Single Review: Reba McEntire, “Somebody’s Chelsea”

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July 25, 2011

 This is one of those times when Reba really needs to start acting her age.

She’s fifty-six years old.  She’s lived.  She’s been married, and she’s been divorced.  She’s become a mother, and watched her child grow to adulthood.  She’s risen to superstardom in a male-dominated genre format.  She has an added level of age and experience to bring to the table, which should be especially evident when she puts pen to paper to offer a lyrical composition of her own.

“Somebody’s Chelsea” is a story-song in which the female narrator meets an elderly gentleman on a plane, and listens to him reminisce over sixty years of happy marriage to his late wife Chelsea.  What profound insights does this middle-aged woman bring to this conversation?

“I wanna be somebody’s Chelsea
Somebody’s world
Somebody’s day and night
One and only girl….”

That’s it?  All she can do is spit out a few clichés?  The story almost had me interested at first, but the narrator’s conclusion offers a weak listener payoff that rings hollow and insubstantial.

Unfortunately, “Somebody’s Chelsea” sums up to a great extent what’s wrong with Reba’s All the Women I Am album as a whole.  In her constant struggle to maintain commercial viability in a youth-obsessed market, she’s become so preoccupied with chasing current trends that she’s lost the heart, authenticity, and artistic focus that shines through in all her best work.

On the occasions when Reba has sung from her full-grown woman perspective, magic happens. Look at past classics like “The Fear of Being Alone,” or even more recent cuts like “When You Have a Child.”  The former finds Reba feeling out a new romance with caution, warning herself not mistake fear of loneliness for love.  With the latter, she puts into song the conflicting emotions that a mother experiences in having a child, and watching the child grow up and leave home.

Could Carrie Underwood pull off either of those songs?  How about Taylor Swift?  No, of course not.  But Reba can because she has the life experience that allows her to deliver such sentiments with authority.

Truth be told, this song still wouldn’t be very interesting even if it were coming from a younger artist.  It sets the listener up to expect something profound, but it never fully developes its concept, instead regressing into superficiality.  Still, it’s a particularly disappointing entry coming from a seasoned legend who should have so much more to say.

This newly-inducted Country Music Hall of Famer is not helping her artistic legacy with these late-term single releases.  Her efforts at downplaying her age may prolong her hitmaking streak, but there’s no way around the fact that the quality of her music has suffered as a result.

Written by Reba McEntire, Liz Hengber, and Will Robinson

Grade:  C-

Listen:  Somebody’s Chelsea

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  1. You basically said it, but “The Day She Got Divorced” should’ve been the new single. At least Reba has some experience in that area – she’s lived through it and can relate to it. Plus, it’s a killer vocal and would’ve made one heck of a music video. But I don’t dislike this song as much as you did.

    Of all the Reba CDs I own, everything since (and including) 1994′s Read My Mind, All the Women I Am is by far the weakest of the bunch. There aren’t enough good songs on it and it doesn’t seem like she’s trying anymore. Of course, this album was rushed in order to get her version of “If I Were A Boy” at retail.

    But, unlike a lot of singers 50+ she can still sing. Her voice is as good today as it was when she first came out. Now, lets see her use it to its full advantage.

  2. Matt BNo Gravatar says:

    I know it’s not ‘radio friendly’ but I think “When You Have A Child” suits her too.

  3. I don’t mind the lyric not being “mature enough” for Reba; actually, there’s an added poignancy if you think of the narator as an older woman herself who has never found that kind of enduring love, but I don’t personally mind the singer playing a role either.

    What really does put me off this song is the name Chelsea, which is just so implausible for a woman of the age suggested that it jars me out of believing in the story.

  4. ZackNo Gravatar says:

    The fact that her last two singles (“If I Were A Boy” & “When Love Gets A Hold Of You,” the latter of which is not so bad) tanked at radio should be a sign that maybe this whole ‘young’ attempt to reconnect with radio isn’t really working well.

    ……Also, I don’t think much is to be expected from a song that was inspired by the movie ‘P.S. I Love You.’

    It’s good musically, just lyrically it stinks.

  5. J.R. JourneyNo Gravatar says:

    The name Chelsea was hung on the song’s title because it’s the singer’s granddaughter’s name.

    I’m past the whole she doesn’t act her age deal. I don’t care for this single much because it’s just lightweight fluff and Reba was never the greatest at singing love songs or romantic themes like this anyway. She’s squandering her talents.

  6. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    @Matt – Absolutely. I think “When You Have a Child” was one of the best songs on the new album.

    @Occasional Hope – Interesting point about the added poignancy. I noticed that thing about the name too. How many 80-year-olds do you know named Chelsea??

    @J.R. – It’s definitely lightweight fluff, so I don’t think I would be grading it any higher were it performed by a younger artist. But the main reason I’m bringing up the maturity issue is because this is one lyrical scenario that would have benefited greatly by Reba drawing on her age and experience. It’s like Kevin said in his review of the album: “How can a woman in her mid-fifties not have something substantial to add to a conversation with this man?” If she had said something more substantial, then we might not be left with lightweight fluff like this.

  7. lisaNo Gravatar says:

    i love that song. so she 56. what do you want her to sing about. bingo

  8. J.R. JourneyNo Gravatar says:

    @Ben: I think you and Kevin are spot-on about Reba’s recent singles being more suited for a woman half her age. Your comments that she should have something to add to the conversation with the widower in this story (a word I use lightly) are right too. I’ve gotten over her futle attempts at youth because I can see she isn’t going to change that anytime soon. As long as radio continues to play her, I’ve pretty much given up on Reba recording songs that reflect her maturity. Someone has told her the way to succeed at radio and retail is to capture the hearts of girls young enough to be her grandchildren, and she’s listening.

  9. GregNo Gravatar says:

    I was disappointed in the single choice. I think they made a big mistake in not releasing The Bridge You Burn

  10. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    Yes, I probably could have gotten on board with “The Bridge You Burn.” That one wasn’t bad at all.

  11. bobNo Gravatar says:

    Some comments I don’t quite understand:

    “What really does put me off this song is the name Chelsea, which is just so implausible for a woman of the age suggested that it jars me out of believing in the story.”

    “I noticed that thing about the name too. How many 80-year-olds do you know named Chelsea??”

    Should someone like Chelsea Victoria Clinton change her first name at some point? At 40? At 50?

  12. Hard TimesNo Gravatar says:

    Bob, you answered your own question. Chelsea Clinton is young and she has a young name. It won’t seem strange when she’s 80.

    But how many girls were named Chelsea in 1930? The song title should be “Somebody’s Edith” or “Somebody’s Phyllis.”

  13. Travis in VIrginiaNo Gravatar says:

    This review is so ageist it aint funny. Why does someone have to sing a song that relates to their age?? You people are the reason country music throws away many of it’s female singers after they turn 40. Many of you same people love Reba’s “Somebody should Leave” a song she recorded when she was 29. She did not have kids then, nor had she been divorced yet, however, according to your standards the material would not have been age appropriate and she would not be able to relate to the song and pull it off. Stop using age as a reason to dislike a song, you either like it or you don’t age should not be a factor. BTW this is not one of my favorites either so don’t go thinking i’m just mad cause you bashed a Reba song. This single will surely fail at radio, not because of her age, but because of the instumentation and production.

  14. lisaNo Gravatar says:

    I agree travis. she telling a story.

  15. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar says:

    What’s ageist is the fact that older perspectives (at least older female ones) are so absent at radio that the oldest female artist in rotation is pressured to “fit in” by pretending not to have the depth of life experience she does.

    Would we buy Lee Ann Womack singing “Our Song”? Of course not. Would we buy Taylor Swift singing “Twenty Years and Two Husbands Ago”? Of course not. Don’t say age doesn’t factor into how we judge things. It doesn’t have to be the singer’s real life experience to make sense – singing is like acting. But the singer has to be a plausible candidate for the character of the song. You wouldn’t cast Jeff Bridges as Matilda. (Unless you were being hilarious.)

  16. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    Travis, you seem to have missed the point of the review entirely.

    The reason I dislike the song is because it’s shallow and underdeveloped. I discussed Reba’s age only because it heightens my expectations to a degree, and because drawing on her life experience could have benefited the song greatly. Her age, however, is not the “reason” for my disliking the song, nor was it presented as such. I even said that the song would still be uninteresting if sung by a younger artist.

    At any rate, calling the review “ageist” is wholly unwarranted.

  17. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for helping me out there, Dan. You said it better than I could.

  18. travis in vaNo Gravatar says:

    @ Dan age may factor into how you judge things but not me. age is just a number it should not determine what one does. I loved Leann Rimes Commitment. that came out when she was 14 but was that age appropriate in your eyes? I love all songs as long as they are good I don’t care how old the person is singing them. If Loretta Lynn wanted to sing a song like Hell On Heels Id be all for it cause its a good song. Like I said before I don’t like Somebody’s Chelsey but the age issue should be a non issue. Oh and BTW I think I would like to hear Taylor sing 20 years and two husbands ago I love that song and its way better than anything she has put out.

  19. travis in vaNo Gravatar says:

    @ Ben it just seams every Reba review of the last few years says act your age Reba. I too agree the song is bad but really dislike all the age talk. If I said at my job to my boss that my 60 year old co worker needs to do something more his age I would be told hit the road jack. So so you see where this review could have came off as ageist? I love your reviews and mean no disrespect but since I’m a fan of the older singers I hate age being brought up in a review.

  20. Kevin John CoyneNo Gravatar says:

    The “act your age” critique was central to my criticisms of her latest album, but it’s more a criticism of the industry standards than Reba herself.

    The reality is that Reba McEntire was making more mature music when she was in her thirties than she’s making now. Artistically, she’s regressing, especially since switching labels.

  21. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    Bringing up Reba’s age is never meant to be derogatory, if that’s your concern, Travis. I’m a big fan of many ‘older’ artists. But when I notice a disconnection between an artist’s age and the level of maturity in their music, it detracts from the appeal to me.

  22. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar says:

    “Commitment” is a good example for this discussion, Travis. I think it worked well enough for a young LeAnn Rimes; it just made her sound a little overly precocious to me. Different strokes.

  23. PatrickNo Gravatar says:

    While everyone is welcome to their own opinions of individual songs, and I’m perfectly okay with the fact that this reviewer doesn’t seem too crazy about this single, I am getting tired of the argument that Reba needs to “act her age.” Reba has always sang a variety of songs from a variety of experiences….asking her to “act her age” and avoid releasing things like this or Turn on the Radio (which went #1 and if you see her sing it live, you see how much energy she puts into it and your first thought is a reminder that, “Dang, this woman is a PERFORMER) is asking her as an artist to go into a box…and one thing everyone should know about Reba by now is if it’s one thing this woman hates, it’s being put into boxes. :)

  24. GregNo Gravatar says:

    I agree with Patrick that Reba will never be put into a box. She is very experimental (just look at her 90′s outputs). However, where I lose it on this single is that Reba seems like she is trying to hard to be something she is not (ie. just trying to get readio play). I also agree that Reba needs music (well not just Reba…all of country music) with more substance. You can hear Reba’s emotion in the song, but the lyrics don’t compliment the vocal performance.
    Please note that I am a huge Reba fan (seen her in concert 3 times already this year..and going 2 more times), but as a whole I was also disappointed with this single choice and All The Women I Am album (a few of the songs were great, but on the whole most songs seemed to be lacking).

  25. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t think anyone is boxing Reba in by wanting her to record songs better suited to her age. On the contrary, I think Reba is boxing herself in by leaning toward immature material.

    The way I see it, many new possibilities open up as an artist ages. True, some songs may no longer be suitable for them, but a mature artist like Reba is in a position where she could be exploring many themes that she could never have pulled off convincingly when she was younger. I just wish she would take advantage of that.

    I’m not trying to box her in. I’m just wishing she would step outside the box.

  26. PatrickNo Gravatar says:

    I will respectfully disagree with you in terms of the fact that Reba needs to step outside of a box because she has ALWAYS recorded a wide variety of material. Some of the songs are a bit “fluffier” and others are more profound and carry some more depth. One of the main reasons Reba has been able to last this long in the industry is that she has the ability to use her voice to tell MANY different stories representing many different people in a variety of formats….and I think she has earned the right to sing and record what touches her the most. While people may not always approve of the choices she makes, few can argue that she can’t pick hits and remain relevant…case in point with “Turn on the Radio.” There was a mixed response from the fanbase for that one because a lot of people felt it was beneath someone of her age and expertise, but it was a huge hit for her…and when you see her perform it live, you can see exactly why she loves it and it actually does prove (once again) what a dynamic performer she is. Very few artists can take a brand new song like that and use it to close her main set in a way that is satisfying for the audience…Reba has done that with Radio and that’s just one example.

    There are certainly some more “classic” sounding Reba songs on her more recent albums…Maggie Creek Road, The Day She Got Divorced, and When You Have a Child all come to mind. There was also a song she cowrote on the last album called She’s Turning 50 Today. A great song, but I wouldn’t want every Reba McEntire song to feel like it has to be forced into aiming for that particular age demographic. However, it’s also true that her albums have never carried only these types of songs…one of the reasons I love Reba is that you get a lot of variety in terms of song audience, tempo, style, theme, etc. on her CDs, which is unlike (in my opinion) artists of today like Chesney or Rascal Flatts, who after a while all start to sound the same. Unfortunately, though, a “classic” Reba song like The Day She Got Divorced would be lost at radio because radio doesn’t want to hear it. For better or for worse, radio seems pretty in favor of songs that reach a wider audience. If Reba wants to remain relevant, she has to be willing to release the singles that are more mainstream, songs like Turn on the Radio and Somebody’s Chelsea. It doesn’t have to mean she’s sacrificing something…it just means she’s smart and knows what has to go to radio in order for her to remain competitive in her fourth decade of being a recording artist.

    For me personally, a vintage Reba song isn’t about the content as much as it is the story and the vocal delivery…Reba has always nailed “story songs,” and with those standards, my opinion is that Somebody’s Chelsea is vintage Reba…it’s a “story song” that carries some strong imagery and emotion while also appealing to a wide audience, therefore giving it a chance at appealing with mainstream country radio. I, personally, respect Reba for being skilled enough to remain relevant while still recording and releasing a variety of songs…even though she may need to release more mainstream material, she still releases songs that she loves herself and doesn’t worry about whether or not she’s “acting her age.” She’s Reba…she’s always been Reba, and that’s been enough. Why change it now?

  27. RudyNo Gravatar says:

    Heaven forbid. Why is it deemed terrible for a woman to act anything less than aged and mature when she is in the second half of her life, but deemed acceptable when men do it? Why must everything done by Reba – or other strong, accomplished women her age – have to reflect her supposed aged wisdom, as if that’s all there is to her?

    His review implies that women in their 50s and beyond never yearn for true love or have doubts about or misunderstandings of it, and in my 20s even I am smart enough to know that is not the case. I remember once I turned to my mother, who is about Reba’s age, and asked her when it was that she truly realized she was a mature, fully-grown adult. She replied that there is no such moment in anyone’s life.

    I appreciate a lot of what the reviewer writes, and he has some good ideas, but he’s missing the mark on a lot of several key points. The most important thing is that “Somebody’s Chelsea” is emotionally grounded, mature, and benefits from a catchy, beautifully-written melody. Reba’s songs have never had anything near the lyrical genius of Bob Dylan or Joan Baez, and they don’t have to because she’s a Singer with a capital ‘S.’ She sells the emotion of the situation of the song.

  28. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    @Patrick
    My comment about Reba stepping “outside the box” refers only to her more recent material from the All the Women I Am album, not everything she’s ever released throughout her entire career. Yes, she is releasing songs that are radio-friendly, but I’m of the opinion that it’s coming at the expense of quality, which not something that I can reward her for in my reviews.
    _____________________________
    @Rudy
    I think you’re reading far beyond what the review is actually saying, and I don’t appreciate the flippant sarcasm.

    I made no comment on whether it’s acceptable for a male artist to record immature material, so there’s no reason to suggest that the review displays a gender double-standard.

    I am indeed “smart enough” to understand that a 50-plus woman may have doubts or misunderstandings about true love, but “Somebody’s Chelsea” offers no insight into such feelings, not through such vapid lyrics as “I wanna be somebody’s Cheslea, somebody’s world, day and night, one and only girl…” I find it to be a boring, insubstantial lyric, plain and simple, but it could have greatly benefited from an added level of maturity.

  29. RudyNo Gravatar says:

    Ben, we simply disagree. I don’t think the lyrics are particularly insightful or specific, but I don’t think that necessarily translates into vapid. I was applying some of what you wrote to broader themes beyond what you specifically said and did not mean to put words into your mouth. I nonetheless think there is a general industry double-standard, and your review made me feel it needs to be reiterated. I didn’t intend to offend you personally, but your review did offend me a bit, and I wanted to communicate that. Rudy

  30. LynnNo Gravatar says:

    Ben, I don’t agree with all of your review of this song and REBA. I am a huge fan no doubt. I have seen her in concert 29 times since 1989 and saw her in NY in Annie Get Your Gun. The woman is an awesome singer and entertainer. I personally like this album but Chelsea was not one of my favorites but it does grow on you and it tells a story…something Reba does very well and I do think if they get the right concept, it could be a very nice video.

    I do not agree with the age comments about Reba…I read all of the comments and I realize you said you meant no disrespect but it sure sounded like it to me. And I agree with Rudy, there is a double standard in the industry. George Strait is 59 and his new song is here for a good time, come on is that age appropriate? If you want to be heard on radio and sell music then you have to change. I also disagree with Carrie or Taylor not being able to pull off Chelsea or Boy. If Carrie had recorded If I were a boy…I can assure you the radio would have played it to death. Country music is very different today from the 70s, 80s and 90s for that matter. One of my favorite songs on the album is The Day she got divorced but I guarantee you radio would not play it.

    To me it seems that Nashville (the music industry) is trying to weed out the older artists…because the younger fans “BUY” downloads, cds, etc. It is all about money and promotion…they are promoting the younger ones big time. I honestly think that certain record companies were behind the “not playing Boy and When Love Gets a Hold of You” why do I say that? Well because Reba spent 4 weeks at #1 with Consider Me Gone, had a top 5 with I Keep on Loving you and then came out with a #1 with Turn on the Radio!…Certain folks in the industry got nervous…Reba wsa on her way to outshining the younger ones so they got radio to suffocate any chance of that…If I Were a Boy at certain stations was one of the most played and requested songs and then WLGAHOY…nothing sorry..there’s something rotten in the the industry…it is called politics… I personally think the listeners should decide who plays what on radio not just what the DJs and programmers like.

    Reba has always been beyond her years in the entertainment business. In the 90s she had the most fantastic stage shows..a lot of people criticized her for that…now Taylor, Carrie and Brad are doing all kinds of props and it is being hailed as awesome. Maybe Reba just set the standard so high in her early songs that everyone expects that now…but…I can assure you radio would not play her 80′s songs and probably very few of her early 90′s songs because they are “too country”. I am 58 and have always been a country music fan. Johnny Cash, Waylon, Willie, Loretta, Dolly,Tammy, Charley Pride were some favs. I have been to numerous concerts of other stars through the years so I feel like I know about country music and how its changed. I feel that Reba is trying to hang in there. I have all of her cds…she always takes you through different emotions with different songs. Reba is very versatile otherwise, she could not have pulled off AGYG in NW or done South Pacific in LA. The woman is one of the BEST singers that Country Music has ever had and she still is a great singer and puts on an awesome show.

  31. Razor XNo Gravatar says:

    “I honestly think that certain record companies were behind the “not playing Boy and When Love Gets a Hold of You” why do I say that? Well because Reba spent 4 weeks at #1 with Consider Me Gone, had a top 5 with I Keep on Loving you and then came out with a #1 with Turn on the Radio!…Certain folks in the industry got nervous…Reba wsa on her way to outshining the younger ones so they got radio to suffocate any chance of that…If I Were a Boy at certain stations was one of the most played and requested songs and then WLGAHOY…nothing sorry..there’s something rotten in the the industry…it is called politics”

    There’s nothing new or unusual about this. In fact, we were having a similar conversation on MKOC about Dolly Parton. She had two #1 hits on her White Limozeen album and then radio didn’t play any of the album’s subsequent singles. Her only single to hit #1 after that was her duet with Ricky Van Shelton “Rockin’ Years.” Artists can be right in the middle of a career resurgence and on a hot streak when radio suddenly stops playing them. I don’t know why that is but it seems to happen quite a lot.

    In Reba’s case, this current album is one of her poorer offerings. If she releases some better material the next time around she may be able to enjoy a few more hits.

  32. Razor XNo Gravatar says:

    “Her only single to hit #1 after that was her duet with Ricky Van Shelton “Rockin’ Years.” ”

    Sorry, that should have read, her only single to reach the Top 10 …”

  33. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    Lynn, I don’t deny that Reba’s a great performer. But I’m reviewing a radio single – not a concert or a Broadway production – so the quality of her live shows doesn’t exactly factor into my judgment.

    I didn’t say that Carrie or Taylor could not have pulled off “If a Were a Boy” or “Somebody’s Chelsea.” While I don’t think they could make “Chelsea” any more interesting, I actually think they could pull off “If I Were a Boy” better than Reba could. The songs I said they couldn’t pull off were “The Fear of Being Alone” and “When You Have a Child,” because those songs are at a level of maturity that’s better suited to an artist of Reba’s age.

    In my earlier comment, I wasn’t saying that there is no double-standard in the music industry with regard to gender. I was saying that my review does not reflect that standard, because it made no comment on what’s age-appropriate for a male artist.

    I don’t personally see anything about “Here for a Good Time” that’s ill-suited to George Strait’s age. He sings about the shortness of life, and how any day could be his last, and to me that makes sense coming from a man in his late fifties. For me, the important thing is that I can see the artist in whatever situation the song’s narrator is supposedly in. With “Here for a Good Time,” I can see that, but with “Somebody’s Chelsea,” I can’t.

  34. LynnNo Gravatar says:

    @Ben..ok maybe I misread a couple of things and I know that people that are George, Reba’s and my age like to have a good time, lol. I can see what you are talking about but even though people (women) especially when they get older, they still want to be number one in someones’ life so I guess that your review makes a little more sense to me. Lots of people go through divorce, so if it’s me, I definitely want to be the “one” even if I am older. I guess the difference between you and me is I put myself in that position of the song, not necessarily how the artist relates to it. Take Remind Me by Brad & Carrie…beautiful song but it could easily be sung by Reba & Vince or Reba & Ronnie if you relate the artists to it. I don’t see Carrie in that position yet because she has only been married a year and actually Brad…maybe he could be but he is still pretty young. Anyway, just my thoughts on the matter.

  35. Patrick GilchriestNo Gravatar says:

    I really believe that artists, especially those who have earned their stripes the way Reba has, should not be held responsible for grappling with certain themes. I very strongly believe that someone with Reba’s life experience actually SHOULD be singing about a WIDE range of emotions and experiences because she has had so many of them. Just because she’s in her fifties that does not mean she should no longer be allowed to sing about Twitter or to tell a story where she wonders what it’s like to be someone’s one and only…she may not be in that phase of life now, but she has been…and I actually believe the story of Somebody’s Chelsea more coming from someone of Reba’s experience because someone with Reba’s experience would be much more likely to resonate with the old man’s story and truly, deeply appreciate what he means because as a person she has lived through both sides of this scenario before. Reba continues to do what she’s always done…sing a variety of songs with a variety of subject matters that touch a wide range of people. This is the woman who tackled AIDS, who empowered women to go back to school and be their own people, and who has recorded material about break-ups, affairs, anniversaries, single people, people in love, people falling out of love, etc. This is the woman who shot a video in the late 80s about a husband she will welcome back from New England after he’s done fooling around…and then in 2010 tied a guy up and left him in a warehouse because he cheated on her….and both songs and videos were recorded with Reba’s impeccable delivery and ability to tell stories through music. She’s really not doing much now that she hasn’t already been doing for 35 years, but for some reason she’s being perceived differently now because she’s in her fifties.

  36. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    The other important that I get from this review is: “Truth be told, this song still wouldn’t be very interesting even if it were coming from a younger artist.” So, in my opinion, she’s most guilty of choosing a weak song.

  37. TomNo Gravatar says:

    …bullseye, leeann. i listened to it a few times last week – it wouldn’t stick, even if she nailed it.

  38. DanNo Gravatar says:

    Sorry I don’t have anything to add to this discussion, but I just want to say that I’m still really bummed about how poorly “When Love Gets a Hold of You” charted. What was that all about?

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