“One Day At A Time” — Lena Martell

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Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

To say it was a surprise when Lena Martell had a UK Number One with “One Day At A Time” in 1979 is something of an understatement.

Unlike, say, the US Country charts, songs with religious themes tend not to sell well in the UK. And before you ask, no, “God Save The Queen” by the Sex Pistols isn’t about what you think it’s about…

Lena Martell was from Glasgow, not far from where I grew up, and she was quite a force on the West of Scotland music scene back in the 1970s and 80s.

The reason her 1979 UK Number One was such a surprise was not only did “One Day At A Time” have an overtly religious theme, it was a country song — traditionally another big no-no in the upper reaches of the UK charts.

If any UK-based singer was going to get the traction going on a country song with a religious theme back in the 1970s, though, it was likely to be an artist from the west of Scotland. Despite its relatively unpopularity in the UK as a whole, country music has always done well in and around my home town.

There’s a pretty reasonable evidence base that some of country music’s heritage stretches back to the Scottish and Irish folk music immigrants brought with them to the New World.

A sizeable number of them eventually settled in the lush green mountains of the Appalachians which reminded them so much of their homeland, before building on the Old World traditions they brought with them to create country music as we know it today.

So country music was popular in the West of Scotland when I was growing up, even though it was deeply unfashionable everywhere else in the UK, because we Scots recognised some of our own traditions in it.

That’s why I could understand “One Day At A Time” being popular in the West of Scotland…but Number One on the UK Singles Chart, and for three weeks…? That was more of a shock.

Written by Marijohn Wilkin and Kris Kristofferson, “One Day At A Time” was first a hit…albeit a fairly minor one…for Marilyn Sellars in 1974, when it just squeezed into the US Top 40.

After Lena Martell hit the top of the UK charts towards the end of 1979, Cristy Lane had a big hit in the US country charts with her version of “One Day At A Time”.

But whichever version you tend to think of, “One Day At A Time” is a powerful song for the closing months of 2020…

One day at a time, sweet Jesus
I’m only human
And I’m a woman
Help me believe all I can be
And all that I am
Show me the stairway
I have to climb
Lord, for my sake, teach me to take
One day at a time

Whether you have faith or not, those words hit home. All any of us can do at the moment is take one day at a time. None of us know what’s around the corner in a world seemingly full of economic turmoil and health-related uncertainty.

As long as we keep putting one foot in front of the other, even if progress is slow and painful, we have a chance of surviving. But, like a traveller crossing the desert, if we stop making forward progress, even for a moment, we’re likely to get swallowed up for good by the next sandstorm that comes along.

Not that this is easy to do…

Just give me the strength
To do every day
What I have to do
Yesterday’s gone, sweet Jesus
Tomorrow may never be mine
Lord, help me today
Show me the way
One day at a time

Even with so much bad news around, we need to believe in the possibility of a better tomorrow. Humans are wired for optimism, and most of the time that works fine to move us forward.

But when despair sets in, progress slows and eventually stops. If we can’t see even the possibility that tomorrow might be better than today, why would we bother to keep going?

It’s a fine dividing line, of course. Pretending something isn’t a problem when it is, is no better than giving up hope altogether…and arguably worse. Problems need to be acknowledged and confronted before they can be solved.

But as long as we remain optimistic that somehow, sooner or later, we’ll find a way through, it’s easier to keep going, putting one foot in front of the other.

Even when we’re at our lowest…

Do you remember
When you walked among men?
Well, Jesus, you know
If you’re looking below
It’s worse now than then
Cheating and stealing
Violence and crime
Help me today, show me the way
One day at a time

You don’t need to have faith to appreciate the lyrics of this fine song.

“One Day At A Time” brings inspiration to us all, whatever our faith, and to those of no faith at all.

We can get wherever we want to go. As long as we believe in a better tomorrow, and take one day at a time.

As it’s the version I always think of, Lena Martell’s appears first below, but in case it brings back memories for you, Cristy Lane’s is down there too. Whichever version you prefer, I hope the message of “One Day At A Time” helps get you through whatever challenges you face.

If you’ve read this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here…https://open.spotify.com/track/3MC7O31Yxw1GcEQA9OKPp1

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Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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