I hope you’ve enjoyed this week with the Ladies of Country Music.
We end this week with Reba McEntire.
Reba Nell McEntire (born March 28, 1955) is an American country music artist and actress. She began her career in the music industry as a high school student singing in the Kiowa High School band, on local radio shows with her siblings, and at rodeos. While a sophomore in college, she performed the National Anthem at the National Rodeo in Oklahoma City and caught the attention of country artist Red Steagall. He brought her to Nashville, Tennessee, where she signed a contract with Mercury Records a year later in 1975. She released her first solo album in 1977 and released five additional studio albums under the label until 1983.
Signing with MCA Nashville Records, McEntire took creative control over her second MCA album, My Kind of Country (1984), which had a more traditional country sound and produced two number one singles: “How Blue” and “Somebody Should Leave”. The album brought her breakthrough success, bringing her a series of successful albums and number one singles in the 1980s and 1990s. McEntire has since released 26 studio albums, acquired 40 number one singles, 14 number one albums, and 28 albums have been certified gold, platinum or multi-platinum in sales by the Recording Industry Association of America. She has sometimes been referred to as “The Queen of Country”. And she is one of the best-selling artists of all time, having sold more 80 million records worldwide.
In the early 1990s, McEntire branched into film starting with 1990’s Tremors. She has since starred in the Broadway revival of Annie Get Your Gun and in her television sitcom, Reba (2001–2007) for which she was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series–Musical or Comedy.[4
1976–83: Career launch at Mercury
McEntire made her first recordings for Mercury January 22, 1976, when she cut her debut single. Upon its release that year, “I Don’t Want to Be a One Night Stand” failed to become a major hit on the Billboard country music chart, peaking at No. 88 in May. She completed her second recording session September 16, which included the production of her second single, “(There’s Nothing Like The Love) Between a Woman and Man”, which only reached No. 86 in March 1977. She recorded a third single that April, “Glad I Waited Just for You”, which reached number 88 by August. That same month, Mercury issued her self-titled debut album. The album was a departure from any of McEntire’s future releases, as it resembled the material of Tanya Tucker and Tammy Wynette, according to Allmusic reviewer Greg Adams. The album itself did not chart the Billboard Top Country Albums chart upon its release. After releasing two singles with Jacky Ward (“Three Sheets in the Wind” b/w “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight”; and “That Makes Two of Us” at number 20 and number 26, respectively), Mercury issued her second studio album in 1979, Out of a Dream. The album’s cover of Patsy Cline’s “Sweet Dreams” became McEntire’s first Top 20 hit, reaching No. 19 on the Billboard country chart in November 1979. In 1976 she made two albums listed under the genre of ‘urban cowboy’ instead of ‘country.’
In 1980, “You Lift Me Up (To Heaven)” brought her to the Top 10 for the first time. Her third studio album, Feel the Fire was released in October and spawned two additional Top 20 hit singles that year. In September 1981, McEntire’s fourth album, Heart to Heart was issued and became her first album to chart the Billboard Top Country Albums list, peaking at No. 42. Its lead single, “Today All Over Again” became a top five country hit. The album received mainly negative reviews from critics. William Ruhlmann of Allmusic gave it two-and-a-half out of five stars, stating she did not get creative control of her music. Ruhlmann called “There Ain’t No Love” “essentially a soft pop ballad”. Most of the album’s material consisted of mainly country pop-styled ballads, which was not well liked by McEntire herself. Her fifth album, Unlimited was issued in June 1982 and spawned her first Billboard Number One single in early 1983: “Can’t Even Get the Blues” and “You’re the First Time I’ve Thought About Leaving”. The following year her sixth album, Behind the Scene was released and was positively received by music critics. In 1983, McEntire announced her departure from Mercury, criticizing the label’s country pop production styles.
McEntire signed with MCA Nashville Records in 1984 and released her seventh studio album, Just a Little Love. Harold Shedd was originally the album’s producer; however, McEntire rejected his suggestions towards country pop arrangements. It was instead produced by Norro Wilson, although the album still had a distinguishable country pop sound. Dissatisfied with the album’s sound, she went to MCA president, Jimmy Bowen, who told McEntire to find material that was best-suited to her liking. Instead of finding new material, she found previously recorded country hits from her own record collection, which was then recorded for the album. The album’s material included songs originally released as singles by Ray Price (“Don’t You Believe Her”, “I Want to Hear It from You”), Carl Smith (“Before I Met You”), Faron Young (“He’s Only Everything”) and Connie Smith (“You’ve Got Me [Right Where You Want Me”]). The album spawned two number one singles: “How Blue” and “Somebody Should Leave”. It was given positive reviews from critics, with Billboard praising McEntire as “the finest woman country singer since Kitty Wells” and Rolling Stone critics honoring her as one of their Top 5 favorite country artists. Upon its release, My Kind of Country became her highest-peaking album on the Top Country Albums chart, reaching No. No. 13. The album also included instruments such as a fiddle and pedal steel guitar, and was aimed more towards a traditional country sound. McEntire was later praised as a “new traditionalist”, along with Ricky Skaggs and George Strait. That year, she won the Country Music Association Awards’ Female Vocalist of the Year, her first major industry award. The album was certified Gold.
In 1985, McEntire released her third MCA album, Have I Got a Deal for You, which followed the same traditional format as My Kind of Country. It was the first album produced by McEntire and was co-produced with Jimmy Bowen. Like her previous release, the album received positive feedback, including Rolling Stone, which called it a “promising debut”. The album’s second single, “Only in My Mind” was entirely written by McEntire and reached number five on the Billboard country chart. On January 17, 1986, McEntire became a member of the Grand Ole Opry show in Nashville, Tennessee, and has been a member ever since. In February 1986, McEntire’s ninth studio album, Whoever’s in New England was released. For this album, McEntire and co-producer Jimmy Bowen incorporated her traditional music style into a mainstream sound that was entirely different than anything she had previously recorded. Country Music: The Rough Guide called the production of the title track, “bigger and sentimentalism more obvious, even manipulative”. The title track peaked at number one on the Billboard Country Chart and won her a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance the following year. In addition, the album became McEntire’s first release to certify gold in sales by the Recording Industry Association of America (and was later certified Platinum). At the end of the year, McEntire won Entertainer of the Year from the Country Music Association, the highest honor in the awards show.
McEntire released a second album in 1986, What Am I Gonna Do About You. Allmusic critic William Ruhlmann was not overly pleased with album’s production, saying that it lacked the features that had been set forth on Whoever’s in New England. Rulhlmann criticized the title track for “something of the feel of ‘Whoever’s in New England’ in its portrayal of a woman trying to recover from a painfully ended love affair”. The title track was the lead single from the release and was a number one single shortly after its release. This album also spawned a second Number One in “One Promise Too Late”. The following year, her first MCA compilation, Greatest Hits was released and became her first album to be certified platinum in sales, eventually certifying triple-platinum. A twelfth studio album, The Last One to Know, was released in 1987. The emotions of her divorce from husband, Charlie Battles, were put into the album’s material, according to McEntire. The title track from the release was a number one single in 1987 and the second single, “Love Will Find Its Way to You”, also reached the top spot. In late 1987, McEntire released her first Christmas collection, Merry Christmas to You, which sold two million copies in the United States, certifying double Platinum. The album included cover versions of “Away in a Manger”, “Silent Night”, and Grandpa Jones’s “The Christmas Guest”.
Her thirteenth album, Reba, was issued in 1988 and was not well received by critics, who claimed she was moving farther away from her “traditional country” sound. Stereo Review disliked the album’s contemporary style, stating, “After years of insisting that she’d stick to hard-core country ‘because I have tried the contemporary-type songs, and it’s not Reba McEntire—it’s just not honest,’ McEntire[…]has gone whole-hog pop. The album peaked at number one on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and remained there for six consecutive weeks. Okay, so maybe that’s not so terrible.” Although it was reviewed poorly, the album itself was certified platinum in sales and produced two number one singles: “I Know How He Feels” and “New Fool at an Old Game”. In addition, the release’s cover version of Jo Stafford’s “A Sunday Kind of Love” became a Top 5 hit on the Billboard country music chart. Also in 1988, McEntire founded Starstruck Entertainment, which controlled her management, booking, publishing, promotion, publicity, accounting, ticket sales, and fan club administration. The company would eventually expand into managing a horse farm, jet charter service, trucking, construction, and book publishing.
McEntire’s fourteenth studio album, Sweet Sixteen, was released in May 1989; it spent sixteen weeks at number one on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, while also becoming her first album to peak in the top 100 on the Billboard 200, reaching No. 78. The album was given positive reviews because unlike her previous studio album, the release, “welcomes the fiddles and steel guitars back as she returns to the neo-traditionalist fold”, according to Allmusic, which gave the release four-and-a-half out of five stars. Reviewer William Ruhlmann found Sweet Sixteen to “double back to a formula that worked for her in the past”. The lead single was a cover of The Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown”, with McEntire’s version reaching number one in July on the Billboard country music chart. Three more Top 10 hits followed from Sweet Sixteen: “Till Love Comes Again”, “Little Girl”, and “Walk On”, at number four, seven and two, respectively. In September she released Reba Live, her first live album, which originally certified gold but certified platinum ten years later.
Sixteen months after the release of Sweet Sixteen and after giving birth to her son, McEntire transitioned into 1990 with the release of Rumor Has It. The album’s “sound and production were almost entirely pop-oriented”, according to Kurt Wolff of Country Music: The Rough Guide. Although Rumor Has It was an attempt to receive critical praise, many reviewers found the album to be “predictable”. Stereo Review mainly found the recording displeasing in some places, but the reviewer also believed she “still leaves most of the competition in the dust”, calling the album “glorious”. Rumor Has It eventually sold three million copies by 1999, certifying triple-platinum by that year. It was prefaced by the single “You Lie”, which became her fifteenth number one single on the country chart. In addition, the album’s cover of Bobbie Gentry’s 1969 hit “Fancy” and a new track, “Fallin’ Out of Love”, became Top 10 hits on the same Billboard country chart.
1991: Aviation accident and For My Broken Heart
While on tour for her 1990 album, McEntire lost eight members of her road band (Chris Austin, Kirk Cappello, Joey Cigainero, Paula Kaye Evans, Jim Hammon, Terry Jackson, Anthony Saputo, and Michael Thomas), plus pilot Donald Holmes and co-pilot Chris Hollinger, when their charter jet plane crashed near San Diego, California in the early morning of March 16, 1991. The accident occurred after McEntire’s private performance for IBM executives the night before. The first plane was a Hawker Siddeley DH-125-1A/522 charter jet, believed to have taken off around 1:45 AM from the Brown Field Municipal Airport, located near the border of Mexico. After reaching an altitude of about 3,572 feet above sea level, the Hawker aircraft crashed on the side of Otay Mountain, located ten miles east of the airport, while the second plane (carrying her other band members) did not crash. The accident was believed to have occurred due to poor visibility near Otay Mountain, which was not considered “prohibitive” for flying. The news was reported nearly immediately to McEntire and her husband, who were sleeping at a nearby hotel. A spokeswoman for McEntire at the time stated in the Los Angeles Times that “she was very close to all of them. Some of them had been with her for years. Reba is totally devastated by this. It’s like losing part of your family. Right now she just wants to get back to Nashville.”
McEntire dedicated her sixteenth album, For My Broken Heart, to her deceased road band. Released in October 1991, it contained songs of sorrow and lost love about “all measure of suffering”, according to Alanna Nash of Entertainment Weekly. Nash reported that McEntire “still hits her stride with the more traditional songs of emotional turmoil, above all combining a spectacular vocal performance with a terrific song on “Buying Her Roses”, a wife’s head-spinning discovery of her husband’s other woman”. The release peaked at number one on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, while also reaching number 13 on the Billboard 200, and eventually sold four million copies. Its title track became McEntire’s sixteenth number one, followed by “Is There Life Out There”, which also reached number one on the Billboard country music chart. The third single, “The Greatest Man I Never Knew” peaked in the Top 5 and her cover of Vicki Lawrence’s “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” reached No. 12. “If I Had Only Known”, a cut from this album, was later included in the soundtrack to the 1994 film 8 Seconds.
1992–96: Continued success
In December 1992, McEntire’s seventeenth studio album, It’s Your Call, was released. It became her first album to peak within the Billboard 200 Top 10, reaching number eight. McEntire commented that the record was a “second chapter” to For My Broken Heart, while music reviewers such as Alanna Nash of Entertainment Weekly disagreed, writing, “In truth, it isn’t nearly as pessimistic as its predecessor—and unfortunately it isn’t anywhere as involving.” Nash called the album’s title track—which peaked at number five on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart—”one of those moment-of-truth sagas at which McEntire excels. In the song, a wife answers the phone to find her husband’s girlfriend on the other end and seizes the opportunity not only to inform her mate that she knows of his affair but to give him the ultimatum of choosing between the two. She’s not the only one who’s waitin’ on the line, she sings, handing her husband the phone. It’s your call.” Christopher John Farley of Time magazine wrote that the album ranged from being “relaxing” to “cathartic”, and “these vocals from one of the best country singers linger in the mind”. The album’s preceding singles—”The Heart Won’t Lie” (a duet with then-labelmate Vince Gill) and “Take It Back”—were Top 10 hits on the Billboard country chart, reaching number one and number five respectively. Like its preceding album, It’s Your Call sold over a million copies, eventually certifying by the RIAA in sales of double-platinum.
In October 1993, McEntire’s third compilation album, Greatest Hits Volume Two was released, reaching number one and number five on the Billboard Top Country Albums and Billboard 200 charts respectively, selling 183,000 copies during Christmas week 1993. Out of the ten tracks were two new singles: the first, “Does He Love You”, was a duet with Linda Davis. The song later went on to reach number one on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart and win both women a Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals. Its second single, “They Asked About You”, was also a Top 10 hit. The additional eight songs were some of McEntire’s biggest hit singles during a course of five years including “The Last One to Know”, “I Know How He Feels”, “Cathy’s Clown”, and “The Heart Won’t Lie”. After originally selling two million copies upon its initial release (2× Multi-Platinum), Greatest Hits Volume Two would later certify at 5× Multi-Platinum by the RIAA in 1998.
Her eighteenth studio release was 1994’s Read My Mind. The album spawned five major hit singles onto the Billboard Country chart, including the number one single “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter”. The further releases (“Till You Love Me”, “Why Haven’t I Heard from You”, and “And Still”) became Top 10 singles on the same chart, with “Till You Love Me” also reaching number 78 on the Billboard Hot 100, a chart that she had not previously entered. The album itself reached number two on the both the Billboard 200 and Top Country Albums charts. Charlotte Dillon of Allmusic gave the album four out of five stars, calling it “another wonderful offering of songs performed by the gifted country singer Reba McEntire”. Dillon also felt that the album’s material had “a little soul, a little swing, and some pop, too”. Entertainment Weekly’s Alanna Nash also gave the album positive feedback, viewing the album to have “enough boiling rhythms and brooding melodies to reflect the anger and disillusionment of the middle class in the ’90s”, calling the track “She Thinks His Name Was John” to be the best example of that idea. The song was eventually spawned as a single and was considered controversial for its storyline, which described a woman who contracts AIDS from a one-night stand. Because of its subject, the song garnered less of a response from radio and peaked at number 15. Read My Mind became another major seller for McEntire and her label, selling three million copies by 1995 and certifying at 3× Multi-Platinum from the RIAA.
After many years of releasing studio albums of newly recorded material, McEntire’s nineteenth studio album, Starting Over (1995) was collection of her favorite songs originally recorded by others from the 1950s through the early 1980s. The album was made to commemorate twenty years in the music industry, but many music critics gave it a less positive response than her previous release. Allmusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine commented that although the album was considered a “rebirth” for McEntire, he thought that some tracks were recorded for merely “nothing more than entertainment”. The album paid tribute to many of McEntire’s favorite artists and included cover versions of “Talking In Your Sleep” originally sung by Crystal Gayle, “Please Come to Boston”, “Starting Over Again”, cowritten by Donna Summer and originally a hit for Dolly Parton, “On My Own”, and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”. “On My Own” featured guest vocals from Davis, as well as Martina McBride and Trisha Yearwood. Despite negative reviews, Starting Over was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America within the first two months of its release, but only one single—a cover of Lee Greenwood’s “Ring on Her Finger, Time on Her Hands”—was a Top 10 hit single.
1997–98: What If It’s You and “If You See Him”
McEntire made a major comeback into the music industry the following year with her twentieth studio album, What If It’s You. The album’s lead single, “The Fear of Being Alone” reached number two on the country charts, and its further two singles (“How Was I to Know” and “I’d Rather Ride Around with You”) reached number one and number two respectively. The release garnered higher critical acclaim than Starting Over, with Thom Owens of Allmusic calling the album “nevertheless an excellent reminder of her deep talents as a vocalist”. MCA Nashville chairman Bruce Hinton told Billboard how pleased he was with McEntire’s release, calling the album’s ten tracks “powerful” and concluding by stating, “There are so many writers and so many great songs in Nashville, and Reba has collected her disproportionate share[…]She’s country music’s female artist of the 90’s.” What If It’s You peaked at number one Top Country Albums and No. 15 on the Billboard 200, while also becoming her first album in three years to certify in multi-platinum sales, selling two million copies by 1999. At the end of 1997, McEntire also charted at number 23 the charity single “What If”. The proceeds of sales for this single were donated to the Salvation Army.
In 1997, McEntire headlined a tour with Brooks & Dunn that led to the recording of “If You See Him/If You See Her” with the duo the following year. This song was included on McEntire’s If You See Him album and Brooks & Dunn’s If You See Her album, both of which released on June 2. Thom Owens of Allmusic reported in its review that both album titles were named nearly the same as “a way to draw attention for both parties, since they were no longer new guns—they were veterans in danger of losing ground to younger musicians”. The duet reached number one on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart in June 1998 and spawned an additional three Top 10 hits during that year: “Forever Love”, “Wrong Night”, and “One Honest Heart”. In addition, If You See Him peaked within the Top 10 on both the Billboard 200 and Top Country Albums chart, reaching number eight and number two, respectively.