A Lesson In Leaving

Album: Special Delivery (1980)
Charted: 73
Play Video


  • Dottie West was 48 years old when this became her first #1 Country hit. She was one of only a few popular female country singers in the '60s; in the late '70s she took on a more contemporary sound that led to mainstream success. West died in a car accident in 1991 at age 58.
  • Randy Goodrum, who had written Anne Murray's hit "You Needed Me," wrote this with West's producer Brent Maher. In a Songfacts interview with Goodrum, he said: "We were trying to fashion some sort of new sound for Dottie. And we had gotten to know Dottie and she was this sassy tongue-in-cheek southern woman with a real character to her voice. She was a good singer, but she had tons of character. So we thought, we've got to give her some meat on the bones here. We've got to go find some songs, and then write the ones we can't find. And that day that I wrote 'A Lesson In Leaving' with Brent. We were in my studio when I lived in Nashville the first time, and we were trying to write this ballad. I got up to go in the kitchen and Brent, while we were writing the ballad, kept doing this sort of mid-tempo funk beat on his legs. He was kind of slapping out a little beat, sort of as a nervous tic, I guess. I went into the kitchen, and I thought, Maybe we should just write that, whatever that is. So I came back and I said, 'Do that patting again on your legs.' So he started doing it, and I started messing around. I picked up a guitar instead of the piano, to try to break ties with everything we'd been doing that day. And I don't play guitar very much at all. So I started playing it in G. And on a guitar on the low E string, it only goes down to E. So the pattern was… started on G to E. It was (singing), "bum de bum bum bum bum bum… ba da bum bum bum bum." 'Cause it couldn't go down to a D. So that ended up being sort of the bass pattern for 'Lesson In Leaving.' And we thought about Dottie, we imagined her standing in the back door with a frying pan in her hand and a wink in the eye, and a tongue in the cheek, and the song just sort of fell onto the page. In about an hour, maybe, we had the whole thing pretty much written. We took that to Dottie and she just flipped out. And that ended up being the core of the sound we were trying to create for her. We did build around it. We did some really nice sort of intelligent ballads for her."
  • Randy Goodrum told Songfacts: "I can speak about this because I grew up in Arkansas around every form of American music at the time, but country was not a bunch of rednecks singing about pickup trucks and beer and stuff like that. It was Southern people doing songs about stuff Southern people were concerned about. And they used that genre of music, but if you were to listen to Patsy Cline or Jim Reeves or Willie Nelson or Dottie or any of those people back then, those songs were not stupid songs, they were very intelligent songs. They just were done in a country style.

    Once country music started getting really huge and popular, then you had people coming in and doing sort of a caricature of country music. But during that golden period, we were trying to create a sound for Dottie that was not going to be rejected by country music, but also enhance who she really was. So that really was the edge of the universe where we would go with Dottie West at the time. Because it was kind of an R&B-ish feel, but yet it was done from a Southern woman's perspective."
  • Jo Dee Messina recorded this for her 1998 album I'm Alright, taking it to #2 on the Country chart and to #28 on the Pop chart. Says Goodrum: "I couldn't believe it. She was a huge fan of that song. I didn't pitch that song to her or anything, I just found out she was going to do it. And I'll never forget when I went to a party and I met her, and she drug me over right away to meet Byron Gallimore, the guy who produced it. And Byron says, 'I love that song. I really love that bass part.' (laughs) And I thought to myself, Boy, if you only knew… It's because a non-bass player wrote it."

Comments: 3

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn April 19th 1980, Billboard Magazine published it's Hot Country Singles chart for the week ending April 19th, 1980...
    And for the first time in Country Singles chart history the Top 5 positions were held by female artists:
    #1. "It's Like We Never Said Goodbye" by Crystal Gayle
    #2. "A Lesson in Leavin'" by Dottie West
    #3. "Are You on the Road to Lovin' Me Again" by Debby Boone
    #4. "Beneath Still Waters" by Emmylou Harris
    #5. "Two Story House" by Tammy Wynette (duet with George Jones)
    The following week Ms. West bumped Ms. Gayle out of the top spot, then Ms. Boone replaced Ms. West at #1, and finally Ms. Harris then moved into the #1 position {all four records spent one week each at #1}...
    "Two Story House" just missed reaching #1, it peaked at #2.
  • Kaila from Ottawa, OnI've heard this version as well as the Jo Dee Messina version and I have to say I like the Jo Dee Messina version more but it's still a great song.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhExcellent, sassy song!
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Maxi Priest

Maxi PriestSongwriter Interviews

The British reggae legend tells the story of his #1 hit "Close To You," talks about his groundbreaking Shabba Ranks collaboration "Housecall," and discusses his latest project with Robin Trower.

Shawn Mullins

Shawn MullinsSongwriter Interviews

"Lullaby" singer Shawn Mullins on "Beautiful Wreck," beating the Devil, and his writing credit on the Zac Brown Band song "Toes."

Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde

Johnette Napolitano of Concrete BlondeSongwriter Interviews

The singer/bassist for Concrete Blonde talks about how her songs come from clairvoyance, and takes us through the making of their hit "Joey."

Terry Jacks ("Seasons in the Sun")

Terry Jacks ("Seasons in the Sun")Songwriter Interviews

Inspired by his dear friend, "Seasons in the Sun" paid for Terry's boat, which led him away from music and into a battle with Canadian paper mills.

Richie McDonald of Lonestar

Richie McDonald of LonestarSongwriter Interviews

Richie talks about the impact of "Amazed," and how his 4-year-old son inspired another Lonestar hit.

Al Kooper

Al KooperSongwriter Interviews

Kooper produced Lynyrd Skynyrd, played with Dylan and the Stones, and formed BS&T.