“A Lesson in Leavin'”
Written by Randy Goodrum and Brent Maher
#1 (1 week)
April 26, 1980
Dottie West was already a legend when she hooked up with Kenny Rogers in the seventies for a series of duets. She’d won the first ever Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance, winning for her first top ten hit, 1964’s “Here Comes My Baby.” She established herself as a country heartbreak queen, wearing demure clothing as she sang hits like “Would You Hold it Against Me” and “Paper Mansions.” She was a pivotal player at the Grand Ole Opry, and prior to hooking up with Rogers, she was best known for her hit “Country Sunshine,” which was famously used in a Coca-Cola Commercial.
Her radio support was always sporadic, but she became a major star in the late seventies, scoring her career first No. 1 singles with two Rogers duets. Her solo career was also reaccelerating. Her 1978 single “Come See Me and Come Lonely” was her highest charting solo effort since 1974, and she went top fifteen for the first time in five years with ‘You Pick Me Up (and Put Me Down)” in 1979, the lead single from Special Delivery.
The second single from that album was “A Lesson in Leavin’,” and it became her first solo No. 1 hit. Jo Dee Messina’s hit cover has been so pervasive that West’s original feels revelatory, even though I’d heard it many times before. There isn’t a single sign of the old country heartbreak queen here. She’s firm, dismissive, and fully in control of her emotions as she shows this louse the door. The arrangement is tight, with a killer bass and percussion tracks backing up her no-nonsense performance.
Female artists are often derided when they adapt a sexier image when they get older, but West’s sheer confidence on “Leavin'” suggests that it was the prairie dresses and beehive hairdos that made her uncomfortable and she was now being her fully realized self. Even though she had singles stretching back to the early sixties, “A Lesson in Leavin'” feels like the first No. 1 hit from a true eighties lady, foreshadowing the wave of cool, confident, and independent women that were waiting in the wings.
Seriously, if you haven’t heard this record in a long time, play it again. It’s far more interesting than you remember and Messina’s version is not a carbon copy of it. We’ll see West again early next year.
“A Lesson in Leavin'” gets an A.
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