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Shania Twain

Jim Colyer


I thought ABBA would be the last music to influence me. It was Elvis Presley, The Beatles and ABBA summing up everything. From nowhere, Shania Twain appeared on the Nashville scene. She was country with a difference. Her music was inspired. Its roots were in pop and rock.


Shania's real name is Eilleen Regina Edwards. She was born in Timmins, Ontario, Canada on August 28, 1965. Timmins is 500 miles north of Toronto, way up there. Shania's parents divorced when she was two. She never knew her father. Shania shares both her nordic heritage and estrangement from her father with Frida from ABBA. Shania's mother remarried. She married an Ojibway Indian named Jerry Twain. He helped raise Shania. Shania's family often struggled for basic necessities. She talks about her hunger growing up and taking mustard sandwiches to school for lunch. She hunted rabbits with her step-father for food. She cut trees in the wilderness with Indians. Shania wrote songs from the age of 8. She played guitar. Her mother encouraged her. She would wake Shania from her sleep to take her to bars around Timmins after alcohol stopped being served so she could perform. Shania learned to feel comfortable in front of audiences. Mary Bailey, a Canadian singer, took Shania under her wing. She became her manager. For awhile, Shania played an Ontario resort called Deerhurst. She further honed her performing skills. It was at Deerhurst that a friend dubbed her "Shania" which means "on my way." A terrible tragedy occurred in 1987 when Shania was 21. Her mother and step-father were hit head on and killed by a logging truck. Shania's siblings became her responsibility. She saw no future. It was hard work and sacrifice.


Finally, Mary Bailey and Nashville music attorney, Dick Frank, engineered a deal for Shania with Mercury Records. Mercury president, Luke Lewis, signed her. Her first CD for Mercury was run-of-the-mill. It was produced by long-time Nashville producer, Norro Wilson. Norro was old school, and it showed in the CD. The Nashville Music Row method is for a producer and his artist to collect songs from the top publishers in town and to record them in one of a handfull of studios using the same musicians who play for everyone else. It is a stale system and why country radio all sounds alike. There was nothing about Shania's first album to recommend it to modern audiences. It sold 50,000, not enough. Mercury meant to drop Shania from its roster.


Enter Robert John "Mutt" Lange. Mutt Lange was a rock producer from South Africa with a track record. He produced Foreigner and You Shook Me All Night Long for AC/DC. He had money. He had connections. By chance, he saw one of Shania's videos from her first CD on television in Europe. He saw and heard something no one else did. It was Shania's body, her movements, her grace. He heard the sweet sexuality in her voice. He made several attempts to reach her by phone and finally connected. Regular conversations began. Mutt told Shania he wanted to produce her and wanted her to sing her own songs. That did it. A romance quickly developed, and Shania and Mutt 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 infused with a pop and rock spirit. Shania and Mutt co-wrote. The songs became classics in 1995 and 1996. Any Man Of Mine became Shania's signature. (If You're Not In It For Love) I'm Outta Here! and You Win My Love rocked! Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under? was played reluctantly by country radio. This was risque stuff for Nashville. So was Shania's belly button. She bared her midriff for the videos on her new album. She was sexy and not afraid to show it. She was Elvis Presley reborn as a woman.


Shania held off on touring. She declined to open for Nashville acts on tour which was the accepted way. Mutt Lange knew what he had. He wanted to build a catalog of songs that could fill a 2-hour concert. Shania had superstar potential. It had to be done right. Jon Landau was brought in to manage.


Mutt Lange is 16 years older than Shania. He remembered the golden era of pop and rock and the great songs of Elvis and The Beatles. He and Shania penned 16 gems for Come On Over in grand tradition. Come On Over was released in November, 1997. It went on to become the biggest selling album of all time by a female artist. It sold 34 million copies. It dominated the airwaves through 1998 and 1999. Come On Over was #1 on the country album charts for over a year. Such a thing was unheard of. You're Still The One was Song of the Year. Single after single went number one: Love Gets Me Everytime, Don't Be Stupid, Honey I'm Home, That Don't Impress Me Much, From This Moment On, Man! I Feel Like A Woman! Girls all over the country sang Shania songs nightly in karaoke bars. 1998 was to Shania what 1956 was to Elvis and what 1964 was to The Beatles. She ruled!


When Shania did tour, she was ready. Her concerts consisted of wall-to-wall hits. Her band reflected cultural diversity, great musicians who deferred to her stardom. Shania played Nashville. She did the Nashville Arena in September, 1998. I was there with my son, Michael. It was an orgy of music and energy. Shania was in her physical prime. She was carried aloft through the crowd as if she were Cleopatra. Fans reached, hoping to touch her. This was Bill Clinton's presidency at its hedonistic zenith.


Nashville was jealous of this kind of success. Ultimately, common sense prevailed, and the Country Music Association gave Shania Twain its Entertainer of the Year Award for 1999. It is their most prestigious award. She had done it. Books, magazine covers, endorsements. It was all there. The girl who killed rabbits to eat was wealthy beyond her wildest dreams. But her anonymity and privacy were gone. She and Mutt sold their property in upstate New York and moved to Switzerland to get away from it all. The economy sagged in April, 2000 and Shania disappeared from the scene. New songs had to be written.


Motherhood was next, and Shania and Mutt took time out from their fairytale careers to become parents. Their son Eja was born, August 12, 2001. Mutt had been married before but had no kids. He said he would never marry again. Shania gave him reason to.


The Chicago concert in July, 2003, kicked off Shania's second world tour. It was released on DVD. Up Close & Personal, taped in Nashville with Alison Krauss & Union Station, simulated Elvis Presley's 1968 Comeback Special. Shania seemed to be making an effort with the powers in country music even though they rejected Up! as a country record. Country radio did not want to give it airplay. There were no #1s from Up! Forever And For Always is one of the easiest songs to listen to ever, and it only got to #4. The video accompanying Forever And For Always showed Shania on a beach. Motherhood had not taken away anything. She was still a beautiful woman. Up! did one thing that Come On Over did not do. It reached #1 in the pop album charts, a feat to be relished.


Up! was a progression. Shania and Mutt evolved musically the way The Beatles did. They did not stagnate or stay in one vein the way country artists are expected to. There are great songs on Up! even if Nashville considered it too artsy: I'm Gonna Getcha Good, Nah!, Ka-Ching, Waiter! Bring Me Water! & I'm Jealous. C'est La Vie proved conclusively my theory that Shania Twain and Mutt Lange descended from ABBA. Notes in the chorus of C'est La Vie are identical to notes in the chorus of ABBA's Dancing Queen. Up! has a disco feel throughout. There are classical runs reminiscent of ABBA. Politics changed drasically from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush as the 9/11 attacks set America on a conservative course. Up! brought the party of the 1990s into the 21st century. It sold 10 million. It was unrealistic to try to compete with Come On Over in sales. Nonetheless, Shania became the only female artist to have 3 consecutive albums to sell 10 million. On the strength of 3 records, she stands with Elvis, The Beatles & ABBA as The Big 4. She has sold 60 million CDs.


Shania's Greatest Hits kept things rocking into 2005. 3 new songs were used as bait to re-sell the old stuff. Party For Two, the duet with Billy Currington, and Don't are supported by a couple of her best videos. Party For Two has Shania strutting down the street talking to Billy on a cell phone. They meet, and she swings on a chandelier. The song is upbeat, and Shania is frisky. My kid said she acted 19. Don't is more sombre. Shania rides a white horse through fields of green yucca plants. Her outfit accents her bosom. She is every boy's dream. The third song on the Greatest Hits is I'm No Quitter. It is rockabilly, straight out of the Elvis era with girl-based lyrics.


Shania's catalog is thematic. She is the ultimate women's libber. Her lyrics are female. They deal with the common concerns of young women everywhere: men, looks, money, clothes, work, her boss, abuse, fun, hair, weight, food and cars. Shania is Everywoman. In one respect, she differs. She broke loose from the men of her age group and married a father figure, a man who could elevate her career to the level she deserved. She must love him. Their marriage is in its second decade, and they have a son.


Shania is the consummate professional. She stays on topic. She does not self-destruct. She gives her fans their money's worth. What the future holds for Shania, I do not know. I only know that she is the artist of her decade and that after Shania, there is nothing.


Jim Colyer


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