When Justin Moore’s new single, “You Look Like I Need a Drink,” jumped onto the Country Airplay list dated Nov. 21, it ended a 38-week chart vacation.
Since his 2008 introduction on the then-new Valory label, Moore had been a fairly constant presence at country radio with a half-dozen top 10 singles. Some of those titles — including “Lettin’ the Night Roll,” “Point at You” and the Brantley Gilbert/Thomas Rhett collaboration “Small Town Throwdown” — continue to receive recurrent airplay, making it easy for an outsider to think he never went away.
“We kind of felt like we finally got to a place in our career where if we’re gone for three, four, five months from the radio, that it’s not going to absolutely kill us,” says Moore. “So we took some time to listen to some music and make certain that the next step we take is the right step.”
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Moore had already been off the charts for more than two months when “You Look Like I Need a Drink,” the song that would become that next step, appeared in an April 25 email from longtime producer Jeremy Stover (Jack Ingram,Danielle Peck). Moore was waiting in a hotel room at the time before heading out to perform a set at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio, Calif.
“When I saw the title, I was going, ‘Man, I’ve got to hear this song,’ and I had a completely different thought of what it would probably be,” says Moore. “Then after I heard it, I thought it was just a great hook and it’s unique, and one of those songs that as a songwriter you go, ‘I cannot believe ?nobody’s written this before.’ More specifically, ‘I can’t believe I haven’t written this.’ ”
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In fact, one of the title’s three writers, BMI country songwriter of the year Rodney Clawson (“Bartender,” “Burnin’ It Down”), co-wrote “Lettin’ the Night Roll” with Moore. “You Look Like I Need a Drink” wasn’t Clawson’s idea originally. It belonged to Natalie Hemby (“Pontoon,” “Automatic”), who brought it up during a writing appointment at Big Loud Shirt Music, just down the hall from Clawson’s room in the office of Matt Dragstrem ?(“Sippin’ on Fire”).
On its own, the title was funny, and Clawson assumed they would follow a humorous path as they dove in that day. But Hemby was insistent that the storyline strike a more serious tone.
“Any time somebody has a good idea and a good way to write something that’s a little bit different than stuff I’ve been normally writing, I’m all for it,” says Clawson.
They paired the title with an instrumental track that Dragstrem had worked up prior to the session and honed in on a plot that finds the singer fielding a phone call from a girlfriend he has been seeing for about a year. She needs to talk right away, setting up a classic breakup scene. But where many songs cast an ex as a villain, “You Look Like I Need a Drink” finds the guy who’s about to get dumped expressing empathy for the woman, who’s trying in vain to soften the blow.
“You’re just dancin’ around what you came here to do, but you’re scared to,” he sings in the chorus.
“You Look Like I Need a Drink” was finished in a rush, and Clawson sang the vocals for the demo that same day. Dragstrem went back and dressed it up a bit, but still kept it sparse enough for the words to dominate the production.
“The way our demo sounds is almost like an older Don Henley solo song,” says Clawson.
It seemed like the song would work for Blake Shelton, and they sent it to him. But it never drew any interest from Shelton’s camp. Subsequently, Big Loud Shirt creative director Matt Turner played it for Stover, figuring it would work for Moore.
“I knew Justin would sing the crap out of it,” says Clawson. “He’s one of the best singers in country music. He doesn’t need Pro Tools and Auto-Tune or any of that. He’s a really good singer.”
Stover included “You Look Like I Need a Drink” among several titles he sent to Moore, who obviously was interested when he opened the email in California.
“Within probably an hour of sending it to him,” recalls Stover, “he responded, ‘Love this, make sure we have this locked down.’ Hopefully we’re on our way to another No. 1 country record.”
It needed a bit of a revision, though. The quasi-Henley take was replaced with a bit of a Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street vibe.
“This song is set up to be a drum/electric guitar song,” says Stover. “And you know, sometimes the simple approach is the way to go.”
But simple isn’t always easy. They recorded one version of it and had Moore do a final vocal session at Stover’s Red Room Recording.
“As a vocalist, he is so, so good,” says Stover. “Working with him is so easy, because I never have to worry about, ‘Can Justin sing this?’ ‘Is this song too rangey?’ — those type of things. He brings it home every time.”
But that version got mixed reviews when they took it back to the label. Big Machine Label Group president/CEO Scott Borchetta thought they might be able to outdo the instrumental bed and asked producer Julian Raymond (Glen Campbell, The Wallflowers) to take a crack at it. And he suggested that drummer Victor Indrizzo and guitarist J.T. Corenflos be a part of the ensemble.
Raymond used Moore’s Red Room vocal in that second session, and fitted the musicians around it.
Somewhat ironically, the end version sounds a bit like a Shelton song — Moore hears a similarity to both “Honey Bee” and “All About Tonight” — and while it’s about the end of a relationship, it was written loosely enough that it can take on wider meaning for listeners.
“It actually says absolutely nothing about a romantic relationship,” notes Moore. “It could be a boss walking in and you go, ‘Oh, no,’ or a coach coming in about to rip on a player. A romantic relationship is inferred.”
“You Look Like I Need a Drink” beat out one other potential single Moore had on deck, and he played it live for the first time on Oct. 23 in Fayetteville, Ark., earning a reception that led him to believe it was the right choice.
“By the second chorus, everybody’s singing the chorus, which is just crazy because I think it had been out on iTunes for maybe a day or two,” says Moore. “That speaks volumes of the songwriters’ ability to do what they did.”
Valory released it to radio via Play MPE on Oct. 30, and it’s at No. 50 in its fourth week on Country Airplay as Moore ends his self-imposed chart escape.
“I could be wrong,” he says, “but it feels like a big record.”