100 Greatest Women, #84: Charly McClain

100 Greatest Women


Charly McClain

Sometimes, you can have a pretty long run of hits while still remaining under the radar. Charly McClain was a mainstay on country radio for more than a decade, releasing thirteen studio albums for Epic. And while in the early years, her gorgeous looks threatened to distract from her distinctive vocal talents, she stuck around long enough to prove she was more than just a pretty face, and she put her voice to use for more than just singing.

McClain released her first single, “Lay Down”, in the fall of 1976, but it was another two years before one of her songs caught on. In 1978, “Let Me Be Your Baby” became her breakthrough hit, followed by her first top ten single, “That’s What You Do to Me.” McClain finally released her debut album that same year.

Over the next few years, she scored some major hits. “Who’s Cheatin’ Who” was her first #1 single, topping the charts in 1980. The pop-flavored song had such long-lasting appeal that staunch traditionalist Alan Jackson revived it in 1997, taking it back to the top five. McClain soon found musical harmony with Mickey Gilley, and their #1 hit “Paradise Tonight” led them to make a full-fledged duet album, it Takes Believers.

McClain scored her final #1 hit in 1985 with “Radio Heart”, a sweet story song about a lonely housewife who married too young and soon found herself a single mom. She uses the radio to escape from the hurting she’s feeling in real life. She scored a few more hits along the way, charting her final singles in 1989, but she made an impact in another way that was longer lasting than most of those hits.

The pleasant sounds and soft appearance of McClain probably had many believing she was meek, but McClain was actually one of the first female artists to speak out against the sexual harassment that female artists received from unscrupulous men on Music Row. As she told Mary A. Bufwack & Robert K. Oermann in their book Finding Her Voice, “the producers and stars in Nashville expected sexual favors from me…I’ve had to slap big men her in Nashville in the face; 98 percent of them will try to take advantage of you.”

McClain’s willingness to speak out against this industry reality in 1982, when sexual harassment was still trying to gain traction as a serious nationwide issue, was courageous and quite a bit ahead of its time. While McClain retired from the music industry in the early nineties and has kept a low profile since, she remains important for both the classic hits she sang, and the words she was willing to say.

Charly McClain

Essential Singles

  • “That’s What You Do to Me”, 1978
  • “Who’s Cheatin’ Who”, 1980
  • “Dancing Your Memory Away”, 1982
  • “Paradise Tonight” (with Mickey Gilley), 1983
  • “Radio Heart”, 1985

Essential Albums

  • Surround Me With Love (1981)
  • The Woman in Me (1984)
  • Radio Heart (1985)

==> #83. Bonnie Guitar

<== #85. Gretchen Wilson

100 Greatest Women: The Complete List


  1. I remember well the controversy surrounding McClain – there were a few times when she seemed a bit “over-the-top” with her assertions. She was an undeniably talented singer who recorded some really great singles including “With You”, “Sentimental Ol’ You” and “Surround Me With Love” being among the best traditional sounding songs.
    She was also capable of handling more pop-country songs like “Sleeping With The Radio On” and “Who’s Cheating Who”.

    Her career had already lost traction when “Radio Heart” became a hit. Subsequent songs were not nearly as good and a change of labels to Mercury in 1988 did not get her career re-started. She had already completely faded away before retiring

  2. I love Charly Mcclain, as i am trying to find all of her cd’s, and i just can not seem to get them. I have her Anthology CD, but now i need to find all the rest. I had tried all over and no one seems to be able to get them. If any one can make copies for me that would be great. Thanks

  3. We played “With You” by Charly McLain at our wedding in 1983 and I would like to get a cd with that song on it for our 25th anniversery celebration. Can you help?

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