When a 13 year-old Tanya Tucker was inked a recording contract with Columbia Records, she knew just the kind of songs she wanted to sing – and the kind she didn’t want to sing.
Legend has it Tucker was pitched the song ‘Happiest Girl In The Whole U.S.A’ and turned it down, saying it was too ‘fluffy’ for her. (Donna Fargo would have her breakthrough hit with it, taking the song to the top of the charts in 1973.) What she wanted was a song with some meat on its lyrical bones – and she found it with ‘Delta Dawn’, a tale of a spurned former beauty and the toll it takes on her mind.
The song was released as the debut single for the teen vocalist and rose to the #6 position on the country charts and a subsequent cover by Helen Reddy topped the pop charts the following year. It’s since been covered by countless artists. The two singles to follow from the album, ‘Love’s The Answer’ and ‘The Jamestown Ferry’ both fared better on the country chart, reaching the top 5. But ‘Delta Dawn’ remains the signature song of one Tanya Tucker and has become a standard across genres.
As the story goes, Delta Dawn was quite the beauty – ‘prettiest woman you ever laid eyes on’. Back many years ago, a dishonorable gentleman promised to marry Delta Dawn and she’s spent the better part of her adult life waiting for him to return, slowly going out of her mind in the process.
Tanya delivers this dark tale of deception and mental illness with the conviction (and the pipes) that rivaled that of any of her adult peers. One of my favorite things about Tanya Tucker – and the thing I relate to most – was her whole ’13 going on 40′ persona. Producer Billy Sherill provides just the right backdrop of harmonica and even the host of background singers seem to fit this song perfectly. As far as these southern gothic story songs go – and there are many – this is one of the best.