Song Review: Runaway June, “We Were Rich”

I’ll be darned⁠—a nostalgic song can be done right!

Runaway June has been quite a roller coaster over the past few years. After a few forgettable singles, the trio finally broke through in 2018 with “Buy My Own Drinks,” a Top Ten hit that finally gave the group enough momentum to get their debut album Blue Roses out the door. The group’s follow-up single “Head Over Heels” stumbled to a #41 peak, however, and they suffered another blow when Hannah Mulholland decided to exit the trio in May. Early lineup changes can be a death knell for a group, but Runaway June quickly regrouped by bringing in Natalie Stovall as a replacement and releasing a rerecorded version of “We Were Rich” as their third single. Dropping a nostalgic track like this one is a risky move (there’s a good chance it will come off as cheesy, backwards-looking, or both), but this one is framed and executed so well that it sidesteps the potholes and actually winds up being an enjoyable listen.

The key to the production here is that it keeps the message simple: This is a bright, upbeat song with no lingering regret or bittersweet feelings. The primary melody driver is a lively acoustic guitar, which runs with only some light synth background support until the end of the first chorus. At this point, a lot of “background” instruments jump in: Some steel guitar slides, some fiddle riffs (!), and even the drums are deployed a light tough to make them feel more brisk and springy. These instruments don’t do a whole lot (they mostly hold long notes or perform short, simple solos), but they blend together surprisingly well, giving the mix a lot of warmth and texture instead of running together and making a mess. This simple, atmospheric approach works because it doesn’t distract the listener from the lyricsin fact, it seems to help focus their attention. Even when the narrator starts looking over their shoulder on the bridge, the sound keep pushing them forward, helping the listener recognize that the present is no better or worse than the past; it’s just different. In other words, it’s the perfect sound for the subject matter, and its more-traditional leanings help it stand out from the rest of the mainstream crowd.

Losing Mulholland is not a death blow to Runaway June because she wasn’t the primary lead singer; that job belongs to Naomi Cooke, and she delivers yet another solid performance here. (Even more impressively, Stovall’s voice blends so well with Cooke and Jennifer Wayne that the harmony vocals remain as strong as ever.) The song isn’t the most demanding thing in the world (even with the quicker tempo, the range, flow, and power demands are minimal), but it requires an emotive artist to step into the narrator’s shoes, and Cooke does so without breaking a sweat thanks to her charisma, clarity, and positive attitude. While the lyrics are strong by themselves (more on that later), it’s Cooke’s heartfelt delivery that really brings the scenes to life, whether at a campground or standing by a bathroom sink. It’s the connection that she and her bandmates forge with the audience that really makes the song, and the fact that they seamlessly incorporate Stovall into the group without missing a beat makes this even more impressive.

The lyrics tell the abridged tale of the narrator’s childhood, declaring that “we were rich” not because of money, but because of the people, places, and experiences that made up their early years. I really like the writing for two main reasons:

  • Some of the backdrops aren’t the most novel (churches, campfires, etc.), but the level of detail we see here makes them easy to imagine, and the details themselves make the song feel more distinct (how many tracks include references to Reynolds wrap, flashlight tag, and bathroom sink?).
  • Most songs in this vein focus on the regret at what’s been lost (or perhaps want us all to revert back to “the good ol’ days” *cough* Blake Shleton *cough*), but the feeling is a lot weaker here. The narrator realizes that the those people and places aren’t gone forever, and that they left to chase a dream that has enriched them in other ways. Sure they’ve love to go back, but it’s more about feeling homesick than lamenting the decay of society, and the provided scenes show rather than tell why times felt so good (and thus avoid being too pushy about how things ought to be).

In other words, the track is more about remembrance than nostalgia, and provides enough interesting details to catch the listener’s ear and set the scene, letting the sound and singers do the rest.

“We Were Rich” is yet another strong track from Runaway June, and given the challenges they’ve faced over the last year or so, this might be their most impressive effort yet. The writing creates a vibrant, picturesque scene of small-town life without getting too pushy about pitting the past against the present, and the production and vocals do a great job selling the story and making it feel meaningful. I don’t know what the future holds for Cooke, Wayne, and Stovall, but stringing together three solid singles in a row ought to count for something.

Rating: 7/10. Try this one on for size.