Each week for the next year, Wide Open Country is highlighting a country album that played a pivotal role in the genre. These records come from every corner and decade of the genre: from classic country, to the outlaw movement, to modern mainstream hitmakers and everything in between. But the one thing they have in common? They deserve a deeper listen, from front to back.
Week Three: Shania Twain, Come On Over
Only week three and we're already diving into pop country? You better believe it. But not just any pop country. The pop country. Shania Twain is responsible for generations upon generations of country fans. Her unforgettable sound took country music to the world stage.
Before Shania Twain, country music still largely felt like an American niche. After she released Come On Over in 1997, all of that changed.
Why Come On Over Is Important: Well, it's the best-selling country album of all time. It's also the best-selling album by a female artist. It spawned an insane 12 singles (seven No. 1's), won four Grammys and spent 50 weeks at the top of the chart. But beyond the numbers, the album accomplished some amazing feats. For one, Twain wrote every song on the record (alongside producer and husband Mutt Lange). In country music, that almost never happens.
Come On Over presented Twain a chance to explore the fringes of pop country first cultivated by artists like Dolly Parton. Thanks to the unexpected success of her second album, The Woman In Me, her label Mercury handed over just about all creative control to the pairing. Good call.
The album also presented one of the first (and most successful) forays into the "multiple version" craze. In 1998, the label remixed the record to give it more of a pop feel so they could release it internationally. Then they remixed it again in 1999 for the UK. And again for a special Australian and Asian version. The foresight to tailor versions of the record specific to global audiences (remember, this is before the prevalence of the Internet) helped establish Twain as a household name across the globe.
What To Listen For: Mutt Lange was (and still mostly is) a rock n' roll producer. By completely disregarding what a country record "sounds" like, Lange and Twain managed to create one of the most adventurous and sonically interesting albums in the genre.
There's a general joke that Nashville is years behind other genres when it comes to production. That's why country from the early 1990s sounds like pop and rock from the 1980s. But on Come On Over, mainstream country music finally created a unique sonic aesthetic way ahead of the curve. And keep in mind, some of these tracks, like "Still The One" and "Love Gets Me Every Time" would practically pass for classic country by today's standards.
Not to mention Twain gave millions of women everywhere a powerful role model. By taking a strong empowering stance on love and life, Twain flipped the patriarchy script of country with tunes like "Honey, I'm Home." And of course, her huge hits "That Don't Impress Me Much" and "Man! I Feel Like A Woman!" Some of the most clever writing on this record involves a bit of attitude and playing with gender norms. Shadows of Loretta Lynn, no doubt.
Final Take: At risk of sounding bold, country music would be decades behind the pack without Shania Twain. Without this record, you probably wouldn't have artists like Taylor Swift or Miranda Lambert. Never mind she did it all while enduring one of the hardest paths of any country star.
Come On Over presents a game-changing record for country music that infused millions upon millions of fans and dollars into the genre. The fact that it did so while also being sonically and lyrically adventurous is inspiring. Even the most ardent of outlaw country loyalists need to give this record the respect it deserves.