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Shania Twain: the essentials

Andrea Warner

Shania Twain is among the best-selling artists in Canada, and while some people might recall her outfits faster than her greatest hits, Twain’s influence and importance as a musician deserve to be celebrated. More than laying a map for Taylor Swift to bedazzle and make her own, Twain doesn’t quite get enough credit as a songwriter, vocalist and curator.

Though she released just four studio albums between 1993 and 2002, before retreating into semi-retirement (at least from recording), selecting the essential Shania Twain songs isn’t an exercise in fishing from shallow waters. Rather, it would be easy to choose just her greatest hits, but tucked into Twain’s earliest release, her self-titled debut, are some of the best songs of her career.

To honour one of the country’s biggest stars, CBC Music producers have selected the essential Shania Twain songs. Scroll down to see if your favourite made the list, rediscover an old gem or find something brand new (to you) and marvel at what Twain accomplished with just four albums in fewer than 10 years.

Song: "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under"
Album: The Woman in Me (1995)

A fun fiddle jam about a philandering lover, “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under” is catchy and cheeky, cloaking its fraught heart under layers of honky-tonk guitar and piano. But Twain’s character here isn’t slinking off, wounded and alone, nor is she idly wondering where her man is making his bed tonight. She’s laying bare all of his cheating ways, naming names and sending him on his way by the song’s end. — Andrea Warner

Song: "No One Needs to Know"
Album: The Woman in Me (1995)

The first time I ever heard or saw Shania Twain was the video for "No One Needs to Know," a perfectly summery song that straddles that fine line between country and Americana. It fit right in with the sound of the moment that was being defined by Sheryl Crow, but with one difference: Twain was Canadian. As a teenager, I was naively convinced that only Americans could make hits, but Twain changed that for me. Also, it's still today undoubtedly a jam and, by far, the best song on the Twister soundtrack. — Jesse Kinos-Goodin

Song: "Man! I Feel Like a Woman"
Album: Come on Over (1997)

This song has an opening riff that'll get a roomful of karaoke-goers on its feet. The seventh single from Twain's 1997 album, Come on Over, "Man! I Feel Like a Woman" has the country singer taking matters into her own hands, subverting the tired standard of scantily clad women as backup and instead standing in front of a band of men wearing sheer muscle shirts and leather pants, with make-up to match Twain’s. From the opening line “Let’s go girls” to the closing “I feel like a woman!,” Twain walks her walk and takes names, doing exactly what she wants. It’s what we needed in a country hit in 1999, and something we could use about now, too. — Holly Gordon

Song: "Dance With the One That Brought You"
Album: Shania Twain (1993)

This gem sounds like a tried-and-true country classic, but it’s actually just a perfect, humble little number from 1993. It showcases Twain’s charms beautifully, and its simple message of appreciating what you have (“don’t let the green grass fool ya”) is delivered with a wonderful sense of playfulness. At just under two-and-a-half minutes, it packs just the right amount of punch without getting preachy or repetitive. Plus, this music video starring the late, great Charles Durning (and directed by Sean Penn) is genuinely lovely. — AW

Song: "Any Man of Mine"
Album: The Woman in Me (1995)

This was my introduction to Shania Twain, and honestly, my 12-year-old, horseback-riding self was originally hooked by all the horses in the video (the tub scene!). But then I learned the lyrics (and the dance at the end) and realized that most of the song is pretty damn feminist. Twain is adamant that she’s playing by her rules, and hers only, so you’d better get onboard. There are a few hiccups — an honest partner would be better than the song's yes-man — but Twain's fierce heart is in the right place. And it’s one of the catchiest barn-burners out there. — HG

Song: "Leaving is the Only Way Out"
The Woman in Me (1995)

Twain wrote this heartsick torch-and-twang number, and her delivery is so affecting that if you can get through the song without feeling at least a little tug at the corner of your eyes, well, you’re a stronger person than I am. Hear the resignation, defeat and, ultimately, the weary decisiveness in Twain’s voice as she articulates her protagonist’s painful decision to take care of herself by walking out the door. — AW

Song: "(If You're Not In It For Love) I'm Outta Here!"
Album: The Woman in Me (1995)

An essential Shania track can come down to factors: the iconic outfit and the actual quality of the song. “(If You're Not In It For Love) I'm Outta Here!" is basically my version of having my cake and eating it, too. The unnecessarily long song title, the wonderful ’90s rock pastiche production, that red cashmere crop top, those drum hits — it doesn't get any more essential than this, which is Twain and Mutt Lange at their finest. — Louise Burns

Song: "That Don't Impress Me Much"
Album: Come on Over (1997)

Both the song and music video for this 1998 hit are iconic for their fierce attitude and even bolder leopard print outfit. “That Don’t Impress Me Much” is a witty takedown of shallow men as well as a reminder to women that it’s OK and even necessary sometimes to have standards — not just for romantic partners, but for everything. You can practically hear Twain’s epic eye-roll whenever she sing-speaks the song’s memorable chorus. It’s a simple message and statement, but one that is masterfully delivered by Twain’s powerful confidence. — Melody Lau

Song: "When He Leaves You"

This heartbreaker is a little overwrought, but its pain is exquisitely tangible, and the story unfolds differently than the usual jilted lover narrative. Twain knows how to belt out a line when it’s necessary, pushing us to the edge of melodrama but always skillfully avoiding the precipice. Her control and delivery is superb, and this should be a country staple, the stuff of boots and blues, sad karaoke nights or jukebox dry cries — and yet it’s not. Perhaps the song’s never quite gotten its due since people are still undercutting Twain’s songbook more than 20 years later. — Andrea Warner

More to explore:

Shania Twain: 20 years of bad feelings, bare midriffs and breaking ground

Lindi Ortega and Kira Isabella on why we still need to talk about women in country music

Loretta Lynn: 'I recorded for us girls, I didn't record for men'