Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Lorrie Morgan

Lorrie Morgan was so essential my initial discovery of country music that I am amazed that it took me so long to write about her like this.  Then again, Morgan’s no stranger to being noticed less than her talent warrants.

Never the prodigal daughter, Morgan stayed in Nashville as she pursued her dream of being a second generation country star that built on the legacy of her father, George Morgan. That meant working the TNN circuit, singing Olivia Newton-John and Barbara Mandrell covers to tourists looking for some free entertainment while her future contemporaries were cutting their teeth on Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris.

Morgan is in the torch singer tradition of often overlooked greats like Jeannie Seely and Skeeter Davis, carrying on the tradition of a sound that once defined what a woman in country music was supposed to sound like. That legacy has led to some of her best moments on record, as she often revived the lesser known recordings that only someone who had spent decades at the Opry would even know about.  But it has also led to her too often being left out of the discussion when talking about the nineties women who led their gender and genre to new artistic and commercial heights, despite her selling more records than many of those celebrated artists.

Consider this feature my attempt at giving her the attention that she deserves.  If it leaves you wanting more Lorrie Morgan, be sure to check out Ben Foster’s excellent interview from 2016 and her entry in our 100 Greatest Women list, which will be revisited this year.

#25
Heart Over Mind
War Paint (1994)

Written by Bob Alan and Stan Munsey

One of many wonderful little pop numbers that Morgan released in the nineties, “Heart Over Mind” should’ve been the third hit from her oddly ignored War Paint, an album that still sold gold without even one single cracking the top thirty.

#24
I’m Always On a Mountain When I Fall
A Moment in Time (2009)

Written by Chuck Howard

Morgan’s voice is suitably weathered here, adding a deeper layer of sorrow to her reading of this Merle Haggard classic.

#23
Dear Me
Leave the Light On (1989)

Written by Scott Mateer and Carson Whitsett

The line between her professional and personal life has always been unfairly blurred, which has allowed her talent to be overshadowed by whatever the tabloids are harassing her over at the time. “Dear Me” was already climbing the charts when her husband, Keith Whitley, passed away.  Yet in the wake of his death, the tender ballad was wrongly assumed to be capitalizing on that tragedy.  Regardless, it became her first of fourteen top ten hits.

#22
Mirror Mirror
I Walk Alone (2010)

Written by Kelly Lang, Lorrie Morgan, and Mark Oliverius

Morgan’s sensitivity and vulnerability as a songwriter makes “Mirror Mirror” among her most intimately personal recordings, as she surveys the loves she left behind while looking back alone.

#21
What I’d Say
Letting Go…Slow (2016)

Written by Robert Byrne and William Robinson

Morgan imagines all of the different things she might say to the man who broke her heart should she run into him, with the complexity of her feelings allowing for such disparate reactions as “You’re looking well…or go to hell, might be what I’d say.”

#20
I Didn’t Know My Own Strength
Greatest Hits (1995)

Written by Rick Bowles and Robert Byrne

Her third and final #1 hit was something of a comeback for Morgan. The catchy pop hit helped push her Greatest Hits collection to eventual double platinum status.

#19
I Walk Alone
I Walk Alone (2010)

Written by Kelly Lang, Lorrie Morgan, and Mark Oliverius

One of the greatest things about Morgan’s later recordings is that she fully embraces her age, and is aware of the unique perspectives her lived experiences have given her. Here, she sets boundaries and puts herself first, taking ownership over her choices in the way that only an older, wiser woman can do.

#18
What Part of No
Watch Me (1992)

Written by Wayne Perry and Gerald Smith

In researching this piece, I came across this 1999 assessment of “What Part of No” from Alanna Nash, who called it “the bitchiest kiss-off in country music.”  That reading speaks volumes about our society’s hostility to consent, as her demeanor here is overly accommodating, if anything. She turns down a man’s repeated gestures, which include buying her drinks and giving her roses, with patience and poise, even referring to him as sir and apologizing for being “mean.” Personally, I’d love to see Morgan write a 2018 take on this scenario that truly lives up to the billing Nash gave this hit.  This guy deserves far harsher than what Morgan dishes up here.

#17
Do You Still Want to Buy Me That Drink (Frank)
Show Me How (2004)

Written by Roxie Dean, Buffy Lawson, and Patrick Matthews

Now this is how you get a guy to reconsider buying you a drink. Propositioned again at a bar, this time Morgan is still there to unwind, but she has three kids waiting for her back at home. Her warning to the guy making a pass has a handful of dated pop culture references, but the single mother’s dilemma is timeless:  “Between soccer practice and ballet, Eminem, and Dr. Dre, romance is the last thing on my list.  So Frank, was it, tell me what you think. Do you still want to buy me that drink?”

#16
Greater Need
Greater Need (1996)

Written by Constant Change

Greater Need was the artistic peak of Morgan’s mainstream career, with a depth that foreshadowed her best independent recordings to come.  There’s a maturity and self-awareness to the title track that are so often absent in the work of most mainstream artists, male or female, today.

#15
We Both Walk

Something in Red (1991)

Written by Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters

Morgan’s first album, Leave the Light On, was a big hit, but its sound was already dated by the time she was recording her second set for RCA. The production on “We Both Walk” is more aggressive than anything on that debut set, and her newfound growl was the sound of Morgan stepping up to the challenge presented by her fellow members of the Class of 1989.



#14
I Can Count On You

Show Me How (2004)

Written by Craig Carothers and Angela Kaset

If you lost track of Lorrie Morgan after she faded from country radio, her first independent studio album, Show Me How, is a great way to get reacquainted. “I Can Count On You,” co-penned by “Something in Red” writer Angela Kaset, ranks among her most heartbreaking ballads.



#13
Except For Monday

Something in Red (1991)

Written by Reed Nielsen

More than any of her peers, Lorrie Morgan kept one foot in the country heartache queen tradition and the other foot in the world of the modern woman. “Except For Monday” exemplifies that middle ground, where a relationship has destroyed her but she’s still got a sense of humor about it.

#12
Standing Tall

Greatest Hits (1995)

Written by Larry Butler and Ben Peters

Many of the best moments on this list benefit from Morgan’s extensive knowledge of country music. “Standing Tall” was a moderate hit for Billie Jo Spears, and while Morgan’s version didn’t match it on the charts, it absolutely destroys it as a performance. Morgan’s reading brings subtleties to the surface that Spears glossed over.

#11
Used

Show Me How (2004)

Written by Bekka Bramlett, James House, and James T. Slater

The emotions here are so dark – “Can’t remember what it was to dream, can’t sleep with my soul so unclean” – that the underlying hope of “Used” is that much more inspiring. “I’m used,” Morgan sings, “but then, who isn’t?”

#10
That’s What Friends are For

She Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool: A Tribute to Barbara Mandrell (2006)

Written by Rob Parsons and Ed Penney

Barbara Mandrell didn’t have as many big hits as legends of a similar stature, which made this tribute album from 2006 an interesting exercise, as it was bound to bring attention to lesser-known recordings. Again, Morgan’s knowledge of the genre’s history plays to her favor. Her cover of “That’s What Friends are For” soars above the original, while still serving the project’s purpose of documenting Mandrell’s influence on those who came after her.

#9
If You Came Back From Heaven

War Paint (1994)

Written by Richard Landis and Lorrie Morgan

War Paint was supposed to serve as Morgan’s triumphant debut as a songwriter. The choice of “My Night to Howl” as the lead single derailed that plan, thanks in part to “Howl”‘s baffling music video.  Radio, in turn, ignored “If You Came Back From Heaven,” and that was a shame.  The innocence of her writing is deeply moving, and she shows an eye for detail that captures the little moments of grief that pack the most punch: “Have you heard all my prayers when I laid down at night? And did you feel my body when I held your pillow tight?”

#8
Bombshell

Show Me How (2004)

Written by Louise Dorsey and Buffy Lawson

Morgan was the only artist among her contemporaries that could be accurately described as a bombshell, making her the perfect singer for this downright hilarious rumination on the aging process: “I used to look cool, perched up on a stool, with all the boys flocking around. But now I’m a sucker for a honk from a trucker, Lord, I’ve learned to love that sound. It’s hard on a bombshell.”

#7
Don’t Worry Baby
(with The Beach Boys)
Stars and Stripes Vol. 1 (1996)

Written by Roger Christian and Brian Wilson

The Beach Boys harmonies are a perfect match for Morgan’s vocals, which make her sound like a long lost diva from the Wall of Sound days. But what makes this cover so worthwhile is that it actually makes more sense than the original, with the doubts and fears coming from the girl who doesn’t want her reckless beau to participate in the dangerous drag race he’s committed himself to.

#6
Something in Red

Something in Red (1991)

Written by Angela Kaset

Morgan resisted recording her signature song for a long time because she refused to listen to the entire demo. She assumed that the final verse would have the lady looking for something in black. When she finally listened to it in its entirety, and realized the woman was shopping for something in blue for her baby boy, she was smitten.  Morgan proved with her performance that if she had wanted to go the Broadway route instead of the Nashville one, she still would’ve been a legend in her own time.


#5
I Just Might Be

Greater Need (1996)

Written by John Moffat

This breezy kiss-off number was kneecapped at radio by the bizarre decision to remove each instance of “damn,” leaving an empty space that ruins the flow of a fantastic chorus: “I just might be the best damn thing that you ever threw away.” Lush in both lyrical imagery and calculated indifference, “I Just Might Be” is Morgan’s ultimate “should’ve been a hit, but it wasn’t” moment on record.

#4
Last Night’s Make Up

Dos Divas (2013)

Written by Brandy Clark, Jessie Jo Dillon, and Shane McAnally

The nineties were the best time ever for women in country music, not just because of the incredible artistic talent, but also because of female songwriters like Matraca Berg, Gretchen Peters, and Kim Richey, all of whom had great artists to pitch their songs to. Brandy Clark deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as those writers, but her notoriety is held back by the scarcity of major female artists around to record her songs. Lorrie Morgan demonstrates what country music is missing out on with her flawless recording of this Clark co-write, which is among her finest compositions to date.

#3
Saunders Ferry Lane

Come See Me and Come Lonely (2017)

Written by Tooley Janette and Jean Whitehead

Leaving latter day Billie Jo Spears in the dust is one thing, but going toe to toe with “Help Me Make it Through the Night”-era Sammi Smith and coming out ahead is another thing entirely. “Saunders Ferry Lane” is Morgan’s best moment on record in over twenty years, with her layered interpretation bringing so much realism to the song that you can feel the chill of the changing weather as she sings.

#2
Good as I Was to You

Greater Need (1996)

Written by Billy Livsey and Don Schlitz

While preparing this list, “Good as I Was to You” started quite a bit lower, but it crept a little higher each time I played the whole list through. It’s a cinematic ballad that has a woman confront her cheating husband while he’s out with someone new. In a way, it’s an alternative timeline version of the final song on this list.  Her moral indignation is powerful throughout, but it’s her mic drop at the end of telling him off that packs the strongest punch, as she turns to the other woman and delivers her parting words: “Honey, you can have him. I don’t want him anymore.”

#1
I Guess You Had to Be There
Watch Me (1992)

Written by Barbara Cloyd and Jon Robbin

“I Guess You Had to Be There” doesn’t deliver a final blow like “Good as I Was to You.” Instead, its power comes in the form of the slow reveal to her unsuspecting husband that she saw him downtown with his new girlfriend that day.  As she tells him of her day, the truth of what she witnessed is doled out slowly. By the time she asks him, “What’s the matter? You don’t have much to say?” things have gotten truly unnerving. But instead of going in for the kill with the final revelation, she shows tenderness instead: “As I watched you with your new love, I hadn’t seen you that happy in years. We’ve drifted so far apart ,and it’s hard to admit it, but there’s nothing left for you here.”  It’s intensely sad, but never desperate, and as pure a nineties take on Tammy Wynette than anyone could hope for.

Check out all 25 songs on our first Country Universe YouTube Playlist:

5 Comments

  1. Can’t argue with “I Guess You Had to Be There” at #1. I remember the video with Kris Kristofferson as the “unsuspecting husband”. (KK was also the homeless man in Emerson Drive’s “Moments”)

    other favorites: What Part of No, Something in Red and Don’t Worry Baby w the Beach Boys. The last made me think of Adios from Linda Ronstadt w the Beach Boys.

    I would add “The Sad Cafe” (Henley, Frey, Joe Walsh and J.D.Souther) from Common Thread. Some of the songs included here I’m not familiar with so I have some more listening to do. Thanks for the you-tube playlist.

  2. Nice list – “Something In Red” is actually my favorite, closely followed by “What Part of No” and “A Picture of Me Without You”

    I’m not sure I agree with your assessment on “Saunders Ferry Lane” — going toe to toe with “Help Me Make it Through the Night”-era Sammi Smith and coming out ahead is another thing entirely — as I much prefer Sammi’s version.

    I had always wanted to see Sammi in live performance, and in November 2004 had purchased tickets to see her at the Florida Sunshine Opry in Eustis FL in the first week of January 2005. The show was canceled in December 2004 and seven or eight weeks later she passed away. If I recall correctly you had her somewhere in the 65-70 range in your fine 100 GREATEST WOMEN series (I would have had her higher)

    That said, this was a fine article

  3. Beautiful article, Kevin. It’s a piece that deepens my appreciation of one of the first country artists I ever loved. I see a lot of songs on this list that I’ve loved for years, and many more that I now intend to go back and revisit.

    Especially loved the spot-on analysis of “What Part of No”, and the interesting contrast between the top two selections. I’m not sure exactly what song I would put at the top of my own list, but “I Guess You Had to Be There” would certainly be in the Top 5 at least.

  4. Great selections. I would also add “Out of Your Shoes” and the first two singles from 1997’s Shakin’ Things Up Album (“Go Away” and “One of Those Nights Tonight”) to my personal list. War Paint was such a great album (in addition to the selections highlighted above, I would include the title track and “Evening Up the Odds”). My favorite Lorrie Morgan song is “I Just Might Be” so I was glad to see it cited above. Lorrie also contributed the track “You and Me” to a Tammy Wynette tribute album in the 90s which may be of interest to some fans.

  5. Great list. I totally agree Lorrie gets underrated these days. She has one the most distinctive voices ever and release great solo material in the 90’s and with Pam Tillis as Grits And Glamour currently. Something In Red is my favorite track from Lorrie.

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