September 11

Story Behind the Hit: “Who’s Cheatin’ Who” by Charly McClain

The beautiful face of Charly McClain. Photo from YouTube
The beautiful Charly McClain. Photo from YouTube via Screengrab

The Artist with a Manly Name

Back in days of Charly McClain’s prime, she had the habit of giving a headache. The masculine name stood as a stumbling block for many DJs who started working stations without really knowing her.

Born as Charlotte Denise McClain, “Charly” was her nickname among her friends and while she was working at a Ramada Inn Lounge, many patrons got the name as well. In a coincidence, executives from Epic Records also liked the name when they signed her a contract back in 1976. The executives also thought that the name “Charlotte McClain” was too formal.

The Road Leading to Stardom

Charly’s inspiration to become a singer came to her when her father suffered from tuberculosis. As an eight-year-old girl, she didn’t have the chance to visit her father in the hospital. During that time, together with her siblings, they would sit in the waiting room while he was in the hospital room. Meanwhile, the McClain children would record themselves singing into a reel-to-reel tape recorder for their father.

After a while, Charly saw an early country music awards show on TV. At that moment, she predicted that one day she would be on the program. From that moment, she ran after that goal. For six years, she sang and played bass in her brother’s band. At the of seventeen, she became a regular on Memphis showcase, “The Mid-South Jamboree.” Then when she joined a local group named Shylo on stage, Larry Rogers, their producer took her into the studio to record a demo.

Her First No. 1 Hit

When she got to Epic Records, Charly McClain first had a Top Ten hit in 1978 with “That’s What You Do To Me.” She returned to have another Top Ten hit in 1980 with “Men.” Then, the following year she had her first no. 1 “Who’s Cheatin’ Who.” On the record, Shylo played the instrumental tracks, although, the soap-opera lyrics didn’t appeal very much to Charly.

When Larry Rogers first brought “Who’s Cheatin’ Who” to Charly McClain, she was unimpressed. She thought that the song was kind of corny. However, her production team gave her the assurance that the song was a hit. After the convincing was done, she recorded the song having the feeling that the song wouldn’t even be a strong one.

Charly’s feelings proved her wrong when “Who’s Cheatin’ Who” reached the top spot on Valentine’s Day back in 1981. The song became her first of three No. 1 hits.

The 1997 Cover

The Straight Talkin’ Alan Jackson recorded “Who’s Cheatin’ Who” 21 years ago. Switching the song’s pronouns to put it in a male’s perspective, he took the song to No. 2. Not only that, in his version, they included a series of extended electric guitar and piano solos before the final chorus making it two minutes longer than Charly McClain’s version.

Who did a better job singing the song? Let us know in the comments section. Also, for more Country Music, visit our website. God Bless Your Heart.


Alan Jackson, Charly McClain

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