Songwriter Sharon Vaughn, on the other hand, was breaking the rules. The self-described “grammar freak” got a kick out of using the phrase “ain’t done nothing” in the song’s hook.
She and co-writer Bill Rice also broke with music business convention, offering a songwriting credit to Mike Lawler for his crucial work on the demo recording.
Vaughn told the Story Behind the Song to Bart Herbison of Nashville Songwriters Association International.
Bart Herbison: “Lonely Too Long.” You co-wrote it with Bill Rice and Mike Lawler (for) the one we all still have a crush on, Patty Loveless.
Sharon Vaughn: I love her so much.
Bart Herbison: Take us back to the writing of that song.
Sharon Vaughn: Well, I am a grammar freak, and I always like to use proper grammar. And this song says, “We ain’t done nothing wrong. We’ve just been lonely too long.” So, boom! I made a mistake, you know, in my own head, but it just felt so good. And sometimes you write against your own principles.
Bart Herbison: Was it inspired by something real-life?
Sharon Vaugh: I think real life inspires everything, whether it’s mine or someone else’s. If it doesn’t, then it’s fraudulent.
Bart Herbison : To me, the hardest song to write is a straight-forward, simple, uncomplicated love song that makes me feel something.
Sharon Vaughn: Absolutely. … You can’t improve upon a genuine emotion. I don’t care what it is. But I think that’s the challenge of a songwriter, is to stay out of your own way, because that vernacular, “We ain’t done nothing wrong. We’ve just been lonely too long,” I mean, I don’t know of anybody who doesn’t understand that.
Bart Herbison: Well, if I remember this correctly, because ’96, I think the song came out. It …
Sharon Vaughn: It was controversial.
Bart Herbison: I think some radio stations didn’t even play the song.
Sharon Vaughn: Not in the beginning. Not until it was almost No. 1. … The first line of the song says, “Well, good morning. Tell me, how’d you sleep last night? You’re still smiling. So, we must have done something right.” You know, so it sounds so lame and so tame right now.
Bart Herbison: With other artists, it may not have been accepted, but with Patty …
Sharon Vaughn: Well, that plaintive sound she has in her voice, I mean, it’s so compelling and draws you in. And she has an innocence about her.
You know, Alabama was our pitch. Emory Gordy was producing Alabama at the time. And we pitched it to him for Alabama. And he said, “What about if we (give it to) Patty?” And the fact that a female artist wound up doing it, put a whole different slant on it and softens the intimacy.
Bart Herbison: What do we not know about this song?
Sharon Vaughn: Well, Bill Rice and I wrote the song and then Mike Lawler was instrumental in doing the demo. The demo of the song is such, such an integral part of the song that he’s one of our writers. So, I think one has to recognize the contribution. People are always so skittish about who wrote what and what percentage they get. And thank goodness Nashville is not so much like that as other areas in pop music. I feel like if somebody comes and changes the atmosphere in the room, then they deserve an equal share of the song.