Only God Knows Why

Album: Devil Without a Cause (1998)
Charted: 19
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Songfacts®:

  • This reflective song finds Kid Rock ruminating on the price of fame, but he wrote it before he was famous.

    His first brush with the big time came in 1990 when Jive Records released his debut album. When it tanked, Jive dropped him and Rock went beck to being Detroit famous but unknown elsewhere. In September 1997, Atlantic Records saw how his fans connected with him at shows and signed him to his second major-label deal. Rock and his cohorts celebrated with a wild night on the town that culminated in a bar brawl. Rock spent the night in jail (not out of character - he had been arrested in alcohol-related incident before), where he started writing "Only God Knows Why." In the song, he sings about how hard it is to hang out in crowds because everybody knows his name. This wasn't true at the time - few outside of the Detroit hip-hop/metal scene knew who he was - but was an accurate forecast of what was to come. His first Atlantic album, Devil Without A Cause, was issued in the summer of 1998 and sold 11 million copies, making him a huge star. It's an extreme case of "fake it till you make it," with Rock anticipating his success.
  • This country-tinged song stands in contrast to the bawdy stadium stompers that defined Rock's sound early on: "Bawitdaba" and "Cowboy." Atlantic Records fought hard to get those singles on radio, but they got pushback from program directors when they issued "Only God Knows Why" as the next single - the song doesn't have a chorus and veers in a completely different direction. But Rock pushed hard for the song and it served him well, reaching #19 on the Hot 100, his highest on the tally until 2002, when he went to #4 with another country-style ballad: "Picture."
  • This song has a claim to fame as the first hit to use Auto-Tune to create an intentionally distorted sound. Auto-Tune software was introduced in 1997 as a way for producers to correct vocal pitch on the fly, a development that meant fewer takes and pitch-perfect vocals every time. With an extreme setting, the voice would come out distorted, which suited Kid Rock on this track because he was not a gifted singer. The effect sounded similar to the vocoder effects heard on classic songs like "Radio Ga Ga" and "Let's Groove," but with a more organic sound that preserved some of the vocal. Soon after Devil Without A Cause was released, Cher issued her Believe album with a title track that used Auto-Tune distortion to create an ear-catching sound. The device soon became used regularly to create this effect, not just to correct vocals.
  • Kid Rock performed part of this song at the Grammy Awards in 2000, where he was nominated for Best New Artist (he lost to Christina Aguilera). After playing the song on piano for about 90 seconds, his sidekick, Joe C, emerged and Rock launched into "Bawitdaba," followed by a cover of Grand Funk's "We're An American Band." According to Rock, this was the first time he played piano at a public performance.
  • Rock was generous with the songwriting credits on Devil Without A Cause. On "Only God Knows Why," his co-producer, John Travis, and DJ, Uncle Kracker are both credited along with him.
  • When he was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live, May 20, 2000, Kid Rock performed this song with Trey Anastastio of Phish.

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