Jon Pardi wrapped the singles from his Heartache Medication album with “Tequila Little Time,” a melodic, Mexicali-tinged mid-tempo song about a guy providing a shoulder — and a drink — to a broken-hearted woman at a bar.
With “Last Night Lonely,” Pardi submits the first single from his next album, a swaggering country mid-tempo track about a guy once again buying a drink for a woman at a bar, essentially suggesting that this could be the first day of the rest of their lives… together.
“It’s definitely got the same values, but it’s still a different story and it’s a different sound,” Pardi allows. “And it’s got a fiddle solo.”
The fiddle was not envisioned by the three “Last Night Lonely” songwriters: Dylan Marlowe, Joe Fox and Jimi Bell. But they did anticipate an electric baritone guitar, a sort of “Wichita Lineman” sound bouncing like a pinball in their original intro. But it never quite made it into Pardi’s version.
“It was definitely worth the wait,” says Marlowe, “but it’s funny, because Jon Pardi actually doesn’t have that baritone.”
That sound was actually the starting point for “Last Night Lonely” when they wrote it at Fox’s studio at Liz Rose Music in 2020. Marlowe wanted a song with a baritone for his own recording endeavors, and Fox obliged with a ricocheting signature intro. But then figuring out what should follow became a challenge.
“We went through tons of ideas, and we didn’t get it the first day,” Marlowe says. “The next week, we wrote again to the same riff and still didn’t get it. And then the third day, it finally clicked.”
The breakthrough came with “Last Night Lonely,” a title that seemed to match the flavor of that bouncing riff. They actually started that chorus on the second writing session and got most, maybe even all, of it before they decided to let it lie.
When they reconvened for the next appointment, Fox suggested building the entire story line around a figurative grocery list of last nights and last times that two people who just met might be experiencing as their journey together begins. “Once that idea was found, then we moved pretty quickly on it,” recalls Bell.
The ideas flowed — the last time asking for a first name, the last phone number scribbled on a napkin, the last girl the guy takes home to Mama — but after penning that whole first verse, they decided to make it verse two and let the song unfold differently.
The new first verse started with the woman’s “last drink from a stranger in a bar,” a little more of an introductory image for a night that moves forward in a semi-orderly manner.
“It’s just really from that very moment of meeting a girl in a bar, maybe she’s got her heart broke, and from that very first instance, progressing through the night and all the last times as you’re getting to know her,” Bell says.
Instead of separating the verses and the chorus through a dramatic change in melodic range, they switched up the phrasing, making the verses more conversational and the chorus more emphatic. Marlowe, thinking he would be performing it, was looking for a song that would be easier on his voice than some of his existing material. But compressing the range also makes it easier for fans to sing in a karaoke bar or in the shower without embarrassing themselves.
“You should hear me trying to sing ‘Speechless’ by Dan + Shay,” quips Fox. “Then you’ll know why I write songs like ‘Last Night Lonely.’ ”
Marlowe laid down a smooth vocal for the demo that captures the male character’s sincere hope that the woman is really “the one.” Fox worked further on his own over the next 24 hours, layering on more guitars and harmony vocals. And he also created a thumping couplet of eighth notes in the final lines of the chorus, toughening up the arrangement and emphasizing the hook.
“I just thought it’s got that almost rock-ish feel to the song, a driving kind of Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen classic feel,” Fox says.
Marlowe intended to cut “Last Night Lonely” himself and asked his co-writers not to pitch it. Pardi, in the meantime, put a different song by the trio on hold, and Fox subsequently had a co-writing session with Pardi’s producer, Bart Butler, who casually mentioned that if they had anything with a commercial energy, Pardi needed more songs. Fox went ahead and emailed “Last Night Lonely” to Butler that evening, and it was an easy match.
“It had the lyric, it had everything,” Butler says. “We always cut everything a click or two faster — sometimes three to four clicks, depending on the song — and I think we went two clicks faster than the original. It just needed a little goose in it, a little bit bigger drums and Jon’s swagger.”
They recorded it at Universal Music Group’s East Iris Studios in Nashville’s Berry Hill neighborhood, rejiggering the original baritone intro. Fiddler Jenee Fleenor and guitarist Rob McNelley replaced it with a curvy couple of phrases played in tandem.
“What they did is hit-ier,” says Fox. “It feels more uptempo and kind of groovy.”
Drummer Miles McPherson and bassist Lee Francis dominate the verses, creating a dark, ’90s alternative effect that contrasts with the chorus, which sounds larger, thanks to more instruments and a slight increase in volume. And Butler and co-producer Ryan Gore amped up the thudding chords in the back half of the chorus for extra punch.
Pardi’s vocal added a layer of mystery, too — while it’s still easy to think of the barroom meeting as the beginning of something new, the “last time” grocery list also sounds a tad like a pickup line.
Pardi, to be clear, is convinced the guy is eyeing her as a partner for the long haul. “There ain’t no ‘Let’s go to the cornfield and the truck’ line,” he says with a laugh.
Pardi also changed the rhyme scheme at the end of verse two. The original played off “last girl that I take back home to Mama” with “the last time that we’re talked about in this small town. It’s gonna…” Pardi instead paired “back home to Mama” with “small-town drama,” a more unique word to drop into a country song.
“I think we did three takes, and that was it,” says Butler. “He might have had to sing one line or two to fix, but he was three takes in a row. That’s in his wheelhouse.”
“Last Night Lonely” was a fairly easy choice for the first single from Pardi’s next album. Capitol Nashville released the track to country radio via PlayMPE on Feb. 17.
“I knew they were going to pick this one,” Pardi says. “It just catches your ear in a good way and it makes you want to rock out and dance. It sounds awesome.”