The title track of Reba McEntire's For My Broken Heart, which turns 30 in 2021, became a fan favorite and a chart-topping country song on the backs of McEntire's emotive vocal performance and co-writers Keith Palmer and Liz Hengber's lyrics that meticulously map out a relationship gone sour.
Per Hengber's recent appearance on Bored and Curious Podcast with Mary Katz, mounting frustrations after five years of being rejected in Nashville as a songwriter plus a particular sale at the mall almost kept her from sticking with the session that changed her professional fortunes.
"Here's the story, and it involves one of the greatest writers Nashville has ever known... and singers," Hengber said. "He's not alive anymore. He had a short life... Keith Palmer sang a demo for me, and when he was done, I said, 'You did great. You're a writer, too. Let's write sometime.' He said, 'Sure.' So we booked a date to write, and here's the true story of that. I was very nervous because it was a new writing appointment. I was going to cancel that appointment because I was so nervous and also Macy's was having the Clinique sale. I thought, 'Wow, if I go to Macy's now, I'll be the first to get that Clinique bag.' You know, where you have all the special stuff. I love that stuff. But something in me said, 'No Liz, show up. Keith seems like a nice guy.'
"I showed up for work and did not go get the Clinique bag," she continues. "If I had gone to get the Clinique bag, I would've deprived myself of really working with one of the best writers in town, Keith Palmer. I would've deprived myself of my first No. 1 song. I would've deprived myself of my first publishing deal. I was a nobody when I was writing 'For My Broken Heart.' I was a waitress who was obsessed with Clinique bags, but I went to that writing appointment and that writing appointment changed the course of my life."
The Hengber and McEntire professional connection became a gift that kept on giving for both parties, with McEntire finding future Top 5 success with Hengber co-writes "It's Your Call," "And Still" and "Forever Love."
Palmer passed away from cancer on June 13, 1996, just 10 days before his 39th birthday. He had a busy 1991, between the success of "For My Broken Heart" and the two minor hits ("Don't Throw Me in the Briarpatch" and "Forgotten but Not Gone") from his self-titled debut for Epic Records.
A split-second decision by a songwriter on the verge of moving back home to New York became the title track of a Top 5 country album: McEntire's first since a plane crash killed most of her touring band. The album also brought us memorable singles "Is There Life Out There," "The Greatest Man I Never Knew" and a cover of "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia."
For My Broken Heart Track Listing
1. "For My Broken Heart"
2. "Is There Life Out There"
4. "He's in Dallas"
5. "All Dressed Up (With Nowhere to Go)"
6. "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia"
7. "Buying Her Roses"
8. "The Greatest Man I Never Knew"
9. "I Wouldn't Go That Far"
10. "If I Had Only Known"