On This Day: Kris Kristofferson Scores Lone No. 1 Hit as a Solo Artist With ‘Why Me’ in 1973

by Jim Casey

Kris Kristofferson scored his first—and only—No. 1 hit as a solo artist when “Why Me” topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart on July 7, 1973.

By 1973, Kris Kristofferson had already established himself as one of the premier songwriters across multiple genres. Johnny Cash topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart with Kris’ “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” in 1970, while Janis Joplin (posthumously) scored a No. 1 hit on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart with Kris’ “Me and Bobby McGee” in 1971. Of course, there were more Kris-penned hits that climbed the charts, including Ray Price’s “For the Good Times” (1970), Sammi Smith’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” (1970), and Carly Simon’s “Anticipation” (1971), among others.

However, Kris was not finding much success on the charts as a singer. Other than 1971’s “Lovin’ Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again),” which peaked at No. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, Kris couldn’t claim another Top 40 hit.

That changed with the release of “Why Me” in 1973.

Kris Reaches the Top

Kris penned and recorded “Why Me” for his 1972 album, Jesus Was a Capricorn. After the album’s previous two singles—the title track and “Jesse Younger”—failed to chart, Kris released “Why Me” in April 1973.

The deeply personal track resonated with audiences. “Why Me” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart on July 7, 1973. It also peaked at No. 16 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart.

“I had a profound religious experience [at Jimmie Snow’s church], something that had never happen to me before,” said Kris Kristofferson in an interview with Ralph Emery. “And ‘Why Me’ came out of it. Everybody was kneeling down and Jimmie said something like, ‘If anybody’s lost, please raise their hand.’ I was kneeling there. I don’t go to church a lot. And the notion of raising my hand was out of the question. I thought, ‘I can’t imagine who’s doing this.’ And all of the sudden I felt my hand going up. I was hoping nobody else was looking.

“And then he said, ‘If anybody is ready to accept Jesus . . . come down to the front of the church.’ I thought that would never happen. And I found myself getting up and walking down with all these people. I don’t really know what he said to me. He said something to me like, ‘Are you ready to accept Jesus Christ in your life?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know.’ I didn’t know what I was doing there. I can’t even remember what he was saying, but whatever it was was such a release for me that I found myself weeping in public. I felt this forgiveness that I didn’t even know I even needed.”

“Why Me” represents Kris’ best-selling single, having been certified Gold by the RIAA in 1973 for sales of 500,000 units. While Kris topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 1985 with “Highwayman” as part of the The Highwaymen collective with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson, “Why Me” is Kris’ lone chart-topper as a solo artist.