I thought ABBA was the last music to influence me. It was Elvis Presley, The Beatles & ABBA summing up everything. From nowhere, Shania Twain appeared on the Nashville scene. She was country with a difference. Her music had its roots in rock n roll.
Shania's real name is Eilleen Edwards. She was born on August 28, 1965, and grew up in Timmins, Ontario, Canada, 500 miles north of Toronto. Shania's parents divorced when she was 2, and she never knew her father. Her mother married an Indian named Jerry Twain. The family struggled for necessities, and Shania remembers being hungry. She hunted rabbits and cut trees in the wilderness. From the age of 8, she played guitar and wrote songs, Shania's mother encouraged her and woke her up to perform in bars once alcohol stopped being served. Shania was comfortable in front of audiences. Mary Bailey, a Canadian singer, took her under her wing and became her manager. For a while, Shania honed her skills at an Ontario resort called Deerhurst. It was there that she was dubbed "Shania," meaning "on my way." A tragedy occurred when Shania was 21. Her mother and stepfather were hit head on and killed by a logging truck. It was hard work and sacrifice as Shania's "family" became her responsibility.
Mary and a Nashville attorney engineered a deal with Mercury Records, but Shania's first CD was run-of-the-mill, produced by Music Row veteran Norro Wilson. Norro was old school, and it showed. The Nashville method was for a producer and his artist to collect songs from publishers and to record them in one of a handful of studios using the same musicians who played for everybody. It was a stale system and the reason all country music sounded alike. There was nothing about Shania's first album to recommend it, and Mercury was going to drop her.
Enter Mutt Lange, a producer from South Africa with money and connections! By chance, Mutt saw one of Shania's videos on television. He saw something no one else did. It was Shania's body, her movements, her grace! It was the sensuousness in her voice. Mutt attempted to reach Shania by phone and finally connected. He wanted to produce her and wanted her to do her own songs. That did it! A romance bloomed, and the couple married in December, 1993.
Work began on The Woman In Me. Mutt spent a million dollars, and they recorded in Nashville. There had never been a country album like it. It was country with a pop and rock spirit. Shania and Mutt co-wrote. The songs were instant classics. "Any Man Of Mine" became Shania's signature. "(If You're Not In It For Love) I'm Outta Here!" rocked! Country radio played "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?" reluctantly. This was risque stuff for Nashville. So was Shania's belly button! She was sexy and not afraid to flaunt it. She was a female Elvis!
Shania held off touring, declining to open for established acts, which was the accepted way. Mutt knew what he had and wanted to build a catalog that would fill a 2-hour concert. Shania had superstar potential.
Mutt was 16 years older than Shania and remembered the golden era of Elvis Presley and The Beatles. He and Shania penned 16 gems for Come On Over, their second album. It was released in November, 1997, and went on to become the biggest selling record ever by a female, selling 40 million copies. It dominated the airwaves 1998-2000. Single after single went number one: "Love Gets Me Every Time," "Don't Be Stupid," "Honey I'm Home," "That Don't Impress Me Much" & "Man! I Feel Like A Woman!" Girls sang Shania in karaoke bars. 1998 was to her what 1956 was to Elvis.
When Shania did tour, she was ready. Concerts consisted of wall-to-wall hits. The band was culturally diverse, musicians deferring to her stardom. Shania played the Nashville Arena on September 25, 1998, and I took my son Michael. It was an orgy of music and energy. Shania was carried through the crowd as if she were Cleopatra. Fans reached, hoping to touch! It was Bill Clinton's presidency at its hedonistic zenith!
Nashville envied Shania's success. Ultimately, common sense prevailed, and the Country Music Association voted her Entertainer of the Year for 1999. It was their most prestigious award. She had it all: books, magazines, endorsements! The girl who hunted rabbits was wealthy beyond her wildest dreams. But her anonymity and privacy were gone. She and Mutt sold their property in New York and moved to Switzerland. When the economy sagged, the couple disappeared. New songs had to be written!
Motherhood came next! Shania and Mutt took time out from their fairytale careers to become parents. They had a son. Mutt had been married but had no kids. He vowed never to marry again until Shania gave him a reason to.
The Chicago concert in July, 2003, kicked off a second world tour. Up Close & Personal, taped in Nashville, simulated Elvis' 68 Comeback Special. Shania was making an effort to be part of country music even while the establishment resisted. Radio did not want to play Up!, and there were no number ones. "Forever And For Always" peaked at number 4. The video put Shania on a beach. She was still beautiful! The Up! CD did something Come On Over did not. It reached number one on Billboard's pop chart.
Up! was a progression. The couple had evolved musically. There were good songs even though Nashville considered it cheesy. "C'est La Vie" proved conclusively that Shania and Mutt evolved from ABBA. Notes in the chorus are identical to notes in "Dancing Queen." The CD had a disco feel with its classical riffs. Politics had changed from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush as 9/11 put America on a conservative course. Still, Shania partied into the 21st century, becoming the only woman with 3 consecutive albums topping the 10 million mark. On the strength of 3 records, she stood with Elvis, The Beatles & ABBA.
Shania's catalog is thematic. Her lyrics are female. She is the consummate libber, dealing with feminine concerns: men, looks, hair, clothes, food & weight. Shania is Everywoman! In one respect, she differed. She broke loose from men her own age and married a father figure, a man who could elevate her career to the level she deserved.
Ultimately, Shania caught Mutt in an affair with the housekeeper. They divorced! Once again, Shania followed in the footsteps of Elvis, The Beatles & ABBA.
SHANIA TWAIN: AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT OF A COUNTRY MUSIC DIVA by Michael McCall
Michael McCall's biography begins with the anticipation of Shania's 1998 tour. Could she do it or was she Mutt Lange's studio creation? The Woman In Me had sold 13 million copies, and expectations were high! The concert at the Nashville Arena convinced insiders that Shania was real. My son and I were in the audience.
Shania was born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, and taken to Timmins by her mother when she was 2. McCall leads us to believe that Jerry Twain was Shania's father when, in fact, he was her step-father. Shania herself had given a false impression.
McCall paints young Shania and her family as humble and long-suffering. Shania's mother dragged her around clubs in Timmins to sing for miners and loggers. Music became the center of Shania's life.
Canadian singer Mary Bailey became Shania's manager, and it was she who got her signed by Mercury Records. The first album with Mercury was mediocre. It was Shania's belly button that got attention, and I noted the crevices in her navel formed a peace symbol.
The Woman In Me had some clunkers. It was the upbeat songs: "Any Man Of Mine," "You Win My Love" & "(If You're Not In It For Love) I'm Outta Here" that sold it.
Mutt and Shania's second record, Come On Over, made her a superstar! It sold steadily for 2 years. I recall driving down Broadway in Nashville listening to "Love Gets Me Every Time" and thinking, "Those guitars sound like The Rolling Stones!"
McCall reveals on page 110 that Clarence Edwards was Shania's father, not Jerry Twain. Things got nasty when the truth came out. Shania broke all ties with Mary Bailey, the woman who had done so much.
Even though Shania used her body to sell records, Mercury insisted she was more about the music than image. Come On Over crossed into the pop genre, and sales skyrocketed. McCall documents the success of her concerts.
Shania would have been nothing without Mutt. The melodies were his. It was one plus one equals 3, and the third entity is what created the magic.