Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties: Anita Cochran with Steve Wariner, “What if I Said”

“What if I Said”

Anita Cochran with Steve Wariner

Written by Anita Cochran

Billboard

#1 (1 week)

February 28, 1998

Radio & Records

#1 (2 weeks)

February 13 – February 20, 1998

The decade’s first genuine one hit wonder.

The Road to No. 1

A native of Michigan, Anita Cochran was a prodigious talent, mastering several instruments during childhood.  She was particularly proficient with the guitar, and broke down barriers for female musicians as a band member and later as the manager of a recording studio.   Warner Bros. Nashville was quick to identify her talent, and signed her to a deal in 1997.  She soon recorded and released Back to You, an album dominated by Cochran’s own compositions and the first major label country album since Pam Tillis’ All of This Love to be self-produced by a female artist.  Even more impressively, Cochran was also among the album’s musicians.

Lead single “I Could Love a Man Like That” and its follow-up, “Daddy Can You See Me,” were minor chart hits.  The album’s third single, a duet with Steve Wariner, went all the way to No. 1 on both charts.

The No. 1

Wariner’s vocals complement Cochran’s quite well, and she chose a pure country arrangement for the track that supports the lyric’s yearning and lonesomeness.

Both parties are truly afraid of losing a valued friendship if they take the leap toward something more, and that fear of rejection and being left with nothing permeates throughout the record.

There’s a gender studies dissertation waiting to be written about how a self-produced and self-written country record by a female artist went all the way to No. 1, and the primary beneficiary was Steve Wariner, who received a (well-deserved) commercial renaissance, while Cochran was immediately sidelined by country radio, despite enthusiastic support for her among the Nashville community of musicians and performers.

Wariner’s great on “What if I Said,” but this is very much Anita Cochran’s record, and she should’ve had many more follow it toward the top of the charts.

The Road From No. 1

Back to You produced one additional minor chart hit, and despite one more album for Warner Bros. and several more singles, including an electronically engineered duet with the late Conway Twitty, Cochran never came close to the top forty after “What if I Said.”  She’s continued to record and perform, and a bout with cancer brought out her deep support among the Nashville music community, with artists like Terri Clark and Wynonna appearing at a fundraiser for her.

“What if I Said” gets a B+.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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3 Comments

  1. Given that Anita had all the boxes checked off for what many folks want in an artist in any field of American music (Country, in this case)–musician; writer; producer; talented in all three phases–the only thing I can conclude as to why she didn’t get much further than she did her is that her gender stood out.

    By the way, I’m not saying that this was fair to Anita by any means–quite the contrary. I think the “guys” in the corporate boardrooms in Nashville just couldn’t handle someone with as much on the ball as Anita, and, even if they didn’t want to say the quiet part out loud, were just starting to be done with this large influx of female artists on the country charts as the 1990’s wound down.

  2. Such a stunningly gorgeous song! This is personally one of my favorite duets of the decade, and again, it’s one I’ve loved ever since it was always on the radio and GAC in late 1997/early 1998. That opening piano in the intro alone still has the power to take me right back to that time and to Fair Oaks Mall. :)

    As we’ve seen countless times already in this feature, the 90’s was clearly when country music was still for adults for the most part, and this was one more great example. Again, I really miss songs like this that dealt with real life feelings and tricky situations. This has always been one of my favorite songs about two longtime best friends falling in love with each other, and for me back in late 1997 and early 1998, I found the concept to be intriguing and original, especially since the two characters were each already in an unhappy relationship with other people. I’ve always absolutely loved the song’s beautiful melody and arrangement, as well, and it’s all the more impressive that Anita wrote it by herself AND co-produced the record. Both Anita and Steve also each turn in excellent performances that perfectly convey the hope, wonder, fear, and nervousness that both characters are feeling. And man, did their voices blend so well! I still get chills when they start belting out the song’s climactic bridge and when they come together again right after we’re treated to a gorgeous steel guitar solo from Paul Franklin. Even the last “Ooh, what if I said..” at the end is so beautiful with Anita’s lead vocal and Steve’s harmonies.

    The first few times I heard “What If I Said” was when I started seeing the video quite often on GAC in late 1997. I remember the song’s beautiful melody, especially the chorus, getting stuck in my head after having seen it a good handful of times. Not only did I notice Anita Cochran as a new artist I’d never of heard until then, but I also thought it was pretty neat to suddenly be hearing/seeing Steve Wariner again after not having heard from him since my early childhood in the early 90’s. I also remember seeing the video on more than one of the nights just before my step dad and I would play a game together downstairs, which I came up with myself and involved my early childhood button collection. I would usually beat him at it, and as one of my signature victory moves, I’d always let out this high pitched, witch like giggle (“Hee Hee Hee Hee!”), and he’d always playfully mock it right back at me, lol.

    “What If I Said” is also another song I’d hear regularly on Chris Charles’ Weekly Country Countdown show in early 1998. It was already in the top ten when I’d hear it every Saturday night in my bedroom on my clock radio before I went to sleep. It was at this time that I really noticed that Anita Cochran sounded a lot like Wynonna at times, especially when she sang the opening line, “We’ve been friends for a long, long time…” I’d also start trying to imitate her voice and sing along to her parts whenever it came on, lol. I do remember hearing the two countdown shows when Anita and Steve were number one (on R&R), and believe it or not, I actually have the show in which it was on it’s second week at the top! Not only do I remember “What If I Said” being number one, but I also remember listening to the earlier part of this show when Dad and I had just left the Red Robin and were on the way home, with feature artist Trisha’s Yearwood’s “Wrong Side of Memphis” playing just as we got out of the parking lot (which Dad exclaimed he had not heard in a long time). I also remember us hearing both Diamond Rio’s “Imagine That” and Lorrie Morgan’s “One Of Those Nights Tonight” falling down several slots closer to the bottom of the countdown as they were exiting the charts.

    Finally, “What If I Said” is also another one of the songs that really takes me back to when we regularly went to the more upscale and classy Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax, VA every Sunday around this time period. It’s one of the songs that often got stuck in my head while walking around the mall, and I specifically remember it going through my head one time while hanging around the end of the mall where Hecht’s (now Macy’s) was and where those huge orange squiggly line sculptures are still today. It’s another song that still always came to mind whenever my parents and I went back to that mall as recent as the mid-late 2010’s, and both this song and “One Of Those Days” from the same album were ones I always loved hearing on my ipod while walking and shopping around there. :)

    I totally agree with you that Anita Cochran deserved much more radio success than just this song. I was actually just listening to her debut album, Back To You, earlier, and I’d almost forgotten just how good it really is! It’s truly impressive how involved she was in its creation. While the uptempo songs show her guitar skills the most, it’s actually the ballads that are my most favorite cuts from her. Besides “What If I Said,” my other favorites on it are: “One Of Those Days” (which I really think would’ve made a great single), “Will You Be Here,” “She Wants To Ride,” “Wrong Side Of Town,” and the title track. “Daddy Can You See Me” is also such a beautiful tearjerker, and it should’ve done a lot better! Coincidentally, I got my used CD copy of the album at Fair Oaks Mall around the mid 00’s, and it still has a blue sticker on the back of it from the defunct music store, The Wall, which used to be in that mall.

    I also love the follow up album, 1999’s Anita. My favorites on that one are “You With Me,” “Every Time It Rains,” “For Crying Out Loud,” “That’s Not What I Said,” ‘Last Kiss,” “Thanks For Reading My Mind,” and “Living My Life Now” (co-written with Holly Dunn).

    Also, I always thought it was pretty fitting that it was the late 90’s that Steve Wariner made a comeback, since not only was a good amount of traditional country still being played, but the more smooth and sophisticated pop country style that he was usually known for in the 80’s was making a comeback, as well.

    Sigh…I still can’t help but shake my head and wonder just how quickly the genre went from producing beautiful, mature stuff like this to what it ended up becoming nearly a decade later.

  3. I remember thinking this sung was dull and lifeless when it was a radio single. I was ready to throw dirt on it until I actually listened to it again for the first time in years. Hearing what it has to say as an adult, I was impressed by its thematic maturity and how great Cochran and Wariner sound singing together. They both project strength, doubt, and vulnerability. I am happy to have rediscovered this single!

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