April 15, 2008
One of the long-held beliefs in the country music industry was that a woman couldn’t be too sexual with her image. If she did, the female audience that made up the lion’s share of the format’s fans would see her as a threat, and wouldn’t buy her records. Now, Shania Twain certainly put that silly theory to bed, but Margo Smith is one singer who can claim from her own experience that there might have been some truth to that theory, at least in the late seventies and early eighties.
Margo Smith couldn’t have had a more wholesome image when she launched her career in 1975. She had spent the sixties as a kindergarten teacher, singing little songs to her young students. From childhood, she had been a yodeler, and she always worked that sound into the songs she wrote. She recorded a demo that started to circulate around Nashville in the early seventies, and when she signed with 20th Century Records, she had a top ten hit right out of the gate with “There I Said It.”
Two more singles for that label failed to meet expectations, but a label switch to Warner Bros. found her heating up the charts again. She had a sweet, wholesome image that neatly complemented the vulnerable #1 hits “Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You” and “It Only Hurts For a Little While.” By the end of 1978, she had been a regular on country radio for four years.
It was then that she released the sexually charged “Still a Woman”, which found a middle-aged woman declaring to her husband that she can be just as fiesty as that hot young girl that’s caught his attention. With that hit came a new image, finding Smith wearing low-cut dresses that she referred to as saloon-style. She candidly spoke about sex in interviews, claiming that any woman her age who says she doesn’t think about sex is a liar. When she released her 1981 album, Diamonds and Chills, most of the LP jacket was dedicated to her plunging neckline.
Somewhere along the way, she stopped having hits. Her last solo trip to the top twenty came in early 1980, with “The Shuffle Song.” After that, it was all downhill. Smith figured that she’d taken the new image too far, and came to regret that choice, but she soon returned to her wholesome image, and found a new avenue for success.
In 1985, Smith became one of the first country artists to see the potential of television marketing. She released an album called The Best of the Tennessee Yodeler, which paid tribute to Bonnie Lou. The album was sold solely through television ads, and it did very well for her.
Following the path of many other artists of her time, she moved into gospel music. For the past two decades, she has been performing Christian Country music, sometimes solo, and sometimes with her daughter, Holly. She continues to play dates in the south, and released a new album, Nothing to Lose, in 2005.
- “There I Said It”, 1975
- “Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You”, 1977
- “It Only Hurts For a Little While”, 1978
- “Little Things Mean a Lot”, 1978
- “Still a Woman”, 1979
- Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You (1978)
- A Woman (1979)