Brooks & Dunn’s “Neon Moon” is known today as a Tiktok dance craze, but in its original form, it’s a classic country heartbreak tune. Released in 1992 as the third single off the duo of Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks’ debut album, Brand New Man, it didn’t take long for “Neon Moon” to resonate with fans. The song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart that same year, marking their third consecutive No. 1 at the time. Even though the lyrics revolve around a man in deep mourning over a lost love, finding solace in a glass of something strong under the burning haze of the bar’s neon lights alongside other lonely souls, the melody is dance-floor ready, which Dunn was conscious of when he crafted the track.
Carrie Underwood, Kacey Musgraves, dream pop band Cigarettes After Sex, and The Voice coaches Blake Shelton, Kelly Clarkson, Gwen Stefani, and John Legend are among the artists who’ve covered it over the past 30 years. Below, we explore the meaning of Brooks & Dunn’s hit, “Neon Moon.”
Meaning Behind the Lyrics
The song was written solely by lead vocalist Dunn, with bandmate Brooks revealing that Dunn had already written “Neon Moon” when they met in 1990, recording it two years later. Prior to making it in Nashville, Dunn was performing with the house band at a bar in Tulsa, Oklahoma where he lived at the time. The dance-floor-focused beats he heard at the bar helped to inform the dance-friendly melody of “Neon Moon.”
“I was trying to twist it just a hair different and not give it a good old standard two-four beat deal, and that melody just came to me,” Dunn describes to CMT of his approach with the distinguishable tune. “So I was really thinking of dances with the beat and I still do to this day with most of the stuff that I write. Kix and I both do.”
“Ronnie was just writing songs for the dance floor and it served our Brooks & Dunn thing really well,” Brooks remarks of fans’ reaction to “Neon Moon” at their live shows. “If you’re playing that stuff live, they were loving it. It’s a straight-ahead, kind of cool country lyric. It’s also got this sort of cowboy cha-cha thing that people really like to dance to…I’m like ‘OK, it’s a frickin’ hit.'” Brooks also notes that the final version is nearly the same as the demo Dunn cut. “It had a loose feel, it had a cool groove to it,” he marvels about the demo.
As for the imagery-packed lyrics, Dunn insists, “I just made those darn words up.” There’s also a layer of hope that shines through underneath the melancholy lyrics, a tactic Dunn says he learned in co-writing sessions in Nashville. “The first thing I learned and was taught when I got into the co-writing thing in Nashville was to always leave just a ray of hope no matter how sad it is, leave just a ray of hope out there at the end of the tunnel,” he explains. Dunn does just that. As the song’s end nears, the lead character asserts that he’ll “be alright” as long as he has the comfort of a neon light to keep him company. “It’s got it. He’s okay as long as he’s sitting under that neon light listening to the music, probably falling in with the crowd,” Dunn observes.
On the flip side, Brooks believes that the song is “not sad,” but rather an accurate depiction of how one copes with heartache. “That’s what you do if break up with your girlfriend, you go sit in the corner and you look lonely,” he says. Another distinction is that the song never got the music video treatment, which the duo says is intentional. “The second you see a video, it immediately robs your imagination from what you had going on between your ears,” Brooks expresses. “That’s too much good imagery there to take it away.”
While it never got an official video, the 30-year-old song has seen a revival with a Tiktok dance challenge that swept across the platform in 2021 wherein a hip-hop beat created by DJ Noiz is slapped over Dunn’s signature twangy vocals that often features shirtless men in cowboy hats doing a special dance. Perhaps Dunn puts it best: “Chicks dig a sad cowboy.”
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