Reba McEntire Starter Kit

Reba McEntire already has 56 top ten hits to her credit, and her new single, “Strange”, just entered the chart at #39, a career-high entry for the legendary singer. She's been a presence on the country charts for 23 years, has more gold and platinum albums than any female country artist, and she's a multimedia star, finding great success on Broadway and in television and film.

But for those who know her best as a sitcom star or Kelly Clarkson's and Kenny Chesney's duet partner, trying to tackle her catalog is a daunting task. This Starter Kit will get you going, as it includes ten of her most essential tracks. Those of you looking to learn more about McEntire are highly recommended to check out the excellent My Kind of Country blog, which gives frequent and always high-quality coverage of McEntire's music, past and present.

“Somebody Should Leave” from the 1984 album My Kind of Country

Even though she was won her first CMA award for Female Vocalist before this album was released, My Kind of Country is widely credited as being the first truly great Reba McEntire album. She exerted creative control for the first time, and instantly became one of the genre's most significant new traditionalists.

This Harlan Howard classic is achingly, heartbreakingly beautiful, a description that fits most of McEntire's best work. Here, a couple is aware that it's time to part ways, but aren't sure how to go about it, so worried are they for their children: “If it was only you and me, goodbye might come more easily. But what about those babies down the hall?”

“Whoever's in New England” from the 1986 album Whoever's in New England

A country ballad on the surface, a power pop ballad below the surface. This epic of suspected cheating turned her into a record seller, and earned her the CMA award for Entertainer of the Year.

“One Promise Too Late” from the 1986 album What Am I Gonna Do About You

McEntire's recorded quite a bit of traditional country, but rarely as pure as this track, where the musical hook is provided by twin fiddles and her voice is even twangier than usual.

“You Lie” from the 1990 album Rumor Has It

There were quite a few solid singles off Reba's lesser-known but still platinum-selling albums from the late eighties. But when she teamed with Tony Brown for Rumor Has It, the lead single “You Lie” blew them out of the water. The full range of her voice was on display for the first time, and it was a force to be reckoned with.

“Fancy” from the 1990 album Rumor Has It

Bobbie Gentry's original was tinged with sadness and regret, but McEntire turned it into an empowerment anthem, a full force assualt on the “self-righteous hypocrites that call me bad.” She did what she had to do, and she stayed true to her mother and herself. She could care less what anyone else thinks about it.

“For My Broken Heart” fro

m the 1991 album For My Broken Heart

Paul W. Dennis of The 9513 said that his Randy Travis Starter Kit could begin and end with the entirety of Storms of Life. I could say the same about McEntire and her masterpiece For My Broken Heart.

Recorded in the wake of the plane crash that killed her road manager and several members of her band, the album is somber without ever becoming too morose. The title track was originally planned as a duet with Clint Black, but McEntire did it alone in the end. Her performance on the CMA Awards was one of her finest moments, even as her voice visibly cracked with emotion at the end.

“The Greatest Man I Never Knew” from the 1991 album For My Broken Heart

A daughter looks back on the man who sacrificed everything he had to make a better life for his family, but in so doing, never got to know his daughter. “I never really knew him,” she laments, “and now it seems so sad. Everything he gave to us took all he had.”

“If I Had Only Known” from the 1991 album For My Broken Heart

Her finest moment on record, as she looks back with sad regret on the things that she never said to a loved one who has died. “If I had only known it was my last night by your side, I'd pray a miracle stop the dawn. And when you smiled at me, I would look into your eyes and make sure you know my love for you goes on and on.”

“The Fear of Being Alone” from the 1996 album What If It's You

This strikingly intelligent hit finds McEntire warning her new beau not to rush into saying “I love you.”  She warns him that “you may think you do, but you don't. It's just the fear of being alone.”

“Moving Oleta” from the 2003 album Room to Breathe

This one's so painfully sad that it could've been on For My Broken Heart. A man moves his wife into a nursing home because he can no longer care for her, so advanced is her Alzheimer's.

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26 Comments

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26 Responses to Reba McEntire Starter Kit

  1. Just as an FYI, all but the last one are on Reba’s 50 greatest hits, a great collection if one doesn’t have any Reba.

    Great list by the way!

  2. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Love the list, especially “The Greatest Man I Never Knew” and “My Broken Heart”. I’m no Reba Guru, but I could make an extensive list of my favorite songs by her.

  3. Leeann,

    Do you have her 50 greatest hits?

  4. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    No, I have her three volumes of Greatest hits, along with various other songs that I’ve downloaded from Amazon.

  5. I was with you up until “Moving Oleta”. It’s one of my least favorite Reba songs. I would also have included “Does He Love You.” Other than that it’s a good solid list.

  6. I’m always in awe of the “For My Broken Heart” disc, because out of a truly horrible situation came one of the best modern country CDs I’ve ever heard. “And Still” is another one I would add to a “best of Reba” list.

  7. CarolineNo Gravatar

    I’ve tried to make CD mixes to introduce friends to Reba and I find it hard narrowing the list down to 20 songs that would fit on a CD! I think 10 would be impossible! I think my Reba Favorites playlist on my iPod has around 90 songs. :) Of your list, I would definitely put “And Still” in and take “Moving Oleta” out.

    By the way, your post says she has been a presence on the country charts for 23 years (back to 1986). If the Wikipedia discography is to be believed, it looks like Reba had at least one #1 song a year from 1982-1993 and at least one Top 10 song a year (except for just a few years) from 1980-2007.

  8. Paul DennisNo Gravatar

    There were several great songs from her years on Mercury that I’d pick in preference to anything she has done since 1990.

    “Today All Over Again” (1981)
    “I’m Not That Lonely Yet” ((1982)
    “Can’t Even Get The Blues” (1982)
    “You’re The First Time I’ve Thought About Leaving” (1983)

  9. ScottNo Gravatar

    I’d Add:

    And Still
    Does He love You
    She Thinks His name Was John
    I’d Rather Ride Around with You
    Cathy’s Clown

  10. Great list – but I’m with the consensus that ‘Moving Oleta’ isn’t really a necessary track. ‘And Still’ or ‘Does He Love You’ would have made a better choice in my opinion.

    And thanks for the shout to My Kind of Country.

  11. There were several great songs from her years on Mercury that I’d pick in preference to anything she has done since 1990.

    “Today All Over Again” (1981)
    “I’m Not That Lonely Yet” ((1982)
    “Can’t Even Get The Blues” (1982)
    “You’re The First Time I’ve Thought About Leaving” (1983)

    I actually had all of these in mind as well, except for “Today All Over Again”. They’d be on my list of personal favorites, but I was on the fence as to whether I’d consider them essential listening. I think the songs in Kevin’s list give a better overview of Reba’s career.

  12. SDNo Gravatar

    I’m with you, Kevin, about “Moving Oleta.” It really showcases Reba’s ability to interpret songs.

  13. lauraNo Gravatar

    How can you overlook ‘The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia’? Come on it’s a classic.

  14. Tony CNo Gravatar

    I consider myself pretty big Reba fan. This list is decent Kevin, but really, “Moving Oleta”? That was one of the only songs on the solid Room To Breathe album that I regularly skipped. So maudlin and cloying, I couldn’t really stomach it.

    Replace it with “Does He Love You”, “The Night The Lights Went Out”, “Is There Life Out There” or “And Still”. All classics.

    And I know this probably wouldn’t qualify as a “Starter Kit” necessity, but it is my favorite:

    “I Wish That I Could Tell You” – from the Read My Mind album. This is my favorite song of hers period. Can’t understand how it wasn’t a single. Her vocal performance perfectly captures the story of a woman who can see that her lover is going to end the relationship. She has no words to offer him in how to handle the break up. “I wish that I could tell you, how to tell me goodbye”.

  15. JoeBNo Gravatar

    I’d include:
    Is There Life Out There
    The Last One to Know
    Forever Love

    And take out:
    Moving Oleta
    The Fear of Being Alone
    You Lie

    The first three are more representative of Reba’s pop culture personality during those times: she was at a point in her life when women her age could best relate to “Is there life…”; “The last one…” was the perfect victory lap, practically guaranteeing that fourth Female Vocalist award from the CMA (and just prior to moving in a more centrist direction with the “Reba” album); and the over-the-top vocal of “Forever Love” is perhaps the representation of her ability.

    I’m one of (apparently plenty of) those who just didn’t get “Moving Oleta” and the other two, while really good songs and great performances, just sort of came and went. They didn’t seem to last beyond their chart life.

  16. I would also cut out Oleta.

  17. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    I really like “Moving Oleta,” but it took some getting used to for me because of its structure, so I don’t know whether it would make my Starter Kit.

    Looking over this just confirms for me that I’m a much bigger fan of Reba’s singing than I’ve generally been of her song selection. When it comes down to it, there are only six Reba songs I’ve heard which I unequivocally love: “Somebody Should Leave,” “Whoever’s In New England,” “For My Broken Heart,” “The Greatest Man I Never Knew,” “The Fear of Being Alone,” and “Every Other Weekend.” I feel like there should be more of that caliber given the span of her career. On the other hand, I haven’t dug into her pre-90’s albums hardly at all, so there may be some hidden gems.

  18. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Shows how much I know about Reba’s music. I don’t even know this controversial “Moving Oleta” of which we are speaking.

  19. On the other hand, I haven’t dug into her pre-90’s albums hardly at all, so there may be some hidden gems.

    1984 to 1987 was Reba at her best. Start with My Kind of Country and go straight through to The Last One To Know . I’d even throw in 1989’s Sweet Sixteen , though it is more pop-leaning than the others. These are the years and the albums upon which Reba’s reptuation were built.

    I don’t even know this controversial “Moving Oleta” of which we are speaking.

    It was never released as a single. It was an album cut on 2003’s Room to Breathe . I found the theme to be very simiar to “All Dressed Up (With Nowhere to Go)” from 1991’s For My Broken Heart , but “All Dressed Up” is a better song.

  20. Canadian BoyNo Gravatar

    Even though I’ve already heard at least half of them before I’m going to listen to them all just because it’s Reba. By the way, is there any chance that a Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists will be dedicated to Ms.McEntire anytime soon?

  21. Kevin J. CoyneNo Gravatar

    It’s interesting that “Moving Oleta” is the track most cited of the ten as non-essential, as it barely made the cut. I think I should’ve gone with “Every Other Weekend” instead, since I was worried about the list ending with a track from 1996.

    I peg her peak at the period after Razor X, starting with 1990’s Rumor Has It, reaching the highest point with 1991’s For My Broken Heart, and ending with 1996’s What If It’s You.

    The three albums in between weren’t quite as strong, but all had several great moments. And everything else Reba-related, from the music videos to the live performances, were without peer. She was truly a giant back then, the only eighties star to win Entertainer of the Year during the boom years:

    httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKoDdG-vD0Y

  22. Joe RayNo Gravatar

    My top 3 favorite Reba songs…
    “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia”
    “Is There Life Out There”
    “How Was I To Know”

  23. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar

    I’m with Razor X. The mid-80s were, in my mind, the strongest time for Reba. For My Broken Heart is her best collection overall, though. I just think that even though she was a dominant superstar in the early ’90s (touring, sales, overall image, etc.), the quality of the music was patchy during that period.

    My starter kit would be: “Somebody Should Leave,” “Whoever’s in New England,” “Can’t Even Get the Blues,” “Is There Life Out There,” “The Greatest Man I Never Knew.” “Fancy” is a terrific tune, but I thought the anthemic, bombastic production ruined it. I’m likely in the minority on that opinion.

    Although it wouldn’t be in my starter kit, I think a very important piece in her catalog is “She Thinks His Name Was John.” At that time (’94), AIDS was still a taboo topic, especially in conservative communities. That song very truthfully captured the sadness (and consequences) of the disease. I applaud the fact that she used her platform to record it. Unfortunately, after its release (and the release of the AIDS-benefit album, Red Hot + Country), topical songs (especially of that ilk) seemed to totally die in country music circles.

  24. MichaelNo Gravatar

    I went to NYC for the first time this weekend (loved it!) and just got back tonight to discover this. Kevin, you’re a brave man trying to narrow a list down to 10. Reba (along with Wynonna/The Judds, MCC and Tanya Tucker) is one of the artists I was waiting to see a Favorite Songs features for. I do agree that 1990’s Rumor Has It to 96’s What If It’s You was her strongest period. I would maybe even start with 87’s The Last One To Know and include Reba and Sweet Sixteen. Anyway, Reba is my all time favorite artist so I’d like to add my two cents. I would excise “Moving Oleta” (sorry, heehee) and “The Fear of Being Alone” and replace them with “I’m Gonna Take That Mountain” and “What If It’s You”. Hey, at least they’re culled from the same albums. Other candidates include One Promise Too Late, Little Rock, Only In My Mind, Fallin’ Out of Love, The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, And Still, & Till You Love Me. Anyway, good job. Thanks again! :)

  25. JoeBNo Gravatar

    “I’m Gonna Take That Mountain” should’ve been a massive, massive smash.

  26. CodeNo Gravatar

    She thinks his name was john is one my ALL-TIME favourite reba songs!!!!