“Single White Female”
Written by Carolyn Dawn Johnson and Shaye Smith
#1 (1 week)
September 18, 1999
A formidable talent earns her first No. 1 hit.
The Road to No. 1
Chely Wright was a hardcore country fan from an early age, and her musical talents were evident early on, as she mastered the piano and trumpet as a child. By her early teens, she had her own country band and was playing local shows around Kansas and Missouri. By her late teens, she was in Nashville, performing at Opryland and earning a publishing deal before eventually signing with Polygram Records. She released two albums for the label in the mid-nineties, but none of the singles reached the top forty.
Undaunted, Wright signed with MCA Records. Her third album, Let Me In, featured her breakthrough single, “Shut Up and Drive,” which went top fifteen. The next two singles, “Just Another Heartache” and “I Already Do,” went top forty. Wright’s next album, Single White Female, was previewed by its title track, and it became her first and only No. 1 single to date.
The No. 1
The plotline of “Single White Female” is slightly ridiculous.
The mere idea of trying to get the attention of someone on the morning commute by putting a personal ad in a local paper suggests the songwriters have never taken public transportation, where not making eye contact with strangers is an ironclad rule. But hey, these were the days before social media and dating apps, so you’ve got to appreciate the boldness, if nothing else.
The record only works because Chely Wright is a charismatic singer and she’s charming as hell here, making the listener feel like she took the ad out specifically for them. She was in full command of her talent by this point, and her performance here hints at the treasures that could be found on the rest of the album.
It’s disappointing that this wasn’t the beginning of a long string of records that went to No. 1, and is instead my only opportunity to write about Wright at all during this feature. Be sure to check out “The Love That We Lost” and “Shut Up and Drive” among her early singles, and “The Back of the Bottom Drawer” and “Jezebel” among her later efforts. Her independent albums from the 2010s are also essential listening.
The Road From No. 1
Single White Female went gold on the strength of the title track and its follow-up, the top fifteen “It Was.” Her final album for MCA, Never Love You Enough, produced two top thirty hits: the title track and “Jezebel.” Wright went top forty with her independent single, “The Back of the Bottom Drawer,” from her excellent Everything EP.
Wright came out as gay in 2010, alongside her powerful memoir and brilliant studio album, Lifted Off the Ground. Other strong releases from Wright in the year since: her 2016 studio album, I am the Rain, and her 2019 EP, Revival. Wright continues to record and perform, and is also now a well-known LGBTQ activist. Since she’s now NYC-based, I’m willing to bet she’s not making eye contact with strangers on public transportation anymore!
“Single White Female” gets a B.
Previous: Kenny Chesney, “You Had Me From Hello” |