Written by Archie Jordan and Don Pfrimmer
Radio & Records
#1 (1 week)
March 20, 1981
#1 (1 week)
April 4, 1981
Sylvia Hutton started singing at the age of three, and like many aspiring country artists, she honed her skills at church. Moving to Music City just after her twentieth birthday, she took the industry route to her recording career, starting off as a secretary to producer Tom Collins. She auditioned for Dave & Sugar, but after she didn’t get the gig, RCA took advantage of that group’s missed opportunity and gave Sylvia a solo deal.
Choosing to go by her first name only, Sylvia scored two minor hits before breaking through with the top ten hit “Tumbleweed” in 1980, from her debut album, Drifter. Collins assumed production responsibilities for his former staffer, and wanting to distinguish her from Crystal Gayle, he created a sound that he called “prairie disco,” which fused disco beats with country instrumentation inspired by the soundtracks of wild west films.
This fusion resulted in her first No. 1 single. “Drifter” is a fascinating record full of sharp contrasts. The instrumental track could’ve been a hit in its own right, but Sylvia’s smooth pop vocal that builds to a lonesome country wail takes it to another level. The dramatic strings of a movie score climax coexist with a pure country steel hook, with Sylvia’s performance building a bridge between the two.
In an unconventional move, RCA followed “Drifter,” its album’s third single, with three more releases: the top ten hits “The Matador” and “Heart On the Mend,” and the top fifteen “Sweet Yesterday.” A couple of years before Cyndi Lauper became the first female pop artist to score four top ten hits from a debut album, Sylvia was the first to pull that trick off at country radio.
It set the stage perfectly for her sophomore set, which will launch with her chart-topping signature hit. We’ll get to that one in 1982. It’s a great record in its own right, but this one is her most intriguing and innovative No. 1 hit.
“Drifter” gets an A.
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