Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Reba McEntire, “The Last One to Know”

“The Last One to Know”

Reba McEntire

Written by Matraca Berg and Jane Mariash

Radio & Records

#1 (2 weeks)

November 6 – November 13, 1987


#1 (1 week)

December 12, 1987

With “The Last One to Know,” we enter Reba McEntire’s forgotten era of hits.

This period encompasses the nine singles pulled from her final three studio albums with Jimmy Bowen as co-producer: The Last One to KnowReba, and Sweet Sixteen. Five of those singles went to No. 1, but they are mostly forgotten today. They were first overshadowed by the megahits featured on her first Greatest Hits collection for MCA, and then they went completely down the memory hole when Reba’s superstar nineties era kicked off with eight classic singles.

Of the five No. 1 singles, this is one of the best, exceeded only by a truly brilliant ballad from the Reba album. Most of the credit for what works here can be attributed to two women: Reba at the mic, and songwriter Matraca Berg, who has grown prodigiously as a writer since we last saw her with “Faking Love.”  But even a standout vocal from Reba can’t quite overcome the blandness of the production, which cries out for the twang that started to fade from Reba’s work at this time.

Still, among her late eighties work, this is a highlight. Her next chart topper is a Lee Greenwood cover, so enjoy this one while you can.

And also enjoy this fun fact: McEntire had to re-record this song because she changed “Oh, why is the last one to know” to “The wife is the last one to know.” Find that take in the vault, MCA!

“The Last One to Know” gets a B+,

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. Interesting that first single of Reba’s “forgotten era” still sounds more familiar to me than “What Am I Gonna Do About You?” from earlier this year, a song I don’t recall hearing since the 80s. I was spoiled by growing up listening to a radio station that gave recurrent airplay to about three-quarters of the big hits from the 80s for a good 15 years into the Hot New Country era, and helped keep songs like this on my radar when I revisit them for this feature. As for “The Last One To Know”, it’s a serviceable if unremarkable Reba ballad, well-written enough and well-sung enough but lacking any sort of sonic punch in the production. Not much else to say about this one other than I don’t felt she successfully rode the momentum of her previous #1, which I liked much better.

    Grade: B-

  2. I disagree about this song being a forgotten Reba song. While there are a few the next couple years this is not one. The Last One To Know still gets airplay on our classic country station here in Virginia regularly. This is up there with her mid 80s hits that brought her to the forefront. I also don’t find it bland. Some songs just don’t require as much twang, for a balad it hits just right for my taste. A+

  3. …autumn 1987 was the first time that i revisited the usa after 1980 for a longer spell. at the end of it, in new york, i bought a portable cd-player and took home my first three country cds: randy travis’ “storms of life”, reba’s “the last one to know” and highway 101’s selftitled one. this on the back of hits that had been following me from coast to coast and in between over weeks: “on the other hand”, “the last one to know” and “somewhere tonight”. “the last one to know” is still one of my favorite reba songs of all time. it was my first contact with all of these artists and each of them impressed me quite a bit. until this day, i still feel that they did marvelous vocal jobs on these songs. forget about the arguable quality of the lyrics for a moment – just imagine hearing the opening lines of “the last one to know” for the first time. earthshakingly beautiful. perhaps emmylou harris’ hairstylist and another frock would have lead to a different outcome of the story, one is inclined to think looking at reba at that time. then again, we might never have heard this gorgeous lament of hers in such plausible fashion.

  4. I had my “Come-to-Jesus” moment with Reba during the nineties feature. I developed a totally newfound comprehension and recognition of her talent and significance.

    This sense of awe continues with this hit as her vocals are rightfully front and centre.

    This one has stayed anchored in the bone for me since I first heard it almost forty years ago.

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