The trio of Lady Antebellum – Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood – probably had no intention of even thinking about the dreaded “sophomore jinx,” or its equally feared companion “sophomore slump,” when they recorded their second album, Need You Now. That was for others, mainly reviewers, to ponder. The question was certainly, almost repeatedly, brought up: Could the young threesome match the success and acclaim of their self-titled debut album?
It was a legitimate query. That 2008 freshman album sold a cool one million copies upon release (and now two million, as of the latest tally), and also carved out a bit of history. It was the first album by a new duo or group to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. Not even the Dixie Chicks achieved such a milestone. So, the question on the minds of many boiled down to simply, “Can you top that?”
Lady Antebellum let their follow-up album do the talking. Need You Now surpassed its predecessor, both in sales volume and overall impact, squashing any such talk about sophomore jinxes and slumps. On the tenth anniversary of its release, January 26, 2010, we take a look back at the album that established Lady Antebellum as a superstar act.
By the time Need You Now hit retail and online platforms, it was loaded on the front end with two enormous hit singles. Obviously, the title track, released in 2009, provided the lynchpin to the project. It’s a tune that Kelley once described as a “booty call song,” but managed to avoid any sort of overt salaciousness (though it was certainly implied) and actually came off as sensitive and dark at the same time. It captured an all-too-relatable scenario of a lonely person making that late night drunken phone call that could be regretted the following morning. Kelley and Scott traded lead vocals, with both performances hitting the right soulful and aching notes the song required. Country songs had always dealt with desperation and lost love, but not quite with this sort of storyline. The “Need You Now” single reached No. 1 in November of 2009, a couple months prior to the album’s release. The universal theme of the song helped propel it to crossover success, peaking at No. 2 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100.
The second single, “American Honey,” was released to radio a couple of weeks prior to the album’s release. On the heels of those two initial tracks, Need You Now already was building up the proverbial head of steam. “American Honey” eventually became the group’s second No. 1 single from the album, and third overall. Need You Now produced two more hit singles, “Our Kind of Love,” also a No. 1, and “Hello World,” the one tune that received generally mixed reviews. “Hello World,” which some called heavy-handed, nonetheless dealt with a serious subject – appreciating the simple things in life amid its frustrations and demands on our time. It proved that Lady A could handle a message that went beyond the usual love themes.
It’s likely that additional selections could have become singles, if the label team had opted to go deeper. “Perfect Day,” featuring Scott’s cheery lead vocal, was catchy and up-tempo enough to score some chart points, as was “Love This Pain,” one of the prime cuts from the record. “Love This Pain,” with Kelley handling the vocal, centered around a guy who knows his present girl is all wrong, yet he just can’t bring himself to walk away. “It’s like I love this pain a little too much,” he analyzes. “Love my heart all busted up.” Cool turns of phrases and a fine vocal delivery – certainly some hit potential there.
Albums don’t come much more solid than Need You Now, in all phases of the game: songwriting, production and vocal prowess. It was a showcase for the trio’s versatility. Kelley showed a mastery of soulful vocal styling, complemented nicely by Scott’s distinctive phrasing and sweet harmonizing. Multi-instrumentalist Haywood shined on acoustic and electric guitar and contributed heavily to the writing on the album. The trio penned the bulk of the material alongside some of Music Row’s finest.
The album also served as an introduction to one particular songwriter from outside the Nashville mainstream, the singularly-named busbee. He had been working in Los Angeles in the pop field as a writer, engineer and producer, but made Nashville connections through a friend. For Need You Now, busbee co-wrote “Our Kind of Love” and “Ready to Love Again.” Gradually, busbee expanded his country ties, writing for Maren Morris, Keith Urban and Florida Georgia Line, among others. Sadly, this talented artist passed away last year.
Need You Now made some thunderous chart noise after its January, 2010, release. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and spent 31 weeks total at No. 1 on the Top Country Albums chart. To date, the album has sold in excess of four million copies.
Despite its heady success, Need You Now was bested by Miranda Lambert’s Revolution for the 2010 CMA Album of the Year trophy. But the band wasn’t shut out completely. “Need You Now” copped Single of the Year, while the trio won its second consecutive Vocal Group of the Year honor.
The Grammys recognized the scope of the album at its award ceremony in 2011. Need You Now landed a Grammy nomination for the Album of the Year award, representing all genres of music. Country records rarely cracked that category, so the nod alone proved a bit of a triumph in itself. It ultimately didn’t win the big prize, but Need You Now did take home the Grammy for Best Country Album.
Ten years down the road, Need You Now remains a flawless example of modern pop country. Mighty impressive for a sophomore album.