“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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