May 14, 2008
The cross-pollination between pop and country music in the early eighties provided an opening for Juice Newton and her undeniably infectious aural confections.
By the time that the hits started rolling in, they had been a long time coming. Newton had found local success in a band she dubbed Juice Newton & The Silver Spur. Their regional popularity led to a deal with RCA in the mid-seventies. They released two albums, an eponymous debut in 1975 and After the Dust Settles in 1976, but both projects sank quietly, with one single barely denting the country charts.
The band switched to Capitol records, but disbanded after a third album went nowhere. Newton stayed on the label as a solo act, and her single “It’s a Heartache” nicked the bottom of the pop charts. It became a smash single in Mexico, but American audiences embraced Bonnie Tyler’s version instead. She made some headway with her 1979 album Take Heart, which featured five charting country singles, but none of them made a significant impact.
It was with her third solo album that the stars aligned. While Newton had been trying to break through without success in both the country and the pop markets, the lead single from Juice stormed the pop charts. “Angel of the Morning” was a power pop reworking of the Merrilee Rush classic, and while it wasn’t a huge country hit, it was a million-selling pop hit, reaching #4 on the pop charts. She put her sugary spin on “Queen of Hearts” next, a song that had been unsuccessful for Rodney Crowell, and it became her second gold single, peaking at No. 2 on the pop chart and No. 14 on the country chart.
A third single from Juice was her first to have its biggest impact in the country market. “The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)” was a No. 1 country and AC single, and also went top ten on the pop chart. This string of hits pushed Juice to double platinum sales and earned her the ACM Top New Female Vocalist trophy in 1983.
Newton followed up with Quiet Lies, and lead single “Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard On Me.” Country didn’t bite, but it was a big pop and AC hit, and featured a hilariously cheesy video of Newton being repeatedly injured by her beau’s accident-prone ways. “Break it To Me Gently” not only returned her to the top five of the country chart, it earned her a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Her success in both markets made her a nominee in both the pop and country fields for two straight years.
In 1984, Newton’s final album for Capitol experimented with a more rock-influenced sound. Dirty Looks didn’t find an audience in country or pop, straying too far from the hit-making formula of the previous two albums. Newton chose to leave Capitol and return to RCA. Her 1984 album for the label, Can’t Wait All Night, didn’t score any hits, but it laid the groundwork for a more targeted approach to the country market.
Newton returned to country in a big way in 1985. Her album Old Flame was fully embraced by country radio, featuring three No. 1 hits: “You Make Me Want to Make You Mine,” “Hurt” and a duet with Eddie Rabbitt, “Both to Each Other (Friends and Lovers).” Three more singles from the album hit the top ten, a stunning run of hits for that time period.
After that, the hits slowed down. “Tell Me True,” from her 1987 album Emotion, was her last top ten country hit. A final album for RCA, Ain’t Gonna Cry, was released in 1989, and produced her last top forty country hit, “When Love Comes Around the Bend”, a song co-written by Pam Tillis and also recorded by Suzy Bogguss.
Throughout the next two decades, Newton would revive some of her old hits for independent labels, and release a studio album of all-new material in 1999. In 2003, she appeared on the television show “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” where her cover of Ashlee Simpson’s “Pieces of Me” was voted by fans as the best of that week’s performances. In 2007, she released her first Christmas album, The Gift of Christmas, and she still tours actively with her band, the REGENR8ERS.
- “Angel of the Morning”, 1981
- “Queen of Hearts”, 1981
- “The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)”, 1982
- “Break it To Me Gently”, 1982
- “Hurt”, 1985
- Juice (1981)
- Quiet Lies (1982)
- Old Flame (1985)
- ACM Top New Female Vocalist, 1982
- Grammy: Best Country Vocal Performance, Female (“Break it To Me Gently”), 1983