HomeEntertainmentMusicAlan Jackson Opens Up About How It ‘Felt Different’ Writing Unforgettable Hit ‘Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)’

Alan Jackson Opens Up About How It ‘Felt Different’ Writing Unforgettable Hit ‘Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)’

by Amy Myers
(Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)

No other song stirs up emotions quite like Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You.”

Released two months after the terror attacks on September 11, Jackson’s song spoke to how everyone felt upon receiving the tragic and earth-shaking news. Nearly twenty years since the attacks and the song’s release, the country music legend joined Kelleigh Bannen on Essentials Radio on Apple Music Country to discuss his experience writing the award-winning ballad.

Where Was Alan Jackson When He Began Writing the Song?

Like most Americans, the September 11 attacks affected Alan Jackson deeply. For the country music star, this was true even as he slept. In fact, the inspiration for the song, “Where Were You,” came in the middle of the night.

“I have been in that position before where songs come to you like that at a strange time, but that one just felt different,” Jackson remembered. “I just woke up and this whole chorus was there and it pretty much ended up exactly the way it came in the middle of that night.”

Jackson shares that his inspiration for lyrics comes from the stories he heard from others and their experiences on that day. He even includes his own situation in the lyric, “Were you in the yard with your wife and children, or workin’ on some stage in L.A.?” In his interview on Apple Music Country, Jackson shares that he wrote the lyrics based on what he heard from others.

“I just sat down and wrote all those little verses that were basically just visual memories I’d had of all this stuff going on on television and people telling their stories of what they went through and what they did or didn’t do,” Jackson told Bannen.

Jackson Is Just a ‘Singer of Simple Songs’

Another significant part of Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You” occurs in the chorus. When discussing this part of the song with Bannen, Jackson reveals that the thought process behind these lyrics came from a promise he made himself long ago.

“I always said to myself as a songwriter and artist that I just wanted music to be entertainment and not be preachy,” Jackson told Bannen. “Just because you’re famous, doesn’t make you smart about politics and religion and worldly things.”

And Jackson holds true to his philosophy with a disclaimer to his listeners:

“I’m not a real political man
I watch CNN, but I’m not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran.”

The Decision to Release ‘Where Were You’

Originally when Alan Jackson wrote “Where Were You,” he never intended it to be released.

“I kept telling myself, ‘I’m not going to try to write a song because I just think it’s just like you’re trying to take advantage of a situation for your own good.’ And I didn’t want to do that,” Jackson admitted.

However, Jackson’s wife, Denise said that Americans needed the song to heal.

Now, nearly two decades later, the song still holds as much meaning—if not more—as it did when it was first released.

“And now, I see 20 years later, almost that it has kind of grown into this more than what it was. It’s still about 9/11, but it’s about the whole story of hope and courage,” Jackson shared.