“He Thinks He’ll Keep Her”
Mary Chapin Carpenter
Written by Mary Chapin Carpenter and Don Schlitz
Radio & Records
#1 (1 week)
March 18, 1994
An award-winning multi-platinum selling superstar finally gets a No. 1 record.
The Road to No. 1
By the time radio gave her a No. 1 single, Mary Chapin Carpenter was country music’s most surprising superstar. A northeastern folkie with a history degree from Brown University, Carpenter was a fixture on the Washington D.C. music scene, where she began working with longtime collaborator John Jennings. As she transitioned from covers to original material, she caught the attention of Columbia Records. Her 1987 debut album Hometown Girl was largely promoted as a folk album, but by her second project, State of the Heart, she was recording in Nashville and charting country hits.
State of the Heart produced two top ten hits, “Never Had it So Good” and the Grammy-nominated “Quittin’ Time.” Her next album, Shooting Straight in the Dark, contained the top five hit “Down at the Twist and Shout,” which won her the first of five Grammy Awards won over four years. By the time Come On Come On hit shelves, she was a country radio staple and an awards show darling. She was named the 1992 and 1993 CMA Female Vocalist of the Year and the 1993 ACM Top Female Vocalist. She also won Grammys for two of this album’s top five singles – “I Feel Lucky” and “Passionate Kisses” – and the album was certified double platinum by the time its sixth single became her first No. 1 single.
The No. 1
“He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” was one of Chapin’s biggest hits, and the only country record to be nominated for the Record of the Year Grammy in the nineties without earning crossover airplay. So it may be surprising that it was the sixth single released from the album, but this was apparently because the label felt it was a risky record to release while “Family Values” were being hotly debated in the country.
Of course, once country radio listeners got to hear it, they loved it. And rightly so. Chapin may be an Ivy League-educated, urbane woman, but she’s tapping the same vein here that Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette did with their songs decades earlier. This is a full, uncompromising look at the maddening life of a neglected housewife, where “everything is so benign, spit and polish ’till it shines.”
What made it so very nineties when compared to those classic Lynn and Wynette records is our neglected housewife packs her husband’s bags and tells him to get out: “When she was 36, she met him at their door. She said, ‘I’m sorry. I don’t love you anymore.'”
For all the fist pumping the air that vignette inspired, it’s to her credit that she doesn’t sugarcoat what’s waiting on the other side for a woman who has been a housewife for fifteen years but is seen by the workforce as having no experience: “For fifteen years she had a job and not one raise in pay. Now she’s in the typing pool at minimum wage.”
When the chorus repeats, we’re left to wonder if she’s exchanged one benign, mind-numbing routine for another, until Chapin changes the last line of the chorus from “God forbid you change your mind” to “At least until you change your mind.”
She may be stuck in a minimum wage job, but she’s out of a loveless marriage and she has some autonomy for the first time in her life. It may not be the happy ending you’d see in a fairy tale, but a win is a win.
The Road From No. 1
Mary Chapin Carpenter had exactly three No. 1 singles, all consecutive, all classics, and all in 1994. She’ll be back soon.
“He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” gets an A.
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