Shania Twain‘s farewell tour kicks off this week, which makes it a good time to attempt to pick the ten greatest Twain songs. This might actually be mathematically impossible — it would be difficult to even pick the ten strongest tracks on Come On Over, her 1997 masterpiece. So this list starts with two caveats. First, honorable mention goes to every Twain song not on the list. Second, “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!” did not make the final cut. Consider the track’s absence a testament to the depth and durability of this singer’s catalog. With that out of the way, here are Shania’s ten most compelling tracks, in chronological order.
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“What Made You Say That” – Once you’ve experienced late-period-Twain (her 3rd and 4th albums), it can be almost strange to return to her first two. At the time, she was just a superb country singer, rather than a superhuman category-buster. This is the lead track from her self-titled debut album, and it’s a strong first statement: a simple, beautiful guitar riff, a firm rhythm grounded in the rock-solid foundation of ’70s country, and a chorus that keeps seeming to glide away.
“There Goes The Neighborhood” – Twain is so good at writing uptempo tracks that ballads are unfortunately underrepresented in this top ten. But this one’s simultaneously tragic and amusing in a way that only country can be: Twain sings about a series of couples that are breaking up and concludes, “when loves moves out, there goes the neighborhood.”
“Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” – This track has situational importance: “Whose Bed” — the lead single from her second album, The Woman In Me — snaked its way into the top 15 on the U.S. country charts, making it her first hit stateside. It’s a rollicking tune, a blues progression gussied up for a country dance floor. The male-female harmonies during the verses are particularly impressive.
“You Win My Love” – Twain showed some fierceness on her first album, but it’s “You Win My Love,” when she first hinted at the full extent of her powers. No disrespect to “(If You’re Not in It for Love) I’m Outta Here,” a spirited track that appears earlier on The Woman In Me, but without “You Win My Love,” there is no Come On Over. You hear it in the drums, which aim towards stadiums; you hear it in the guitar, which yearns for the open spaces of pop radio.
“Raining On Our Love” – This is peak ballad Shania. Here she reaches towards the heights of adult contemporary — the kind of thing that gets you a Vegas residency — with syrupy production and trite weather metaphors. But there’s a risqué edge underneath that string-heavy sheen which makes this much more exciting than her better-known, sleepy-eyed hit “You’re Still The One:” “Remember me the way I was, the way I’d make you late for work,” she sings. “Remember you, the way you’d wake me up to love me once again.”
“When” – Although this tune rhymes “optimistic” with “pessimistic,” which is unfortunate, that’s all forgotten when the pre-hook kicks in. If you listened to pop radio during the mid-’00s, you may recognize this melody: Gwen Stefani stole it for “Cool,” a lovely number top 15 hit from her 2004 solo debut. Twain got there first though, using this compact, spiky nugget to alert listeners that her sound was changing in a major way.
“Honey I’m Home” – You could trace the recent rise of country-rap hybrids to Brantley Gilbert and Colt Ford‘s “Dirt Road Anthem,” which Jason Aldean covered and turned into a big hit. Or you could reach back to Bubba Sparxxx‘s Timbaland-produced Deliverance, which still seems ahead of its time. But you could reach even further back to Twain’s “Honey I’m Home,” which hides a basic rap-rock beat — it could even partly programmed, but it’s hard to tell — under fiddles. Twain is sings her verses in a staccato cadence that’s pretty close to an MC’s. Then suddenly she’s casually honky-tonking her way through the hook, as if she didn’t just help invent a new genre.
“That Don’t Impress Me Much” – This song is quintessentially ’90s: the ad-libs seem straight out of Clueless. But pop perfection can’t be restricted to a single decade. Twain squeezes too many syllables into several lines and slathers on the cowbell; none of that matters. Every time she works her way to that hook — helped by a plodding bass line that wouldn’t have been out of place in ’70s country — you encounter a masterful work of art. Listen to the way the backing vocals keep coming in at different angles.
“Black Eyes, Blue Tears” – Twain packed an unbelievable amount of ideas into Come On Over. She’s savvy about the way she destroys genre categories: this song opens with jangly guitar, high harmonies, and violin, which are all appropriate in a classic country song. Then the beat kicks in, and suddenly you’re listening to grunge pop. That’s not unusual for the ’90s, the heyday of torn jeans and dirty flannel, but it’s not something you’d expect from the No. 1 album on the country charts. Listen to the guitar solo — what did she do to get that sound? It could be imported from a Zapp record. Then she brings in a twinge of gospel for the bridge. And we haven’t even talked about the lyrics here: on top of everything else, Twain takes a stand against domestic abuse.
“Nah!” – It’s very difficult to only pull one song from Twain’s last studio album, Up!. You’d be hard-pressed to find a wilder album in 2002: just listen to “Ka-Ching!,” an anti-materialist screed which sounds like Timbaland meets M.I.A.‘s “Paper Planes,” or watch the video for “I’m Gonna Getcha Good!,” which had a Tron theme way before Daft Punk brought that movie new fans. But then these both seem slight next to the wild ambitions of “Nah,” which somehow manages to combine the grunts from Sam Cooke‘s “Chain Gang” with radio R&B production and country. Again, the beat builds from sharp, discreet programming, but Twain navigates her way back to a Nashville-friendly sound for the chorus.