100 Greatest Women, #38: LeAnn Rimes

100 Greatest Women


LeAnn Rimes

When she burst on to the scene in 1996, she was praised as the second coming of Patsy Cline. Within two years, she was dominating the pop charts. Over the course of her twelve-year career, Rimes has been successfully straddling the fence between pop and country, leaving a mark in both genres as she builds on her already impressive catalog of hits.

All that, and she’s still in her twenties. Rimes was just thirteen when her recording of “Blue” became a nationwide phenomenon. The song had originally been written with Cline in mind, but she died before that was possible. “Blue” was recorded by a handful of artists in the three decades between Bill Mack writing it and Rimes releasing it. The combination of her classic country voice and the novelty of her age proved irresistible to record buyers, and her debut album Blue went spent more than half a year at #1, selling six million copies along the way.

However, radio didn’t fully embrace the single, and it stopped at #10. This would begin a trend with Rimes, who has always been more popular with record buyers than with radio programmers. A second single, “Hurt Me”, faded quickly, but Rimes had her only #1 hit with the third single from the album, “One Way Ticket (Because I Can).” Demand for her early cover of “Unchained Melody led to a compilation release in early 1997 called The Early Years, a stunning title for a release by a fourteen year-old artist.

That same year, Rimes collected all of her industry awards to date, and it was quite a haul. In February, she won the Grammy for Best New Artist and “Blue” was named Best Female Country Vocal Performance. That spring, the ACM named her Top New Female Vocalist, along with Single and Song for “Blue.”

Later that year, Rimes was involved in a controversy when she was invited to record the Con Air theme song “How Do I Live.” The film producers didn’t like her take on it, and asked Trisha Yearwood to record it instead. Rimes’ label released her version to radio at the same time as Yearwood’s. Country radio chose to play Yearwood’s version, while pop radio embraced Rimes. That fall, at the height of the controversy, Rimes won the CMA Horizon Award. The following February, Rimes performed “How Do I Live” on the Grammy awards, where she was nominated against Yearwood, who ended up winning the Grammy over Rimes.

By that point, Rimes had sold millions of copies of her third collection, You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs, and had made inroads to the pop market. Her fourth album, Sittin’ On Top of the World, led off with the big hit “Commitment”, while radio also played “Nothin’ New Under the Moon” which followed. The album sold decently, but did not match the popularity of its predecessors. She also had less luck with the pop market, with targeted pop single “Looking Through Your Eyes” only going top twenty.

In 1999, she capitalized on the Cline connection when she released her self-titled disc, which was dominated by covers of classic songs, including five that Cline either made famous or recorded herself. One new track, “Big Deal”, was part of the package, and was a top ten hit. Next, an album was built around tracks Rimes had either left off of previous albums or contributed to other projects. I Need You had a country hit in the title track, which was in the TV film Jesus. And while country radio barely touched it, Rimes had a massive international pop and dance hit with “Can’t Fight the Moonlight”, which was originally on the Coyote Ugly soundtrack.

This inspired Rimes to hit the pop market hard, which she did with her 2002 album Twisted Angel. The song produced video hits with “Life Goes On” and “Suddenly”, and went gold in America despite limited airplay. Curb took stock in her career to that point in 2003, when they released Greatest Hits.

She took some serious time off before resurfacing with her most serious country effort ever, This Woman. The 2005 album not only reestablished Rimes at country radio with its three top five hits, it also made her a contender at the award shows again. Her ACM performance of “Probably Wouldn’t Be This Way” earned a rousing ovation, and she was a Grammy nominee for the first time in nine years when “Something’s Gotta Give” was cited in the 2007 Best Female Country Vocal Performance category.

This Woman was so popular in America that her next album, the pop-heavy Whatever We Wanna, only saw release outside of the U.S. The album was still significant, however, because Rimes co-wrote ten of the tracks on it, a preview to what would end up being her most fully realized artistic work in 2007, the completely self-written Family. Rimes was again a Grammy nominee for the lead single from that project, “Nothin’ Better to Do”, which featured a jail-break video choreographed by her husband.

This year, Rimes is touring the country with Kenny Chesney. Her commitment to country music is no longer in question, and she’s being embraced by the industry again after many years in the wilderness. A singer once defined by a “Wow! For Her Age” voice has evolved into a credible, serious artist, and with so much time still ahead of her.

LeAnn Rimes

Essential Singles

  • “Blue”, 1996
  • “One Way Ticket (Because I Can)”, 1996
  • “How Do I Live”, 1997
  • “Can’t Fight the Moonlight”, 2000
  • “Probably Wouldn’t Be This Way”, 2005

Essential Albums

  • Blue, 1996
  • This Woman, 2005
  • Family, 2007

Industry Awards

  • ACM Single of the Year (“Blue”), 1997
  • ACM Song of the Year (“Blue”), 1997
  • ACM Top New Female Vocalist, 1997
  • CMA Horizon Award, 1997
  • Grammy: Best New Artist, 1997
  • Grammy: Best Female Country Vocal Performance (“Blue”), 1997

==> #37. K. T. Oslin

<== #39. June Carter Cash

100 Greatest Women: The Complete List


  1. A little highly placed but in the general ballpark. “Blue” was her breakthrough hit although many country stations wouldn’t play it. At the time it was released, the hoopla surrounding the song was that it had been intended for Patsy Cline but not recorded until Ms Rimes got hold of it. As Kevin pointed out, this most definitely was not true.

    In fact the greatest yodeler of them all, Kenny Roberts, recorded it twice, the first time in 1967. I am glad to see Rimes get back aboard the country express but I suspect that she will be forever jumping off and on

  2. I personally would have included “Nothin’ Better to Do” among the essential singles. Even though it wasn’t a slam-dunk at radio, I think it’s easily the most universally-adored song she’s ever recorded, and when you throw in the iconic video, it just seems poised to become a signature song for her. But that’s just my thinking. Great write-up, as always.

  3. …this is country, ….great voice, ….that’s pop, …country, ….yeah they’re nice but i prefer mommy’s – hear, hear, the expert’s talking, ….seriously country, ….yeah, she does move nicely on them, doesn’t she, ….beautiful song, slightly on the pop side….etc. etc.

    these are a few soundbites from a conversation i had with my one year old son at 1.30 am, watching a tv re-run of leann rimes’ concert at the gstaad country festival a few years ago (she wore roughly the same outfit as on the photo). even though, the stage there is in a big tent, the crowd showed quite mixed reactions towards her performance. i guess, there were just too many small tents in that big one.

    quality never really goes out of style and is, usually, even more appreciated as time goes by. in my eyes, it would be a real shame not to fully enjoy leann rimes’s development just because of cloths that’s somewhat on the small side.

  4. Although the media (and the country music fanbase) is quick to compare Carrie Underwood with both Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift, I think the most interesting comparison would be between Underwood and Rimes. Two attractive, twenty-five-year old blond women with strong, distinctive vocal talents. Their varying levels of success at this stage bring up interesting points about art, commerce and promotion in today’s country music.

  5. leeann

    actually, i intended to refer to the fabric of the small tents in the preceding paragraph – looks as if i wasn’t too successful. should have used “fabric” to make it clear.

  6. I think LeAnn deserved this spot if not having a higher position. While she has trailed toward pop sounding music in earlier years(which every country artist was doing for the most part back then) she had great music, wheater it be country or pop or both. A great person and a great artist. I also think Nothin Better To Do is essential as it was another big comeback for LeAnn in 2007 asa country artist.

  7. eh I dont know about LeAnn being this high. She is ok but more so a pop flavor embraced by country. She has slowly gone down hill with time never being able to recapture the success of her debut.

  8. She’s still really young–think she’s the highest ranked, youngest singer on the list. Think it’ll be very interesting to see where she ranks in ten, twenty years, especially if she continues to make really great country albums in the vein of This Woman and Family.

  9. The body of LeAnn’s work at the age of 26 is nothing short of amazing. Quality is timeless and cannot be put in a box and LeAnn’s music will stand the test of time. There is a lot of politics in the music business so its hard to say where LeAnn will be on this list in 10 or 15 years but if its based on her talent she should easily be in the top 10. She is clearly one of the most talented women in music today(of any genre). I agree with some of the other comments that ‘Nothin Better To Do’ should be on the essential singles list but I would also add ‘I Need You’to that list.

  10. CMT ranked her as #38, so both sites are similar. I think she’s way underrated. I mean Blue is one of the best country albums I’ve heard! So is This Woman

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