STORY BEHIND THE SONG: "I SWEAR"
In the late '80s, tunesmith Gary Baker was working on a song he thought had potential - but the title was just too long. "I can't even remember the whole phrase anymore," he recalls, "but it ended with a comma and the words 'I Swear.' A pal took one look at it and said, 'You ought to cut out the beginning and just call it 'I Swear.' "
Gary agreed, and mentioned the shorter title to his songwriting friend Frank Myers. Shortly afterward, the two were finishing up lunch after a morning spent writing other songs. "We were walking out of the restaurant," Gary recalls, "and I said, 'Well, I'll see you later.' "
Frank cut him off. "He said, 'Wait a minute! I've got a chorus for that title you gave me!' " Two hours later, they'd finished what would become the biggest song of their careers: "I Swear."
But success didn't come right away. "Every big artist in town turned down that song," says Frank. "It took five years for it to get cut."
John Michael Montgomery first heard "I Swear" when Frank played it for him on his houseboat in Kentucky. "I was supposed to hang out with John Michael to write songs with him," recalls Frank. "When I got there, his father was there, and so was his brother Eddie (of Montgomery Gentry) and Eddie's wife - and a couple of other friends. It turned into a party. We didn't end up doing any writing, that's for sure."
But Frank did pick up a guitar and play a few tunes, including "I Swear." John Michael liked the song and eventually asked Frank to send a copy to his producer, Scott Hendricks.
"John Michael thought they had all the songs they needed for the album," says Frank. "But later I got a call saying it was the last song cut on the last session for the album."
The tune spent four weeks at No. 1 in 1994 - and remains the most successful hit of John Michael's long career, helping establish him as one of the preeminent balladeers of the '90s. Shortly afterward, the pop vocal quartet All-4-One cut the song, and their version spent 11 weeks on the top of the pop charts. "I Swear" went on to win Grammy, CMA and ACM awards.
"For me personally, what's great about that song is that I wrote it right after I met my wife Amanda," says Gary. "Then five years later, our son Cody was born the day the song went No. 1. That song has a lot of memories for me."
- MICHAEL McCALL