Reba McEntire's 15 Best Songs: Critic's Picks

Vivian Zink/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
Reba McEntire photographed for The Voice in 2015.

Few vocalists in any form of music can forego using their last name, electing to simply be known by their first. In the world of country, Dolly Parton is one that comes to mind along these lines, along with a woman from Oklahoma who grew up inspired by artists such as Parton and Loretta Lynn. Her name? Reba.

It’s been forty-one years since Reba Nell McEntire first graced a Billboard chart. That first single, “I Don’t Want To Be A One Night Stand,” just barely made a ripple on the scene, peaking at No. 88. But, great things were in store for the singer. Her first top ten hit came in 1980 – and just a few months ago, her two-disc Gospel set entered the Country Albums chart at No. 1. When you look at great moments in her recording career, you see an artist who has been able -- at the same time -- to be both vulnerable and to still exude as much strength as any artist who has come before or after her in the format. With almost one hundred singles to her credit, we couldn't stop at just ten….so here are fifteen of the most essential Reba McEntire songs in her Hall of Fame career!

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15. Reba McEntire - “The Fear Of Being Alone”

It was a new look for Reba in the fall of 1996, as she cut her trademark long hair in favor of a shorter ‘do. As it turned out, that was not the only change the singer embarked on at that time. With this single, she went for more of a wide-open and organic sound, just narrowly missing the top spot with a song about the unknown future of a new relationship. Is it love, or just a good time? The singer wasn't sure of anything here, except that she just wanted to enjoy the moment.

14. Reba McEntire - “Cathy’s Clown”

McEntire took one of the Everly Brothers’ greatest hits of the 1960s, and turned it into a mournful ballad about a woman standing by and watching the man she secretly loves pine away for someone else. Adding a nice touch to this one was the western-themed video, which starred Bruce Boxleitner as the object of her affections.

13. Reba McEntire - “Turn On The Radio”

Signing with the Valory Music Co. gave McEntire’s career a shot in the arm, and this 2010 single proved that the singer had lost none of her fire, as the single dripped with as much confidence and sass as anything the singer had ever recorded.

12. Reba McEntire - “She Thinks His Name Was John”

McEntire made headlines in the summer of 1994 with her selection of this track as a single from Read My Mind. It was definitely a departure from her songs of romance or female strength. The lyrics packed as much of an emotional punch as any Reba McEntire song before or since -- about a woman who is dying of AIDS -- after a one-night stand with a man she didn't know. A song of this nature would still be as risky in today’s marketplace as it was then, but McEntire chose to make the artistic statement with her recording -- and the fans responded, making this one a can’t miss moment at her shows during the 1990s.

11. Reba McEntire - “Till You Love Me”

Despite her long career, you won’t find many straight-ahead love declarations in the Reba McEntire catalog. That’s what sets this 1994 Bob DiPiero / Gary Burr collaboration apart. It’s not that fancy (yeah, that one’s coming later!) of a lyric or a production, but her voice took full control of the moment, making for a huge ballad hit.

10. Reba McEntire - “Is There Life Out There?”

By 1992, McEntire was firmly entrenched as THE female artist of the format. That position in the genre made her a great selection to record songs that spoke of female strength. The subject of this song married and had children young, but realizes that she also had some unfulfilled dreams to chase along the way. The video for this one featured the singer’s character completing college while her family -- led by her “husband” Huey Lewis cheered her on.

9. Reba McEntire - “Only In My Mind”

The only single of McEntire’s four-decade career to be solely written by the singer, this stands as one of her greatest vocal performances. The truth sometimes hurts, and it definitely had an effect on both the man who asked it in this 1985 hit -- and the woman who had to give it to him.

8. Reba McEntire - “Does He Love You” (with Linda Davis)

McEntire had to convince MCA Nashville that Linda Davis was the right duet partner for this 1993 single, as the label was pushing her in the direction of new signee Wynonna. That collaboration would have worked very well, we know, but there is no doubting the magic that McEntire and Davis demonstrated in their recording of this classic-to-be. Seeing the two perform this one live also adds some allure to the song’s lyrics, which could have been dialogue between Joan Collins and Linda Evans in a 1983 episode of Dynasty. Pure drama -- and a pure delight.

7. Reba McEntire - “You’re The First Time I’ve Thought About Leaving”

The second number one of McEntire’s career, this traditional ballad remains one of the highlights from her 1976-83 years with Mercury Records, which don’t get near as much acclaim as her superstar years with MCA. It’s understandable, of course, as she continued to grow as an artist by leaps and bounds, but there were some great moments early on, as well.

6. Reba McEntire - “Fancy”

The song was a minor pop hit for Bobbie Gentry in 1969, and just barely made it into the top ten for McEntire on the country charts in 1991. But, in this case, the charts don’t tell the full story of this song’s impact. McEntire turned this song into a tour de force on stage, using the moment to don some of the most glamorous attire in her show. The song exuded the female strength that was so much a part of her sound, but people of any gender could identify when McEntire belted the lyric “I might have been born just plain white trash, but Fancy was my name.” If you’ve ever beaten the odds in life, this song was your moment.

5. Reba McEntire - “If You See Him / If You See Her” (with Brooks & Dunn)

The singer has enjoyed success with several other performers in collaboration form over the years, but there is something special about the magic that happens when you combine her vocals with Ronnie Dunn -- in either duet form, or trio, as evidenced on this 1998 chart-topper with Brooks and Dunn. Both Reba and Ronnie do their best to raise the musical stakes, and the winner in this battle was the listener -- who got to witness one of the greatest collaborations of all time.

4. Reba McEntire - “Whoever’s In New England”

McEntire had topped the chart on a few occasions prior to this one doing so in 1986, but this song represented her career-defining moment. It helped to widen her exposure outside the format, to become a headlining act, and if anyone ever tries to tell you that videos weren't a successful tool for selling records, show them the clip for this one. A Reba McEntire song that made her a household name.

3. Reba McEntire - “One Promise Too Late”

Still very much in traditional-sounding mode, this single from her What Am I Gonna Do About You album has remained one of her best moments on record to date. The lyrics detail a woman who meets the person that ignites her passion -- only after she found the man she’s married to. Unable to break the bond of matrimony, McEntire turned in a vocal that was both tortured, but content that she was doing the right thing.

2. Reba McEntire - “Somebody Should Leave”

Sometimes, it pays as an artist to say “No.” Reba was meeting with the legendary Harlan Howard, who was playing her material for her 1984 album My Kind of Country. After the young singer told Howard she wasn't hearing what he was playing her, he brought out this composition with Chick Rains. Harlan then went on to tell her that if she had liked the earlier material, he would have never played her this one. The song became her second number one on MCA, setting the table for what was to become a legendary run.

1. Reba McEntire - “You Lie”

After several albums with Jimmy Bowen as co-producer, the songstress switched to Tony Brown for this record that dominated the airwaves in the fall of 1990. It had every ingredient for McEntire magic -- a dramatic melody that allowed her voice to soar into the stratosphere in the stunning chorus, and lyrics that showed a woman who knew that a relationship was over -- and wanted to be set free. Four perfect minutes of vocals and production. Even after almost three decades, this Reba McEntire song is still flawless.