In 1997, 14-year-old LeAnn Rimes was already a success. A year earlier she had scored her first top 10 with the traditional country throwback “Blue,” which reached that region on Hot Country Songs.
She quickly followed up with a No. 1, “One Way Ticket (Because I Can),” and two top five singles. Her debut album, “Blue,” shifted 2.5 million copies during 1996, on its way to selling just shy of 6 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan. She earned two Grammy Awards, one of them for best new artist.
While dining at a Santa Monica, Calif., restaurant, Rimes was approached by songwriter Diane Warren. Despite the fact that the two had never met, Warren suggested Rimes stop by her home to hear a song. “I wrote this song for ‘Con Air,’ ” Warren recalls telling Rimes. “I wasn’t lying, I did write it for ‘Con Air.’ I just didn’t tell her that there were 99 other songs being pitched for ‘Con Air.’ “
Rimes visited Warren, loved the song and agreed to sing the demo on the spot. (In an interesting turn, Rimes had already been contacted to sing on the soundtrack but wasn’t impressed with the song choices presented to her.)
Hedging her bet, Rimes asked Warren if she could record the song regardless of whether or not it made it into the movie and Warren agreed that she could. “I love when someone is that excited about a song and they just go for it,” Warren says. Rimes headed into the studio with father Wilbur Rimes and Curb Records chairman Mike Curb producing.
The sense of joy was short-lived. According to Rimes, musicians in the studio recording the song with her were contacted to cut the same song the following day-but with Trisha Yearwood.
Why Yearwood’s version eventually wound up on the “Con Air” soundtrack instead of Rimes’ is a source of debate even today. According to Warren, movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer was looking for a slightly different version of the song for the movie and Rimes’ father wouldn’t recut it, while Curb wonders if a perception existed that Rimes was too young to sing a love song.
Either way, Rimes found herself on the outside looking in. “Ultimately it was a power play that didn’t get played in my favor,” she says now. To add insult to injury, the musicians worked from the demo recorded at Warren’s studio.
Rimes was understandably disappointed. “My time, the song, everything’s been wasted,” she recalls thinking. “It’s never going to see the light of day.” And while Rimes’ version was mixed and mastered, MCA beat Curb to the punch at country radio. As a proven hitmaker in the format, radio quickly gravitated to Yearwood’s interpretation.
The story could have ended there, but it didn’t.
During a chance meeting at LaGuardia Airport in New York, Curb asked a still-dejected Rimes if she minded if he shipped the song to pop radio. She agreed. “What did I know about what that really means at 14?” Rimes says. “[Send it to] whoever will play it. That will be cool.” Curb credits his then-teen daughters with convincing him to take the song to other formats. ” ‘Dad, why don’t you release it to pop? All of our friends love it,’ ” Curb recalls them saying.
Rimes’ version of the song peaked at No. 43 on Hot Country Songs in August 1997, while Yearwood’s version reached No. 2 that same month. But history has proved that Rimes had the far and away bigger hit. Her cut of “How Do I Live” reached No. 10 on Billboard’s Adult Top 40 airplay chart and No. 4 on Top 40, and spent 11 weeks at No. 1 on the AC chart.
Rimes sold 3.5 million physical singles of the song while Yearwood sold slightly more than 300,000. (The “Con Air” soundtrack, released by Buena Vista, has sold 83,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.)
While Yearwood reached No. 23 on the Hot 100, Rimes reached No. 2 and spent an impressive 69 weeks on the chart, the most of any song before or since. “It was amazing and it was meant to be,” Rimes says. “Everybody relates to that song … it’s been played at funerals. It’s just one of those songs that lives on in everyone’s life and has affected them in some way.”
“A hit cures all ills,” Curb recalls. “If you want to make an artist happy, break their record.”
“Everybody did good, including me,” Warren says now, with a laugh.
There’s a lesson to be learned, according to Curb: “If you want to be in the music business, you better get up every morning and be prepared to turn negatives into positives,” he says. “Because there’s always going to be something that hits you that you don’t expect.”