Cody Johnson Calls ‘I Always Wanted To’ the Saddest Song Ever, and He May Be Right
Cody Johnson wasn't receptive to "I Always Wanted To" the first time he heard it.
"Why would you even play me that?" he asked his production team, almost offended.
The acoustic ballad from the new Human the Double Album comes at the mid-point of an ambitious project that's dynamic in all the right ways. Outlaw songs dance with love songs and songs of faith and human reflection. On "I Always Wanted To," Johnson stretches far out of his comfort zone, singing as a 95-year-old man at a nursing home. Skeptical? Try to get through that third verse without reaching for tissues.
"Outside there's a rusty pickup, underneath the shed / Mockingbirds nest in the tail pipe, empty feed sack in the bed / They took away my keys, saying I'm too old to drive / It's like they're trying to bury me, while I'm still alive," he sings during an immediately arresting first verse.
“It was a really hard one to sing," Johnson tells Taste of Country Nights. "At the time, I’d just lost my grandfather, and my grandmother was going through a lot."
The 34-year-old Texan is known for being an old soul, but not that old. Musically this new album reinforces his commitment to traditional country music, taking scant few progressive risks along the way. The ambient noise that carries the chorus is about the only thing he might not be able to recreate live, but he's still not sure if he'll even try.
“When I went in the studio, I really let the tears flow and I really channeled what it would feel like to be a 90-year-old man," he says. "It was hard, but at the end of the day, it’ll help somebody."
"I always wanted a son / I always wanted a wood shed / I always wanted to ride on an open range and learn how to fly a plane, but I guess / Even pictures we never take, memories we never make still fade / I never did all I wanted to do / But I always wanted to," he offers at the chorus, before going right back into the uncomfortable realities of life in a nursing home.
Allen Shamblin and Tom Douglas — the writers of "The House That Built Me" — joined Jordyn Shellhart to write this song, but much like the Miranda Lambert hit, it's not one every artist could take and make personal.
The funny thing is, Johnson recoiled the first time he heard "I Always Wanted To," calling it the saddest he's ever heard. It builds on a triumphant note, with his protagonist choosing to fight for the life he has left during the second verse. Then there's a final, crushing third verse (see below) that takes this emotional roller coaster to its natural conclusion. A true storyteller can't resist a song like this.
“Three weeks later I’m like, ‘Do we still have that song on hold?'" he tells the radio show, "Because I’m going to regret not singing that."
Johnson will be the featured guest on Taste of Country Nights, On Demand next Thursday (Oct. 14). Find this podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
Cody Johnson's "I Always Wanted To" Lyrics:
Outside there's a rusty pickup, underneath the shed / Mockingbirds nest in the tail pipe, empty feed sack in the bed / They took away my keys, saying I'm too old to drive / It's like they're trying to bury me, while I'm still alive.
I always wanted a son / I always wanted a wood shed / I always wanted to ride on an open range and learn how to fly a plane, but I guess / Even pictures we never take, memories we never make still fade / I never did all I wanted to do / But I always wanted to.
They talk like I can’t hear ‘em, when they have to change my sheets / They’re getting tired and angry, cause I want accept defeat / Uncle Frank lived to be a hundred, hell I’m only 95 / I ain’t raising no white flag while I’m still alive.
My Marie showed up this morning, floating right above the chair / She smiled the sweetest smile at me as she hovered in the air / When that fever stole her from me, I was 27, she was just 25 / I never dreamed I’d see my angel again while I’m still alive.