June 3, 2008
There may never have been a more unassuming female superstar than Anne Murray, who quietly built up an impressive run of hits that stretched two decades long. All this from a soft-spoken high school gym teacher who half-heartedly pursued the fame and fortune that came looking for her instead.
For Murray, music had only been a hobby. As she studied for her physical education degree at the Canadian University of New Brunswick, she tried out for the weekly CBC television series Singing Jubilee. They already had enough alto singers, but the producer remembered her. Two years had passed since the audition and she was already a high school gym teacher. The producer called her up with an offer to join at TV show called Let’s Go. She took the job, but kept teaching at the same time.
She struck up a friendship with the show’s musical director Brian Ahern. He asked her to record for the independent label Arc, and in 1968, she released her debut album What About Me? It did well enough to capture the attention of Capitol Records, who signed her to a deal. When her first single for the label, “Snowbird”, was released, it was an surprise hit, selling a million copies and going top ten on both the country and pop charts.
Murray was a reluctant overnight star. As she released several albums in the early to mid-seventies, she became increasingly uneasy with show business. She had to go from coffee houses to concert halls quite quickly, and it made her uncomfortable. She didn’t enjoy the early years of her success, despite having many hits, some with Glen Campbell, and winning a Grammy in 1975. That same year, she went into a short retirement, moving back to Toronto to start a family with her new husband.
When she was ready to return, she did so with a bang. In 1978, “Walk Right Back” announced her return, going top five. The next single, “You Needed Me”, was a monster, selling a million copies and topping the pop chart. In 1979, she was nominated in both the pop and country fields, losing her country bid for “Walk Right Back” but winning a pop Grammy for “You Needed Me.”
Murray adopted a more showy stage persona, but maintained her quite humility regarding her career, despite the fact that she was one of the most popular singers in the country for a few years. She had a string of #1 hits – five in three years. The biggest one was intended to be a duet with Kenny Rogers. Murray recorded the first verse in a lower register as a placeholder, and when the duet fell through, it ended up as a solo single. Featured on the Urban Cowboy soundtrack, “Could I Have This Dance” won her a third Grammy.
In 1983, Murray went topical, releasing the current events lament “A Little Good News.” The song struck a deep chord, and it won her another Grammy and the CMA for Single of the Year. It was the title track for the accompanying album, and Murray made country music history when she became the first female artist to win CMA Album of the Year in 1984. Nearly three decades later, she remains one of only four female artists to win the award. (Lee Ann Womack, Dixie Chicks and Patty Loveless are the other three.)
Murray then teamed up with Dave Loggins for the hit duet “Nobody Loves Me Like You Do.” The pair was named CMA Vocal Duo in 1985. Murray’s hit run continued throughout the eighties, until she scored her final big country hit in 1990 with “Feed This Fire.” She left Capitol in 1991, but by then she had built up such a strong catalog that the label issued a box set of her material, called Now and Forever, in 1994.
Freed from the expectations of a major label deal, Murray created side projects that she’d always wanted to do, including a standards album called Croonin’ , a live album and a Christmas album. She also got an unexpected shout-out in the South Park movie with the song “Blame Canada”, where she is referred to as “that b**** Anne Murray.” Asked if she was offended by that, she laughed and said, “My daughter just called me a b**** this morning!” When the song was nominated for an Oscar, she was offered to perform it, but couldn’t because of a schedule conflict.
Today, Murray’s legacy is as strong as ever. She’s had two hits collections that have sold in the millions, and her duets album from last year sold strongly in both Canada and the U.S. The project revealed the high esteem for Murray among both her contemporaries and newer artists. Emmylou Harris, Shania Twain, Celine Dion, Olivia Newton-John, k.d. lang, Martina McBride and Nelly Furtado are just a few of the big names that joined her in song.
For a woman who would’ve been just as happy as a gym teacher and never really craved the spotlight, her accomplishments are nothing short of astounding.
- “Snowbird”, 1970
- “Love Song”, 1973
- “You Needed Me”, 1978
- “Could I Have This Dance”, 1980
- “A Little Good News”, 1983
- “Nobody Loves Me Like You Do” (with Dave Loggins), 1984
- Snowbird, 1970
- Let’s Keep it That Way, 1978
- New Kind of Feeling, 1979
- A Little Good News, 1983
- Heart Over Mind, 1984
- ACM Song (“You Needed Me”), 1979
- CMA Album (A Little Good News), 1984
- CMA Single (“A Little Good News”), 1984
- CMA Vocal Duo (Anne Murray & Dave Loggins), 1985
- Grammy: Best Female Country Vocal Performance (“Love Song”), 1975
- Grammy: Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (“You Needed Me”), 1979
- Grammy: Best Female Country Vocal Performance (“Could I Have This Dance”), 1981
- Grammy: Best Female Country Vocal Performance (“A Little Good News”), 1984