In her 1997 autobiography Nickel Dreams , Tanya Tucker referred to TNT as her first million-selling album and the one that nearly killed her career. In 1977, in need of professional management, she was referred to a Los Angeles firm called Far Out Management, who had managed a number of pop and rock acts and had expressed an interest in helping a country act cross over. They managed to convince the 19-year-old Tucker that they could make her a platinum-selling act, unlike the “hicks” back in Nashville. TNT was the first project that resulted from this collaboration.
Released in 1978, the album created waves partly because it was a rock album. To their credit, neither Far Out nor MCA made any pretense about this being a country album. The sole exception was the closing track “Texas (When I Die)”, one of the most solidly country songs that Tucker has ever recorded, and the only single from the album to crack the Top 10 on the country charts.
The main controversy surrounding TNT, however, was the album artwork and the sex-driven marketing campaign undertaken by Far Out and MCA. Twenty-five years before Shania Twain arrived in Nashville, the cover photo of the 20-year-old Tucker wearing black leather pants with a microphone cord pulled up between her legs was considered outrageous, and the photo on the inside foldout, depicting her in a backless red spandex body stocking was even more so.
I always shied away from getting this album, knowing that it succeeded largely because of the marketing hype (which included a controversial Hustler ad), and that Tucker isn’t particularly proud of it. I finally bought a copy in order to review it, and was surprised to find that I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. By no means is it a great album, but it’s not a terrible one, either. Possibly to appease Tanya’s country fans, the album has a rockabilly feel, including covers of Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”, which was also recorded by Waylon Jennings, and Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel”. Tucker does a good job on the former, but the latter finds her trying a little too hard to emulate her idol Elvis.
“Texas (When I Die)”, written by Ed Bruce, Patsy Bruce, and Bobby Borchers, was the first single released from the album, and is the one true gem in this collection. It peaked at #5 and has become one of Tucker’s signature hits. The flip side, a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away”, was marketed to pop radio and reached the lower levels of the pop charts.
The second single, “I’m The Singer, You’re The Song”, is a gorgeous rock ballad written by Tucker and producer Jerry Goldstein. I enjoyed this a lot, though the production is a bit dated. It fared less well than its predecessor, stalling at #18 on the charts. Once again, MCA attempted to market the flip side of the record to pop radio, but “Lover Goodbye”, written by Phil Everly and Joey Paige, failed to chart at all.
The only other track of any interest is “Angel From Montgomery”, written by John Prine. It’s pure southern rock but would probably fit comfortably within the country genre as it is currently defined. The remaining tracks “The River and the Wind”, “If You Feel It” and “It’s Nice To Be With You” are forgettable filler. Jerry Goldstein had a hand in writing the last two.
Tucker premiered the album at a DJ convention in Nashville, where it received a chilly reception. Though she managed to win the crowd over with “Texas (When I Die)”, she left the stage feeling that she’d destroyed her career. She hadn’t of course, but even though the album did become her first platinum-seller, she knew that it was due largely to the controversial nature of the marketing, and not so much because the songs were great. The album was also ill-received by the Nashville press, resulting in the somewhat predictable accusations that Tanya Tucker had turned her back on Nashville.
Tucker recorded one more album, 1979’s Tear Me Apart under the guidance of Far Out Management, before breaching her contract with them and retreating back to Nashville. By then it had become painfully obvious that drugs had completely taken over at Far Out, and they had failed to deliver on many of their promises to her. Not a person to dwell on past mistakes, Tucker admitted in Nickel Dreams that “if I do have a regret, it’s that when we were waiting to meet with Far Out that first day in 1977, I didn’t walk out of the office and run like hell back to Nashville.”
While TNT is not unpleasant to listen to, it is for the most part a forgettable album, interesting mainly for the photography (though sadly, the body stocking photo is not included in the CD version), and in listening to Tucker experiment with different sounds. It definitely doesn’t hold its own against her many other albums, and as such, is not essential listening. For those who are interested in buying it, however, it can be purchased for a very reasonable price at Amazon.