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|Single by Tanya Tucker|
|from the album Delta Dawn|
|B-side||"I Love the Way He Loves Me"|
|Released||April 10, 1972|
|Recorded||March 17, 1972|
|Studio||Columbia Recording Studio (Nashville)|
|Tanya Tucker singles chronology|
|Single by Helen Reddy|
|from the album Long Hard Climb|
|B-side||"If We Could Still be Friends"|
|Songwriter(s)||Larry Collins, Alex Harvey|
|Helen Reddy singles chronology|
"Delta Dawn" is a song written by musician Larry Collins and country songwriter Alex Harvey.[a] The first notable recording of the song was in 1971 by American singer and actress Bette Midler for her debut album. However it is best known as a 1972 top ten country hit for Tanya Tucker and a 1973 US number one hit for Helen Reddy. Though the song is attributed exclusively to Collins and Harvey, the melody of the chorus is nearly identical to the Christian hymn Amazing Grace.
The title character is a faded former Southern belle from Brownsville, Tennessee, who, at 41, is obsessed to unreason with the long-ago memory of a suitor who jilted her. The lyrics describe how the woman regularly "walks downtown with a suitcase in her hand / looking for a mysterious dark haired man" who she says will be taking her "to his mansion in the sky."
Reddy's recording in particular includes choir-like inspirational overtones.
The song's writing
Alex Harvey said he wrote the song about his mother:
My mother had come from the Mississippi Delta and she always lived her life as if she had a suitcase in her hand but nowhere to put it down.
Ten years before Harvey wrote the song, he was performing on TV and told his mother not to come, lest she get drunk and embarrass him. That night she died in a car crash, and Harvey believed it was suicide caused by his rejection.
Harvey suffered from guilt over the incident, for years, until a cathartic incident the night he wrote the song. He was at fellow songwriter Larry Collins' house, who was asleep while Harvey noodled around on his guitar. He believed his mother then came to him in a vision:
I looked up and I felt as if my mother was in the room. I saw her very clearly. She was in a rocking chair and she was laughing...I really believe that my mother didn't come into the room that night to scare me, but to tell me, 'It's okay,' and that she had made her choices in life and it had nothing to do with me. I always felt like that song was a gift to my mother and an apology to her. It was also a way to say 'thank you' to my mother for all she did.
After writing the first few lines of the song, Alex woke Collins and they finished it together.
The first recording of "Delta Dawn" was made by Harvey for his eponymous album released in November 1971. Harvey had performed as the opening act for Helen Reddy at the Troubadour, in January 1972, but at that time Reddy (who also was signed with the Capitol Records label) made no connection with any of Harvey's compositions.
During the time Tanya Tucker’s and Helen Reddy’s recordings of the song were being produced (see below), Bette Midler recorded "Delta Dawn" for her The Divine Miss M debut album, for which her bluesy version was planned as the lead single. Reddy's single was released June 1973, two days after Midler's. The preemption required a marketing change for Midler, so the original B-side "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" was shopped to radio, itself becoming a top ten hit.
Before Bette Midler's recording, Nashville-based producer Billy Sherrill heard her sing "Delta Dawn" on The Tonight Show and wanted to sign Midler to Epic Records and have her record it. Upon finding that Midler already signed with Atlantic Records, Sherrill cut the song with Tanya Tucker, who was newly signed to Epic, and Tucker's version was released in April 1972; it reached number six Country that spring.
While Harvey's original version started with the first verse, Sherrill suggested starting with the chorus instead, done a cappella – a term unknown to 13-year-old Tucker. This distinction became a signature of her version.
Reddy's version, which added upward modulation to Tucker's cold intro and nonstop vocals throughout, entered the top ten on 18 August 1973, on its way to its lone week at number one on the main Billboard Hot 100 chart, on 15 September 1973. "Delta Dawn" was also the first of Reddy's six consecutive — and eight overall — number one hits on the Billboard Easy Listening chart.
Reddy had reached number two with both "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and "I Am Woman" in her native Australia; "Delta Dawn" became her first number one hit there, spending five weeks at the top of the Kent Music Report in August and September 1973. "Delta Dawn" also marked Reddy's only chart appearance in South Africa, reaching number 13 in the autumn of 1973.
- Waylon Jennings on his 1972 album Ladies Love Outlaws
- Loretta Lynn on her 1972 album Here I Am Again
- Other 1972 covers included those by Kitty Wells, Jody Miller, Bob Luman, and Nat Stuckey.
- The Statler Brothers on its 1973 Mercury album The Statler Brothers Sing Country Symphonies in E Major
- Nola Francis released a version of the song in 1973. It peaked at number 98 in Australia.
- Other 1973 covers included those by Sonny James, Dottie West, Teresa Brewer, and Ray Conniff.
- Scott Walker in 1974
- Dash Rip Rock on its 1991 live album Boiled Alive.
- Me First and the Gimme Gimmes on its album Ruin Jonny's Bar Mitzvah
- Debbie Rule on her 2015 album Texas Girls
- Hellbound Glory on its 2017 album Pinball, although the location in the song was changed to the Sacramento River Delta.
Tanya Tucker version
|US Billboard Hot 100||72|
|US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)||6|
|Canadian RPM Country Tracks||3|
Helen Reddy version
|New Zealand (RMNZ)||Gold||10,000*|
* Sales figures based on certification alone.
Use in popular media
- On Friends, Monica Geller sang it at a piano bar where Mike Hannigan worked.
- Stone Cold Steve Austin gave the first verse his take on an episode of WWE Raw – notable for his failure to hit the high notes.
- Sonny and Cher performed it on their The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour on CBS.
- Appeared in the movie Big Fan, starring Patton Oswalt.
- List of number-one adult contemporary singles of 1973 (U.S.)
- List of Hot 100 number-one singles of 1973 (U.S.)
- "Discography". Billboard. Vol. 86, no. 31. 3 August 1974. p. 52. ISSN 0006-2510.
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 357.
- Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music: The Inspirational Stories behind 101 of Your Favorite Country Songs by Jack Canfield — ISBN 978-1935096672
- Delta Dawn on Songfacts
- "(unknown)". Billboard. Vol. 84, no. 2. 8 January 1972. p. 12.
- Tucker, Tanya (1997). Nickel Dreams: My life (Large print ed.). Waterville, Maine: Thorndike Press. p. 132. ISBN 0-7862-1182-2.
- Tucker, Tanya (1997). Nickel Dreams: my life (Large print ed.). Waterville, Maine: Thorndike Press. p. 178. ISBN 0-7862-1182-2.
- Hyatt, Wesley (1999). The Billboard Book of Number One Adult Contemporary Hits. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications. p. 126. ISBN 0-8230-7693-8.
- "Australian Weekly Single Ccharts (David Kent) for 1973". Retrieved June 7, 2018.
- "SA Charts 1965 - 1989 Acts R". South African Rock Lists. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
- Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 117. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
- "Tanya Tucker Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
- "Tanya Tucker Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
- "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". 2012-03-30. Retrieved 2018-02-19.
- "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. 1973-09-29. Retrieved 2018-02-19.
- Flavour of New Zealand, 27 August 1973
- Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
- "Cash Box Top 100 Singles, September 15, 1973". Archived from the original on June 9, 2015. Retrieved February 28, 2018.
- Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. Australian Chart Book, St Ives, N.S.W. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
- Canada, Library and Archives (December 26, 2017). "Image : RPM Weekly". Library and Archives Canada.
- "Top 100 Hits of 1973/Top 100 Songs of 1973". www.musicoutfitters.com.
- "Billboard Year-End Charts 1973" (PDF).
- "Cash Box Year-End Charts: Top 100 Pop Singles, December 29, 1973". Archived from the original on July 15, 2014. Retrieved February 28, 2018.
- "Billboard Hot 100 60th Anniversary Interactive Chart". Billboard. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
- "Cash Box Magazine" (PDF). Cash Box. 23 March 1974. p. 51. Retrieved 15 November 2021 – via World Radio History.
- "Gold from Down Under" (PDF). Cash Box. 22 November 1975. p. unknown. Retrieved 15 November 2021 – via World Radio History.
- on YouTube