Being from Oklahoma, Reba McEntire‘s music is almost a daily occurrence for me. I’ve been a McEntire fan for most of my life. My mom bought one of her concerts on VHS when I was six and I’ve been smitten with her music ever since. I listened to everything I could get a hold of and now I own every album she’s ever recorded. I’m not obsessed; I just have a deep respect.
Each McEntire album is a meticulous painting. Some are blue while others are red hot. Each is carefully curated, especially after she signed with MCA and took musical control of her career. She is known for her 26 Billboard No. 1 hits but there are so many hidden gems within these records.
These are the songs that I consider to be some of her best deep cuts. This list is not comprehensive nor is it any order. These tracks stand the test of time and are a small testament to McEntire’s timeless career.
“Indelibly Blue” (1981)
McEntire was beginning to make an impact on the charts by the time this song was released on her forth album Heart to Heart. One single from this album, “Today All Over Again,” had climbed the charts up to No. 5. Also on that album is “Indelibly Blue.” The opening track is a heart-wrenching ballad of loneliness with steel guitar tear drops. In that, her vocals are confident as if she knew she was on the verge of superstardom.
“I’ll Believe It When I Feel It” (1986)
By the time the Oklahoma native graced us with this tune, she already had several No. 1 singles. “I’ll Believe It When I Feel It” appears on her Whoever’s in New England album. It’s another steady tempo country ballad but you can really feel McEntire’s vocals starting to soar with emotion. It’s powerful.
“If I Had Only Known” (1991)
This song appears on the album For My Broken Heart. One of the most poignant albums in McEntire’s catalog, this was her release after many of her touring band members died in an airplane accident. This song is McEntire’s track for them. “If I Had Only Known” is the last track on the album and doesn’t have the big production that had been prominent on her other songs. She’s backed by a piano and simple string arrangement. Although there was a video for the song, it was never released as a single.
“I Won’t Mention it Again” (1995)
In 1995, McEntire released her first album of covers, Starting Over. There are many classic country gems on this disc but my heart has always melted at “I Won’t Mention It Again.” The way she captures the emotion of being content in rejection has always baffled me. This one will bring you to tears as you slowly reach for a shot of whiskey.
“Face to Face” (Duet with Linda Davis) (1998)
McEntire took a big risk in 1993 when she released a duet with her then-unknown background singer, Linda Davis. The risk was a smart one as “Does He Love You” went number one and won a Grammy. Fast forward to 1998, with a fresh new haircut, she released her album If You See Him. On this album is another duet with Davis and it’s almost a sequel to their first duet. “Face to Face” has more rational thinking, though.
“Back Before the War” (1999)
Nobody has ever captured the heartbreak of divorce quite like McEntire. With hits like “Somebody Should Leave” and “Ring on Her Finger, Time On Her Hands,” she always plays the strong and persevering part. This song takes that same element and breaks it down further, down to where the pen signs the papers. “Back Before the War” has a solemn arrangement with a solid country heartache foundation. Grab a tissue for this one.
“It Just Has to Be This Way” (Duet with Vince Gill) (2003)
Somehow, this song completely flew under the radar. It should have been a single. “It Just Has To Be This Way” is another duet between McEntire and Vince Gill but, this time, it’s a different circumstance. While they weren’t able to denounce their love in “The Heart Won’t Lie,” now they are confessing that amidst their best efforts, it’s not going to work. This is the last track off of McEntire’s 2003 album, Room to Breathe. Their voices flawlessly melt together in one and, really, you can’t go wrong bringing these two legends together.
“I’ll Have What She’s Having” (2009)
This one is from the 2009 album, Keep on Loving You. Although released in the late 2000s, “I’ll Have What She’s Having” places McEntire firmly in her classic country roots. It is pure honky-tonk country. Your feet can’t help but two step. The song’s clever lyrics mixed with McEntire’s wit make it easy to hit repeat.
“Cry” from 2010’s All the Women I Am places McEntire in the role she has perfected. It is hauntingly reminiscent of her 80s and 90s material and is another gut-wrenching ballad. Again she’s tough, she’s jilted but she’s a survivor. This ballad speaks for itself as her vocals go from somber heartbreak to frustrated anger. There’s nothing new to see here but this track shows McEntire’s solid, irresistible vocal craftsmanship that country music just can’t get enough of.
From more than 40 years, McEntire has contributed to not only music but also pop culture as a whole. Country music fans know her for her many hits and non-country fans know her as the snarky redhead from her TV sitcom. You simply can’t deny the impact she’s had. She’s also known for that fancy red dress but that is just the surface of her legacy. When you dig into her catalog you realize there really is a lot of life out there.