Fancy (Bobbie Gentry song)

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"Fancy"
GentryFancy.jpg
Single by Bobbie Gentry
from the album Fancy
B-side"Court Yard"
ReleasedNovember 3, 1969
StudioFame Recording Studios, Muscle Shoals, Alabama
GenreCountry, southern soul
Length4:15
LabelCapitol
Songwriter(s)Bobbie Gentry
Producer(s)Rick Hall
Bobbie Gentry singles chronology
"Casket Vignette"
(1969)
"Fancy"
(1969)
"All I Have to Do Is Dream"
(1970)

"Fancy" is a song written and recorded by Bobbie Gentry in 1969. The song depicts its protagonist using prostitution to overcome childhood poverty. Gentry viewed the song as a feminist statement:[1]

"Fancy" is my strongest statement for women's lib, if you really listen to it. I agree wholeheartedly with that movement and all the serious issues that they stand for — equality, equal pay, day care centers, and abortion rights.

The country song was a crossover pop music hit for Gentry, reaching the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 (her second and final solo single to do so) and the top 30 of the Billboard country chart. It was covered in 1990 by country music artist Reba McEntire on her album Rumor Has It. McEntire's version surpassed the original on the country music charts, reaching the Top Ten on Billboard's Hot Country Hits in 1991.

Content[edit]

The Southern Gothic style-song is told from the perspective of a woman named Fancy looking back to the summer she was 18 years old.

Fancy and her "plain white trash" family (a baby sibling and their mother, the father having abandoned them) lived in poverty — "a one room, rundown shack on the outskirts of New Orleans". Her mother is terminally ill and has no way to care for the baby.

In a last desperate act to save Fancy from the cycle of poverty, her mother spends her last money to buy Fancy a red "dancing dress", makeup and perfume, and a locket inscribed with the phrase "To thine own self be true". She encourages Fancy to "start sleeping uptown" (a line not mentioned in McEntire's remake) and to "be nice to the gentlemen, Fancy, and they'll be nice to you," saying that this is the only way Fancy will be able to gain financial independence.

Fancy recalls her mother's parting words: "Here's your one chance, Fancy, don't let me down" and "If you want out, well, it's up to you." Fancy departs, never to return; shortly thereafter, her mother dies and the baby is placed in foster care. She becomes trapped in her new way of life, her "head hung down in shame," and vows to find a way to become "a lady someday, though (she) didn't know when or how." Fancy is taken in off the streets by a "benevolent man" and begins having relationships with wealthy, powerful men, which she parlays into owning a Georgia mansion and a New York City townhouse flat. In the end, she denounces "self-righteous hypocrites" who criticize her mother for putting Fancy into that situation, justifying both her and her mother's actions by flashing back to the distress her mother expressed when she sent Fancy onto the streets, and celebrating the prosperity she now enjoys because of her actions.

Much of the fictional Fancy story had parallels in Gentry's own life: she too had grown up in poverty in the South, and less than a year prior to releasing the song, she married the casino magnate Bill Harrah in a marriage that would last less than a year. She also cited the film Ruby Gentry, from which she took her stage surname, as an inspiration for both the song and her personal life.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

The song was a cross-over country and pop hit for Gentry in early 1970. The album containing the song received a Grammy nomination for "Best Contemporary Pop Vocal Performance, Female".[3]

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1969–70) Peak
position
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[4] 26
US Adult Contemporary (Billboard)[5] 8
US Billboard Hot 100[6] 31
Canadian RPM Country Tracks 1
Canadian RPM Adult Contemporary Tracks 20
Canadian RPM Top Singles 26

Reba McEntire version[edit]

"Fancy"
Single by Reba McEntire
from the album Rumor Has It
B-side"This Picture"
ReleasedFebruary 1991
GenreCountry
Length4:58
LabelMCA S7-54042
Songwriter(s)Bobbie Gentry
Producer(s)Tony Brown
Reba McEntire
Reba McEntire singles chronology
"Rumor Has It"
(1990)
"Fancy"
(1991)
"Fallin' Out of Love"
(1991)

In 1991, Reba McEntire took the song to number eight on the Billboard Country charts. McEntire also produced a popular music video for the song, expanding on the song's storyline. For years, McEntire has encored her live concerts with the hit, singing the first half of the song in a ragged black mink coat and hat then removing them to reveal a floor length red gown for the second half. McEntire has referred to the song as her "possible signature hit". (The edit of the song heard on most radio stations cuts the song short after three verses, before the title character makes it off the streets.) Since 1984, Reba wanted to record it but her producer at the time, Jimmy Bowen was against it because he believed the song was too closely associated to Gentry. When Reba changed producers to Tony Brown, she was able to record it for her 1990 album Rumor Has It.[7] As of November 2019, the song has sold 760,000 digital copies in the United States.[8]

Music video[edit]

The music video for the song tells the story of the song itself in more detail. It opens with the title character, Fancy Rae Baker, played by McEntire, riding in a taxi cab and arriving at the site of the small shack on the outskirts of New Orleans where she grew up, which is now abandoned. The video takes something of a creative license with the song as McEntire's version of Fancy, much like McEntire herself, is a famous singer and actress. The story of the song plays out against the background accompanied by flashbacks of Fancy's past with her mother and baby sibling playing prominent roles.

Near the end of the video, Fancy visits her mother's grave in the backyard of the shack and sees her mother's ghost standing nearby. She tells her that she understands now and forgives her. As the video ends, Fancy departs in her taxi and a large sign is seen in the front yard that says that the property is to be the future home of the Fancy Rae Baker Home for Runaways, dedicated to the memory of her late mother, with the home's motto "to thine own self be true" (the engraving on the locket Fancy's mother gave her before she left, which she threw down before leaving but retrieved at her return and placed on her mother's gravestone).

Though the song's lyrics indicate that the events described took place in the summer Fancy turned 18, in the video, the clothing worn by the characters, and the surrounding bare foliage, would appear to indicate winter conditions in southern Louisiana. The video was actually filmed on a cold, rainy, January day, a few miles outside Nashville, Tennessee.

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1991) Peak
position
Canada Country Tracks (RPM)[9] 8
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[10] 8

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
United States (RIAA)[11] Platinum 1,000,000double-dagger

double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Orville Peck version[edit]

In 2020, masked Canadian cowboy crooner Orville Peck released a cover of the song on his Show Pony EP. In an interview with country music publication The Boot, Peck notes that his version is inspired by both the Bobbie Gentry original and the 1991 version recorded by McEntire, which Peck also considers an "original" in its own right. "I liked the high energy of that version when I was a kid especially," Peck explains, although his stripped-down version of the song harkens more toward the Bobbie Gentry record. [12]

References in Stephen King's book "Duma Key"[edit]

In Stephen King's book Duma Key, there are some references to this song. In the book Edgar says he called his doll "Reba" because the radio in his car played Reba McEntire's song "Fancy" when he had his accident, and when he forgets his doll's name, he thinks about the song, especially about the sentence: "...It was RED!..." from the song. Also, there are a lot of references to this particular sentence ("...It was RED!...") when something in the book is red, all because his car radio played the song when the accident happened.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Veljkovic, Morag (July 1974). "Ode to Bobbie Gentry". After Dark Magazine.
  2. ^ Weisbard, Eric (November 2007). Listen Again: A Momentary History of Pop Music. Duke University Press. p. 121. ISBN 978-0822340416. Roberta Lee Streeter.
  3. ^ "Bobbie Gentry, Artist". Official Grammys website. Retrieved April 26, 2018.
  4. ^ "Bobbie Gentry Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  5. ^ "Bobbie Gentry Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard.
  6. ^ "Bobbie Gentry Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  7. ^ Reba McEntire (October 1995). Reba: My Story. p. 27. ISBN 9780553572384. Retrieved October 2, 2016.
  8. ^ Bjorke, Matt (November 30, 2019). "Top 30 Digital Country Songs: November 24, 2019". Rough Stock. Retrieved December 12, 2019.
  9. ^ "Top RPM Country Tracks: Issue 1520." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. May 18, 1991. Retrieved August 16, 2013.
  10. ^ "Reba McEntire Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  11. ^ "American single certifications – Reba McEntire – Fancy". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved August 3, 2020.
  12. ^ "Orville Peck's 'Fancy' Cover Honors the Originals, but Makes It His Own," TheBoot.com. August 14, 2020, retrieved September 4, 2020.

External links[edit]