“When You Walk in the Room”
Written by Jackie DeShannon
Radio & Records
#1 (1 week)
October 21, 1994
A crackling cover earns Pam Tillis her second No. 1 hit.
The Road to No. 1
After topping the charts with her debut Arista single, “Don’t Tell Me What to Do,” Tillis went top ten on both charts with “One of Those Things” and her signature song, “Maybe it Was Memphis.” Put Yourself in My Place went gold, and its title track also cracked the Radio & Records top ten. Her second Arista album, Homeward Looking Angel, would eventually go platinum, and it produced the top five hits “Shake the Sugar Tree” and “Let That Pony Run,” as well as the R&R top ten hits, “Cleopatra, Queen of Denial” and “Do You Know Where Your Man Is.”
Tillis launched her third Arista set, Sweetheart’s Dance, with the ballad “Spilled Perfume.” It went top five on both charts, and made Dance the fastest-selling album of her career so far, reaching gold status in six months. For the second single, Arista chose her cover of the Jackie DeShannon classic, “When You Walk in the Room.”
The No. 1
Tillis had more stateside success with “When You Walk in the Room” than any artist before her, despite the Searchers version being quite popular internationally. She managed to do it while tinkering with the song’s signature guitar hook, which was one of the catchiest melodies from the sixties in its original form.
She dropped two notes from it because it was clashing with Paul Franklin’s steel guitar.
Let that sink in for a moment: A country singer covering a pop song prioritized the steel guitar part over the legendary pop hook. It’s almost impossible to imagine that happening any time in the last twenty years, isn’t it?
Yet even without that awesome riff, this is easily the most memorable version of this song. Tillis was producing herself for the first time on this album, and it freed her as a vocalist. She gives an extraordinary performance that essentially disregards what all of her predecessors had done with the song’s melody, infusing it with the deep-hearted yearning that the lyric demands.
It crackles with energy and passion, bringing together the best elements of sixties garage band pop and nineties country in one perfect little record.
That Tillis has at least a half-dozen singles that are even better than this that didn’t go No. 1 is a conversation for another time (and an upcoming feature.) There are few No. 1 singles from this era from any artist that sounded this fresh back then, or still sound this fresh today.
The Road From No. 1
Tillis won the 1994 CMA Award for Female Vocalist of the Year while this was climbing up the chart, and that win gave it the boost it needed to reach the top. Up next is her third and final No. 1 hit, which was her only one to top both surveys. We’ll cover it in early 1995.
“When You Walk in the Room” gets an A.
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Tillis’ greatest hits can go toe to toe with pretty much any other country artist. So solid.
As someone who loves a lot of rock and pop from the 60’s, especially a lot of British rock and pop from that decade, I love both the Jackie DeShannon and Searchers versions of this song. However, Pam’s version is also my personal favorite, not only because it’s the first one I ever heard (which is surprising, since I actually listened to oldies stations in 1993 and 1994 before hearing Pam’s version in 1995), but also for many of the reasons you pointed out in the review.
I’ve always loved the steel guitar in the signature riff, and it was pretty cool to learn that Pam was willing to slightly change the original riff just so the steel could sound better. I also love the sound of the pounding drums after the first verse when she sings the first “Every time that you walk in the room.” The overall production has aged incredibly well, unlike many other upbeat songs from this same year, and it’s still just as fresh and exciting to hear today. I also love Tillis’ performance, and it perfectly captures both the excitement and nervousness that the narrator describes in the lyrics.
Also, I absolutely adore this song’s video, and I love that they made it a 60’s throwback, as well, complete with Dick Clark doing his American Bandstand intro. I love Pam’s hair and outfit here, too, especially the red dress. Finally the shots of Pam and her girlfriends having a sleepover and lip syncing to the performance in their hairbrushes are too cute! I specifically remember my step dad and I watching this video together one time when it came on GAC Classic in the early 00’s.
Besides this song, the other two singles from Sweethearts Dance I remember hearing regularly on the radio when I got back into country in the mid 90’s are “Spilled Perfume” and “In Between Dances.” I absolutely love the former song, and I consider it to be yet another one of her very fine vocal performances. However, “In Between Dances” is the one that really brings back a lot of great memories from when I was getting back into country in the Summer of 1995. :)
You’re going to love the upcoming Pam Tillis feature.
I love the Jackie DeShannon and Searchers versions as well, plus the ones from ABBA’s Agnetha, Karla Bonoff, and Paul Carrack. I’ve been collecting versions of this song for years.
It’s a shame the song wasn’t a big hit stateside until Pam recorded it. The Searchers version especially should be an oldies radio standard.
Pam did it the best, for sure.
In Between Dances also takes me back to summer 1995. I was getting ready to start 6th grade. I remember driving to the river on the back of my dads old Dodge to go swimming with this song playing. Its like a soundtrack for that moment in time for me. I love Pam too. I’ve met her twice, such a nice lady and awesome concerts. Cant wait for the Pam feature. I consider her and Patty the best of the best of the 90s ladys.
I get the sense there is a lot of love out there for Pam Tillis just waiting to be shared again!
I have always loved the restraint in Tillis’ vocals. She often threatens, or hints, at something bigger and dirtier while sweetly and seductively holding herself back. This dynamic creates a thrilling tension and sense of anticipation when listening to her sing.
As wonderful as this song is, her best performances did not top the charts. A feature will be an exciting opportunity to either be introduced to that material for the first time or to be reunited with it.