October 1, 2008
Strawberry Wine< How To Get Ex Back /strong>
Written by Matraca Berg & Gary Harrison
“Strawberry Wine”, written by Matraca Berg and Gary Harrison, is a prime example of country radio’s ability to spin an unconventional song, becoming a #1 single despite its subject matter, its length and its distinctive sound and structure. It also exhibits the eloquent quality that marks many of the best songs in the genre. With “Strawberry Wine”, a song about a teenager’s first love and lost innocence at her grandparents’ farm, Deana Carter was able to establish herself as one of country’s brightest new stars in the late 1990s.
Carter, the daughter of one of Nashville’s most successful studio musicians, Fred Carter Jr., attempted to begin a musical career in her teenage years, but most of her efforts stalled. She entered the University of Tennessee, majoring in rehabilitation therapy. While working towards her degree, she sang frequently in local establishments, and soon after graduation she abandoned her chosen career and made the full commitment to music. But she needed one song that would put her stamp on mainstream country music and establish her identity with the public.
Matraca Berg’s burgeoning career was a tribute to her skillful lyrical ability and, with co-writer Gary Harrison’s deft touch, they created a memorable moment that perfectly captured the youthful exuberance of first love and how it lingers long after the initial rush. The song, a rare waltz, tells the story of Berg’s own coming of age as a teenager on her grandparents’ dairy farm in Wisconsin and her brief affair with a boy she met during a summer visit. In the bridge, the narrator reminisces about the odd feelings that resulted from a short tryst, one that ended in scattered phone calls and letters and eventually losing touch with her summertime fling. Berg distributed the song to record labels around Nashville, but most artists and deemed the song to be too long for country radio and slightly controversial for its content. (After all, the song barely slid around the idea that the girl had lost her virginity during her summer venture.)
But Carter heard Berg perform the song at a showcase and was stunned by the storyline. She insisted on including the song when she readied the release of her debut album Did I Shave My Legs for This? . Two weeks before a single was to be released, Carter phoned Berg and told her “Strawberry Wine” would be the first single.
Berg told Nashville Scene, “It was a waltz. I had no idea that it would have that broad appeal.” The song reached #1 in the fall of 1996, and the accolades soon followed. “That was a huge surprise for everybody,” said Berg, “I think the only person who wasn’t surprised was Deana.” It received a nomination for the 1997 Grammy Award in the Best Country Song category, and then at the ACMs for the same honor. And finally, after losing on both occasions to Bill Mack’s “Blue”, an instant classic from Leann Rimes, “Strawberry Wine” prevailed as the Song of the Year at the 1997 CMA Awards. It was also voted Song of the Year by the Nashville Songwriters Association International and the Nashville Music Awards that year. Although it defied radio rules and explored a unique topic, it remains a popular, poetic work that has been embraced by an audience that used their own experiences to connect to the bittersweet song.
“Strawberry Wine” is the latest in a series of articles showcasing Classic Country Singles. You can read previous entries at the Classic Country Singles page.