Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Reba McEntire, “For My Broken Heart”

“For My Broken Heart”

Reba McEntire

Written by Liz Hengber and Keith Palmer


#1 (2 weeks)

December 7 – December 14, 1991

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

November 29, 1991

An unfathomable tragedy inspires Reba McEntire’s masterwork.

The Road to No. 1

Since topping the charts with “Rumor Has It” in early 1991, Reba McEntire had been experiencing the biggest commercial success of her career.  Rumor Has It achieved platinum status faster than any album of hers to date, powered by the additional top ten hits “Fancy” and “Fallin’ Out of Love.”

She’d already identified a heartbreak ballad to record as a duet with young superstar Clint Black, but preparations for her next studio album took a dramatic detour after an unspeakable tragedy.  A plane carrying eight members of her band and crew crashed near San Diego, on the way back from a private concert, killing all on board.

McEntire channeled her grief into her new album, now titled after that heartbreak ballad which she recorded by herself instead, previewing the project with a gut-wrenching performance of it on the 1991 CMA Awards.

The No. 1

I’m sure it would’ve been fine as a duet, but it’s hard to imagine “For My Broken Heart” being as achingly beautiful as it is with Reba singing it alone.

It’s a song about grieving over a broken relationship, but the details of the lyric capture just how mundane the grieving process is, no matter what you’re mourning.

“Lord, the sun is blinding me as it wakes me from the dark.  I guess the world didn’t stop for my broken heart.”

How can life be going on outside like nothing happened, while I’m in here falling apart? But I’m going to “stumble to the coffee pot,” even if “it takes all the strength I’ve got.”

She’s going to survive, but it’s going to hurt like hell.

The Road From No. 1

This doesn’t happen often, especially in a career as lengthy and successful as McEntire’s, but For My Broken Heart hits the trifecta: it’s her best album, it’s her biggest album, and it is her first to produce three No. 1 hits.  We’ll see McEntire twice in 1992 with classic singles from this album.

“For My Broken Heart” gets an A. 

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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  1. This is country music at its transformative best. “For My Broken Heart” simultaneously offers sweet sympathy and hard-won wisdom for listeners grieving one kind of loss or another. Songs like this are why country music fans lean on the tradition so hard for guidance and support; it provides both. When country music connects it also sustains.

    I didn’t appreciate the strength of this performance as a high schooler wrestling with what to make of Reba, but as an adult revisiting her music, I understand what all the fuss is about.

    Born of a personal and local tragedy, this song offers its broken heart as an unexpected gift of strength to anyone struggling with grief.

  2. This is a wonderful song that was perfectly executed. I don’t think I knew that Clint Black was originally going to duet with her on this song. I agree that it works better in this context as a solo performance.

  3. This review definitely hits the nail on the head. Such a sad, but very beautiful song, and it’s always been one of my personal favorites from Reba. Unfortunately, it’s now one that also hits very close to home, as I am still grieving over the loss of my step dad who we lost two years ago, and on top of that, my biological dad has not been able to see my mom and I due to health reasons and other complicated issues. I was always very close to both of them, and I know exactly what the narrator in the song is going through and how she feels. Not only does the song help me get through this rough time in my life, but it also makes me remember happier times in my childhood when it first came out, and when I just simply enjoyed the song because it was beautiful.

    One of my earliest memories of this song is when I saw the video on TV at my dad’s house. It was around this time we had moved out of our old house and temporarily moved into my dad’s house for a few months before we found a new home to live in. Since my dad’s house had CMT, I got to see a lot of videos from around this time period for the first time. This song definitely takes me back to spending a lot of time around my dad’s hometown, which I’ve always loved, especially the mall over there. I also remember the line “stumble to the coffee pot” really sticking out to me for some reason at the time. I remember I used to play this little game with my step dad where I would just say some random line from a song, and I would ask him if he knew where I got it from. I remember being surprised that he knew right away that line came from the Reba song, lol. Now looking back, I remember this was around the time his mom had passed away just recently, so perhaps maybe the song had special meaning to him, as well. Later in 1992, after we moved into a new house, he brought home Reba’s For My Broken Heart album on cd, which was another one of the earliest CD’s we owned. I remember enjoying this song all over again when we first played it on the stereo. Normally, I’m not too crazy about long string section openings, but I like the one featured on the cd version of the song, and it definitely brings back some nostalgia, as well.

    Btw, I had absolutely NO idea that this song was almost made as a duet with Clint Black! That has to be one of the most interesting things I’ve learned from this feature, yet. I have to agree though that it works so much better with Reba singing it by herself, and I can’t imagine it having the same emotional impact as a duet. When watching her performance of it on the ’91 CMA’s, you can see her just about to choke up but somehow hold it together near the end. That still really gets me today!

  4. Jamie,
    I am sorry about your loss of your stepfather and that you’re not able to see your father right now. I suddenly lost my mom last September and it’s such a hard loss.

    Reba’s CMA performance was stunning and heartbreaking. I just watched it again and you can hear emotion in her voice throughout the whole performance, but it really is moving when she chokes up at the end.

  5. A great song from the album I consider to be the best country album of all time. Everyone needs songs like this when going through hard times to remind them that others are or have gone through this too and understand your pain. I gravitate to sad songs, they actually make me very happy. I know thats weird but it’s nice to hear songs about stuff I’ve been through or am going through or am on the other side of that is comforting to me! My song that means the most to me from this Album is coming up in 1992!

  6. Leeann – Thank you so much. I really appreciate that. I’m so sorry to hear about your mom! :( I know exactly how you feel. Losing any parent is simply the worst, especially if you’re very close to them. As for the CMA performance, I just watched it again recently, and I could definitely hear her getting emotional throughout the entire performance and especially when she chokes up near the end, I can’t help but get emotional right along with her.

    Trouble_With_The_Trush – I’m right there with you when it comes to sad songs! Even as a kid, I somehow always gravitated towards them, which might’ve been considered weird for my age at the time. As you said, it’s comforting to know that you’re not the only one going through painful times, and hearing sad songs actually helps you get through them. That’s just yet another reason why I just don’t connect very much to the majority of mainstream modern country with the majority of it seemingly being either about escapism or partying, as if people don’t hurt anymore. I mean, I love a good feel good song as much as the next person, but I also need songs that actually talk about real life.

  7. This was originally supposed to be a duet with Clint Black?! I love learning these little tidbits I never knew before. Like Leeann said, I can’t imagine “For My Broken Heart” as anything other than a solo Reba performance.

  8. I have wrestled with posting this share for fear it is too public and too confessional, but I have been inspired by the honesty and sincerity of the connections Jamie and LeeAnn have shared.

    My deep and abiding connection to country music was also born out of parental loss. My dad died of pancreatic cancer when I was twelve years old. Country music gave voice to my loss, a hurt too big, too terrifying, and too lonesome for me to find my own words to touch. Relationship songs of loss, songs about missing home, and sentimental ballads all comforted me as I wrestled with my grief, letting me know I was not alone in my battle. The emotional lifelines these songs offered are what tethered a suburban Minnesota boy to country music for life. Country music saved me.

    I believe sad, age-inappropriate love songs captivated me because I knew the pain of deep loss before I had even tasted romantic love. Those songs sang what I was often too afraid to feel. It may have been all messed-up and backwards, but I could connect to those big emotions even as a pre-teen. Songs like Reba’s “For My Broken Heart” spoke with a world-wise, battle scarred authority I understood. It felt like I was a member of a secret club nobody ever wanted to willingly join!

    If country music was my lifeline, Merle Haggard’s “Kern River” album was the bouy I clung to keep from drowning in fear and sadness.

    Like I shared previously, when country music connects it also sustains.

    This feature is offering these wonderful connections and gifts as we revisit music that mattered to so many people.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Peter. I know what you mean when you say that country music saved you. It saved me too. I found it during a difficult time in my life when I was going through multiple eye surgeries between the ages of 12-14. Once I discovered it, listening to country music is all that I wanted to do. It had a deep hold on me that was my lifeline to sanity and the thing that made me happy during those times.

  10. Thank you for sharing that story, Peter. I’m so sorry about your father. :( It had to be terrible going through that at that age, as it’s been tough enough for me in my 30’s. I was also hesitant to share too much about my personal losses, but this song just hits exactly what I’ve been going through, and I couldn’t hold it back anymore. Country music, especially older country, has definitely been saving me for these past 2-3 years. Honestly, the memories and the nostalgia that so many of these old songs bring back has been one of the main things that’s been helping me get through it all, which is another reason why I’ve been loving this feature.

    Leeann – Thanks for sharing, as well. As an awkward, shy, and quiet teen/preteen with social anxiety, I also feel like country music was one of the main things that really made me happy throughout my middle school and especially my high school years and really helped me get through those times. Ever since then, I feel like country music has truly been one of the main things in my life that’s kept me sane.

  11. Let me just echo others here and express gratitude for the personal stories being shared by Peter, Jamie, and Leeann.

    So many of my college friends ended up in Nashville for the same reason I did – nineties country impacted us and changed our lives in a powerful way. Every story is different, every fan had a different favorite artist, but this period of music 1990-1993ish, was the catalyst.

    That this feature is creating space for people to bear witness is deeply moving to me. I know I’m not great at engaging in the comments, but I do read them all, and I’m thankful for this community of readers, old and new, who are inspired to react to these daily posts. It seems like every song has its own memory.

  12. Thank you, all. Sharing these kind of life altering stories, emotions, and memories is at the heart of connecting with country music. We are fellow travellers travelling down this country road!

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