Why Alan Jackson Didn’t Think He’d Release ‘Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)’ After 9/11

by Taylor Cunningham

Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack that hit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and took down New York’s Twin Towers. In the wake of the devastation two decades ago, Alan Jackson penned lyrics to his somber and reflective piece Where were You (When the World Stopped Turning).

But recently, Jackson told his fans that he never intended the release the single.

In 2018, the Country Boy singer told Yahoo News that the song came to him “as a gift” while he was sleeping. “I woke up one morning around 4 a.m. a few weeks afterward and had that chorus going through my head,” he explained. “I got up and scribbled it down and put the melody down so I wouldn’t forget it,” he continued. “Then the next day, I started piecing all those verses together that were the thoughts I’d had or visuals I’d had.” 

Jackson continued to work on the song while his family was at Sunday School.

“Like I said, that song was just a gift. I’ve never felt I could take credit for writing it. Looking back, I guess I just didn’t want to forget how I felt on that day and how I knew other people felt.”

Alan Jackson Almost Didn’t Release ‘Where Were You’

In a more recent interview, Alan Jackson sat down with his record label, UMG Nashville, and explained that the song was a way to process his emotions after 9/11—he never planned to release it. It took some time for people to convince him to record the hit. But once he did, it rose to 28 on the Billboard list.

“When I first wrote it, I didn’t think I would record it,” he remembered. “and then we didn’t think we would want to release it.” 

Jackson explained that, at first, he didn’t feel right releasing the Grammy-winning hit. He thought it was about something too personal and raw for everyone. But now, he knows it was the right choice.

Alan Jackson debuted Where Were You at the 2001 CMAs.

“It was a tough performance for me,” he recalled. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to put that out, but everybody convinced me that it was the thing to do.”

Once Jackson released the song, it was met with praise and admiration. It immediately landed in the Top 30. After six weeks, UMA recorded a studio version that spent five weeks on Billboards.

Now 20 years later, Allan believes his single has “outlived” its original meaning.

“Now it’s kinda grown into just its own song outside of 9/11,” Jackson said. “It’s just a song about faith and hope and love. And I see that in the crowds now: A lot of my fans, younger fans, weren’t hardly even around when 9/11 happened, but they have connected with that song, and it’s one of the highlights of the show now.