Alan Jackson released his emotional ballad "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" around two months after the September 11 attacks, and the song instantly struck a chord with audiences. It centers on reactions to the September 11 attacks, including Jackson's, and the country star told Kelleigh Bannen on Essentials Radio on Apple Music Country that writing the song was unlike anything he had experienced before.
"I have been in that position before where songs come to you like that at a strange time, but that one just felt different," he recalled. "I just woke up and this whole chorus was there and it pretty much ended up exactly the way it came in the middle of that night. And I just felt like it needed to be written down. I went downstairs and I recorded that chorus and then the next morning, I just sat down and wrote all those little verses that were basically just visual memories I'd had of all this stuff going on on television and people telling their stories of what they went through and what they did or didn't do."
Jackson shared that he didn't initially plan on releasing the song, but his wife, Denise, encouraged him to share it. "I kept telling myself, 'I'm not going to try to write a song because I just think it's just like you're trying to take advantage of a situation for your own good.' And I didn't want to do that," he explained. "And Denise heard it and she said, 'You know what? People will want to hear that.'"
Almost 20 years after the attacks, the song still resonates with audiences in a way that Jackson wasn't expecting. "I sang it every night on the road and I never thought it would be received the way it was, and secondly, I thought it would go away as quick as it came, because it's about a tragic time," he mused. "And now, I see 20 years later, almost that it has kind of grown into this more than what it was. It's still about 9/11, but it's about the whole story of hope and courage. And I have fans out there that are so young. They don't even remember 9/11, but they love that song."
"Way before I ever wrote that, I always said to myself as a songwriter and artist that I just wanted music to be entertainment and not be preachy," he added. "Because I've seen a lot of artists turn into preachy kind of writers and a lot of times, it doesn't work well. Just because you're famous, doesn't make you smart about politics and religion and worldly things."