Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Ricky Van Shelton, “Life Turned Her That Way”

“Life Turned Her That Way”

Ricky Van Shelton

Written by Harlan Howard

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

March 4, 1988


#1 (1 week)

March 19, 1988

“Life Turned Her That Way” was originally recorded by Little Jimmy Dickens in 1965 and was a hit for the first time by Mel Tillis in 1967.

And I don’t know what to say about this Ricky Van Shelton cover other than he wipes the floor with both of those recordings, delivering the definitive version of a haunting Harlan Howard ballad that deserved to be immortalized by a singer of Shelton’s caliber.

Ricky Van Shelton’s early albums were like those classic seventies sets from Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, where an old song would be revitalized and often performed better than it ever had been before. What’s so cool is that he found new material to record alongside those old standards and created a sound that worked just as well for country classics as it did for contemporary material.

Hard to mess things up too badly with that great a voice and such good taste in material.

“Life Turned Her That Way” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. One thing noteworthy about Shelton’s covers of older recordings is that not only was he able to improve on most of them, but he did so in a manner that respectful of the earlier recordings. On this song he indeed did it better than did Tillis or Dickens; however, on “Statue of a Fool” I prefer the Jack Green recording. I do wish that he had not retired from the music business

  2. I’m always struck by just how many songs I loved from the 80s were covers. I certainly never realized until much later in life that two of my favorite Willie songs (“Pancho and Lefty” and “The City of New Orleans”) were covers of widely circulated hits from a generation earlier. Certainly Willie brought the special sauce to make his the most iconic versions of both singles, and even though I haven’t heard Little Jimmy Dickens or Mel Tillis’ versions of “Life Turned Her That Way”, it’s really hard to imagine them being in the league of Ricky Van Shelton, one of the most underrated male vocalists of my lifetime. He brings the lyrics to life as only Ricky can.

    Grade: A-

  3. By 1988, country music felt like a river flowing in both directions.

    There was a a wonderful synchronicity between new artists like Van Shelton covering classic country records and the coming availability of those legendary performers on their own soon-to-be-released retrospectives and greatest hits cd collections.

    The thrill of being introduced to entire musical worlds as a fourteen year-old kid would soon be matched by musical libraries suddenly being opened up to me in the mid ’90s.

    Among others, I am thinking of the Rhino collections, Capitol’s “Vintage Collections” and RCA’s “Country Legends” series.

    Trust me, I had never hear Jack Green or Little Jimmy Dickens sing before hearing these Van Shelton versions of their hits. Shelton also covered lesser known Buck Owens and Roger Miller on his debut album.

    These collections would give voice to country music’s past which I had only largely experienced through print.

    How cool to be totally in love with Van Shelton as a singer. He was captivating. I legitimately had a crush on him and his voice. I had a poster of Rick Van Shelton hanging on my bedroom wall while enrolled at Hamline University in the early nineties.

    Being so infatuated with his sound and style drove me just as willingly into the past as it did the future as I simultaneously celebrated his rising star on the charts, excitedly looking forward to what came next as l learned about what came before.

    It is worth noting he also covered Foster & Lloyd and the Bodeans on his “Crime of Passion” album.

    I was rewarded and thrilled whichever way I turned.

    Ricky Van Shelton listened to cool music.

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