We could spend a week talking about the qualities of classic country music. Whether it’s momma, trucks, trains, prison or what have you, classic country is pure American music. It tells stories of real situations and real people. What’s more, no matter the story behind the lyrics, classic country allows listeners to relate a song to their own lives, problems, situations and dreams.
When I was a kid growing up in Maine, we counted snowfall by the foot. After three decades in the South, I’ve found it easier to measure in millimeters. Maybe because of this shift from New England southward during my college years, I’ve held on to a dream — probably longer than I should.
I was always fascinated with snowplows. I don’t mean a four-wheel-drive pickup with a blade attached. I’m talking about one of these big ol’ orange plows, complete with a salt spreader, two blades and enough firepower to bury a subcompact car until July. I’d been offered the chance to drive one of those for a couple of winters after high school, but I turned it down, using college as an excuse.
I’ve regretted it ever since.
While that dream may be about a different kind of truck than the one Dan Seals sang of in his 1988 hit “Big Wheels in the Moonlight,” the point behind this late-blooming trucking song is that we all have regrets about something. You may or may not regret that you chose truck driving as a profession, but somewhere along the way, you probably dreamed of the open road. Imagine life today if you had never pursued the dream. As we get older, regrets get stronger.
When it comes to 1980s country, few artists could better transcend all walks of life than Dan Seals. Artists like Seals remind us we aren’t alone.
Seals were no stranger to regrets. In fact, many of his 20 charting country singles deal directly with where he came from and the direction life took him. For four decades, he was a presence on the American music scene, and not just in country-music circles.
Dan and his brother, Jim, were born in Texas, where country music influences most future performers. But Jim turned to soft rock and made his name as the “Seals” of Seals and Crofts, a duo that recorded off and on for 35 years.
As for Dan, he originally planned to ride his brother’s coattails. Instead, he took a risk and adopted the name “England Dan,” a nickname Jim gave him as a child. England Dan joined forces with classmate John Ford Coley, and the duo recorded during the1970s and into the 1980s with modest success. The hit song most folks remember is “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight.”
But Seals became tired of the soft rock/pop scene.
In 1983, he moved to Nashville, changed his stage name to Dan Seals and embarked on a country music career. Early songs included “God Must Be a Cowboy,” “Meet Me in Montana” (with Marie Osmond) and “My Old Yellow Car.” Still, it wasn’t until he released the album Rage On in 1988 that he became widely popular on the country scene. Seals reached No. 1 on the country charts with the trucking song “Big Wheels in the Moonlight.”
No matter your profession or your lot in life, you can identify with “Big Wheels in the Moonlight.” It is a song about dreams we don’t follow and the regret we eventually feel.
In “Big Wheels in the Moonlight,” Seals first recalls growing up in a tiny town with few opportunities for escape. Every night he’d make his way to the intersection of the town’s only caution light and watch tractor-trailers speed through on their way to “who knows where.” When he got home, he’d lie awake and listen to the diesel engines on the distant highway, falling asleep and “dreaming of big wheels in the moonlight.”
In the next verse, Seals is no longer a kid. He has a wife, children and a good job — but something is missing. Even after all those years, he hasn’t lost the dream. But it’s not to be. Two lines of “Big Wheels in the Moonlight” put listeners in Seals’ chair, whether they dream of trucks or Pulitzer Prizes: “I know that there’s a peace I’ll never find … ’cause those big wheels keep rolling through my mind.”
Whatever your job or your situation, you surely have some dream you never pursued. All you have to do is slip that dream in place of Dan Seals’ description of his “wanderlust” to hear “some big old diesel whine.” Chances are, you’ll find yourself regretting some dream you left behind — one that, somewhere along the way, you’ve realized would never come true.
Until next time, if your dream is to drive a snowplow, either migrate northward, or, if you’re already there, don’t leave. Otherwise, you’ll be like me and use a radio-controlled bulldozer to clean the three millimeters of “heavy snow” your local meteorologist offers once or twice a year. I’ve tried, but operating my little tracks in the moonlight just isn’t fulfilling, and the thrill of stranding some poor fellow and his Yugo for four or five months seems to be lost.
Since retiring from a career as an outdoor recreation professional from the State of Arkansas, Kris Rutherford has worked as a freelance writer and, with his wife, owns and publishes a small Northeast Texas newspaper, The Roxton Progress. Kris has worked as a ghostwriter and editor and has authored seven books of his own. He became interested in the trucking industry as a child in the 1970s when his family traveled the interstates twice a year between their home in Maine and their native Texas. He has been a classic country music enthusiast since the age of nine when he developed a special interest in trucking songs.