Steve Wariner didn’t become a staple at country radio until he signed with MCA in 1984, though he was already a veteran recording artist with six years and 17 charting singles under his belt. Released in 1998 and originally intended as a budget release, Super Hits anthologizes the portion of his catalog controlled by BMG (now Sony) Music. It consists primarily of his early recordings for RCA, along with a few tracks from his early 90s stint with Arista Records. It is the only currently available compilation of his early hits.
These recordings are very much a product of their time, which unfortunately means heavily pop-influenced 80s production that sounds quite dated to modern listeners. However, the songs themselves are quite good, and since Steve was experiencing his first chart successes at about the same time I became interested in country music, they hold great nostalgia value for me.
Wariner had been playing bass guitar in Dottie West’s band for seven years by the time he inked his deal with RCA in 1978. His first release for the label was “I’m Already Taken”, which peaked at #63 and is not included in this collection. A string of low-charting singles followed before he cracked the Top 40 for the first time with 1980’s “Your Memory”, which is the earliest hit included here. Written by Charles Quillen and John Schweers, and produced by Norro Wilson and Tony Brown, “Your Memory” climbed all the way to #7. Its successor, “By Now” did slightly better, reaching #6. “All Roads Lead To You”, produced by Tom Collins who was well known at the time for his work with Ronnie Milsap and Barbara Mandrell, became Steve’s first #1 hit in 1981. It was written by Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan, who penned many of Mandrell’s early 80s hits, as well as Sylvia’s 1982 smash “Nobody”. Telling the story of a road construction worker struggling in vain to forget about his lost love, “All Roads Lead To You” was one of my very favorite songs from this era. I still like it, though I don’t think quite as highly of it now as I did at the time.
After “All Roads Lead To You”, Wariner’s chart success became inconsistent. “Kansas City Lights”, which was also produced by Collins, stalled at #15, but in spite of its failure to crack the Top 10, it is probably the best remembered of his RCA hits. It was followed by three singles that all failed to crack the Top 20.
In spite of Steve’s success at radio, RCA resisted releasing an album for four years, utilizing a tactic that has more or less become standard operating procedure for major labels today. When they finally did get around to releasing an album, 1982’s Steve Wariner, it consisted of six singles, including all of the aforementioned songs. His second album, 1983’s Midnight Fire, found him once again utilizing the services of Norro Wilson and Tony Brown. Midnight Fire produced two Top 5 hits, the title track and “Lonely Women Make Good Lovers”, as well as “Why Goodbye” which peaked at #12. These tracks sound more country – a fiddle can actually be heard on “Midnight Fire”! – and have aged better than his earlier releases. These represent Wariner’s final commercial successes for RCA. He departed the label for MCA shortly thereafter. RCA released a Greatest Hits collection that included two new tracks that went nowhere on the charts. In 1986, RCA finally got around to releasing Down In Tennessee, which had been recorded in 1978 and intended to be Steve’s debut album.
The remaining three tracks on this album were recorded for Arista in the early 90s, and represent a marked change in style from the RCA recordings. “Leave Him Out Of This”, Steve’s first release for Arista in 1991, reached #6. His remake of Bill Anderson’s “The Tips Of My Fingers” climbed to #3 and is one of the finest recordings of Wariner’s career. Completing the set is “If I Didn’t Love You”, a #8 hit from Steve’s second Arista album, 1993’s Drive.
While most of these tracks are not essential listening except for the die-hard fan, they do provide an interesting look at Steve’s development as an artist.
Super Hits is available on CD from third party sellers on Amazon at ridiculous prices and can be downloaded for a more reasonable $5.99.