Jeannie Seely has been an iconic fixture in country music for over 50 years. Born Marilyn Jeanne on July 6, 1940, Seely was surrounded by music from a young age: Her father played the banjo in local square dances, and Seely grew up singing alongside her mother around the house. She began her career as a songwriter in California when she was just 21 and by the time she moved to Nashville in 1965, she was already well-known within the industry as a writer and performer.
Seely released her first hit song just a year after arriving in Music City. Her 1996 single, "Don't Touch Me," shot to the top of the charts, earned Seely a Grammy Award and even garnered an invitation to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1967. The girl who had been listening to the Opry radio show since she was 11 earned her very own place on the cast list just 16 years later!
The success of "Don't Touch Me" was just the start of a prolific and influential career. Along with a host of other popular songs like "Can I Sleep in Your Arms" and "Lucky Ladies," Seely experienced success as a duet partner with both Porter Wagoner and Jack Greene, the latter of whom she recorded the Top 10 hit, "Wish I Didn't Have to Miss You."
From her success as a songwriter to her popularity as a duet partner to her influence as a solo artist, Seely's work has impacted generations of country, Americana and bluegrass performers. Keep reading to hear five of The Boot's favorite songs.
Seely's biggest hit to date, "Don't Touch Me," has become a classic country standard -- even though it was considered a bit controversial when it was released in 1966. Written by Hank Cochran (who also happened to be Seely's husband at the time), "Don't Touch Me" caused quite a stir upon its release as one of the first country songs featuring a woman expressing sexual desire. Proving that women can sing about sex too, "Don't Touch Me" reached No. 2 on the country charts and earned Seely a Grammy in 1967 for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.
"Wish I Didn't Have to Miss You"1969
For nearly five years, Seely found critical success and mainstream popularity through her partnership with fellow country singer, Jack Greene. The duo recorded two albums together and released three hit singles, including 1969's "Wish I Didn't Have to Miss You," which reached No. 2 on the charts. Although Seely and Greene officially parted ways in the '70s to pursue their solo careers, they remained friends and continued to periodically perform and tour together for decades.
Although it wasn't originally performed by Seely, "He's All I Need" makes our list of favorites because it still bears her indelible mark as a striking storyteller through song. Written alongside her friend and fellow artist Dottie West, "He's All I Need" was originally cut by West in 1983. With lyrics like "The pain was just a temporary thing / He came into my life just like a dream / He could never be what you have been to me / He's not all you were, but he's all I need," it's clear that "He's All I Need" is about heartache, something which Seely confirmed in a 2017 interview with The Boot.
"Can I Sleep in Your Arms"1973
Released in 1973, "Can I Sleep in Your Arms" reached No. 6 on the country charts and brought another Top 10 hit for Seely and her one-time husband, Hank Cochran. Pulling from the melody of the classic folk standard "Red River Valley," "Can I Sleep in Your Arms" combined traditional cowboy country with a more modern sound infused with Seely's soulful vocals. In 1975, Willie Nelson also recorded "Can I Sleep in Your Arms" for his Red Headed Stranger album.
Highlighting the classic twang of honky tonk country and Seely's silky smooth vocals, "A Wanderin' Man" is the perfect song to exemplify the phrase, "if you love something let it go." "Your touch was what I needed and your kiss will always burn / I just hope you'll wander back this way again," sings Seely in the song, giving her lover freedom to leave her only because she knows she can't make him stay. "'Cause life was made for living and the mind was made to learn / A woman can't hold a wanderin' man." Written by Hank Cochran and released on Seely's second album Thanks, Hank!, "A Wanderin' Man" peaked at No. 13 on the charts.