March 20, 2008
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.
- “Tumbleweed” – 1980
- “Drifter” – 1981
- “Nobody” – 1982
- “Snapshot” – 1983
- “I Never Quite Got Back (From Loving You)” – 1983
- Drifter (1981)
- Just Sylvia (1982)
- One Step Closer (1985)
- Where in the World (2002)
- ACM Female Vocalist of the Year, 1983