "Jackson Dominates CMAs". E! Online. Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  6. ^ "Alan Jackson finds balance in his "World"". CMT.com. January 16, 2002. Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  7. ^ a b Willman, Chris (March 15, 2002). "Cat in the Hat (part 2)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  8. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (2005). Top Country Songs 1944 to 2005. Menomonee Falls, Wis.: Record Research. p. 620. ISBN 0-89820-165-9. 
  9. ^ "Jackson to Premiere New Song at CMA Awards". CMT.com. November 6, 2001. Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  10. ^ "Shania (Twain) in the News Archives". Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  11. ^ "Alan Jackson earns fastest #1 of any country artist in 4 years". ThatsCountry.com. December 18, 2001. Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  12. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Pop Singles 1955-2002. Menomonee Falls, Wis.: Record Research. p. 341. ISBN 0-89820-155-1. 
  13. ^ Matt Bjorke (April 22, 2015). "Country Music’s Top 30 Digital Singles: Week of April 22, 2015". Roughstock. 
  14. ^ Price, Deborah Evans (2001-12-29), "The Eloquent 'Drive' of Artista's Jackson". Billboard. 113 (52/1):5
  15. ^ http://www.allmusic.com/album/r567069
  16. ^ "Grammy Awards: Song of the Year". Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  17. ^ "CMT's 100 Greatest Country Songs and 1st on CMT's 40 Greatest Songs of the Decade.". Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  18. ^ The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade Part 5
  19. ^ "Alan Jackson – Chart history" Billboard Hot Country Songs for Alan Jackson.
  20. ^ "Alan Jackson – Chart history" Billboard Hot 100 for Alan Jackson.
  21. ^ "Best of 2002: Country Songs". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. 2002. Retrieved August 13, 2012. 

External links[edit]

  1. "Video of the 2001 CMA performance (scroll down)". Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  2. ""Alan Jackson Memorializes Those Lost" by Hon. Mac Collins of Georgia (PDF)". Congressional Record. November 16, 2001. Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
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