RETROSPECTIVE: REBA’S ‘FANCY’ TURNS 30
B-Sides & Badlands | By: Jason Scott | Sept, 20202
Reba and producer Tony Brown were reaching the end of recording sessions. Rumor Has It, Reba’s 17th studio record, was practically done, but it needed that extra lift. The country superstar had always wanted to record “Fancy,” originally released by Bobbie Gentry in 1969, but the stars never seemed to align.
MCA Records head Jimmy Bowen wasn’t keen on her recording it, as it was too closely associated with Gentry. When he left the label in the late ‘80s, selling off his new Universal Records imprint to Capital, Brown inherited much of the artist roster ─ and that included Reba. Their first collaboration together was 1990’s Rumor Has It, which turns 30 years old this Friday (September 4), a career move that would prove quite lucrative for both.
Having growing up in the church, Brown didn’t start listening to mainstream pop and country music until around 1969 or so. The timing could not have been better. Bobbie Gentry had already garnered a smash hit single with 1967’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” her signature, and her stardom was exponentially rising. It was during an Oklahoma City tour stop when Brown first saw Gentry play live, opening a set for Glen Campbell. He was immediately mesmerized by not only her presence but her storytelling ability.
Fast forward 20 years, Brown would be at the helm of crafting what has arguably become one of modern country’s most enduring classics. Reba’s “Fancy” features all the hallmarks of the original, a grittiness in the acoustic guitar that seems to weave in and out of the haunting melody, but there’s considerably more bombast. Always one to uncover new interpretative layers, Reba digs her heels into the earth to unravel a tale of poverty, prostitution, and ultimately hope.
“Near the end of recording, Reba said, ‘Do you remember the song ‘Fancy’?’ I said, ‘I love that song.’ She said, ‘I want to cut that.’ I said, ‘Let’s do it,’” recalls Brown. “So, we cut it, and it sounded awesome. I went back to the office the next day, and Bruce Hinton, who became the new CEO, said, ‘I heard you cut ‘Fancy’ last night. I said, ‘We did.’ He said, ‘How’d it turn out?’ I said, ‘It’s incredible and sounds like a smash.’ He said, ‘That’s what I was afraid of.’”
“I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘You know what that song’s about don’t you?’ I said, ‘Yes, about a girl that lives in the country, kind of like how I was raised, and then she gets to go to the big city and make it big.’ He said, ‘It’s about a prostitute.’ And I said, ‘I never knew that. I never even paid any attention to the lyrics.’ I just focused on the drama in the track.”
“Fancy” most certainly leans heavily into dark theatrics, particularly in Reba’s iteration, but it is perhaps the narrative that has given it such a legacy. Jonna Volz, who played Young Fancy in the video, considers its themes as the driving force behind its generation-defying appeal. “The song and the video have survived generations now. I live in a college town in the Midwest, and it’s not just people my age or older who love this song,” says Volz, who now lives in Springfield, Missouri and works as an acting coach, as well as volunteers at youth homeless shelters. “It’s the younger kids, too. They know it. It’s almost like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ but in the country world.”
She continues, “One of the reasons I think the song has stood the test of time is the message. It’s the relatability of the story Fancy went through and the awareness that’s going on about sex trafficking, prostitution, and homelessness. At the end of the video, the director put up a sign that said Home for Runaways. It’s just very moving and tragic. She survived. So, it’s a message of hope. We always need that message.”
The “Fancy” music video, filmed on a brisk February morning on the outskirts of Nashville, depicts the story almost beat-for-beat from the song. Directed by Jack Cole, also known for helming other Reba clips like “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” and “Is There Life Out There,” the visual stuns with its barebones presentation and relentless emotional weight.
30 years later, Reba’s “Fancy” has taken on iconic status. In spite of only charting just inside the Top 10 at radio, it continues to pierce through time to remain one of country’s brightest storytelling treasures. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t know the song either. In celebration of the anniversary, B-Sides & Badlands spoke with Jonna Volz (Young Fancy), Norman Woodel (“Gabby Cabbie”), and producer Tony Brown about the song/video’s endurance, its timely themes, and on-set memories.