Written by Matraca Berg and Gary Harrison
#1 (2 weeks)
November 23 – November 30, 1996
Deana Carter breaks through with one of the greatest country singles of all time.
The Road to No. 1
Deana Carter was born and raised in Nashville. Though she was the daughter of singer, songwriter, and producer Fred Carter Jr., Deana cut her own path into the music industry. She majored in rehabilitation therapy and found work in that field, though she performed music as a side hobby. Eventually, that hobby became her profession, and she caught the attention of Willie Nelson with her demo tape. He gave her a performance slot at Farm Aid in 1994. By 1995, she was signed to Capitol Records, and her debut album, Did I Shave My Legs For This?, was recorded. They chose an unconventional first single as her introduction to the country market.
The No. 1
At the time, Capitol explained that the competitive market meant “Strawberry Wine” had to be released first. A waltz reminiscing about losing your virginity on your grandfather’s farm was a bold choice, and it paid off, with the song rocketing to No. 1 and earning her the CMA Award for Single of the Year in 1997.
“Strawberry Wine” is a reminder of how wide open it was for women in country music, and the important role that was played by outstanding songwriters like Matraca Berg, who co-wrote three No. 1 singles for female artists in 1996 alone, including the first No. 1 hits for both Martina McBride and Deana Carter.
This song is flawlessly written, with powerful lyrical imagery (“The fields have grown over now, years since they’ve seen the plow”) and a line about aging that was so strong, Alan Jackson borrowed it for his own hit a few years later (“I still remember when thirty was old.”)
Carter’s performance builds slowly, allowing the storyline to unfold naturally and providing greater emotional impact when she cracks with emotion on the song’s bridge: “Is it really him or the loss of my innocence I’ve been missing so much? Yeah….”
The song was mildly controversial because of its frank depiction of intimacy, but only because it was delivered by a woman. Nobody had a problem when Garth lost his virginity as a teenager to a “lonely widowed woman” on “That Summer,” just like the critics who complained about the abusive husband being set on fire in “Independence Day” were a-ok with the cheating wife being run over with an eighteen wheeler in “Papa Loved Mama.”
I bring these examples up as a reminder that Deana Carter, Matraca Berg, and their fellow female singers and songwriters succeeded in spite of the patriarchal country music industry mindset. It didn’t just disappear for five years and then reassert itself the following decade. There was this brief window of opportunity that allowed fully realized women to express themselves with honesty and candor. In a few short years, that window would start closing, slamming for good in March 2003 when the Chicks were banished from the radio.
It makes something like “Strawberry Wine” seem all the more miraculous in retrospect. This would’ve been a masterpiece no matter when it was released, but this window of time was the only opportunity it had to be truly heard. Thank God it came along when it did.
The Road From No. 1
On its way to quintuple platinum sales, Did I Shave My Legs For This? produced three more big hits, including two more No. 1 singles. We’ll cover the second single from this album in early 1997.
“Strawberry Wine” gets an A.
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