January 1

Her First No. 1 Hit, “Who’s Cheatin’ Who” by Charly McClain

Her First No. 1 Hit, “Who’s Cheatin’ Who” by Charly McClain 1

Charly McClain’s Story

Named Charlotte Denise McClain at birth, “Charly” was an early nickname among some of her Memphis friends. While working at a Ramada Inn lounge, many of the patrons likewise picked up on the name. Coincidentally, executives at Epic Records hit upon the name as well when she signed with the label in 1976, thinking that “Charlotte McClain” was too formal.

Charly McClain’s father suffered from tuberculosis. And, in a round-about way, caused her initial interest in recording. As an eight-year-old girl, Charly was too young to visit her dad in the hospital. The three McClain children would sit in the waiting room while their mother went into his room. Meanwhile, the kids would record themselves singing into a reel-to-reel tape recorder for their dad.

Later, while watching an early country music awards show on television, Charly predicted that one day she would be on the program. She headed toward that goal when she sang and played bass in her brother’s band for six years. At age 17, she became a regular on a Memphis showcase, “The Mid-South Jamboree”.  When Charly joined local group Shylo on stage, their producer, Larry Rogers, took her into the studio to record a demo.

Who’s  Cheatin’ Who

Once with Epic, McClain first cracked the Top Ten in 1978 with “That’s What You Do To Me”. She returned again in 1980 with “Men” and finally hitting No. 1 with “Who’s Cheatin’ Who.” Shylo played the instrumental tracks on the record, although the tune’s soap-opera lyrics didn’t appeal very much to Charly.

When Larry Rogers first brought “Who’s Cheatin’ Who” to her, she was quite unimpressed, thinking the song was “kind of corny.”

However, all the guys in Charly’s production team assured her that it was a hit. So she reluctantly agreed to cut it, all the while feeling that the number wouldn’t be very strong.

It was raining the day Charly recorded “Who’s Cheatin’ Who” and she still had her raincoat on with her hands in her pockets the entire time she was standing at the microphone in the studio singing it. Her record entered Billboard’s country singles chart on November 29, 1980, and by Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1981, it had become McClain’s first of three number one hits.

Alan Jackson successfully covered “Who’s Cheatin’ Who,” taking it to No. 2 in 1997. Jackson switched the song’s pronouns to put it in a male’s perspective. The album version (on Alan’s “Everything I Love” package) also included a series of extended electric guitar and piano solos before the final chorus, causing it to run almost four minutes, nearly two minutes longer than McClain’s original cut.


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