This tender Tex-Mex ballad is the signature song of country-music legend Freddy Fender, but according to Doug Davis' newsletter Country Music Classics, Fender thought of himself as an R&B singer and was not originally interested in recording the country song. The record producer Huey Meaux approached Fender to overdub vocals for the 1974 recording, which was already finished instrumentally. To appease Meaux, Fender sang it -- quickly. "The recording only took a few minutes," noted Fender. "I was glad to get it over with and I thought that would be the last of it." But, as so often happens in such stories, the song took off, becoming a number one on the pop and country charts, while the record -- titled after the song -- soon went gold. The LP also includes the Meaux-penned classic "You'll Lose a Good Thing." "Before the Next Teardrop Falls" has also achieved the "Million-Airs" status for performance rights society BMI.
Though it is closely identified with Fender, the song -- written in 1967 by Ben Peters and Vivian Keith -- was apparently recorded over 30 times by the time of Fender's famous rendition. Ben Peters is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, winning a Grammy for Charley Pride's recording of his song "Kiss an Angel Good Morning." Chances are, though, that you have never heard of Keith. According to Davis, she was a secretary at Peters' publishing company and approached him with the lyrics. His idea was to add "drop" to "tear" and they completed it in a couple of days. The first recording was by Duane Dee in 1967, which also charted, but just missed the Top 40.
"If he brings you happiness then I wish you both the best," begins the first verse. "It's your happiness that matters most of all/But if he ever breaks your heart if the teardrops ever start/I'll be there before the next teardrop falls." It is a heartbreaking and lovely image testifying to the singer's deep and true love, undaunted by his lover's decision to leave him. Sure, it is a tried and true sentiment, but the title image is a compelling twist and the melody is undeniable. Fender's soulful tenor is perfect for the song and he offers a Spanish translation for the second verse. There is just a little flutter in his voice, and he does indeed offer a soul/R&B singer's feel in his halting, behind-the-beat phrasing. The singer also provides his own harmony. Meaux provides a rich Tex-Mex backing, with accordion and Spanish-guitar figures.
Brenda Lee recorded the song during her comeback as a country singer in the 1970s. Though her version is drenched in strings and hokey backing vocals, her trademark soulful rasp cracks at all the right moments, evoking unspeakable heartbreak. She also provides an expert Spanish translation. It is likely that Dolly Parton used Lee's as well as Fender's version as starting points for her own recording of " Before the Next Teardrop Falls" on Treasures (1996), which features special guest David Hidalgo from Los Lobos on vocals for the Spanish verse, as well as accordion.