Rodney Atkins remembers the exact time he heard the song “A Little Good News” for the first time. He was at the Powell Valley High School Miss Teen pageant, which his sister was competing in, and he did not want to be there.
“I was in middle school and my sister was in high school competing in this pageant and I didn’t want to go but I had to,” Atkins tells Sounds Like Nashville. “During the talent part of the pageant, a girl named Melissa Sumpter sang ‘A Little Good News.’ The song really got my attention. I didn’t know anything about Anne Murray at the time but when Melissa sang the song it just crushed me. When I found out more about the song and Anne Murray, Anne became a real influence on my career. Oh and by the way, Melissa won the contest.”
Atkins remembered the song over the years, even suggesting to Jim Ed Norman that he wanted to cut it after Norman came to work at Curb Records. Norman was the man who produced the hit on Murray. “I told him I loved the song and thought it could be a hit again, and I said they just don’t write songs like that anymore.”
For whatever reason Atkins didn’t get to cut the song at that time, but in 2019 he started thinking about the song again. “I would just play it on my guitar while sitting around the house, and then when the pandemic hit in March of 2020 I decided to record a version of it. I told my manager, Greg Hill, what I was going to do and he loved the original version and he asked how fast I could get it done.”
In April of 2020 Atkins turned the song in to Hill and he sent it to everyone at the label and his booking agency. “I couldn’t believe it was as relevant today as it was 30 years ago when Anne recorded it. I thought about it and realized that the message of the song really is that we go were going through these crazy times back then and we got through them, and we will get through what we are going through today.”
Still, nothing happened. Atkins wife, Rose, kept telling him he couldn’t give up on the song because people today needed to hear it. He finally decided to go in his back yard and do a video of him playing the song.
“I don’t know what happened, but when I said I wanted to do the video, it turned into doing the shoot and using actual news footage, everything from different things from the pandemic to the Nashville bombing on Christmas Day. Hopefully it will touch lives and do what music does, which is help people get through things they are going through in their life. We put it out on Facebook and people started sharing it with other people and the comments were amazing. My ultimate dream was to play music that really touched people and this song does that.”
Meanwhile, the writers of the song, Charlie Black, Rory Bourke and Tommy Rocco, were thrilled to hear that their song had been recorded again.
“I got a call from Rodney’s manager, Greg Hill, who said he wanted to play me something,” Bourke says. “I told him everyone in my house was obeying the quarantine so he came over and rolled the windows down in his car and played it for me while I stood in my yard and listened. I think Rodney did fantastic with the song.”
Bourke remembers the day they wrote the song as if it were a recent writing session. “We wrote it in 1983, and today we all need a little good news as much as we did then,” Bourke explains about writing the song. “It was the morning after the ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) awards, where Charlie and I were presented with the Writers of the Year award. I was supposed to write with someone else and Charlie was writing with Tommy. I got a call from the writer I was supposed to write with that he was sick. I called Charlie and he said, ‘Well I’m writing with Tommy so come on over to my house and we’ll all write together.’
“When I walked in the door they were watching TV and that Korean jetliner had just gone down, shot out of the sky. We were horrified and dumbfounded and we couldn’t get over that, we had never seen anything like it. We talked about it a little while and at some point we decided maybe it was time to write. We went into Charlie’s writer’s room and wrote ‘A Little Good News’ from A-Z. I don’t remember how long it took but I know we were amazed the way we wrote it from A-Z. I think we all felt there was somebody else in that room besides us, like the Lord might be using our talents to bring a situation to everyone’s attention.”
Charlie remembers they were making coffee and listening to what was on TV, with every news story coming on worse that the last one. “We didn’t really have any ideas of what we were going to write that day. As happens a lot of times, you’ll hear a phrase off TV, and I think I got my guitar and maybe Rory was playing the piano and somebody started singing and all of a sudden we were writing the song. The lyrics just started to come to us and we wrote it from the first word to last. That is very unusual for us, generally someone has an idea or someone has started a lyric. On that day we just had the stuff from the TV and we started writing. Halfway through the first verse I remember saying ‘Are we writing this?’ and Rory and Tommy said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’”
The trio of writers finished the song, demoed it, and took it immediately to Jim Ed Norman. He recorded it on Murray three or four weeks later. “I think that Anne came to our mind after we demoed it,” Black says. “Jim Ed had cut some of our other songs with her and was open to listening to ‘A Little Good News’ because we had a track record with him.”
“I think for the most part it is still relevant today, certainly the essence of it is relevant today,” Black continues. “We should be way past this song right now but unfortunately that’s the way the world works A lot has changed in those years and a lot has not. We still keep asking for some good news.”
“I think the message is going to go on for a long time,” Rocco says. “In this world, it’s an ongoing message. We wrote the song in a couple hours. It really was one of those things that just came to us.”
If there is a message to be learned from the song, Rocco thinks it is that things need to change. “People running the world need to work a little harder to get things fixed. Everybody talks but nobody fixes. The song is just a plea for some good news.”
Rocco has texted back and forth with Atkins and hopes to get to meet him later this year. “I think he did a real good job with the song. When we wrote it, we wanted people to listen to the song and agree. As far as the song changing anything, it would be great if it did. If just one person in the world could live by it, we would feel we had done something.”
Bourke says Rodney gave him a call to tell me how much he loved the song and how great it was. “I told him he nailed it on the Today show. I just thought he did a fantastic job.”
Rodney says, “Rory made my day when he told me how much he loved it. It is intimidating to do a song that was first recorded by such a legendary artist. It just meant the world when I heard that all three of the writers liked my version of it.
“It’s amazing that this song is still so relatable and relevant … I couldn’t believe it. The only change we ended up making was changing Bryant Gumbel to newscaster so it would be more universal. “
Atkins first released the music video for “A Little Good News,” Jan. 9, 2021. Since then the video had received more than half a million views, with over a 70% share-to-like ratio.