I thought ABBA was the last music to influence me. It was Elvis Presley, The Beatles and ABBA summing up everything. From nowhere, Shania Twain appeared on the Nashville scene. She was country with a difference. Her music was inspired. Its roots were in pop and rock.
Shania's real name is Eilleen Regina Edwards. She was born in Timmins, Ontario, Canada, on August 28, 1965. Timmins is 500 miles north of Toronto. Shania's parents divorced when she was two. She never knew her father. She shares her Nordic background and the estrangement from her father with Frida from ABBA. Shania's mother married an Ojibway Indian named Jerry Twain, and he helped raise Shania. The family struggled for necessities. Shania remembers the hunger growing up. She hunted rabbits and cut trees in the wilderness. From the age of 8, she played guitar and wrote songs. Her mother encouraged her. She would wake Shania from her sleep to perform in bars around Timmins after alcohol stopped being served. Shania learned to feel comfortable in front of an audience. Mary Bailey, a Canadian singer, took her under her wing. She became her manager. For a while, Shania honed her skills at an Ontario resort called Deerhurst. It was there that she was dubbed "Shania," meaning "on my way." A tragedy occurred when Shania was 21. Her mother and stepfather were hit head on by a logging truck and killed. It was hard work and sacrifice as Shania's siblings became her responsibility.
Finally, Mary and a Nashville music attorney engineered a deal with Mercury Records. Shania was signed by Mercury president Luke Lewis. Her first CD was run-of-the-mill. It was produced by long-time Music Row guy, Norro Wilson. Norro was old school, and it showed. The Nashville method was for a producer and his artist to collect songs from top publishers and to record them in one of a handful of studios using the same musicians who played for everybody. It was a stale system and the reason country music all sounded alike. There was nothing about Shania's first album to recommend it. It sold 50,000, not enough. Mercury was going to drop her from the label.
Enter Robert John "Mutt" Lange! Mutt was a rock producer from South Africa. He had connections. He had money. By chance, he saw one of Shania's videos on television in Europe. He saw and heard something no one else did. It was Shania's body, her movements, her grace. He heard the sweet sexuality in her voice. He made several attempts to reach her by phone and finally connected. Conversations began. Mutt wanted to produce Shania and wanted her to sing her own songs. That did it! Romance bloomed, and the couple married in December, 1993.
Work began on The Woman In Me. Mutt spent a million dollars, and they recorded in Nashville. There had never been a country album like this. It was country infused with a pop and rock spirit. Shania and Mutt co-wrote. Their songs were instant classics. Any Man Of Mine became Shania's signature. (If You're Not In It For Love) I'm Outta Here! and You Win My Love rocked! Country radio played Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under? reluctantly. It was risque stuff. So was Shania's belly button. She was sexy and not afraid to flaunt it. She was Elvis reborn as a woman.
Shania held off touring. She declined to open for established Nashville acts, which was the accepted way. Mutt Lange knew what he had. He wanted to build a catalog of songs that would fill a two-hour concert. Shania had superstar potential. Jon Landau was brought in to manage.
Mutt Lange is 16 years older than Shania. He remembered the golden era of rock and the great songs of Elvis, The Beatles and ABBA. He and Shania penned 16 gems for Come On Over in grand tradition. Come On Over was released in November, 1997. It went on to be the biggest selling album of all time by a female artist, selling 39 million copies. It dominated the airwaves through 1998 and 1999. Come On Over was #1 on the country album charts for over a year. This was unheard of. Single after single went number one: Love Gets Me Everytime, Don't Be Stupid, Honey I'm Home, That Don't Impress Me Much, Man! I Feel Like A Woman! Girls around the country sang Shania songs nightly in karaoke bars. 1998 was to Shania what 1956 was to Elvis.
When Shania did tour, she was ready. Her concert consisted of wall-to-wall hits. Her band reflected cultural diversity, fine musicians who deferred to her stardom. Shania played Nashville. She did the Nashville Arena in September, 1998. I was there with my son Michael. It was an orgy of music and energy. Shania was in her prime. She was carried aloft through the crowd as if she were Cleopatra. Fans reached, hoping to touch. It was Clinton's presidency at its hedonistic zenith.
Nashville was jealous of Shania's success. Ultimately, common sense prevailed, and the Country Music Association voted her Entertainer of the Year for 1999. It is their most prestigious award. She did it: books, magazines, endorsements. It was all here. The girl who killed rabbits to eat was wealthy beyond her wildest dreams. But her anonymity and privacy were gone. She and Mutt sold their property in upstate New York and moved to Switzerland. The economy sagged in April, 2000, and Shania disappeared from the scene. New songs had to be written.
Motherhood came next, and Shania and Mutt took time out from their fairytale careers to become parents. Their son Eja was born, August 12, 2001. Mutt had been married before but had no kids. He said he would never marry again. Shania gave him reason to.
The Chicago concert in July, 2003, kicked off another world tour. It was released on DVD. Up Close & Personal, taped in Nashville with Alison Krauss, simulated Elvis Presley's 1968 Comeback Special. Shania was making an effort with the powers in country music even while they rejected Up! Radio did not want to play it. There were no #1s from Up! Forever And For Always went to #4. The video accompanying Forever And For Always showed Shania on a beach. She was still beautiful. Motherhood had taken away nothing. Up! did one thing which Come On Over did not do. It reached #1 on the pop album charts.
Up! was a progression. Shania and Mutt had evolved musically. They did not stagnate or stay in one vein the way country artists tend to. There are good songs on Up! even if Nashville considered it too artsy: I'm Gonna Getcha Good, Nah! and Ka-Ching. C'est La Vie proved conclusively that Shania and Mutt descended from ABBA. Notes in the chorus of C'est La Vie are identical to notes in the chorus of Dancing Queen. Up! has a disco feel with its classical riffs. Politics changed drastically from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush as America was set on a conservative course by 9/11. Up! took the party to the 21st century. It sold 10 million, and Shania became the only female artist with three consecutive albums selling 10 million. On the strength of three records, she stood with Elvis, The Beatles and ABBA as The Big Four.
Shania's Greatest Hits used new songs as bait to re-sell the hits. Party For Two, the duet with Billy Currington, and Don't were supported by two excellent videos. Party For Two has Shania strutting down a street and talking to Billy on a cell phone. They meet, and Shania swings from a chandelier. My son said she acted 19. Don't is sombre. Shania rides a white horse through fields of yucca plants. Her outfit accents her bosom. Every man's dream! A third new song, I Ain't No Quitter, is rockabilly, straight from Elvis with girl lyrics.
Shania's catalog is thematic. Her lyrics are female. She is a consummate women's libber. She deals with the concerns of all women: men, looks, money, clothes, work, bosses, abuse, fun, hair, weight, food and cars. Shania is Everywoman. In one respect, she differs. She broke loose from the men her own age and married a father figure, a man who could elevate her career to the level she deserved.
It came out in 2008 that Shania caught Mutt in an affair with their housekeeper. A divorce is coming. Once more, Shania follows in the path of Elvis, The Beatles and ABBA.
An album is due late in the year. It remains to be seen whether Shania and Mutt will continue to work together. It also remains to be seen whether Shania can maintain the quality she has demonstrated to this point.
1 Eggar, Robin. Shania Twain: The Biography. Simon & Schuster, 2005
2 Gray, Scott. On Her Way: The Shania Twain Story. New York, Ballantine Books, 1998
3 Hager, Barbara. On Her Way: The Life and Music of Shania Twain. New York, Berkley Boulevard Books, 1998
4 McCall, Michael. Shania Twain: An Intimate Portrait of a Country Music Diva. New York, St. Martin's Griffin. 1999