Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Reba McEntire, “Whoever’s in New England”

“Whoever’s in New England”

Reba McEntire

Written by Kendal Franceschi and Quentin Powers


#1 (1 week)

May 31, 1986

She’d get so wildly popular with time that it would be dropped from. her set list for several years, but “Whoever’s in New England” remains one of the most impactful records of Reba McEntire’s career.

Reba was already the reigning Female Vocalist of the Year for two years running at both industry award shows when “New England” topped the singles chart, but despite her increasing popularity on the radio and in the industry, her album sales were stuck in the 200,000 range.  That changed when McEntire found the perfect song to fully present her theatrical talents: a Nashville Sound-flavored power ballad about a woman who suspects her husband is cheating on her when he goes on business trips.

McEntire’s own interpretation of the lyric is that the woman is lonely and has an overactive imagination, which plays well into her performance, where she pulls off one of her signature musical tricks for the first time, pairing her Oklahoma twang with a pure pop melody.  That whole new traditionalist thing kept her attention for a couple of albums, but McEntire was too creatively restless to limit herself to a style that would ultimately be claimed by younger artists on the horizon anyway.

“New England” also was the first single of hers to include a music video, and it was a perfect fit for the cinematic scale of the record and budding acting skills of the artist.  But the reason the clip worked so well is that it remained in service to the song, just like the record did.

When debating McEntire’s artistic peak, I come down pretty hard on the side of the early nineties over the mid-eighties, but the reason that the earlier era is in contention is because of highwater marks like this one.

“Whoever’s in New England” gets an A .

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. I’m not a big Reba fan but I love this song. Her first single produced by Jimmy Bowen, McEntire shines on this well-written song. It’s interesting that Reba thought the affair was all in the woman’s imagination. It leaves the listener not knowing what was really happening.

    I think I read where Reba was sick or had a cold and wasn’t sure if she could hit that last note. Not only was she able to, but it made the song for me. That last note is everything.

  2. Very good song from Reba. I would give it a B+. A very good song, but like so many Reba songs it just never comes to mind when thinking of the greatest songs of all time. I know it’s controversial to say but Reba is the BEST singer to have never found any iconic songs outside of remakes.

  3. This song certainly had an impact on me in 1986.

    It anchored in the bone and felt more like “my” Reba song more than any of her earlier hits in the decade. I suspect this feeling had more to do with my age than anything else. I was entering my teens and musical identity figured heavily into that journey.

    I recall purchasing this album on cassette as part of the 12 albums for a penny CBS/Columbia House record and tape club. It was among the first cassettes I recall purchasing. Before that, I had been buying 8-tracks and vinyl records of the Oak Ridge Boys, Willie Nelson, and George Jones, so there was also the newness of the technology associated with my connection to this hit from an emerging star younger than some of current radio stars, but not as young as they would soon become.

    The song itself is a vulnerable and fragile performance that borrows emotionally from that older generation of female singers. Reba McEntire was not yet fully Reba in terms of agency, confidence, and strength.

    She nails the performance, regardless. There was something just special about a country song describing New England winters and cold, Massachusetts and Boston.

    Not sure it is significant of anything, but in my mind this song feels like it is on the leading edge of something new, what is to come in country music, as opposed to the tail edge of what was happening on the radio at the time.

    Whereas Reba felt the chill of New England’s icy winter winds, I like to think this song marked the first prickles I felt on my skin as the winds of change began to blow out of Nashville.

  4. I’m in the 90s Reba camp as well. I think this song is the first time she was allowed to let loose and stretch vocally, but she was still finding her niche. She would turn in stronger performances in the next 10 years – “You Lie”, And Still”, “The Fear of Being Alone” but “New England” was the forerunner of Reba at her peak. (And it doesn’t get much better than peak Reba.)

    I always thought the music video – as great as it was – got too much credit for this being her first career record. I get that it broadened her audience and put a face to the voice, but it’s that voice that makes this record so special. I think the credit here really goes to Reba’s incredible singing coupled with Jimmy Bowen’s sophisticated (co)-production.

  5. I would give this a B+. I know many will disagree, but I have always said Reba is the best singer that never had an iconic hit (besides a remake). A good song but not one that most would think of when asked what the best country songs of all time are.

  6. I really love this song, it’s top five Reba for me (of course top five for Reba is many more than five in number). The lyrics are beautiful and I love the video – I’ve been watching a few of Reba’s on Youtube recently and they have all been wonderful. One thing I was surprised to learn – long after I’d heard both songs – is that it is actually a response/answer song, to “Weekend In New England” by Barry Manilow and yet both songs stand fully on their own and are wonderful. A great breakthrough for Reba.

  7. Recalling what a big song this was for Reba in 1986 and all of the radio airplay it received, I’m a bit surprised to learn it lasted only a week in the top spot on the Billboard chart. I’m even more surprised that the song apparently never reached the top of the Radio & Records chart.

    I had the pleasure of seeing Reba perform this song live in concert in 1987. While a highlight of the evening, I remember the performance that surpassed it was an acapella version of Patsy Cline’s “Sweet Dreams,” which completely wowed the Dallas crowd.

    Piggybacking on Joanne’s comments, I note that Barry Manilow’s “Weekend in New England” is just one of TWO famous songs linked to Reba’s #1 hit. The other is Sugarland’s “Stay,” purportedly crafted/inspired from the perspective of the mistress in this New England relationship.

    • What I found interesting is that the two answer songs are in a different genre to the original “Weekend In New England”. I wonder if that’s part of why the songs can stand alone?

  8. The start of Rebas amazing run of top notch music videos. Did anyone else in country music quite capitalize on the music video format like Reba. Her music videos have as much to do with her success as song choice. This song is hands down an A. That high note at the end perfection

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