Reba McEntire is country, through and through.
Growing up on a cattle ranch, both her father and grandfather were rodeo champs, with Reba herself also an avid barrel racer. Her artistic potential was first discovered when she sang the national anthem at the National Finals Rodeo, in Oklahoma City.
Since then, she has become the only country female solo act to have a no.1 hit in four straight decades.
Now, we reflect on her illustrious career so far; delving deep into album tracks and picking out the best of those 25 no.1 hits. These are the best Reba McEntire songs according to Holler!
From the storytelling that Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally so elegantly crafted, to the soft acoustic guitar and pedal steel that dominates the arrangement, this track from Reba’s 30th studio album is a real hidden gem within the genre.
Perfectly delivered by her distinctive vocals, Reba takes a gentler approach than on some of her bigger hits, showing her versatility.
I’m not sure what I love more, the song or the music video.
Here, Reba’s trying to juggle work life, family life and her university studies – with a particular part filmed at the infamous Belmont University in Nashville, where many of our beloved country stars studied in real life.
The song is uplifting and inspirational, no wonder it went to number one.
Originally released in 1982, but recently revived for McEntire’s latest project, this toe-tapping track was Reba’s first number one.
It’s interesting to hear the two versions side by side; McEntire’s vocals have obviously matured yet still sound playful.
Reba bumps into a “ghost from the past” at a party with his new girlfriend and he completely blanks her, so she starts mooning over him and salivating just at the memory of how it felt to touch him and kiss him. “Oh, I’ve been there and I know how he feels”, she belts in the chorus. We’ve all been there, Reba. We’ve all been there. Have another smoked salmon blini and for goodness sake try to stop staring.
Reba’s in recovery mode again, trying to get over a love affair that ended messily, as she tries to imagine what a world without her ex-lover in might look like. It all looks pretty much the same - some kid down the street mows the lawn, her neighbour fixes a roof, some guy at her work keeps hitting on her – but unfortunately she keeps thinking she sees her ex-lover everywhere she goes. On the plus side, she’s saving a lot of time and money only shopping for herself these days. Every cloud.
We’re going back to the ’80s for this no.1, which finds McEntire's vocals at their very best.
It’s a happy cheating song if ever there was one, the clever lyricism subverting the notion; “Oh Little Rock, think I’m gonna have to slip you off / Take a chance tonight and untie the knot.”
Tammy Wynette was one of the queens of the genre; she knew how to tug on the heartstrings and had a number of tear-jerkers in her catalogue.
This tribute, written by Brandy Clark, Mark Narmore and Shelley Skidmore, was an album cut on McEntire’s 2019 album Stronger Than The Truth.
The raw emotion Reba evokes really brings the lyrics to life.
“I don't believe in self pity / It only brings you down / I may be the queen of broken hearts but I don't hide behind the crown”, Reba sings in this boldly triumphant anthem of self-empowerment. ‘I’m A Survivor’ tells the against-all-odds story of a baby girl born prematurely who grows up to be a “single mom who works two jobs” with “gentle hands and a heart of a fighter”.
This heartbreaking ballad was released in 1985, as the second single from the My Kind of Country album. It was written by Harlan Howard and Chick Rains and topped the US Country charts, with critics lauding it at the time as the tear-jerking centrepiece of the record. The prominent swoon of the pedal steel throughout only tugs on those heartstrings harder, whilst the storytelling lyrics poignantly capture the emotional turmoil going on; “Somebody should leave but which one should it be, you need the kids and they need me”.
This song, released in 1987, was Reba McEntire’s 9th number one hit. The ballad was written by Jane Mariash and Matraca Berg; the latter of whom wrote other major hits, such as Deana Carter’s ‘Strawberry Wine’ and Kenny Chesney’s ‘You and Tequila’. It’s certainly another tear-jerker from Reba, whose vocals are packed with emotion. The album, of the same name, produced another number one hit single in the form of ‘Love Will Find Its Way to You’.
Originally recorded by Mark Wills in 2001, this was McEntire’s 22nd number one hit; written by Dave Berg, Sam Tate and Annie Tate. ‘Somebody’ boasts an evocative chorus that's full of hope; the melodic rises and list-style lyrics backing up the catchy hook. “Somebody in the next car / Somebody on the morning train / Somebody in the coffee shop that you walk right by everyday”. It’s an encouraging message for all the hopeful singletons - this story might just play out for you one day too and you’ll get your happy ever after, just like the couple in this song!
One of the more upbeat, country-pop leaning numbers on this list, ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’ is a classic 90’s country hit. The decade was a big one for women in country, with Reba top of the class throughout. ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’ had a team of hit writers, including Ed Hill ( Faith Hill’s ‘It Matters To Me’), Kim Williams (CMA-award winning ‘Three Wooden Crosses’) and Mark Sanders (Lee Ann Womack’s ‘I Hope You Dance’).
‘The Clown’ is a track from McEntire’s 33rd studio album Stronger Than The Truth, which was released in 2019. Opening with an anticipation-building piano riff, the song is carried by it's image-rich lyrics; “So I painted a smile on my face / to cover the frown / in that room full of jokers and jesters / I was the clown”. Yet again, with ‘The Clown’, McEntire has proved that she’s a bit of a pro when it comes to delivering a mid-tempo, heartbreaking ballad.
‘Back To God’ ended up being such a big hit for McEntire, that she decided to release it twice. The first time was in 2017, when it dropped as the second single from her album Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope. A few months later, she got together with Lauren Daigle; the pair took the duet to the top of the Christian music charts, marking Reba McEntire’s first number one on that chart. They performed the duet at the ACM Awards, with it also featuring on McEntire’s Christmas album later that year.
This classic Everly Brothers song is rather unorthodox and pushes against the rules of popular song writing. McEntire recorded the song in 1989, with it going to number one both on the US and Canadian country charts. Her vocals are flawless throughout here; her mastering of the melodies only emphasised by the backing vocalists, who harmonise beautifully. Reba manages to really make 'Cathy's Clown' her own, whilst simultaneously staying true to the original.
Originally a hit for Vicki Lawrence in the seventies, this southern gothic murder ballad was written by Lawrence’s then husband Bobby Russell, and Lawrence only ended up singing it when Cher turned it down for being too controversial. Reba covered it on her 1991 album For My Broken Heart, and took the twists and turns of this intriguing tale of loyalty, betrayal and vengeance up a notch with a stomping powerhouse vocal.
The only duet on our list, McEntire recorded 1993’s ‘Does He Love You?’ with Linda Davis. There’s a sort of theatrical element to this track, reminiscent of ‘I Know Him So Well’ from the musical Chess. “You’re the one he rushes home to, the one he gave his name to” It’s certainly one of the most vocally powerful duets you’ll come across; the song is rumoured to have been turned down by Barbara Mandrell and Liza Minnelli. Davis was part of McEntire’s backing band in the early 90s at the time this song was recorded, and the pair took it to the top of the country charts, winning a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Collaboration.
Reba McEntire rebooted her career in 2010 when she signed to Valory Music, showing the world that she still had all the voice and sass that made her so significant for so many decades. ‘Turn On the Radio’ certainly packs a punch and we hear McEntire’s vocals at their very best! It became her 25th and final number one on the country charts to date. At the time, she became tied with Dolly Parton for the most number one songs by a female country artist. The song has since been certified Gold by the RIAA.
Suspicions and emotions are both running high in the title track to Reba’s 1986 album, Whoever’s In New England, as she wonders just what sort of “business” it is that her husband’s been sweating away on up in Massachusetts. The stormy ballad raced to number one and picked up the Grammy award for Best Female Country Vocal, partly thanks to being accompanied by Reba’s first ever music video.
Anyone that’s seen Reba McEntire in concert will know her encores are something special. After a quick costume change, McEntire will close the show with ‘Fancy’ - one of her most successful songs to date, but also one of the most controversial of its time. The song, which Bobby Gentry made famous in 1969, discusses childhood poverty and prostitution. McEntire took it to number eight on the country charts, but despite it not being her highest charting song, it has become known as her signature tune, and is also now certified platinum.
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