He was accused of being “too country,” but within a few years of being turned down by every label in Nashville in the early 1980s, Randy Travis was being hailed as a leader at the forefront of a group of country vocalists called the “new traditionalists.” Travis, Clint Black, Dwight Yoakam and others were on a mission to return more authentic country music and less poppy arrangements to the charts, and they succeeded for a few years.
Travis did well for over a decade, and even after his career waned he still managed to hit number one again with “Three Wooden Crosses” in 2003, and has won a number of Dove awards for his work on albums like the excellent “Inspirational Journey.” Through various personal problems of late he’s still been working, and has had a staying power many of his contemporaries haven’t. Much of his success can be traced to his first number one hit, Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz’s “On the Other Hand.”
The song was from Travis’ inaugural album for Warner Brothers, 1985’s Storms of Life. “On the Other Hand” had been cut a year earlier by the late Keith Whitley, but not released as a single. When it was released as Travis’ first single (with a couple lyrical and melodic differences from Whitley’s version) it was to little fanfare or chart action. It was followed by “1982,” which cracked the top 10. Warner Brothers re-released “On the Other Hand” in 1986, and it went to the #1 position in both the U.S. and Canada, helping propel Storms of Life to the three million mark in sales and making Travis a bankable star.
The song focuses on a man’s conscience getting the best of him when he considers cheating with another woman. But he has too much love, or at least consideration, for his wife to sleep with someone else, no matter how much he wants to.
“I personally was tired of that whole scenario of going from one relationship to another, and not having the strength to really say no in tempting situations,” Overstreet told Country Weekly in 2001. “I was hoping we could write a song that would say we had the strength to say no.” This song took its place in a long string of major hits for Overstreet, who today is the father of Glee cast member Chord Overstreet and Hot Chelle Rae guitarist Nash Overstreet.
The song obviously resonated with both male and female audiences, as did Travis’ baritone, a voice that was unlike any other at the time. “On the Other Hand” won 1986 CMA, ACM and NSAI Song of the Year honors for Overstreet and Schlitz, and the combination of Travis’ voice with Overstreet and Schlitz’s writing turned out to be a potent one, as another Overstreet/Schlitz composition, “Forever and Ever, Amen,” went to number one for Travis a year later and won a Grammy for the writers.