This may surprise some of you, but I don’t think I’d be a country music fan without Shania Twain.
And the thing is, I don’t know if my mother would have been, either – a rocker who gravitated toward country in the ‘90s thanks to artists like her and Garth Brooks giving the genre a deserved commercial boom like no other … and one that will never be replicated. My earliest memories of anything country music-related come from watching Twain’s music videos and, at the age of three, forgoing whatever she was singing about and happily dancing along for the heck of it.
Of course, her influence goes beyond that, and unlike Brooks – who history has seemed to vindicate for whatever role he might have had in country music’s “death” or some other malarkey like that – Twain’s stature now feels largely … forgotten. Maybe it’s because her 2010s comeback somehow backfired even worse than Brooks’, or maybe it’s because she debuted later on in the ‘90s and doesn’t have the largest body of work to run back through. But there’s no denying her legacy. And you know, even “forgotten” somehow doesn’t feel like the right way to phrase it so much as … underrated, and I mean in terms of her artistry.
Because if there’s a point in time where I came to really respect her as a writer and performer and what she had to say beyond deliriously catchy bops, it was when I researched her for my country music book project earlier this year (which, in part, is also what inspired Fifteen Favorites). This was an artist who blended style with substance and was arguably at the front of the pack when it came to the numerous country women of the decade speaking truth to power. And while there isn’t much to add beyond all of that, I think it’s time to give her proper credit and run down some of my favorite tunes of hers.
OK, one last thing before we begin. Like with the Dwight Yoakam edition, Twain has the sort of uniform quality to her work that’s mostly great – especially when discussing the run between The Woman in Me to Up! and stopping the conversation right there to forget that Now ever happened- but also doesn’t leave me a lot of room to highlight many individual differences between her songs. Most of them can be described as being incredibly optimistic and infectious while being stacked to the brim with excellent melodies and hooks, all from the perspective of a woman always in charge. So don’t be surprised if my descriptions for these songs are shorter than usual, especially when my top picks from her are incredibly interchangeable and simply boil down to nailing the same elements as her other work … just in ways that click more for me personally. OK, that’s it. I promise.
All songs written by Shania Twain and Robert John Lange unless otherwise noted.
No. 15, “Forever and For Always”
Generally speaking, I prefer Shania Twain’s uptempo material to her ballads, but “Forever and For Always” has always been a late-career exception. And I think the main difference for why this clicks for me in ways that “From This Moment On” and “You’re Still the One” don’t simply boils down to its timing and the experience she gained as an emotive performer compared to her earlier material. She doesn’t oversell this like she does those songs. Actually, as far as love ballads go, this is sold with a lot of believable earnestness rather than sickly sweetness, and coupled with a great melody – get used to hearing that, by the way – this has always gone down just fine for me.
No. 14, “If You’re Not In It For Love (I’m Outta Here)”
Unlike other relationship tracks in her discography, this is about a hookup that hasn’t yet happened … but only will if this other party understands that he can’t just take advantage of Twain to get what he wants, which, sadly, was all too eerily prophetic for where country music male artists would trend in the 2010s. It’s the sort of songwriting that’s always been progressive for women in the country music genre by demanding their deserved equal level playing field that’s all backed up by one of her best electric guitar grooves riding off of those occasional blasts of harmonica and dobro.
No. 13, “Home Ain’t Where His Heart Is (Anymore)”
Here’s one of the few selections on this list that isn’t immediately recognizable, mostly because it was a very minor hit that doesn’t ever seem to get brought up in conversations like these. In some ways, I get it. This isn’t the flashy hit single that’s all fun and games. Twain’s charisma is still present, but it’s tested in a different way as she wanders through the deterioration of her marriage with a surprising amount of potency and regret over the inevitable end to come. No happy ending or resolution, just an honest portrayal of a relatable circumstance.
No. 12, “Don’t Be Stupid (You Know I Love You)”
This is another track I actually love mostly for the songwriting rather than its awkward chorus, which finds Twain brushing off her significant other’s concerns that she’ll cheat or leave simply because she’s desirable and knows it because … she loves them, and that transcends everything else. It’s the sort of deceptively simple sentiment that makes sense but is also oddly progressive in its framing. The odd comparison point I want to make is to James McMurtry’s “She Loves Me,” and yeah, I just went there.
No. 11, “Any Man of Mine”
It’s undoubtedly her signature song, and while I think she pretty much remade this song even better through tracks that will appear later, it’s hard to deny what a powerhouse statement this song carried, especially coming off of a debut album that’s lacking in true standout moments and singles. But between the song’s pure muscle and stomp in its presentation and its pure respect shown toward its audience, it’s a classic that’s rightfully earned its place in the history books. And for as much as people bemoan how tracks like this ruined the genre, appreciate the fact that this would be way too country to play on modern mainstream country radio, and that if most generic country bros had even an ounce of Twain’s charisma or self-respect, it wouldn’t be as much of a problem anyway.
No. 10, “Still Under the Weather” (written by Skip Ewing, L.E. White, and Michael White)
Of course, if we do circle back to that self-titled debut album, there is one genuine moment of greatness within it, and it comes courtesy of this track, which is the closest that Twain has ever come to classic country balladeer territory and proves she could have handled it excellently if she wanted to throughout her career – even though we would have missed a uniquely explosive presence along the way. Even still, the hallmarks of what would characterize her greatest strengths are all evident here, from framing that can paint a bad situation of heartache into a hopeful journey of redemption, to another great hook where the strength this time around shines through in its lyrical sentiment rather than any level of catchiness. There aren’t many deep cuts here – mostly because Twain essentially released every song under the sun from her albums as singles – but this is absolutely one worth seeking out.
No. 9, “That Don’t Impress Me Much”
The memeable version of “If You’re Not In It For Love,” and is that really such a bad thing? Unlike the guy from that song – who is an obvious sleazeball looking for a night to remember – this one is just simply an arrogant jerk who thinks he deserves the world. And while Twain herself has her share of tracks asserting her own dominance, there’s a fine line between confident and delusional, and she has no problem properly defining it. Poor Brad Pitt, though.
No. 8, “Honey, I’m Home”
Leave it to Twain to take the formula of “We Will Rock You,” of all things, and infuse a stomping rhythm with snarling fiddles and a surprising amount of genuine country-funk to form one of her best grooves ever. And unlike traditional country songs in this vein that lament the toils of the working man looking for relief at home, this flips the script in the best possible way by having those roles reversed and Twain having about as much fun with the concept as you’d expect.
No. 7, “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under”
Not quite as explosive in its cultural impact as “Any Man of Mine,” but “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under” is my pick for Twain’s breakthrough hit in terms of showcasing what she could – and would continue to – accomplish throughout the decade and beyond. And the thing is, it fits her typical mold all while sounding like a fairly conventional neotraditional cut for the mid-’90s, with plenty of jaunty keys and bouncy splashes of pedal steel and fiddle that still carries a ton of unique personality in the presentation. The other thing I’ve noticed with Twain’s work, too, is that there’s very ever little drama in her material, mostly because she’s always in control in a way that keeps things simple. Like here, how she’ll address her cheating significant other’s ways by simply slamming the door shut on him and moving on to someone else who actually deserves her love.
No. 6, “No One Needs to Know”
This is pretty much the part of the list where I default less to slightly more objective reasonings behind why I think these songs are good and more toward primal emotion and subjective points of what simply clicks with me on a deeper level. And there’s no better place to start than with a track that gets its deserved mileage out of its acoustic foundation and exudes utter joy every step of the way. There’s catchy, and then there’s damn-near transcendent, and this just hits that perfect note of capturing that simple feeling of … being in love. She’s not ready to share her joy to anyone within the song, but I’m glad she shared it to the outside world, because it’s one of her best songs on a compositional level.
No. 5, “Party For Two” (w/ Billy Currington)
No joke, I love this one. But it depends on the version. The pop version, where Mark McGrath sounds like he has the energy of a 90-year-old chain smoker? Not so much. The country version that features a young Billy Currington, of all people, before his career really began and who has a surprising amount of chemistry alongside Twain? Hell yeah. That genuinely shocks me, too, because this shouldn’t work as well as it does. And yet I think both artists are the reason it does – two vocalists known more for their positive sentimentalities that can have a lot of fun with a track self-aware enough of its many sexual innuendos to try and dress up a hookup. It’s campy as hell, no doubt, but both Twain and Currington know that and lean into it anyway, because … why not? It’s too stupid to hate and too clever in its execution not to love.
No. 4, “Black Eyes, Blue Tears”
How do you put out over ten singles from one album and not have this be one of them? Because it absolutely could have been one and would have cleaned up nicely! At any rate, this deep-cut gem is arguably the best Twain song you haven’t heard yet. It’s an account of a woman’s escape from an abusive ex-lover that, no, doesn’t carry the messy or complicated framing to stand alongside the best tracks in this vein, but also isn’t aiming to capture the aftermath of that sorrowful trauma, either. The focus here for this character, at least for now, is finding that initial joy of knowing she never has to look back again, with a heart and spirit that recalls a mix of driving ‘80s heartland rock with late ‘90s country instrumentation. I’ve been careful not to use the word “anthemic” quite yet in describing Twain’s work, mostly because it’s an easy descriptor that’s applicable to pretty much everything here. But this is absolutely the moment I want to highlight as being just that – an escape and a victory.
No. 3, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”
… All I want to say about this one is that I’ve sang along to it more times than I care to admit, both when I’m listening to it and when it just randomly pops up in my head. Ah, screw it. I’m not ashamed of that at all. This rocks. No. 3 sounds good for this because of that.
No. 2, “Up!”
Positivity has always been the subtle driver behind Twain’s best work, so when it’s placed at the forefront of a track about looking ahead, of course it’s pulled off remarkably well. Granted, this isn’t quite the cheesy inspirational ballad it could have been, mostly because this trends toward upbeat exuberance courtesy of the bouncy banjo and fiddle interplay and is so intentionally campy in its delivery that a track about finding happiness simply gets there not through some profound statement, but by capturing it in spirit in less than three minutes.
As always, I’d like to throw out a few honorable mentions before getting to my No. 1 pick:
“Love Gets Me Every Time”
“The Woman in Me (Needs the Man in You)”
“Come On Over”
It sounds like Mario Party .
“You Win My Love” (written by Robert John Lange)
No. 1, “I’m Gonna Getcha Good!”
I’m not sure if this is my favorite Twain song simply from being her catchiest and most infectious or if the memory of watching that weird-ass music video as a toddler is implanted in my mind a little too well … and is one of my first and possibly favorite musical memories because of it. Granted, that weirdly futuristic and spacey video is a good way to describe this song’s scope and atmosphere, complete with a whirring echo and plenty of boldly accentuated and liquid touches in the overall instrumentation and orchestral flourishes later on that, yes, is quintessential early 2000s-sounding … but in the best way possible throughout! It might even be the one moment on Up! where I prefer the “red” version to the “green” version, because for the most part, the former versions haven’t held up well, and this is a major exception. Oh, and along with being, again, Twain’s most hook-driven track ever, it’s also her most urgent. It’s a quest for love and a search for someone she may or may not have already met, but is determined to find no matter the cost because … you can only sit atop your mountain for so long before loneliness takes over. Yes, it’s fragrantly bubbly in a way that even some of her campier numbers manage to avoid, seeing as how love can be both fun and utter hell depending on the situation. But it’s Twain’s journey, and she’s so hell-bent and effervescent in her determination that you hope she does find it.