“Who’s Cheatin’ Who”
Written by Jerry Hayes
#1 (1 week)
February 14, 1981
Charly McClain had been singing and performing from such a young age that she had the experience of a veteran when she was signed to Epic Records at the age of twenty. It took some time for Nashville to catch up with her, as she was saddled with middling material and her vitality as a singer took some time to show up on record.
But by the start of the eighties, she had a few top ten hits under her belt, and she finally had her big artistic and commercial breakthrough with “Who’s Cheatin’ Who.” We covered Alan Jackson’s version of this song in the nineties feature, so this take will sound familiar: the Charly McClain version is superior to the Alan Jackson one in every conceivable way.
This is an urgent, loose, dirty record, driven by a pulsating guitar and a nervy performance from McClain. It never comes up for air, with McClain not even resting for a beat between the chorus and the second verse, sounding like a woman who is spitting fire as she lays bare the ugly truths of her quite adulterous neighborhood. I love the way she tosses off the word “guitar” before the guitar solo, like she needs a sip of water before going back in for the kill.
This one’s an absolute classic, and it established McClain as a leading eighties lady who will be a steady presence on the charts throughout most of the decade. We’ll see her next with one of those “younger woman/older man” duet pairings that were so popular back in the day.
“Who’s Cheatin’ Who” gets an A.
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I love Charly and this song is one of her best! I feel like the wave of new female artist who got started around 1975 really effected her radio progress. You had Reba, Emmylou, Janie, Juice and Charly all debuting the same year. All but Emmy had a slow start but once they found their sound it was off. I feel like maybe Charly had problems finding that sound that worked for her and maybe that’s why she didn’t win any of the awards or have as many big hits as the others. Nonetheless, a great artist who was a big part of the early 80s country scene.
“… We covered Alan Jackson’s version of this song in the nineties feature, so this take will sound familiar: the Charly McClain version is superior to the Alan Jackson one in every conceivable way.”
You got that right !
Strangely enough, while her take on this song was terrific, I always preferred the sentimental side of Charly McClain and songs like “The Very Best is You” and “Sentimental Ol’ You”
I’m a fan of Charly’s – she, Janie Fricke and Lacy J Dalton were the first singers I started buying the music of on record in the 80s other than Olivia Newton-John and Juice Newton who I was into a little earlier (Juice mostly due to the music show Solid Gold, and that was also where I first saw Janie) and I love this song. I don’t hate Alan’s version but I completely agree that Charly’s is, was and always will be superior. I think my favourite songs of hers are “Sleepin’ With The Radio On”, “Fly Into Love”, “With Just One Look In Your Eyes” (a duet with her husband, Wayne Massey), and “Radio Heart” which is amazing but I do love this song. I believe the next time we see her is also a song I enjoy of hers.
This song is so loose, the lyrics more conversational than poetic. It chugs along with a delightful guitar heavy twang that makes it still stand apart sonically these many years later. It has retained all its infectious energy and quirky charm right down to the basement harmony singer. What a special performance.