100 Greatest Women, #49: Janie Fricke

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

#49

Janie Fricke

2008 Edition: #46 (-3)

There aren’t that many singers who emerge from the background to become stars in their own right. Then again, there aren’t that many who are able to make six figures a year doing jingles, demo and backup gigs. But when Janie Fricke chose to move up front, it put into motion one of the most successful female careers of the early eighties.

She grew up a fan of folk singers like Joan Baez, but she fell in love with country music and she moved to Nashville in 1975. Rather than just play the honky tonks and clubs at night, she used her talents during the day, becoming an in-demand session vocalist almost immediately. At one point, she was making $100,000 a year for her efforts. Her vocals were on classic hits by Elvis Presley (“My Way”), Conway Twitty (“I’d Love to Lay You Down”), T.G. Sheppard (“Devil in the Bottle”) and England Dan & John Ford Coley (“I’d Really Love to See You Tonight.”)

But producer Billy Sherrill saw her potential, and wanted to bring her to the foreground. In 1976, he had her sing a string of duets with Johnny Duncan. Though she wasn’t credited, she was a major presence on his #1 single “Thinkin’ of a Rendezvous.” Still, Fricke wasn’t sold on a solo career, and when she went into the studio with Charlie Rich in 1978, she thought it was just to do harmony. When Sherrill and Rich called her back in for overdubs, they had her sing some lines from the song on her own. Suddenly, it was a duet, and “On My Knees” by Charlie Rich with Janie Fricke became a #1 hit.

Sherrill signed her to Columbia Records and she became a singer of soft, torchy ballads. She had her first big solo hit in 1980, when “Down to My Last Broken Heart” went to #2. But it wasn’t until 1982 when she had her big breakthrough, “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me Baby.” The #1 hit started a three year stretch where Fricke dominated the charts, with six more #1 singles and two other top tens in between.

Some of these were the most popular songs of the Urban Cowboy era, including “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Easy,” “He’s a Heartache (Looking For a Place to Happen),” and “She’s Single Again.” She even had another popular duet, this time with Merle Haggard on “A Place to Fall Apart.”

The industry took notice of her success, and the CMA named her Female Vocalist in both 1982 and 1983. The ACM followed suit in 1984, giving her Top Female Vocalist. As her run of hits not only continued, but became more uptempo, she became a show-stopping performer on the road, earning high marks for her energetic shows.

In 1986, she made a tweak to her last name, adding an “i” to make it Janie Frickie. She did this in response to announcers mispronouncing her name. That same year, she had her final #1 hit with “Always Have Always Will”, which received a Single of the Year nomination from the ACM. The album it was culled from, Black & White, topped the albums chart as well.

She continued to record for Columbia for the rest of the decade, though her success began to drop off as the new traditionalist movement was in full swing. When she parted ways with the label, she moved to Branson and recorded for a smaller label, releasing two country albums in the early nineties and a gospel collection in 1996. In 2000, she launched her own label with her country collection Bouncin’ Back.  She followed this in 2004 with The Bluegrass Sessions, which featured new interpretations of her pop-flavored hits.

She continued to record in the years that followed, releasing Roses and Lace in 2008 and re-released her 2004 set as The Country Side of Bluegrass in 2012.  Meanwhile, nearly all of her major label albums have been reissued overseas in recent years, in combinations of two and four, making the music from her halcyon days more readily available than it has ever been.  These same albums can now be purchased and streamed digitally.

Essential Singles

  • On My Knees (with Charlie Rich), 1978
  • Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me Baby, 1982
  • It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Easy, 1982
  • He’s a Heartache (Looking For a Place to Happen), 1983
  • A Place to Fall Apart (with Merle Haggard), 1984
  • She’s Single Again, 1985
  • Always Have Always Will, 1986

Essential Albums

  • It Ain’t Easy (1982)
  • Love Lies (1983)
  • The First Word in Memory (1984)
  • Black & White (1986)
  • The Bluegrass Sessions (2004)

Industry Awards

  • Academy of Country Music Awards
    • Top Female Vocalist, 1984
  • Country Music Association Awards
    • Female Vocalist, 1982, 1983

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

Next: #48. Terri Clark

Previous: #50. Sara Evans

8 Comments

  1. I think she is great and has always been under-rated. Her ballads were among the best in the early 80’s and she was tough competition to Barbara, Crystal, Dolly etc. in that time frame. I often compared her song choices to Tammy Wynette.

  2. Just try to find me a better female singer born in South Whitley, IN. I haven’t heard a whole lot of her stuff, but probably my favorite Fricke track not in the Essential Singles is 1979’s “Playin’ Hard to Get”. Some darned fine singing on that one.

  3. I’ll admit, I’m not biggest fan of ballads unless the singer can sell me in and I understand what they’re sing about, but Janie checks all those boxes. She has a lovely voice.

  4. Nice write-up, though I’m a bit surprised to not see any mention of Janie Frickie’s absolutely fantastic duet with Moe Bandy, “It’s a Cheating Situation.” A country classic.

  5. The 80’s is surely the decade i’m least familiar with for music of any kind. I’m not familiar with any of JF’s essential singles and I didn’t know that the lead singer for Mike & the Mechanics on “The Living Years” was Paul Carrack. While I’ve heard of Janie Fricke before, I never even heard of Carrack til about 2 weeks ago.

  6. I was a kid for all of the eighties and I still didn’t know Paul Carrack was the lead singer of Mike and the Mechanics. I’d heard that song a million times, and I’d heard Carrack’s name, but no connection, so you taught me something today!

    Carrack covered “When You Walk in the Room” in 1987 and it went to #90 in the U.S. and #48 in the U.K. I found that version when I was looking for earlier recordings of it because I loved the Pam Tillis version. Carrack’s isn’t one that I care for, but the versions by the Searchers, Jackie De Shannon, and Karla Bonoff are all worth seeking out. Agnetha from ABBA did a nice version a few years ago. It’s such a solid song.

    My car rides in the eighties featured a LOT of eighties country mix tapes made by my parents, but the only Janie Fricke song that made the cut was “She’s Single Again.” I’m in the middle of another big John Conlee phase, and that goes back to those eighties car rides, too!

  7. Agree that PT’s version of “when You walk in the room” is better than Carrack’s. The first time I ever heard hers, I immediately thought of the Searchers even though Jackie DeShannon wrote it and recorded it a year before they did.

    My car trips from 86 to 91 from LI to Cape Cod featured primarily pop or rock music. The trips to Colorado from 92 to 96 included some country, Suzy B and a few others. My kids, now 38 and 36, have shown almost no interest in country music.

  8. I haven’t a clue how often my family’s road trips contain country, but I do hear it. One time, my dad made two full data CDs of country (two kinds: one standard, one alternative). The standard disc contains 13 songs by George Strait, while if I remember right, the alt-country disc has a ton of Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, and Sturgill Simpson.

    Alright, back to Janie Fricke. It irks me how whenever I catch Johnny Duncan’s “It Couldn’t Have Been Any Better” on my local classic country station (KTHT-FM in Houston, TX), it’s credited entirely to Janie. It was Johnny’s song to begin with, and Janie’s role in the song is just duet vocals! Making this all the more egregrious is that I once caught Moe Bandy’s “It’s a Cheating Situation” (mentioned elsewhere on this thread), and if memory serves, it was properly credited to Bandy!

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