My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Classic Rewind: Sylvia – ‘The Matador’

17 responses to “Classic Rewind: Sylvia – ‘The Matador’

  1. Stan Zorin January 4, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    Excuse me, but this is not Country music. This is straight Pop music song.

    • Ken January 4, 2016 at 4:01 pm

      Granted that it does sound more like a song that Abba would do, but it was indeed a country hit for Sylvia peaking at #7 in July 1981. The late 70’s/early 80’s was another era when country music had lost it’s way.

      • Razor X January 4, 2016 at 4:04 pm

        The difference being that the music being released today is largely unlistenable.

        • Stan Zorin January 7, 2016 at 10:19 am

          Yes, this ” largely unlistenable” music originates in a pretty bad smelling swamp which is the mainstream Nashville. One has to go look for good music on the quite distant shores . Occasionally a little miracle happens and a flower manages to grow in the midst of this inhospitable place, like an album ‘100 Proof’, by Kellie Pickler, did.

      • Stan Zorin January 7, 2016 at 10:35 am

        I have to put on this forum a very interesting quote, which is most relevant, about the attitudes and views of the ‘lost Nashville’. It is from the interview with Steve Earle who made some honest Country songs. Quote : “I never felt politically constrained by being a country singer, but then I never saw myself as a country singer in the sense of… well, there was a moment where I thought that maybe I could save country music, but better people than me had tried, and anyway country music didn’t want to be saved. It’s an environment totally hostile to singer-songwriters. They hadn’t wanted anything to do with Hank Williams, and every ounce of their energy has gone into making sure another one never happens, because they can’t control it.”
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        • Ken January 7, 2016 at 12:07 pm

          Steve is a talented guy for sure but he’s always been on the outskirts of mainstream country music. “Guitar Town” was a very fresh sound at the time but after that he seemed to veer off into making some harder edged music that wasn’t where country was at that time. The late 80’s was the “new traditionalist” era so there were distinct boundaries. Dwight Yoakam found success with an edgier sound but even he went a bit too far at times and had his singles come up short. Back in the day Steve’s personal problems were likely his biggest obstacle to finding greater success.

  2. treedy January 4, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    Even though she was more pop that country I find Sylvias music to be very enjoyable. Sweet Yesterday is my favorite song of her!

    • Razor X January 4, 2016 at 8:42 pm

      Sylvia is mostly remembered — with some justification — as an artist who recorded slickly produced music that was more pop than country, but along with the pop there was a decent amount of more country-sounding music: “It Don’t Hurt To Dream”, “Tumbleweed”, “Heart on the Mend”, and “I Love You By Heart” are just a few examples.

      As Ken pointed out, country music had become very pop-oriented in the late 70s and early 80s, and Sylvia’s music was in step with the mainstream country of the time. By 1984 even she thought her music had become too slick. Surprise, her fourth album, had RCA pushing her in more of a pop/AC direction. The album didn’t do particularly well. She switched producers, teaming up with Brent Maher, who was having great success with The Judds at the time. One Step Closer, the album he produced for Sylvia, is more acoustic and rootsy than her earlier efforts. The album did well, producing three Top 10 singles, but for some reason RCA jettisoned the next album and dropped Sylvia from its roster in 1987. She dropped out of the public view and concentrated on songwriting. She released two independent albums, 1996’s The Real Story and 2002’s Where In The World, which are very different from her mainstream 80s work. Both are worth checking out, as is her Christmas album, 2002’s A Cradle in Bethlehem.

      • Ken January 5, 2016 at 12:52 pm

        Sylvia’s release from RCA was simply caused by lack of sales. In the 1980’s the RCA promotion team became very proficient at scoring radio airplay for most of their artists. That airplay often translated into top ten chart positions for singles as the Billboard Chart in particular weighted airplay more significantly that sales. But many of those artists had what were referred to in the industry as “turntable hits.” That term meant records that radio loved to play and listeners loved to hear on the radio but folks were just not motivated enough to purchase singles or albums by those acts in any great measure. Razzy Bailey, Leon Everette, Louise Mandrell, Dave & Sugar and Steve Wariner are some other RCA acts that suffered from the same situation and were ultimately let go. To be clear it was not they they were not talented or didn’t make great recordings – they just failed to make the cash register ring.

        Sylvia did score one huge #1 hit in 1982 with “Nobody” that also became a top 15 pop hit but her subsequent releases did not fare as well.

        • Razor X January 5, 2016 at 4:03 pm

          I remember hearing at the time — when “Nobody” crossed over to the pop charts — that Sylvia was RCA Nashville’s second best-selling artist. I’m guessing that their top selling act in those days was Alabama. But you’re right — she wasn’t able to sustain that level of success.

  3. Paul W Dennis January 6, 2016 at 6:44 am

    Ken’s comment about RCA being able to generate radio hits that did not generate great sales has been corroborated in many places. Capitol and MCA were also good at the promotion game, although not to the same extent as RCA.

    Of those referenced by Ken, only Steve Wariner was able to achieve great success (and significant album sales) after leaving RCA and landing elsewhere

    • Razor X January 6, 2016 at 7:21 am

      Steve Wariner moved to MCA — I’m not sure if he was let go by RCA or if he left on his own, but his tenure at MCA was much the same in that he scored a lot of radio hits but didn’t have great album sales. Interestingly, he didn’t get a gold album reward until 1991 with I Am Ready, after he’d switched labels once again, to Arista.

  4. Razor X January 6, 2016 at 10:29 am

    Was thinking some more about artists who had “turntable” hits. As I recall, country singles did not sell well at all in the early 80s, which may be one of the reasons why Billboard relied more on airplay to tabulate its charts. In 1982 or 1983, whichever year “Nobody” was certified gold, it was the ONLY country single to be certified that year. I don’t know what it was like in other parts of the country, but in my neck of the woods, it was hard to even find stores that sold country 45s.

    Albums weren’t always easy to find, either. I searched high and low for at least a year for a copy of Sylvia’s “Drifter” album on cassette — I didn’t have a decent turntable at the time. I could not find it anywhere and the record store staff inevitably didn’t know who she was and sometimes would even argue that the artist/album didn’t exist. I remember finding one copy of it on vinyl in one store to prove that it did, indeed exist. A few stores offered to special order it for me but inevitably, they were unable to get a copy. I did eventually find it somewhere — I think it was after the second album came out and the success of “Nobody” made Sylvia’s music a little easier to find.

    Steve Wariner’s first RCA single was released in 1978 but the label did not release a full album of his music until 1982, even though he’d racked up a handful of Top 10 hits by then. His debut album is virtually a “best of” or greatest hits package. My point is, that it’s no wonder these artists didn’t sell a lot of records when they were so difficult to find.

  5. luckyoldsun January 7, 2016 at 2:22 am

    I was actually surprised in the late ’80s when I was in Tower Records and saw “Sylvia” in the country section. I was familiar with the song “Nobody” simply from having heard it everywhere when it was a hit, but I had no idea that it was a “country” record. I thought it was r&b lite, in the same genre of “The Pina Colada song”, “Bette Davis Eyes,” and “Upside Down.” I was especially surprised to see the picture of Sylvia on her CD–because she looked white–and I had thought she was black.
    I have not explored Sylvia’s catalog, but I still don’t see her as country.

    • Ken January 7, 2016 at 8:47 am

      Never for one second thought that Sylvia’s voice sounded black nor have I ever heard anyone else make that analogy. Very odd perception.

      However some music retailers misfiled her recordings in the pop or R&B section because they confused the “country” Sylvia with singer Sylvia Vanderpool Robinson who also used just “Sylvia” as her professional name. That Sylvia scored her first pop hit with singing partner Mickey Baker in 1956 (as Mickey & Sylvia) with “Love Is Strange.” She also had a 1973 solo pop/R&B hit with the “R” rated song “Pillow Talk.”

      As for the country Sylvia she recorded for RCA Nashville and was promoted as a country act. “Nobody” was her only song to enter the hot 100 pop chart and none of her recordings charted R&B. She definitely does not sound similar to traditional country singers like Loretta Lynn or Tammy Wynette. Sylvia’s style mirrors many other 1980’s female country stars that sang with a pop vocal style often accompanied by very pop flavored production such as Barbara Mandrell & Crystal Gayle.

      • luckyoldsun January 7, 2016 at 2:33 pm

        Hey, I knew zero about Sylvia–other than having heard “Nobody” for several years, simply as background, while going out and about. For some reason, I knew the name of the artist who sang the song. Probably, some D.J. had said it while I was in someone’s car and the song was played on the radio–on some urban station–and I happened to remember it. I thought she was a black singer but didn’t give it any thought. It was years later, when I was looking through the country CD’s at Tower, that I came across “Sylvia”–probably behind George Strait–and was surprised to learn that she was a white country artist.

  6. Joe M May 22, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    “Tumbleweed,” “I Feel Cheated,” hard to get more countrypolitan. On those the latter esp. she sounds a lot like one of her idols, Patsy Cline.

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