100 Greatest Women, #40: LeAnn Rimes

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition


LeAnn Rimes

2008 Edition: #38 (-2)

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 two decade career, successfully straddled the fence between pop and country, before emerging more recently as a thoughtful singer-songwriter.

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 with choreography inspired by Chicago.

Rimes took a brief hiatus before resurfacing with Lady & Gentlemen, a covers collection co-produced by Vince Gill.  It featured two new bonus tracks, most notably “Crazy Women,” a single that was one of Brandy Clark’s earliest cuts.   In 2013, Rimes received the best reviews of her career for Spitfire, with intimate songs mostly written by her.  She followed this set with a Christmas collection in 2015, and then another studio set, Remnants, which was first released in the United Kingdom in 2016.  Highlights of that set included a cover of Brandi Carlile’s “The Story,” and the Lori McKenna co-write, “How to Kiss a Boy,” as well as several songs written by Rimes herself.

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
  • Nothin’ Better to Do, 2007
  • What Have I Done, 2012
  • Borrowed, 2012

Essential Albums

  • Blue, 1996
  • This Woman, 2005
  • Family, 2007
  • Lady & Gentlemen, 2011
  • Spitfire, 2013
  • Remnants, 2016

Industry Awards

  • Academy of Country Music Awards
    • Humanitarian Award, 2009
    • Single of the Year
      • Blue, 1997
    • Song of the Year
      • Blue, 1997
    • Top New Female Vocalist, 1997
  • Country Music Association Awards
    • Horizon Award, 1997
  • Grammy Awards
    • Best Female Country Vocal Performance
      • Blue, 1997
    • Best New Artist, 1997

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

Next: #39. Lucinda Williams

Previous: #41. K.T. Oslin


  1. Not a big fan. My favorite Rimes songs are “Probably Wouldn’t Be This Way” and “On the Side of Angels”. I also think she did a good job singing backup on Hal Ketchum’s “In Front of the Alamo” which was solely written by Gary Burr.

  2. LeAnn is one of my all time favorite vocalists not just in country music, but of all music. She has evolved so much within 20 years. This might be a unpopular opinion, but I truly believe LeAnn has been making the best music of her career within the last decade that it might better than most of her classic crossover pop country hits (which I love). From This Woman to currently, LeAnn prove she’s more than a great vocalist that can slay a track vocally, but a mature vocalist who knows how to bring the emotion out of the material she is given.

  3. LeAnn is such a talent. I got her greatest hits album and This Woman within a year two and went into full fan mode. This Woman remains my favorite album but really great albums after that too.

    My favorites are Commitment, I Need You, Can’t Fight The Moonlight Graham remix, Life Goes On, Probably Wouldn’t Be This Way, Nothing Better To Do, What Have I Done, and my all time favorite What I Cannot Change.

    A shame that radio blacklisted her for personal life while Jason Aldean was welcomed back with Open Arms when his actions were much worst..

  4. If what’s been written here in the years since the original list is any indication, I really should listen to more of LeAnn. To this day, all I know of hers is five songs (four of which get airtime on one of several pop radio stations we have in Houston) – “How Do I Live” (I’ve heard Trisha Yearwood’s rendition of that one, too), “Can’t Fight the Moonlight”, “I Need You”, and her covers of Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and John Anderson’s “Swingin'”. Sadly, despite Rimes’ version of the latter being the superior cut, I’ve listened to the cheesy Anderson recording more often. :(

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