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Written by Allen Shamblin and Steve Seskin. Performed by Mark Wills

Songwriter Allen Shamblin remembers singing the words that stopped his wife dead in her tracks -- and inspired a future hit.

"It was, I'm a man on the corner begging for food ... Don't laugh at me," explains Allen, who was noodling around with some lines when his wife walked into the room. "My wife, Lori, walked in to get something out of the clothes dryer and said she loved that line."

Her ringing endorsement sparked the idea for "Don't Laugh at Me," which Allen wrote with frequent collaborator Steve Seskin. It hit the Top 5 for Mark Wills in 1998 and later became the subject of a children's book.

The song drives home a simple theme of accepting people for who they are. Allen and Steve admit that harsh childhood experiences helped fuel that message.

"We were talking about different things that happened to us," recalls Steve. "We realized that you remember those times when people laughed at you." Steve painfully recalled struggling with a weight problem that kids found hard to ignore, while Allen hearkened back to the days when classmates made fun of his short stature.

That gave Allen and Steve a direction, and they finished "Don't Laugh at Me" in a quick few hours. Allen chuckles as he thinks back to the song's bridge: I'm fat, I'm thin. I'm short, I'm tall ? Hey, aren't we all.

"We literally wrote that in the hallway, as we were getting in the car to go eat," he says. "And as we got out of the car, the verse about the man holding the sign on the street corner came to us. What we wanted to do with that was give people pause; maybe there were events in their lives that caused them to end up where they are."

Allen and Steve remain grateful to have found their calling, especially as it relates to this song. "It was great to write this at a time in my life where I really felt good about myself," declares Steve. "When you're a kid, you don't have those defenses. You don't have enough self esteem developed. As we get older," he adds, smiling, "we become a bit more bulletproof."

Steve wasn't so sure that "Don't Laugh at Me" would shoot up the charts, though. "When you start a song with I'm a little boy with glasses, the one they call the geek -- it doesn't exactly scream out that it's the next country hit!"

-- Scott Johnson