Margie Singleton has been around.
Now 85, this veteran of the Louisiana Hayride and popular country music artist started making recordings for Starday in the 1950s, and found middling success through the 60s. Her highest charting appearance was with a Faron Young duet “Keeping Up With the Joneses” in the mid-60s, and she was on a pair of George Jones hits a few years earlier. Singleton, despite recording a lot, didn’t have the chart success of her contemporaries, which is surprising considering the undeniable strength of her voice and the quality of the songs featured on a Bear Family collection entitled Pledging My Love: Jukebox Pearls. Her most significant solo song was “Old Records,” (1963) a rather pedestrian song buoyed by her plaintive approach, complete with recitation.
I discovered Singleton several years ago when I tripped over her mature cover of “Ode to Billie Joe,” a rendition that brought shades of wise nuance to the now-eternal song. The albums of that era, Ode to Billie Joe (recorded with husband Leon Ashley) and Harper Valley P.T.A. are impressive on their own, despite the attempt to chase at something that wasn’t going to be caught.
Singleton is a songwriter, and those late-60s albums were comprised mostly of original material and were the better for it. She also wrote or co-wrote hits (and non-hits) for Brook Benton, Charley Pride, Kenny Rogers, Lynn Anderson, and others; “(Laura) What’s He Got That I Ain’t Got,” “Lie To Me,” and “I Got What I Wanted” are hers. Perhaps it’s her Louisiana roots, but Singleton’s style was equally well suited to country and pop material. It has been argued that Singleton lacked chart hit success because of her decision to forego extensive touring, wanting to be near her children. Whatever the reason, I believe she deserved better.
Singleton doesn’t appear to have spent too much time wistfully considering ‘What coulda been.’ Her childhood marriage to Shelby Singleton allowed her to raise her sons, one of whom—Stephen Shelby Singleton—produced and co-wrote her latest endeavor, the most charming country EP I’ve heard in 2020, Never Mind. It is a fire-cracking slab of plastic.
As stated earlier, Singleton is 85 and—I would suggest with honesty—her voice isn’t what it once was. But I will go down swinging arguing that she remains mighty sound. Nowhere does she wobble or croak, as we’ve heard other senior singers of similar vintage. On a blind listen test, I would suspect no one would peg “Lie to Me” and “Missing You” as voiced by an octogenarian.
From first listen, the killer track here is “Never Mind.” Not only cleverly crafted (“I was born in Coushatta, Louisiana in nineteen-never mind, with a song in my heart and rhythm in my soul…”) this autobiographical tale clips along with a lively beat and catchy refrain, filling in the gaps for those who may be less familiar with the details of her long career; a bit swamp rock, a whole lotta country, it’s a crackerjack of a performance, honest and true as the best music must be.
She impressively reprises “Lie To Me,” one of Brook Benton’s bigger hits and one I can’t find Singleton singing previously—and I have searched! The way she sings “time” and “say” at the end of lines in this song? Wow! Shivers.
“Who’s Gonna Love You (Too Late for Sorry)” is another well-constructed song, again catchy with a memorable refrain. The instrumentation throughout the five-track EP is without fault, and on this number especially, one appreciates the Waylon-esque approach to guitar, bass, and drums working in concert. Isaac White’s steel on “Missing You”—featuring an arrangement with a bit of swamp around the edges–lends a classic country element to the heartfelt number, one that appears to be sung to Leon Ashley’s memory.
Through it all, Singleton sounds like she is having a blast, revisiting the type of music upon which she built her career and much of her life. Her publishing company is called ‘Aintquittin,’ and the evidence is heard in every note of this 16-minute disc.
I’ve been smiling ever since the disc slipped out of its padded envelope a couple days ago; I’ve seldom been so pleased that an artist has been allowed a late-in-life opportunity for a reappearance in the public light. Here’s hoping it gets a bunch of airplay and sells a few copies.
How many of us, at eighty-five, will be able to say they are “looking ahead” referencing their chosen career? Let’s get behind Margie Singleton and Never Mind, and give her more reason to continue looking ahead!