In 1993, the year that saw the worldly debuts of future stars Scotty McCreery, Kelsea Ballerini and Kane Brown, country music’s reigning royalty included duo Brooks & Dunn, the now-solo Wynonna Judd and newcomer Billy Ray Cyrus. One artist who would continue to rack up hit after hit throughout the year was Oklahoma’s Reba McEntire, who logged two huge Number One hits in ’93, but shared the spotlight on them with another singer. In August, Linda Davis, who was singing backup with McEntire on the road, joined her on the deliciously dramatic “Does He Love You,” but earlier in the year, McEntire teamed with fellow Okie Vince Gill for a chart-topping single.
Reba’s first pair of duets, with singer Jacky Ward, were issued in 1978 when both acts were on Mercury Records, two years before she earned her first Top Ten hit, “You Lift Me Up (to Heaven).” In 1986, just prior to being crowned CMA Entertainer of the Year, she joined Tom Petty and evangelist Reverend Ike on Hank Williams Jr.’s remake of his father’s “Mind Your Own Business.” But the sweeping, romantic ballad “The Heart Won’t Lie” reunited her with Gill, who had included their duet “Oklahoma Swing” on his 1989 breakthrough album, When I Call Your Name.
Topping the country chart for the first of two weeks on April 10th, 1993, 26 years ago today, “The Heart Won’t Lie” was the first non-Brooks & Dunn chart-topping duet since 1991’s “Rockin’ Years,” which teamed Dolly Parton and Ricky Van Shelton. Co-written by Kim Carnes and Donna Weiss (the co-writer, with Jackie DeShannon, of Carnes’ 1981 pop mega-hit “Bette Davis Eyes”), “Heart” took a rather circuitous route to get to the two superstar performers. Carnes had initially set out to write a song specifically for Kenny Rogers, her duet partner on the 1980 crossover smash “Don’t Fall in Love With a Dreamer,” one of the tunes written with her husband Dave Ellingson for Rogers’ concept LP Gideon.
“I usually don’t do that,” Carnes told Rolling Stone Country in 2015. “I usually sit down and write from inspiration. But once I decided to do that, it did become inspiration. I wrote the chorus and called Donna Weiss up and said, ‘This is perfect for the two of us.’ [Producer] Jimmy Bowen paid us the best compliment. He said that when he hears a song we wrote together, it’s like one person wrote it. So Donna and I wrote it, made a demo of it and sent it to Kenny. He loved it and said, ‘Let’s do it as a duet on my next album.’”
That plan was thwarted, however, by the inclusion of a duet on Rogers’ next album featuring pop-soul legend Gladys Knight. And the next thing Carnes knew, Rogers was finally recording it as duet — but with Reba.
“I thought that was perfect,” she recalled. “Reba was hot as a pistol and always is. The writer part of me was thrilled and I wasn’t disappointed we weren’t going to do it.”
After the song languished for a while, not appearing in any form on one of Rogers’ albums, Carnes received an unexpected call from Reba’s producer Tony Brown, who wanted the song for Reba.
“The next call I got was that Reba ended up doing it with Vince Gill. I was beside myself. I love Vince Gill. He sang backgrounds on two songs on my View From the House album in 1988 [recorded in Nashville for MCA Records]. It worked out really great, through all the ups and downs. It went up the charts so fast; it flew. It was a dream scenario, and they made just such a perfect record. They both have duets albums, greatest hits albums… it’s the gift that keeps on giving.”
In addition to the military-themed music video for the single, McEntire and Gill teamed in early 1994 as part of the NBC special Hot Country Jam ’94. The special also featured Brooks & Dunn, newcomer Faith Hill, legend George Jones, co-hosts Lorrie Morgan, Doug Stone and Marty Stuart, and a second duet from McEntire, “Does He Love You,” featuring Linda Davis.
As Carnes noted, “The Heart Won’t Lie” took a rocket ride to the top spot, reaching Number One in just eight weeks. Moving to Nashville from Los Angeles in 1994, Carnes would reach Number One again on the country chart as a songwriter in 1987 with “Make No Mistake (She’s Mine),” a duet by Kenny Rogers and Ronnie Milsap, which she previously cut as a 1984 duet with Barbra Streisand.
Two days before her hosting gig at Sunday’s ACM Awards, Reba McEntire released her latest album, Stronger Than the Truth. The traditional-country-leaning project marks the Country Music Hall of Fame member’s 33rd studio LP of her career.