Song of the Day, April 28: Delta Dawn by Helen Reddy

ReddyGrDeltaToday’s song is the 70s pop classic Delta Dawn. It was written by rockabilly singer Larry Collins and Alex Harvey for the latter’s debut album in 1971. It features a simple lyric about a woman from Brownsville (Tennessee) who is loved and abandoned by a “man of low degree”and now wanders the streets awaiting his return.

The tale of a jilted woman’s break from reality caught the ear of many singers, and the song was recorded a few times in the following year. Bette Midler heard the version by Tracy Nelson, one of Harvey’s backup singers, and added her own interpretation to her live shows.

Producer Billy Sherrill heard Midler sing it and wanted to record her version; since she was already signed, he worked up a different, countrified version. That became the first hit [#6 Country, #72 pop] for future country superstar Tanya Tucker. Midler decided to record her bluesy take on her album The Divine Miss M. She intended to release it as a single, but opted for a different track when Tucker hit the racks first.

Producer Tom Catalano had created a more pop-oriented instrumental track to shop around. He offered it to Barbra Streisand, who passed. He then turned to Helen Reddy, who provided a stirring lead vocal and included the song on her album Long Hard Climb. It was released as the album’s first single and shot to the top of the charts. It was Reddy’s second pop #1 and the first of six consecutive Adult Contemporary chart-toppers. The first singer from down under to rule the U.S. charts, Reddy was a huge star throughout the 70s. Now retired from show business, she lives a quiet, comfortable life, reflecting with satisfaction on her contributions to music, feminism, and philanthropy.

Reddy’s version of the song has special resonance for me. From the summer of my seventh year, it’s one of my earliest favorite songs and something I enjoyed throughout my childhood. Long Hard Climb was the first album I ever bought. Many years later, when I first met my husband, he was entertained by my recollections of the song. A copy of Reddy’s Greatest Hits was the first gift he ever gave me, and I still cherish it.

That first meeting was 16 years ago today. A handful of homes, a transcontinental move, and an embarrassing number of cats later, we’re happily married and stronger than ever.

Help me celebrate a love that has fared far better than our Delta Dawn‘s and enjoy this fun pop classic today.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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