Alan Jackson Needed to Be Convinced to Release ‘Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),’ His 9/11-Inspired Song
Twenty years ago, in the wake of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2021, Alan Jackson wrote the song “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).” It took a little convincing for the country legend to record it and then release it publicly, though, Jackson admits.
In a new interview with his record label, UMG Nashville, Jackson explains that he wrote "Where Were You ..." to help him, personally, process his emotions around 9/11. “When I first wrote it, I didn’t think I would record it,” he says, “and then we didn’t think we would want to release it. At first, I didn’t think I would ever write a song about the event because I just didn’t feel right about it, and then this came out of nowhere.”
Upon its debut in November of 2001, "Where Were You" became part of the soundtrack for the grief of Americans who were trying to piece together the devastation of what they’d witnessed and experienced on Sept. 11. But while Jackson now agrees that releasing the song was the right thing to do, he recalls that it wasn’t easy.
“It was a tough performance for me,” Jackson shares of debuting "Where Were You ..." at the 2001 CMA Awards. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to put that out, but everybody convinced me that it was the thing to do.”
Following Jackson's Nov. 7 debut of "Where Were You ...," country radio stations began playing the song as performed during the CMAs, launching the song to a Top 30 debut on the country radio charts. Jackson's record label soon released the studio version of the song, and after only six weeks, it topped the country radio charts at the end of December 2001 and spent five weeks there.
Now, nearly 20 years later, the song that almost never saw the light of day remains connected to the memory of 9/11, but has also transcended that moment to become a meaningful song in other ways.
"Now it's kinda grown into just its own song outside of 9/11, where it's just a song about faith and hope and love," Jackson reflects. "And I see that in the crowds now: A lot of my fans, younger fans, weren’t hardly even around when the 9/11 happened, but they have connected with that song, and it's one of the highlights of the show now.
"It's amazing," he adds, "that it has outlived where it really began.”
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