Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Rosanne Cash, “Never Be You”

“Never Be You”

Rosanne Cash

Written by Tom Petty and Benmont Tench


#1 (1 week)

January 25, 1986

Rosanne Cash first recorded “Never Be You” for the film Streets of Fire.  For whatever reason, the producers decided not to use her version, and Maria McKee’s take on the song appeared on the soundtrack instead.

When putting together material for Rhythm & Romance, Cash revived the number, hewing closely to the McKee recording, which itself hewed closely to Cash’s original take, which was later released on The Very Best of Rosanne Cash.

The best version is the Rhythm & Romance version.  Cash’s fiery vocal pairs well with the rock guitars and pop sweeteners. Her restraint in the verses contrasts perfectly with the intensity of the pseudo-chorus, as she wails, “I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”

It’s one of her catchiest, hookiest records, and it still sounds fresh today.

We won’t see Cash again for a bit, but when she returns, she’ll rattle off six consecutive No. 1 singles to close out the decade.

“Never Be You” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. While I don’t hold R&R album as highly as other’s in Rosanne’s catalog, I absolutely love all the singles from it. They all fall in the “The are not country in the slightest but I don’t care it’s so good” category. It’s weird that once’s the 90’s came Rosanne disappeared from Radio, which is a shame because she had some fantastic songs that were sent to radio that were in similar vein from the stuff she sent to radio in the 80’s. I’m assuming that because neo-traditional was hot at the time that radio didn’t have room for Rosanne’s very poppy songs despite how great the songs were.

    • There’s an old saying that “Music is either good or bad, and you judge it on that basis”; and those who said of Rosanne that to them it was good music were right to feel that way. Of course Rosanne knew whereof she spoke and sang about, given who her father was.

      In terms of Maria McKee, who modeled her recording off of Rosanne’s original demo–well, in my humble opinion, she is among the most underrated female singers of the last half century, having been the front woman for the mid-1980’s cult “cowpunk” band Lone Justice. It never hurts to discover, or even re-discover, artists one might have forgotten or never considered before.

      • I was going off wiki and assumed she did. It wasn’t like her sound was all that country to begin with so I’m surprised she would stop. Some songs in my opinion would have worked on the radio “Sleeping in Paris” and “On the Surface” would have sounded great.

        • They tried with “On the Surface.” It was her last solo single to chart country. Stopped at number 69.

          I wish she had utilized CMT more in the 90s. That’s how I discovered the stuff being put out by Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Emmylou Harris that was being ignored by country radio.

  2. I love reading all these comments and conversations because only recently have I listened to Cash’s early albums on vinyl. Before that, I only began purchasing her albums as of 2006’s “Black Cadillac.”

    It is worth repeating that all her ’80s’ singles existed in their own universe of cool to me as a young radio listener.

    This hit is just another excellent example of that.

    It’s as if she were Nashville’s own rock star.

    The cry of “ageism” from the established stars of the ’80s certainly is gaining traction with me as we review the quality of their music that was topping the charts only to watch them disappear entirely from the charts when the decade turned.

    A businessman could pick up Kevin’s comment about Steve Wariner’s career in which he topped the charts more regularly in the ’80s but sold more albums in the ’90s.

    Follow the dollars.

    • I agree with the ageism criticism overall, but I wouldn’t apply it to Rosanne Cash. She made a deliberate choice to move away from country and into folk rock. She wasn’t interested in being on country radio in the nineties.

  3. In his 2009 book “Always Been There: Rosanne Cash, The List, and The Spirit of Southern Music” Michael Streissguth quotes Cash as saying, “It isn’t a natural relationship [the art of music and the commercial marketing of that art] … And I do have sympathy for their [the country music industry] side of it. From their side, I had just had four number-one records, right? I was starting to build an empire for them and then I deliver them something that is the antithesis of what they want. So I get it.”

    That something was her 1990 album “Interiors” which followed 1987’s “King’s Record Shop.”

    We need to get to the singles from that latter album to further explore Cash’s relationship with, and perception of, the country music industry at the time.

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