Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Rosanne Cash, “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me”

“I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me”

Rosanne Cash

Written by Rosanne Cash and Rodney Crowell


#1 (1 week)

September 7, 1985

I will never get tired of telling this story.

Rosanne Cash was nominated for a Grammy for “Ain’t No Money.”  She lost to Juice Newton, who also beat out Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Sylvia with her cover of “Break it to Me Gently.”

Driving home from the ceremony, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, Cash started a self-deprecating song about having bought a new dress and new shoes for the occasion, and lamenting, “I don’t know why you don’t want me.”

Working with Rodney Crowell, she expanded the idea into a surprisingly potent expression of longing, given its original award show inspiration.  Her label made a game attempt to push her in a pop direction with this single, and it did get some top 40 airplay.  But her songwriting was becoming increasingly mature and sophisticated as pop was going in the other direction.  Despite the pop-flavored production, the heartache helps ground this as a killer country song, with Vince Gill’s background vocals doing some of the heavy lifting.

This is one of four excellent singles from Rhythm & Romance, Cash’s 1985 album that is unfairly maligned by many, including Cash herself.  She recorded it after rehab, and it’s her first album to be dominated by songs that she wrote herself.  It has the best song she ever wrote about her father (“My Old Man”) and a harrowing comparison between getting clean and getting a handle on a toxic relationship (“Halfway House.”)

We’ve got another No. 1 single from the album coming up soon, written by the most surprising superstar outside the genre to show up here as a songwriter since Donna Summer a few years back.

Go listen to the whole album, please.  This is only one of its many high points.

“I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me” gets an A.  

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. I was surprised by her own take on this album in her book. I think King’s Record Shop is her best album too, but I don’t hear the hiccups or “navel-gazing songs” that she (and others) describe on this album. “Never Be You” is pretty awesome, but I was always more a fan of “Second to No One.” It’s right there with the best songs she ever recorded. Lots of good stuff here, even if the production is less than organic. The songwriting is up to the task of lifting above the 80s synth.

  2. I used to turn this one up big time when driving in my car. It’s definitely her greatest hook in any of her songs.

    To me, this album proved that Seven Year Ache wasn’t a fluke. I’m not saying her output in between wasn’t good. But not of the same high quality.

    This album – and in particular – this song made me a diehard fan of Cash. And her next #1 was even better.

  3. This is probably my favorite Rosanne album and I much prefer more traditional country, but as you said the songs are so good! I too find Second to No One my favorite song and wonder how it charted so hight with ” I Can’t Live Like A Whore” in it. It’s a shame Rosanne never won cma female vocalist. Just proof that unlike the Miranda years there was just too much talent for all the great vocalist to win.

  4. This song exits in it’s own universe of cool.

    I felt that way about all her singles prior to “King’s Record Shop.”

    The stacked harmonies, Vince Gill, and the songwriting strut their stuff here with such singular confidence despite the heartache and vulnerability of the lyrics.

    Nobody sounded like Roseanne Cash on country radio in the ’80s.

    She was a trailblazer.

  5. And, maybe not ironically, she won her first Grammy for this, a song she wrote about why she thought the Grammys “didn’t want her”. Jockeys with Runaway Train as my all-time favorite Rosanne song.

      • Yes, the quality control with her was always at a pretty high level, but I think with Rhythm and Romance (I hate that she’s not a fan of it because it’s probably my favorite album of hers) and King’s Record Shop she really took it even further.

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