Kick your feet up and grab a Mai Tai or Piña Colada for this behind-the-song story.
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In 2003, Kenny Chesney released a beachy tune titled “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems.” Riding the success of that single, Chesney would later cut the equally as relaxed song titled “When the Sun Goes Down” in 2004. Featuring hip-hop singer Uncle Kracker, “When the Sun Goes Down” became a tropical vacation staple. It also reached the No. 1 spot on the country charts and became a Billboard Hot 100 hit.
But what exactly does this song mean? And was the creation process as easy-breezy as the lyrics sound? Let’s find out.
The meaning behind “When the Sun Goes Down”
It’s not only an essential song to soundtrack a beach vacation, but it’s one of Chesney’s most popular songs. This popularity emerged for a few reasons. One reason is that the chorus is easy to sing along to thanks to the phrase “when the sun” repeated in each line of the chorus.
Cause when the sun goes down, we’ll be groovin
When the sun goes down, we’ll be feelin all right
When the sun sinks down over the water
Everything gets hotter when the sun goes down
Another reason for the song’s catchy nature is the actual meaning behind its song lyrics. The meaning of “When the Sun Goes Down” is one of a carefree and cheeky nature. Chesney and Kracker sing about a fast-approaching party by the ocean. Until the big moon rises and it’s time to play, Chesney sings. And ultimately, it’s the type of gathering that anyone would want to be a part of.
A crazy little ditty
Despite Chesney and Kracker’s unparalleled duet on the track, it was actually another singer/songwriter who penned the hit song. Brett James wrote the song and initially wrote it for his solo career. After realizing he would have more success as a songwriter, James went on to write hits for Carrie Underwood (“Jesus, Take The Wheel”), Martina McBride, Jason Aldean, Brantley Gilbert, Sara Evans, Tim McGraw, and others.
But how did James write this song?
“I wrote it in a 1992 Ford F-150 King Cab XLT pickup truck, two-toned tan,” he explained in a 2018 interview. “And I’d taken the money I’d gotten from my first record advance and bought this truck, I was really proud of it. And a bunch of years later I was drivin’ home on I-40… I had written a song with Holly Lamar that day, who wrote ‘Breathe,’ and I’d just finished writing with her and I was just going home. This crazy little ditty popped in my head in my truck on the way home.
“I got home and I really thought it was just kind of a nursery rhyme, a silly thing. You know, we as writers want to write something that’s genius, something that’s going to change the world, and I just couldn’t get this little earworm out of my head. So the next day I just recorded it without having second or third verses. I demoed it in a demo studio and just wrote the second and third verses while I was sittin’ in the recording vocal booth. It was just one of those songs. I mean it was a twenty-minute song [to create].
“Sometimes simplicity wins the day,” he concluded.
Clearing up any remaining confusion
There are two songs that often get mixed up or confused with Chesney’s “When the Sun Goes Down,” despite the track’s success. One is “When The Sun Goes Down” by the Arctic Monkeys (which is actually about prostitution in England) and another is “Neon Moon” by Brooks & Dunn. The latter’s opening line, When the sun goes down on my side of town, inspired a trending TikTok dance which you can see below. The trend was also based on DJ Noiz’s remix of the song.
Both are wonderful songs in their own right, but there’s still only one song that makes us want to let loose on the beach. Cause when the sun goes down, we’ll be groovin.
Photo by Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images for CMT