On the classic Donny & Marie variety series, which aired on ABC from 1976 through 1979, Marie would kick off the theme song with the line “I’m a little bit country” to which her brother would reply ‘I’m a little bit rock and roll.” All of these years later, how does she feel about fans still singing that lyric back to her?
“Are you kidding me?” she tells Billboard. “We did that at a time where there wasn’t a lot of country music being played on television. That whole song was written specifically because I said ‘I’m country.’ That’s where that came from. I tell people that I was ‘a little bit country’ before Barbara Mandrell made it cool,” she says with a laugh.
Osmond has recently released her new album, Music Is Medicine. Though it’s her first project since 2010’s inspirational I Can Do This, it’s her first country album since Steppin’ Stone, which was released in 1989.
“I don’t believe you should just make a record unless you have something to sing about,” she admits. “You can sing, but to record is different. I guess you could say there was a knowing my gut, but I’m a realist. I kept thinking that I had this beautiful run with ‘There’s No Stoppin’ Your Heart,’ ‘Read My Lips,’ and ‘Meet Me In Montana,’” referring to her string of hits on Capitol Records in the mid to late 1980s. “I thought that radio seems to be limited to thirty and under, and mainly a male, but I kept getting this feeling. I guess you could say I was just following my intuition. Then, when it debuted at No. 10, that was so awesome. I have a whole lot to sing about. I tried to put songs on there that people would feel in their hearts, because music is that wonderful medicine that can take you places where nothing else will.”
Music fans might not realize that Osmond was a country chart presence during her teenage years, as well. In 1973, she hit the top of the country charts (and No. 5 on the Hot 100) with her cut of “Paper Roses.” An Osmond recording country might have surprised some, but it was what she wanted to do. “Of course, I had an easy path into pop because of my brothers. I was a very passionate female, and I reasoned that pop music was for men — especially at that time in the 1970s. I loved country. I loved that Loretta Lynn could write and sing about things she believed in — like being married and having children. If I was going to go out and compete with my brothers, I wanted to make sure I was doing something of which I was passionate. To me, country was the only kind of music I wanted to sing.”
Sitting behind the producers’ chair at the time was the legendary Sonny James, who died in February. “It was so fun. I was stressed. I walked into the studio, and this was when everything was recorded live. There were sixteen people in the studio at the time, with The Jordanaires standing next to me. In my mind, it was, ‘Deliver, you 12-year-old,’” Osmond recalls. “It was really truly a wonderful experience — mainly because of Sonny. He was such a gentleman, and so calming. I was very blessed. It was a beautiful experience.”
Just as Osmond’s career has always included collaborations, Music Is Medicine contains five collaborations on the album, including “Getting Better All The Time,” recorded with Olivia Newton-John. “I love duets,” she confirms. “I think sometimes a song can be performed so much better, like the one I did with Olivia. That was a perfect song because we’ve both been through some tough times in life. You can’t really sing that song at 25 or 30, you have to sing it with some road underneath you. It was better because I was singing it with someone who has lived through some legitimately tough things in life. It made me the song even more powerful.”
While it might be surprising to many of her fans, one of the more effective pairings is “Give Me A Good Song,” which she cut with R&B singer Sisqo. “Jason Deere [who produced the album] and I did the song, and wanted the song to be something that was a feel-good song. We were doing this rap thing, which was a salute to people like Prince, Judy Garland, and Alabama — all of whom made some great musical contributions in life. The engineer said that Sisqo was next door, so I said ‘Let’s ask him.’ God bless him, because it was like back in the day where two artists did something because of the music. There were no agents, managers or attorneys getting involved. He heard it, said let’s do it, and we did it. It was so cool, and to have him on the song made it come alive. He came over and nailed it in less than an hour. That’s a true artist.”
On the country side of things, she teams up with Marty Roe on the moving “I’d Love To Be Your Last,” originally recorded by Gretchen Wilson in 2010. “My brothers have amazing harmonies, and to me, Diamond Rio has some of the best harmonies in the world. I love their music. Marty sounds so beautiful. He sounds so beautiful on every word, and you really had to be that kind of artist to sing it,” says Osmond. “I feel that song so deeply because of the fact that I got back together with my husband, Craig, for over 25 years. To finally find love is a wonderful thing to sing about.”
In addition to her recording career, Osmond — who’s the celebrity spokesperson for Nutrisystem — has shared the stage with such Hollywood legends as Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, and Andy Griffith, who all guest-starred on the ABC series. What are her memories of those experiences? “I had no idea as a teenager what was going on. There were only three networks and maybe an independent in every market, so our show was every kind of magazine show to the late-night shows — even the sports shows,” recalls Osmond. “They all did the Donny and Marie show. We even had George Lucas on before Star Wars. He looked at the market, and wanted to be on our show because of the age demo. I look back on it with a sense of awe. I’ve had a very blessed life — for a female in this business who has not stopped working since age three, it’s been amazing.”