100 Greatest Women, #30: Lorrie Morgan

100 Greatest Women

#30

Lorrie Morgan

There are many second generation country stars that build on the legacy of the famous parent that came before them. Lorrie Morgan is one of the few that actually eclipsed her famous parent, becoming one of the most popular female country artists during the nineties gold rush.

Of course, she’d been chasing the dream long before that. She was born the daughter of George Morgan, an Opry member who had his biggest hit in 1949 with “Candy Kisses.” Morgan has described herself as an “Opry brat,” a kid who grew up backstage of the venerable institution. She was 13 when she made her own Opry debut, garnering a huge ovation for her rendition of Marie Osmond’s “Paper Roses.” Three short years later, her father died suddenly. Still a teen in high school, she dedicated herself fully to pursuing her own singing career, both to carry on her father’s legacy and help pay the bills he left behind.

To say things went slowly would be an understatement. She was nineteen when she released her first single, the Eddy Raven-penned “Two People in Love” on ABC Records. After that stopped at #75, she put out the Liz Anderson-penned “Tell me I’m Only Dreaming” on MCA, which also failed to capture an audience. A third single in 1979, “I’m Completely Satisfied With You,” was a studio-spliced posthumous duet with her late father. It stopped at No. 93.

Morgan went back to the drawing board, playing clubs in the early eighties and touring briefly with George Jones. She appeared on the Opry whenever she could. The familial atmosphere there connected her to her history, and despite the fact that she had not had any hits by 1984, she was invited to join the cast. She spent the eighties appearing regularly on the Opry while seeking a new recording contract. She ended up signing with RCA in 1988, the label home of her husband Keith Whitley.

This time, she found the audience she’d been looking for. Her debut album Leave the Light On connected with the new country fans that were flooding the market. Big hits like “Five Minutes,” “Out of Your Shoes” and “Dear Me” had a sophisticated pop-country sound that recalled the Nashville Sound stylings of her fellow Opry mate Jeannie Seely. The tragic death of Whitley led to their studio-created duet “‘Til a Tear Becomes a Rose,” which won the CMA Vocal Event award in 1989.

For her second album, Morgan explored her country roots further, making George Jones’ “A Picture of Me (Without You)” a hit again. But it was the title track of Something in Red that made her a superstar. The sweeping Broadway-style ballad wasn’t a huge radio hit, but it connected so deeply with listeners that it pushed both of her albums to platinum sales. It also earned her a Grammy nomination.

Morgan’s winning ways continued with her third set, Watch Me, which featured big hits like the title cut and “What Part of No.” Morgan’s biggest heroine was Tammy Wynette, and she received a proud endorsement from the legend for the album’s hit “I Guess You Had to Be There”, which Wynette said was one of the first real country thing she’d heard on the radio in a long time.

Morgan revealed her songwriting gifts for the first time on her fourth album War Paint, which featured her heartbreaking tribute to Whitley, “If You Came Back From Heaven.” The album went gold. A Greatest Hits collection in 1995 produced the No. 1 hit “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength,” and again showed her penchant for classic country with its cover of the Billie Jo Spears hit “Standing Tall.”

Morgan collaborated with the Beach Boys on a rousing rendition of their hit “Don’t Worry Baby,” while finishing out the nineties with two more gold albums, the stellar Greater Need and its solid follow-up Shakin’ Things Up. After that, radio favor faded, despite smart covers of Kim Richey (“Here I Go Again”) and Bobbie Cryner (“You’d Think He’d Know Me Better”). Morgan followed her muse, covering pop standards on Secret Love and releasing a duet album with Sammy Kershaw.

In 2004, Morgan released her most personal album to date, Show Me How, which scored a minor hit with the single mom anthem “Do You Still Want To Buy Me That Drink (Frank).” Morgan has continued to perform on the Opry, and is currently prepping the release of her first album of self-penned material this summer. She is also preparing an album of country classics to follow that set. This promising pair of future releases indicate that she’ll continue to build on the impressive legacy she’s already established.

Lorrie Morgan

Essential Singles

  • “Out of Your Shoes,” 1989
  • “Five Minutes,” 1990
  • “Something in Red,” 1992
  • “What Part of No,” 1992
  • “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength,” 1995
  • “Good as I Was to You,” 1997

Essential Albums

  • Something in Red, 1991
  • Watch Me, 1992
  • Greater Need, 1996
  • Show Me How, 2004

Industry Awards

  • CMA Vocal Event (“‘Til a Tear Becomes a Rose”), 1989
  • CMA Album (Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles), 1994

==> #29. Mary Chapin Carpenter

<== #31. Rose Maddox

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9 Comments

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9 Responses to 100 Greatest Women, #30: Lorrie Morgan

  1. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    Much too high – Lorrie Morgan’s greatest influence on the genre was in mounting a campaign to get her father inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame, a campaign which should have failed IMHO. George Morgan was a pleasant singer with minimal chart success and basically journeyman talent. I can think of tons of singers, of Morgan’s generation, who should have gotten in before George Morgan including many who still aren’t there such as Stonewall Jackson, Billy Walker, Tompall Glaser, Mel Street and Bobby Bare.

    Lorie is another in a long line of female singers who had some talent and scored some hits without markedly changing the genre, She did, however, record an exquisite Christmas album with (I hink) the London Symphony Orchestra

  2. tomNo Gravatar

    paul’s comment “much too high” is absolutely correct. she’s never broken any new ground for the genre and was, at best, a very prolific example of what country music was like in the 90′.

    having said that, it should also be highlighted what a great, at times even exquisite, pleasure it is, to just listen to her. her wonderfully, characteristic vocals deal with classic country as well as with contemporary country songs effortlessly and in great style, no matter at what tempo. i’d go as far as saying that a “country song” would most likely be over the moon, about the prospect of being sung by her.

    her 94 album “war paint” is a confident showcase of this singers craft and talent.

  3. Kevin,

    I haven’t really taken issue with placements when it comes to this project thus far– as you’ve commented elsewhere, I think what’s more significant is an artist’s inclusion at all and how that inclusion tells an important part of the genre’s history, and, to that end, I’ve already made peace with the utterly repellant idea of shameless commercial opportunist Faith Hill’s placing somewhere in the top 20– but I definitely have to agree with Paul and Tom here. Morgan’s lofty placement is a real head-scratcher. Only 29 female artists have had more important roles in telling the story of country music than Lorrie Morgan? Really?

    That said, I’m curious about this supposed classic country album you mention. Morgan’s always struck me as a better singer than the bulk of her material– it seems like fully half of her 90s hits are what I’d classify as throwaway novelty singles– so it sounds as though there’s definitely cause for optimism for where she’s headed.

  4. I’m not ignoring the questions here, I just don’t want to get pulled into justifying rankings when there’s still 29 to go. I’m surprised to hear her output dismissed as half-novelty singles, though. I honestly can’t think of one hit she had that could be labeled as such. Maybe “My Night to Howl”, but that wasn’t really a hit in the first place.

  5. Lorrie Morgan’s personal life always seemed to get into the way of her music. That is too bad; because I really think she loved country music and wanted to make it as a traditional country artist. She was a star, but never quite became a big star like Reba McEntire or Wynonna Judd.

    I would have put Pam Tillis and Lee Ann Womack ahead of her, but Lorrie does belong in this general range.

  6. ChadNo Gravatar

    Granted, she’s had some *great* and powerful singles (“Good as I was to You,” “If you Came Back from Heaven”), but I kind of agree with the posters here–she’s a little too high.

    I’m happy to hear that she’s writing some of her own music now and will be interested to hear it.

  7. RickNo Gravatar

    I just wanted to toss in a little tidbit here. The song “Something In Red” was written by songwriter Angela Kaset and Angela performs it on her album titled “Sanctuary” from 1997. Angela’s own presentation is with just a solo piano, but her vocal performance is very moving and worth a listen…..

  8. TravisNo Gravatar

    I think Lorrie is one of those artist that gets sidelined by many things, most of which were her more traditional counterparts of the day… However, she was gorgeous, voice of an angel, yet could be down and dirty when needed and her voice could reflect that…. I never even knew who she was til the death of her husband, and once I found out, boom, this teenage boy was hooked on her voice and her looks… She wasn’t my parents version or grandparents version of a country singer..

    I think she deserves her place on this list, but I do think, she would have went further had her HEADLINES of dating bad men, and her marital issues with Sammy Kershaw, who I also enjoyed his music,, but overall,, the public could care less and it discredited her musically……..

  9. Michael A.No Gravatar

    Has anyone heard her digital only release I Walk Alone, from the end of last year?

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