Classic Country Singles: Reba McEntire, “Somebody Should Leave”

“Somebody Should Leave”

Reba McEntire

Written by Harlan Howard and Chick Raines

Reba McEntire’s star was on a slow, gradual rise in the early 1980’s. After four years of recording on the Mercury label without major success, the dawn of the decade saw her reaching the Top 10 for the first time with “(You Lift Me) Up to Heaven”. She topped the charts for the first time with 1982’s “Can’t Even Get the Blues” and again with its follow-up “You’re the First Time I’ve Thought About Leaving”.

Still, McEntire was growing increasingly dissatisfied with the level of promotion she was receiving at Mercury as well as with the label’s country-pop production styles. She finally asked for and received a release from her Mercury recording contract, later signing with MCA. Her first album for MCA, Just a Little Love, yielded a Top 10 hit with its title track, but MCA officials didn’t like the album, and McEntire was told to start afresh with a new producer.

A contemporary, crossover sound was dominating the country airwaves at the time, but McEntire was uninterested in chasing the trends – she knew that the kind of music she wanted to record was country. As she set about searching for material for her second MCA album, she had difficulty finding the pure country music that she wanted to record.

That led to a meeting with legendary country songwriter Harlan Howard, the pen behind classics such as Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” and Ray Price’s “Heartaches By the Number,” among others. McEntire and her then-husband Charlie Battles came to Howard’s home, where he loaded up his tape player and played her song after song. McEntire, however, passed on each one, feeling that the songs were not what she expected of a writer of Howard’s caliber.

Finally, Howard played “Somebody Should Leave”, a song he had co-written with Chick Raines. Upon hearing the song, McEntire was moved nearly to the point of tears, and asked Howard if she could have the song.

McEntire says she later realized that Howard was testing her. When she passed on all of the previous songs Howard had played her, he knew that she was a singer who knew a special song when she heard it.

“Somebody Should Leave” tells the story of a husband and wife in a loveless marriage. The words of the opening verses bring the story to life in stark detail. As McEntire sings, “I read a book, you watch TV as our love dies quietly…I’m so sad that I don’t know what I just read”, it’s as if the listener is looking in on the sad scene as it unfolds. The narrator’s sadness is echoed by a weeping steel guitar and fiddle.

The only thing keeping the union together is the couple’s concern for their children – they can’t bring themselves to separate them from either parent. The narrator admits, “If it were only you and me, goodbye might come more easily, but what about those babies down the hall?” The story ends with just a hint of hope, but without resolution – “We just keep hoping we might need each other again”.

“Somebody Should Leave” was released as the second single from McEntire’s second MCA album, appropriately titled My Kind of Country. It became a number-one hit, as did the album’s first single, “How Blue”. Its success helped propel McEntire to her first CMA Award win for Female Vocalist of the Year, a title she would own for a four-year run. The album’s success helped spark the new traditionalist country music movement of the 1980’s. McEntire would go on to become one of the movement’s defining voices, along with fellow legends such as Ricky Skaggs, Randy Travis and George Strait.

Moreover, “Somebody Should Leave” and of the My Kind of Country album marked a point at which McEntire began taking greater creative control of her music, distinguishing herself as not only a singer, but an artist. And while she didn’t stick with the traditional country sound indefinitely, the album established her as a significant creative and commercial force in country music, setting her career on a path that would eventually lead all the way to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

6 Comments

  1. Before country music was something I embraced myself, this was one of the songs that was always playing in the car. One of my mom’s favorites. Such a perfect song, and a wonderful retrospective from you, Ben!

  2. I’ve always loved this song, and I really enjoyed reading this backstory, especially the part with her and Harlan Howard, which was very interesting. I remember this song still being a recurrent on the radio in the early 90’s when I was little and liking it back then. Then in late 1999, when I heard it playing at a barbecue restaurant after not hearing it in quite a long time, it just really took me back. To borrow a worn out cliche, they don’t make ’em like this anymore. BTW, I also really love “How Blue.” Great write up, Ben, and it’s nice to see you back!

  3. A well researched reminder of how amazing and significant this song was when released and a great reminder of how much it still resonates with listeners today.

    I probably unfairly judged all of McEntire’s later output against this classic song and performance.

  4. This is a song I have always loved, dating back to when WHOO featured the MY KIND OF COUNTRY album on their album show before the single officially was released. WHOO got so much positive feedback that they gave it fairly heavy airplay during the last six weeks of 1984 (the single was released in January 1985)

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