Love song, or party song? Heck, why not do both?
I’m not sure I’ve forgiven Billy Dean for “stealing” a Randy Travis song back in the day, but I know I’ve never forgiven Faith Hill for denying Travis’s “Out Of My Bones” a Billboard #1 in the late 90s. Hill is best known as a turn-of-the-millennium pop-country diva with tracks like “Breathe” and “The Way You Love Me,” but she began her career as a fairly standard neotraditional artist in the early/mid 90s, dropping tracks that were well-received at the time but were mostly forgotten in the following decades. (I’d call her a Martina McBride clone with independent empowering tracks like “Wild One,” “Take Me As I Am,” and “Someone Else’s Dream”…but given that “Wild One” came out roughly seven months before McBride’s “Independence Day,” maybe McBride was actually a clone of Hill!)
It’s kind of a shame, because while I was never Hill’s biggest fan and thought her biggest hits weren’t that good, her early work still holds up well, demonstrating that she could handle both lighter and heavier material (not to mention deliver a punch line with gusto). “Let’s Go To Vegas” is probably the lightest of the bunch, serving as the leadoff single to Hill’s sophomore album It Matters To Me and peaking at #5 on Billboard’s airplay chart. I’d honestly forgotten this song existed until I started investigating Hill’s discography a year or two ago, but despite its breezy feel and fare, it might actually be my favorite song of hers. It’s a fun, upbeat track that also has some deeper feelings behind it, the sort of combination that’s awfully hard to find in modern times.
Let’s start with the production, whose base isn’t terribly far off from what you’d find in the studio today. The melody is primarily handled by electric guitars and a piano, but I’d argue that the most prominent element (outside of Hill herself) is the drum set, which is sharp and energetic without being overbearing (a tambourine also gets a lot of work here, which you don’t hear as much today either). There’s a fiddle and steel guitar here as well, but they’re in a support role, with the latter tossing in some riffs to help season in the mix and the former really only popping up for a part of the bridge solo. What’s most interesting to me, however, is the volume balance of the track: Hill’s vocals are much louder than anything else in the mix, but against all odds the producer found a surprising sweet spot where Hill doesn’t completely dominate the mix, but is loud enough (and the lines of the lyrics long enough) where it seems like she is the primary melody-carrier rather than the instruments behind her, at least on the verses. With its brisk tempo and bright tones, this song simply radiates optimism and positivity, which is exactly the tone you’d expect from a narrator smitten with their significant other. Simply put, it’s a well-executed arrangement that is an absolute joy to listen to.
’95 Hill wasn’t the big-voice powerhouse that she morphed into over the remainder of the decade, but their are definitely hints of what was coming hidden here. Yes, she is much louder than everything else on the track, but what’s striking is just how effortless it sounds as she breezes through lines with noticeably-inconsistent syllable content (sometimes there’s a lot to fit in and sometimes there’s a little that needs to be stretched, and Hill just blasts through it all without missing a beat or breaking a sweat). She absolutely owns the narrator’s role here, combing youthful exuberance (and impulsiveness) with a deep affection for her partner that the listener can really feel—she is over the moon with this relationship, and she’s not just ready to take the next step, she’s dashing like Usain Bolt to do it. You just can’t help but share in the speaker’s excitement, and you got the sense that Hill had something special in her voice, something that the rest of the world would discover soon afterwards.
I like the writing here because it combines the best attributes of a party song and a love song while avoiding the pitfalls of both tropes. Interestingly enough, it starts where most country songs today end: “Lyin’ on the bank of the river” where the “stars are dancin’.” The moment, however, leads to a proposition: An impromptu trip to Las Vegas to get married. All the revelry has a meaning now, and actually feels celebratory rather than nihilistic (plus it doesn’t hurt to be in Vegas, as good times have an extra flair that only Vegas or New Orleans can provide). I like how the writers work the gambling theme in just enough to make it notable without feeling tired or cheesy, and with the focus split between the romance and the location, it avoids the trap of being too gooey or sappy in its delivery. There’s no mention of unnecessary/excessive drinking, no minimum required dose of “country” buzzwords, and no sleazy pickup lines—it’s as if someone distilled Bro-Country and Boyfriend country into their few good qualities and then combined them into a rollicking good time that feels both meaningful and sustainable, and you can’t help but feel like good times are in store for the happy couple.
Yes, at the end of the day “Let’s Go To Vegas” is just another love song, but it’s a darn solid love song, one that I’d rank above last week’s “Sure Love” because of its sheer upbeat energy. Faith Hill may have eventually made her name as a pop-country power balladeer, but she could deliver a classic country track as well as any artist of the era, and her early work deserves to be remembered as fondly as her later work. With a sound that cranks up the pace and lyrics that ground the merrymaking in something deeper, this song took a premise that we see over and over today and made it must-hear entertainment. I may never have been a big Hill fan, but there are some real gems to find if you dig into her discography, and after doing so I suppose that maybe, just maybe, I can finally admit that she wasn’t so bad after all.
…But I’m still not ready to forgive her for what she did to “Out Of My Bones.” Maybe next decade…
Rating: 7/10. Check this one out.