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It's Time to Rediscover Sissy Spacek's Forgotten 1983 Country Album


In 1983, Sissy Spacek, at the height of her success as an actress, released a country music album called Hangin' Up My Heart.  It did not lead to any more albums or a long musical career for Spacek. When I recently learned of the album's existence, I was surprised I had never heard of it, so I immediately had to download it from iTunes. 

According to this 1979 Rolling Stone profile on Spacek (which was written by Cameron Crowe!), Sissy Spacek moved to New York in the late 1960s with her guitar in the hopes of becoming a musician, not an actress. When 18-year-old Spacek first moved to out New York from her home town of Quitman, Texas, she stayed with her cousin Rip Torn and his wife Geraldine Page. With the intention of becoming a rock star, she hung around Greenwich Village and recorded a demo that went nowhere. Eventually, in 1969, she (using the name "Rainbo") recorded a single for Roulette Records, a novelty song she had written called "John, You Went Too Far This Time", a humorous response to John Lennon and Yoko Ono's infamous Two Virgins album cover. The song is weird and unsurprisingly, nothing became of it. It was only then, after she had failed to break into the music industry, that she first considered acting, and enrolled in the Lee Strasberg Theatrical Institue. 

Flash forward about a decade. Spacek has established herself as an actress, with roles in Terrence Malick's Badlands, Robert Altman's 3 Women, and Brian De Palma's Carrie, the role for which she received her first Oscar nomination and made her a star. She was a highly acclaimed new talent and could afford to be picky about which projects she signed onto. It was also around this time she and her husband, Oscar-nominated production designer Jack Fisk helped finance David Lynch's Eraserhead (Lynch and Fisk had known each other since childhood). Her next big role was playing country music legend Loretta Lynn in a biopic based on her memoir Coal Miner's Daughter. The film was released in March 1980 and was a huge success, with Spacek winning the Academy Award for Best Actress. Spacek sang 8 songs for the soundtrack, which peaked at the number 2 spot on the Billboard US Top Country Albums chart. Spacek also was nominated for the Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for singing the title tune. 



After filming Missing (which would garner Spacek her third of six Oscar nominations), Spacek and Fisk moved away from Los Angeles and to a farm in Virginia, where they welcomed a daughter. Spacek's next professional endeavor was Hangin' Up My Heart, which was released in 1983. Although she had told Cameron Crowe in the Rolling Stone article (published months before Coal Miner's Daughter was released) that she "always thought country music was corny", she apparently had changed her tune by 1983. As she explained to People Magazine, "One day it just dawned on me that I'm from Texas and that's what I am. I hated country music growing up, but it gets in your bone marrow, kind of like a disease". It didn't hurt that she was already familiar to country audiences because of her association with Lynn.  

So is the album any good? Yeah, it's pretty great. The whole thing, which consists of ten songs, can be listened to less than thirty minutes. The slick, handsome production is by producer Rodney Crowell, whose then-wife Roseanne Cash provided backup vocals. The best song on the album is "Lonely But Only For You" (see video below), which paired Spacek's strong voice with that hint of sadness that all great country songs have. The title track is also quite fun, and decades later was recorded as a duet by Crowell and Emmylou Harris to greater success. As if she needed to further prove her country cred, Spacek pays homage to some of the genre's greats, covering Hank Williams ("Honky Tonkin'") and David Pomeranz ("Old Home Town"). Spacek herself penned two of the songs, the spunky "He Don't Know Me" and "Smooth Talkin' Daddy", the latter being co-written by Loretta Lynn. 




I'm not going to pretend to know anything about country music because I really don't. But I can tell that Hangin' Up My Heart is mostly radio-friendly mainstream country-pop songs. That's not necessarily a bad thing (it sure is fun to listen to), but it's a far way from the deeply personal, critically adored albums such as Lynn's Coal Miner's Daughter or Dolly Parton's My Tennesse Mountain Home. Perhaps if Spacek had made more albums or written more songs, she could have entered that territory eventually. But Hangin' Up My Heart is a decidedly commercial effort.

The album enjoyed a mostly warm critical reception, with critics pleasantly surprised to see Spacek hold her own in Lynn's domain. It peaked at a pretty good number 17 on the Billboard Top US Country Albums chart, with "Lonely But Only for You" the lone single to become a minor hit, charting at number 15. I cannot speculate as to why the album didn't perform any better than it did, and I really have no idea why Spacek never released a follow-up. It surely wasn't the kind of colossal failure that would turn her off from the music industry entirely. It was a decent debut album that unquestionably proved that Spacek had the talent for a music career. 

Whatever the reason, Spacek never again released as a much as a single and continued to be known primarily as an actress. Audiences today that are discovering her via her work on shows like Bloodline will have to watch  Coal Miner's Daughter to even know that she could sing at all. That is unless Hangin' Up My Heart enjoys some sort of revival in cultural relevance over the next couple of years. It's a shame, but I doubt that will happen.

Have any thoughts on Sissy Spacek's abandoned country music career? Leave a comment below! Thanks for reading!

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