Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Juice Newton, “The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)”

“The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)”

Juice Newton

Written by Otha Young


#1 (1 week)

January 30, 1982

Juice Newton was an overnight success more than a decade in the making.

She hailed from New Jersey, and spent her teenage years in Virginia, before moving to California for college.  While there, she started playing local folk coffee houses, hooking up with guitarist and songwriter Otha Young and forming the band Juice Newton & Silver Spur.

The band toured California in the early seventies, eventually signing with RCA, where they released two albums.  The first included Young’s “The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known),” and while the album wasn’t particularly successful, Newton held on to the song.  Soon she was a solo artist on Capitol Records, where she had her first taste of success with “It’s a Heartache,” which she had a hit with in some international markets while Bonnie Tyler had a smash with it stateside.

Hooking up with Richard Landis, the producer who would later find big success with Lorrie Morgan, Newton perfected her signature sound which fit right at home across the country, AC, and pop radio formats.  Her breakthrough 1981 album Juice featured the million-selling singles “Angel of the Morning” and “Queen of Hearts,” which would bring her Pop and Country Grammy nominations in the same year.  She followed those hits with a revival of “The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known),” which became her first No. 1 country hit and her only single to go top ten on the country, AC, and pop charts.

She’d finally win a Grammy the next year with her take on Brenda Lee’s “Break it to Me Gently,” but this is the better of her two big ballad hits from her peak era.  Newton was nearing thirty when she recorded it again, and her growing maturity as a vocalist made a great fit for the lyric about two lovers finding each other after multiple failed relationships.  

It’s not as immediately catchy and memorable as “Angel of the Morning” or “Queen of Hearts,” but it lingers in the memory in a way that those slices of ear candy do not, tasty as they may be.

Despite Newton winning a Country Grammy for “Break it to Me Gently,” she would explicitly court the pop and rock markets with her next few projects, before returning to country wholeheartedly in 1985.  We’ll cover a pair of No. 1 hits when we get to that year.

“The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)” gets a B+

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. While I quite like the pop remix with the Oboe that most ppl know of this song I absolutely love the original steel version. I’m lucky enough to have one of the original pressings of the Juice vinyl that has the steel before they started adding the Oboe version. On my local country station I’ve only ever heard the remix and don’t know if country markets ever got the steel. Great song and great album. I give the steel version and A!

  2. I had never heard this song before. Juice Newton is an artist I completely missed. I knew “Queen of Hearts” and I thought she was just a one-(country)hit wonder. That’s the only hit the programmers of XM Prime Country know anyway. I did a quick Wikipedia search and I recognized none of her song titles except “Angel of the Morning”, and I was surprised to see that charted country. I always thought of it as 80s pop.

    I’ll have to give some of her recordings a listen some evening.

    • One reason why “Angel Of The Morning” is arguably Juice’s most recognizable song is that it had originally been a Top Ten pop hit in the fall of 1968 for Merrilee Rush. Saying that, however, I am not disparaging Juice’s version of it, which is very much a power ballad.

      “The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)” was itself very ubiquitous on all formats during the winter of 1981-82; and she kind of evinces the dual influences of Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris on that song–not that she was ever slavishly imitative of either one; but when you’re a female artist mixing pop, folk, rock, and country, it’s all but impossible to escape that influence.

  3. This is just one of my all time favourite songs. It’s a sweet, lovely ballad that never tips into syrupy insincerity and a lot of it is Juice’s voice and delivery.

  4. This is obviously, absolutely the wrong place to admit this, but as a kid I always confused Olivia Newton John with Juice Newton.

    Linger is exactly what this song does. There is a clarity and resonance to this song that not only has stayed with me but intensified over the years.

    Before this thread, I would never have connected Emmylou Harris to Linda Rondstadt to Juice Newton To Trisha Yearwood.

    But it’s all right there to hear. Amazing!

    • I assumed they were related when I was a young child. I remember my sister’s friends having Juice Newton and Olivia Newton-John tapes. Laura Branigan was popular, too. Then Madonna and Whitney Houston came along, and that was that.

      I was aware of Linda Ronstadt growing up because my mom had her Greatest Hits tape. Emmylou Harris was an unknown to me until the videos for Cowgirl’s Prayer aired on CMT in 1993.
      But I didn’t delve into the back catalogs of either of them until I learned of their impact on Trisha Yearwood especially, but also on Patty Loveless and Pam Tillis.

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