“When I Get Where I’m Going”

Written by Adrian Ortiz . 2 March 2016

Brad Paisley’s album Time Well Wasted was the most successful country album in 2005, winning the Country Music Association’s album of the year. The album contains three number one singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs. One of these top singles is “When I Get Where I’m Going.” Brad Paisley performs it alongside Dolly Parton, and it is a very emotional and religious song. It had a huge success within the country music fan base, and it was nominated for a Dove Award for Country Recorded Song of the Year at the 37th GMA Dove Awards. The songs great success was due to its meaningful message conveyed through the lyrics that appealed and related to a wide variety of audiences.

“When I Get Where I’m Going” was Dolly Parton’s 25th number one hit in the country and Brad Paisley’s fifth. Moreover, It was Parton’s first time going back to the country top ten singles in fourteen years. With this, she gained back her record for female artist with the most top ten country singles, with a total of fifty-five. This song not only placed on country charts, but pop as well, appealing to a broader audience.

With Paisley’s reputation for meaningful gospel inspired lyrics, it is surprising to know that Paisley was not the writer of this gospel song in particular. In fact, it was George Teren and Rivers Rutherford who co-wrote the song. Although, it was not until three years later that he gave the song to Paisley to record the song. Paisley took the song because he connected deeply with it due to his experiences with the loss of loved ones and grief. Before the release of the song, Paisley’s experience with loss had not been talked about. This song allowed him and his audience to cope with the loss of loved ones that happens in everyone’s life.

Paisley lost his aunt to a tough battle with cancer in November 2005, which is why this song meant a great deal to him. However, when he was first offered the song he did not want to record it. But after 6 months he changed his mind and recorded the song with Dolly Parton. According to Rutherford, his wife called him to let him know, and when he asked her if she could put him on the phone, she responded by saying “He says he’ll call you back when he quits crying.” It was obvious that this song meant a great deal to Paisley. The empathy that Paisley had with the lyrics allowed him to give more meaning and emotion to the song and therefore he could connect better with the audience. During his performance in the official video, you can tell that Paisley has a strong connection with song by looking at his facial expressions and the way he sings it. Just by listening to the song you can feel his commitment to it.

The collaboration with Dolly Parton was mainly because for Paisley, the song was based on the recent loss of his aunt, who was a huge fan of Parton. The song includes beautiful harmony vocals from Parton. According to an article on Dolly Parton’s official website dollyparton.com, Paisley commented “Her voice is angelic and that takes it to a more spiritual realm instantly… and my aunt loved her and thought she was great.” Dolly herself had just lost a very close friend and that is why she decided she wanted to be a part of the song. According to a letter she wrote to the songwriters that I found on the same article, she mentioned that it was one of the best songs she had had good fortune to sing throughout her career.

The song is about Rivers Rutherford reuniting with his grandfather in the afterlife, years after his death. Throughout the official music video you can also see several country music icons sharing pictures of their deceased loved ones. The whole concept of this song appeals to a broad audience, because everyone has lost a loved one throughout their lives. Because of this strong connection with its audience, it was obvious that this song would become a successful hit not only in the United States but also worldwide.

An important factor to the song’s success was that it did not just appeal to a country music fan base but to a general audience as well. For instance, although country songs are typically about Christianity; a notable element that contributed to the song’s success was that the song appealed to other religions as well. Death and reuniting with your loved ones in the afterlife is something all religions have in common. Therefore, since the word “heaven” is never actually mentioned in the song, it was possible for people from different religions to also connect with the song and interpret it in their own ways. Additionally the song had big success in the pop music fan base because, the song doesn’t have your typical twangy guitar and voice, so people who weren’t big fans of country could also enjoy it.

Another significant factor for the success of this song in its early stages was Hurricane Katrina. After the horrible disasters that Katrina caused in the state of Louisiana in 2005, there were close to two thousand recorded deaths. This means that a significant amount of people lost family members. So, this song would eventually help the affected families cope with the death of their loved ones in a way. Louisiana being a southern state, country music is pretty big there, so when the song was released, many of the affected would eventually listen to it as it helped them deal with their situations.

At the beginning of the song there is a line that says “I’m gonna land beside a lion/And run my fingers through his mane.” Many people do not understand that it is a description of heaven, explained by a priest on television and absorbed by a young Rivers Rutherford when he had to stay home from church due to sickness. Several years later, it came back to Rutherford and he decided to incorporate this knowledge that meant a lot to him into the song. It is hard for the audience to fully grasp what this line is trying to say, but by looking at the first verse that goes “When I get where I’m going/ On the far side of the sky/ The first that I’m gonna do/ Is spread my wings and fly” you can clearly tell he is referring to heaven. He is trying to say that when he gets to heaven he will be happy to be reunited with his grandfather. Paisley admits in an interview on Cmt.com that his favorite line from the song is “I’m gonna land beside a lion and run my fingers through his mane”, because he feels the poetry expressed in that particular part is the most meaningful line in a country song.

Paisley starts off the song with an eleven second guitar intro before he begins singing. The guitar is played slowly with a low and sad tone giving you a quick glimpse of what type of song he is playing. Followed by this is the line that says, “When I get where I’m going/On the far side of the sky”, where the audience can tell he is talking about heaven. This is very appealing to the country music community since a big part of the audience consists of religious people. He starts up this first verse with a calm and enjoyable toned voice, which he maintains up until the second stanza right before the chorus.

Right as he is about to begin singing the chorus he raises the tone for his voice and guitar a little louder to stimulate his message through the most important part of the song, which is the chorus. He begins the chorus with “Yeah when I get where I’m going/ There’ll be only happy tears.” This is to display that when his time comes to leave the world, he will be happy to be in heaven reunited with his loved ones. As soon as the chorus ends right after he says “Don’t cry for me down here”, the guitar still maintains a calm tone but with a more moving and happy sound. He follows the same routine for the rest of the song. Paisley used a louder and happier tone during the chorus and a calmer one during the verses.

When I was first deciding what song to use, I decided to use this song because it was a major hit by two iconic country singers. Moreover, another reason was because of how easy for anyone to relate to it. Darren Evans posted a comment on the music video on youtube.com saying, “Just lost my best friend to cancer, he was only 21. Can’t wait to see him after this life” to express how this song helped him deal with grief. The clarity and plainness of the way he plays the guitar as well as the combination of his voice with Parton’ added remarkable sentiment that allowed people to fully connect with the song.

Works Cited

Dineen, Annie. “Songwriter Spotlight: Rivers Rutherford Discusses Songwriting, Story Behind “When I Get Where I’m Going”.” The Shotgun Seat. N.p., 11 Feb. 2016. Web. 23 Feb. 2016. <http://theshotgunseat.com/songwriter-spotlight-rivers-rutherford-discusses-songwriting-story-behind-when-i-get-where-im-going/>.

Morris, Edward. “Paisley Part of Crowd Cheering Writers of “When I Get Where I’m Going”.” CMT news. N.p., 5 Apr. 2006. Web. 23 Feb. 2016. <http://www.cmt.com/news/1527919/paisley-part-of-crowd-cheering-writers-of-when-i-get-where-im-going/>.

Gilbert, Calvin. “Brad Paisley Reflects on His Time Well Wasted.” CMT news. N.p., 16 Aug. 2005. Web. 23 Feb. 2016. <http://www.cmt.com/news/1507732/brad-paisley-reflects-on-his-time-well-wasted/>.

“‘When I Get Where I’m Going’.” Dolly Parton Official Website. N.p., 15 July 2005. Web. 23 Feb. 2016. <http://dollyparton.com/life-and-career/music/when-i-get-where-im-going-duet-brad-paisley/476>.

“Year In Review: 2006.” The Online Dolly Parton Newsmagazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2016. <http://www.dollymania.net/year06.html>.