There may never have been a more unassuming female superstar than Anne Murray, who quietly built up an impressive run of hits that stretched two decades long. All this from a soft-spoken high school gym teacher who half-heartedly pursued the fame and fortune that came looking for her instead.
For Murray, music had only been a hobby. As she studied for her physical education degree at the Canadian University of New Brunswick, she tried out for the weekly CBC television series Singing Jubilee. They already had enough alto singers, but the producer remembered her. Two years had passed since the audition and she was already a high school gym teacher. The producer called her up with an offer to join at TV show called Let’s Go. She took the job, but kept teaching at the same time.
She struck up a friendship with the show’s musical director Brian Ahern. He asked her to record for the independent label Arc, and in 1968, she released her debut album What About Me? It did well enough to capture the attention of Capitol Records, who signed her to a deal. When her first single for the label, “Snowbird”, was released, it was an surprise hit, selling a million copies and going top ten on both the country and pop charts.
Murray was a reluctant overnight star. As she released several albums in the early to mid-seventies, she became increasingly uneasy with show business. She had to go from coffee houses to concert halls quite quickly, and it made her uncomfortable. She didn’t enjoy the early years of her success, despite having many hits, some with Glen Campbell, and winning a Grammy in 1975. That same year, she went into a short retirement, moving back to Toronto to start a family with her new husband.
When she was ready to return, she did so with a bang. In 1978, “Walk Right Back” announced her return, going top five. The next single, “You Needed Me”, was a monster, selling a million copies and topping the pop chart. In 1979, she was nominated in both the pop and country fields, losing her country bid for “Walk Right Back” but winning a pop Grammy for “You Needed Me.”
Murray adopted a more showy stage persona, but maintained her quite humility regarding her career, despite the fact that she was one of the most popular singers in the country for a few years. She had a string of #1 hits – five in three years. The biggest one was intended to be a duet with Kenny Rogers. Murray recorded the first verse in a lower register as a placeholder, and when the duet fell through, it ended up as a solo single. Featured on the Urban Cowboy soundtrack, “Could I Have This Dance” won her a third Grammy.
In 1983, Murray went topical, releasing the current events lament “A Little Good News.” The song struck a deep chord, and it won her another Grammy and the CMA for Single of the Year. It was the title track for the accompanying album, and Murray made country music history when she became the first female artist to win CMA Album of the Year in 1984. Nearly three decades later, she remains one of only four female artists to win the award. (Lee Ann Womack, Dixie Chicks and Patty Loveless are the other three.)
Murray then teamed up with Dave Loggins for the hit duet “Nobody Loves Me Like You Do.” The pair was named CMA Vocal Duo in 1985. Murray’s hit run continued throughout the eighties, until she scored her final big country hit in 1990 with “Feed This Fire.” She left Capitol in 1991, but by then she had built up such a strong catalog that the label issued a box set of her material, called Now and Forever, in 1994.
Freed from the expectations of a major label deal, Murray created side projects that she’d always wanted to do, including a standards album called Croonin’ , a live album and a Christmas album. She also got an unexpected shout-out in the South Park movie with the song “Blame Canada”, where she is referred to as “that b**** Anne Murray.” Asked if she was offended by that, she laughed and said, “My daughter just called me a b**** this morning!” When the song was nominated for an Oscar, she was offered to perform it, but couldn’t because of a schedule conflict.
Today, Murray’s legacy is as strong as ever. She’s had two hits collections that have sold in the millions, and her duets album from last year sold strongly in both Canada and the U.S. The project revealed the high esteem for Murray among both her contemporaries and newer artists. Emmylou Harris, Shania Twain, Celine Dion, Olivia Newton-John, k.d. lang, Martina McBride and Nelly Furtado are just a few of the big names that joined her in song.
For a woman who would’ve been just as happy as a gym teacher and never really craved the spotlight, her accomplishments are nothing short of astounding.
- “Snowbird”, 1970
- “Love Song”, 1973
- “You Needed Me”, 1978
- “Could I Have This Dance”, 1980
- “A Little Good News”, 1983
- “Nobody Loves Me Like You Do” (with Dave Loggins), 1984
- Snowbird, 1970
- Let’s Keep it That Way, 1978
- New Kind of Feeling, 1979
- A Little Good News, 1983
- Heart Over Mind, 1984
- ACM Song (“You Needed Me”), 1979
- CMA Album (A Little Good News), 1984
- CMA Single (“A Little Good News”), 1984
- CMA Vocal Duo (Anne Murray & Dave Loggins), 1985
- Grammy: Best Female Country Vocal Performance (“Love Song”), 1975
- Grammy: Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (“You Needed Me”), 1979
- Grammy: Best Female Country Vocal Performance (“Could I Have This Dance”), 1981
- Grammy: Best Female Country Vocal Performance (“A Little Good News”), 1984
<== #29. Mary Chapin Carpenter
Anne Murray’s “Greatest Hits” was the first album by a country music female to hit 4 million in sales.
I always thought Anne did not get the respect from country music industry she deserved. Part of the problem was she was viewed has a more pop leaning artist. Long before Shania Twain, Anne Murray came down from Canada to make country pop.
Besides everything else, Anne also has the distinction of having done one of the best covers of a Fab Four classic–her version of the Beatles’ “You Won’t See Me” (from their 1965 album RUBBER SOUL) was a big hit for Anne in the summer of 1974.
Anne Murray actually was a Middle of the Road Pop artist whose voice fit comfortably into the country music format. When “Snowbird” became a big pop hit and then crossed over onto the country charts (it was a bigger pop hit than a country hit), Capitol started consciously pushing her to the country market, even, in at least two cases, doing double A sides of her 45s with one side pushed to the pop market and the other side pushed to the country stations. Examples of this include:
“He Thinks I Still Care” (#1 country) b/w “You Won’t See Me” (#38 pop)
“Son of a Rotten Gambler (#5 county) b/w “Just One Look (#86 pop)
Some of Anne’s hits were bigger on the pop charts than on the country charts. For instance, her only #1 pop hit “You Needed Me” reached only #4 on the country charts. “Danny’s Song” went to #7 pop but only #10 country, and as mentioned before, “Snowbird” (7 pop / 10 country).
Anne Murray is an excellent singer, one of the few whose vocal prowess would warrant inclusion on this list even if the extent of her influence was that she sold lots of records. She was one heck of a singer and probably is even better at pop standards than she ever was at country music. Unlike another pop singer, Linda Ronstadt who had only ten solo top 40 country records (plus three as part of Trio) , Anne Murray lived in the country top forty for 15+ years posting 38 top fortys plus duets with Glen Campbell, David Loggins and Kenny Rogers. She is clearly one of the top 15 women in country music history . John Morthland, in his excellent book BEST OF COUNTRY MUSIC, decribes her as the best “Countrypolitan” artist to come from the pop side of the ledger, an assessment with which I heartily concur
You have two of my absolute favorites back to back, although I love them for two different reasons. I grew up on country music in the late 70s and 80s, and the minute I hear Anne Murray’s voice, I melt. Its the musical equivalent of a big, warm hug. I love everything about it, and it makes me feel safe and at home. I really do think she could sing anything, and I’d come to love it.
I haven’t had a chance to comment on Mary Chapin Carpenter yet, but she’s another of my all time favorites. I would never be able to do a list like this because I would have a hard time separating my personal opinions from the larger picture. In my opinion, MCC is one of the best (if not the best) female singer-songwriters in Country Music. I’ve been known to say that she is just too smart for country radio now, and it is their loss. I’m so glad she emerged in the 90s–one of the few times country radio embraced smart, witty, and no non-sense women. I’ve loved her from the beginning (she’s one of a small # of artists in any genre whose CD I will buy the minute it comes out without hearing anything off of it) and I love her more and more.
I would possibly move both of these women up on the list, but it is because of my bias not because they are incorrectly placed on their impact of country music.
Thanks again for such a thought-provoking, well-researched, and thought out list. I can’t imagine the work that went into it.
“Anne also has the distinction of having done one of the best covers of a Fab Four classic–her version of the Beatles’ “You Won’t See Me” (from their 1965 album RUBBER SOUL) was a big hit for Anne in the summer of 1974.”
John Lennon went on the record in the mid-70’s as saying that was his favorite Beatle cover
The CBS weekly television show that Anne auditioned for was named “Sing Along Jubillee” not “Singing Jubillee”.
Thanks for recognizing her contribution and her talent – long before Shania or Celine – Anne was Canada’s Sweetheart and remains so.
That would be the “CBC” show, not the “CBS” show… it must be catching – LOL!