100 Greatest Women, #95: Sylvia

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March 20, 2008

sylvia45.jpg100 Greatest Women

#95

Sylvia

Some artists produce music that changes the sound of their time. Others adapt to the current time, shaping their sound to match what’s currently popular. Sylvia is one of the latter artists, a pop-flavored singer that rode the Urban Cowboy wave, complete with synthesizers and a chorus of female backup singers echoing the lines she sang.

Sylvia was only 23 when she released her first single for RCA records, “You Don’t Miss a Thing.” She had spent her previous years in Nashville as secretary for producer Tom Collins, followed by a successful run as a studio backup vocalist, and when that first single was released, she had only recently made her first stage appearance as a solo country artist. She had caught the attention of RCA label executive Jerry Bradley when auditioning to be the latest Sugar, and she ended up landing a solo deal instead.

“You Don’t Miss a Thing” and its follow-up, “It Don’t Hurt to Dream”, both barely dented the top forty. Then, Collins, now producing his former secretary, and Sylvia went for a sound he called “prairie music – Western-type lyrics with a disco beat.”

That new sound produced her first top ten hit, “Tumbleweed”, which was followed by her first #1 single, “Drifter.” The sonic description Collins provides is pretty much accurate, and could charitably be described as something like an old-time saloon band fronted by Juice Newton.

They had toned down the western theme by the time Sylvia released the biggest hit of her career: “Nobody.” The almost mind-numbingly catchy single was a massive hit, topping the country charts and also crossing over to the pop hit parade. It reached #15 on the Hot 100, was a million-selling single, and was BMI’s most-played song of the year in 1982. Its success led to Sylvia winning ACM’s Female Vocalist of the Year award, and she also scored a Grammy nomination for the hit.

Sylvia continued to have hits in the same vein, with the top five hit “Snapshot” featuring a video that showcased both her personality and her stunning beauty. Until Shania Twain came along a decade later, she was arguably the most strikingly beautiful female country singer of the video era.

She also demonstrated a talent that went beyond pop-flavored ditties, showing she could wrap her voice around heartfelt ballads like “I Never Quite Got Back (From Loving You.)” Her album One Step Closer was produced by Brent Maher, and found her singing against more acoustic and traditional backgrounds.

After her run of hits, however, she was feeling a bit disillusioned and she went into semi-retirement, cutting back on touring and focusing on developing her songwriting. She’s since released several albums on the Red Pony label, including a 2002 album called Where in the World that experimented with international sounds and instruments. Once a young artist herself that was heavily guided by mentors, she now spends her time mentoring upcoming singers, songwriters and musicians in the industry.

Sylvia

Essential Singles

  • “Tumbleweed” – 1980
  • “Drifter” – 1981
  • “Nobody” – 1982
  • “Snapshot” – 1983
  • “I Never Quite Got Back (From Loving You)” – 1983

Essential Albums

  • Drifter (1981)
  • Just Sylvia (1982)
  • One Step Closer (1985)
  • Where in the World (2002)

Industry Awards

  • ACM Female Vocalist of the Year, 1983

==> #94. Martha Carson

<== #96. Allison Moorer

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  1. LeeannNo Gravatar says:

    As I was growing up, my dad and I had a common bond with our love of music. My mom pretty much considers music out of her taste realm to be noise. However, my dad is the type of guy who has a lot of knowledge in his head, which includes music of all kinds. So, when I got into country music, we could talk about it and he was quite knowledgeable about the topic.”Nobody” was old news by the time I got into country music, but I particularly remember that when he heard me listening to it, he knew exactly who sang it and he thought it was an amusing song. So, that’s when I thought my dad was cool. Not so much because he knew that specific song and other country songs that I was surprised that he knew about, but I discovered that he possessed knowledge about a genre that was becoming my favorite kind of music. It was something that he knew I loved, so he always took the time to engage in conversations with me about it.

    End ramble.:)

  2. KevinNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve always secretly wished that the backup singers of “Nobody” would follow me around, repeating everything I say in a sing-song voice.

    “Today, class, we’re going to learn about main verbs.”

    “Main Verbs! Oh, Oh!”

  3. Jordan StaceyNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve never really liked Sylvia all that much, she deserves her spot on this list but I’ve never really cared for her.

  4. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar says:

    I always felt Sylvia was better than the songs she sang – “Drifter” was her best song

  5. Dale R.No Gravatar says:

    The perfect follow up to Nobody was Like Nothing Ever Happened. Those songs were the “Does He Love You” of the 80s.

  6. Brian Q. Hammons says:

    Most underated voice in country music. she sould be up higher then 95. She would of had a longer career if she would of stayed with her more traditional sound. But hey everyone knows the song nobody. So she will alwaysbe remembered.

  7. ken thurmanNo Gravatar says:

    I met sylvia live in 1980 when i was playing drums for a country band in oklahoma city, called larry dean and the silverton station band. she hired us as her band to do a concert in okc at the stampede steak house restaurant and bar with a mechanical bull too, lol. we played for her and we were the first band to do the matador with her. if she reads this she will remember me as the drummer that didn’t like doing so many patsy cline songs in a row, lol. she loves patsy cline. she was indeed a very beautiful young woman and a great talent and a very personal and fun normal super star.

  8. TravisNo Gravatar says:

    it seems every decade has a “knock-off” artist… an artist that is used by the labels to mimic another artists looks and style.. we see it on tv as well,, EVERY station has a cop show BECAUSE another station had a hit with it… Sylvia is just said artist,, she was the match to Crystal Gayle….. her voice, her look, her HAIR,,

    Having said this, I can say that I enjoyed her music very much… Unlike Crystal, however, Sylvia never quite seemed comfortable behind the mike and on stage… You could tell that singing live was not her love and it came across when she performed. I wish she would have continued as i enjoyed her music very much but in terms of the 100 GREATEST, I don’t think she belongs on this list as she made no true lingering contributions…

  9. Matt JisaNo Gravatar says:

    Fans of Sylvia have gathered in a Facebook group called “Fans of Sylvia Hutton”. Sylvia herself is part of the group.
    Please join us! Here’s the link–>
    http://www.facebook.com/groups/131644660539/

  10. SteveNo Gravatar says:

    Sylvia deserves a higher ranking. If you only know her from the hits listed above, you really don’t know her. Her recent work deserves a listen. She makes the top ten on my list!

  11. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    Steve,

    I don’t know exactly what recent material you’re referring to, but this list is four years old, so the list would probably pre-date it.

    I can see why one might be a big fan of hers, as her talent is quite obvious, but I don’t think her overall impact on the genre would warrant Top 10 status – even without comparing her to the likes of Parton, Lynn, Harris, Wynette, Cline, or any of the ladies who did make the Top 10.

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