25 Years Ago: Trisha Yearwood vs. LeAnn Rimes in “How Do I Live”
Back during the Golden Era of country music in the 40s and 50s, it wasn’t uncommon for the same song to be recorded by different performers. With the monopoly Acuff-Rose publishing had on the genre’s songs, and the appeal in the public to hear older songs done anew, it was a fairly common practice.
But as time has gone on, it’s become increasingly rare to hear the same song twice, just from different artists. It’s even more rare to hear two version of the same song released at the same exact time. That is what has always been fascinating about the story behind the massive, international country and pop smash “How Do I Live” released by both LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood, and on the same day—May 23rd, 1997.
The story of how we got two versions of the same song is pretty crazy. It starts with hit songwriter Diane Warren, also known for writing songs like Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time,” and Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing.” Warren actually wrote the song to be considered for the soundtrack for the ridiculously-titled 1997 action movie starring Nicholas Cage called Con Air.
Shortly after Diane Warren wrote the song, she ran into LeAnn Rimes at a restaurant. This was right after Rimes had just won the 1997 Grammy for Best New Artist, and was one of the hottest names in popular music. Warren told LeAnn Rimes she wrote “How Do I Live” with her in mind, and how it was going to be featured on a huge movie soundtrack. Whether this was embellishment to get LeAnn Rimes to bite and record the song or was the truth all along, it worked, and the 14-year-old Rimes was in the studio the very next day recording her version of “How Do I Live.”
However, when the LeAnn Rimes recording was presented to Touchstone Pictures, they thought the subject matter of the song wasn’t believable coming from a 14-year-old. They also felt the song sounded too pop for their liking. And so the decision was made to forgo the LeAnn Rimes version of “How Do I Live.”
Meanwhile, looking for a more country version of the song, Touchstone Pictures turned to another hot name in country music at the time: Trisha Yearwood. Completely unaware that LeAnn Rimes had recorded the song previously, Yearwood agreed to give it a crack herself. Though the Yearwood recording is sold as the “country” version of the song, the production and instrumentation was quite contemporary as well.
However, listening to the two versions of “How Do I Live” side by side, you can definitely tell the inflections in Trisha Yearwood’s voice does give it a more “country” feel. The two versions of the song remain one of the greatest examples of the difference between a pop and country vocal that is cited by musicologists and others. Also, when Trisha Yearwood would perform the song live in subsequent years, she made sure to country it up even more to distinguish her version, heavily featuring the fiddle.
The Touchstone Pictures bosses were pleased with the Trisha Yearwood version, and ultimately decided to use it in the Con Air film, though strangely (perhaps due to licensing issues), the song didn’t appear in the film’s soundtrack. Meanwhile, when the songwriter Diane Warren heard that Trisha Yearwood had re-recorded the song and they were going to release it as a single, she called up the label head for LeAnn Rimes’ record label, Mike Curb, and told him Curb Records should release LeAnn’s version too.
What happened subsequently significantly shaped the careers of Trisha Yearwood and LeAnn Rimes moving forward, especially Rimes. Trisha’s version was released to country radio, and subsequently became the biggest single of her career, even though it only hit #2 on the country charts. What helped Yearwood’s version was pop radio also picked up on the track, and sent it to #23—Trisha’s only real crossover hit of her career.
Meanwhile, to outflank the Yearwood version, Mike Curb serviced LeAnn’s version to pop. Once again, the song only made it to #2, but it was the version’s longevity on the format that not only made it a success, it became outright historic. It only hit #2, but it did so on five non-consecutive weeks on its way to spending a whopping 69 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, which was a record at the time, and one that stood up for over 10 years until “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz topped it in 2008.
Come Grammy Awards time, the two versions of the song would be pitted head to head directly, since they both received nominations for Best Country Female Vocal Performance—the first such dual nomination in history. But only one artist could perform the song on the telecast, or win the award. LeAnn Rimes was chosen for the performance, and turned in a stellar rendition. But in quite an awkward moment, right after LeAnn left the stage, the Grammy was handed out, and it was Trisha Yearwood walking away with the trophy, likely rewarded by country voters because her version was more true to the country genre.
The implications of “How Could I Live” went far beyond one individual song. By staying true to her country roots, Trisha Yearwood was able to reap the rewards of the song’s popularity, but without having to compromise her principles of wanting to remain a country artist. In fact, some believe that many of the spins Yearwood’s version of the song received in pop were because some DJs didn’t know there were two versions of the song.
Meanwhile, LeAnn Rimes had risen to popularity in country music in part for her throwback traditionalist style, evidenced in her debut single, the Patsy Cline-sounding “Blue.” But as soon as she found such overwhelming success in pop, her career began to careen in that direction. Her next album, 1998’s Sittin’ On Top of the World was much more pop and adult contemporary in style, perhaps trying to chase the success they’d achieved with “How Do I Live.” But the album ended up receiving mixed reviews, and failed to launch a smash single. LeAnn never really regained the success of her early career, but she did earn critical acclaim when she returned to her country roots with her self-titled 1999 album of classic country standards.
The legacy of “How Do I Live” is quite remarkable. The conventional wisdom at the time was that releasing two versions of the same song simultaneously would cannibalize its prospects for both artists. But the exact opposite happened. “How Do I Live” became the biggest single of both Yearwood’s and Rimes’ careers. Later, “How Do I Live” would also go on to be named the most successful song in the entire 1990s decade by Billboard. The competition hadn’t killed both versions, it had complimented them, and two country women coming out on top.
May 24, 2022 @ 11:40 am
Great article, great story… maybe most people know this also, but Mark Chesnutt recorded Friends in Low Places around the same time Garth did – MC’s is much slower and subdued. Pretty funny to hear it now compared to Garth’s version.
May 24, 2022 @ 11:44 am
Rimes “Blue” is a total smackdown on anything any female country artist has recorded, since.
Just my opinion, but prefer LeAnn’s version of “How Do I Live”, over Ms. Yearwood’s.
May 24, 2022 @ 12:17 pm
Trisha’s version was not a pop radio hit. Its #23 placing on the Hot 100 was practically all sales. It never appeared on the Hot 100 Airplay chart or on the airplay-only pop charts of Radio & Records. I listened to a lot of radio and heard the song on a pop station a grand total of once, and it was a Canadian adult contemporary station. In those days, when single sales were weighted more heavily than airplay and when you had to have a retail single to crack the chart, it was pretty easy for a hip-hop or country record to make a good showing on the Hot 100 with virtually no pop radio airplay – “It’s Your Love” by Tim and Faith cracked the Top 10 based almost completely on sales.
That said, I definitely prefer Trisha’s version. LeAnn is a technically great vocalist, but she overdoes it with the vocal gymnastics and sounds less believable than Trisha, not only because of her age but because of her oversinging.
May 25, 2022 @ 7:35 am
“LeAnn is a technically great vocalist, but she overdoes it with the vocal gymnastics and sounds less believable than Trisha, not only because of her age but because of her oversinging.”
LeAnn is a natural powerhouse when it comes to vocals.
What you’re hearing is not oversinging & vocal gymnastics.
It is LeAnn using God given talent.
As for LeAnn’s version being less believable than Trisha’s, that is a totally subjective opinion.
May 24, 2022 @ 12:37 pm
Yeah I give this to LeAnn
May 24, 2022 @ 12:46 pm
Amazing. Thanks for sharing. It’s such a shame that LeAnn strayed so far from her roots.
May 24, 2022 @ 12:59 pm
“Come Grammy Awards time, the two versions of the song would be pitted head to head directly, since they both received nominations for Best Country Female Vocal Performance—the first such dual nomination in history. But only one artist could perform the song on the telecast, or win the award. LeAnn Rimes was chosen for the performance, and turned in a stellar rendition. But in quite an awkward moment, right after LeAnn left the stage, the Grammy was handed out, and it was Trisha Yearwood walking away with the trophy, likely rewarded by country voters because her version was more true to the country genre.”
This was a really cute move by the Grammy’s.
And we all know how precious that organization is.
If you asked LeAnn, i think she would tell you she is doing just fine.
May 24, 2022 @ 1:30 pm
What a payday for Warren….
(Still) The Ghost Of OlaR
May 24, 2022 @ 2:21 pm
May 24, 2022 @ 3:12 pm
I love me some LeAnn, and I adore me some Trisha. But I could never stomach LeAnn’s version of this song, particularly her pronunciation. “How do I leeeeeeve without you”????
I still think Trisha’s performance of this on the CMA’s the year she won is a performance for the ages. Back when they only gave standing ovations to performances that really deserved it. And baby, she earned it!!
May 12, 2023 @ 8:33 pm
Leann rimes performed at the Grammys, not Trisha.
May 24, 2022 @ 4:58 pm
Trisha is awesome but she never did this:
Jeff Foxworthy and LeAnn Rimes Parodied Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley in This ‘Blue Collar TV
May 24, 2022 @ 8:28 pm
Polished song-craft, to be sure, but how many readers of this site have either one of these performances on a playlist, or ever think to themselves, “gee, I think I’ll listen to “How Do I Live”? It’s just not one that endures as a great song. But it’s a cool story nevertheless, so thanks Trigger for another well researched and interesting read!
May 24, 2022 @ 8:59 pm
I agree this is probably a little far afield for many Saving Country Music readers, but it’s something I’ve been fascinated with and so self-indulgently I wanted to write about it. Last year I did a vintage review of LeAnn Rimes’ first record, and that’s what first got me thinking about it. Then when Trisha Yearwood’s name was rumored to be on the short list for Country Music Hall of Fame induction and I was delving into her career, I was reminded of it again. I thought the 25th Anniversary would make for a good excuse to talk about. I do think the song has endured, though mostly in the pop world. I also think there’s a lot of good lessons to pull from how all of this went down.
May 25, 2022 @ 5:50 am
I’m struggling with the fact it was 25 years ago.
May 25, 2022 @ 5:44 pm
Given the choice between LeAnn’s and Trisha’s versions of “How Do I Live?”, I prefer Trisha’s version–though I by no means intend this as a knock against either LeAnn or her fans. That said, though, I have to say that, while “How Do I Live?” is a fairly typical pop/country crossover recording for the late 1990’s, it is arguably an atypical one for Trisha herself. This is much more Adult Contemporary than the usual way Trisha approaches anything in pop/country crossover, which is from the classic 1970’s country-rock recordings of her spiritual role model Linda Ronstadt. It would be that Ronstadt-influenced approach she would arguably take to the max when she made her album REAL LIVE WOMAN in 2000.
Still, this does make for an interesting revisiting, as I knew about the two competing versions of the song even back then.
May 25, 2022 @ 1:59 am
I love the track (Trisha’s, I mean) and it’s on my playlist.
May 24, 2022 @ 8:51 pm
Thank you for this Trigger. I’ve actually always wondered how two versions of the same song came out right around the same time. Fascinating stuff
May 24, 2022 @ 10:15 pm
You have it at March 23rd, 1997, it was actually May 23rd, guess you had a typo when you did the article.
May 25, 2022 @ 4:41 am
Great article about a great song by 2 great singers. Yearwood’s version wins it for me, but not by much.
Roberta J Campbell
May 25, 2022 @ 5:00 am
I like LeAnn version better. I do still hear her version played more then Trisha. Trisha has had the better career bur us it more on her own or because of Garth. Both talented singers
Country When Country Wasn't Cool
May 25, 2022 @ 7:10 am
Diane Warren was subsequently nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song (“My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic won). I remember Trisha performing on the show, and she was introduced by Madonna. Trisha also performed on the American Music Awards. At that time, the AMAs aired in late January, about a month before the Grammys. The two shows rarely duplicated performances (in fact if you performed on the AMAs, you weren’t invited to sing at the Grammys), so that’s likely why LeAnn sang the song on the later show.
May 25, 2022 @ 7:25 am
May 25, 2022 @ 7:44 am
I always thought Trisha’s version was for a grown up relationship. I thought LRs sounded like a love lorn teen. I play them both. I am sad LeAnn adopted a weird accent when she talks & sings now. Trisha is can sing & cook. I wish she would do a traditional country project.
May 25, 2022 @ 8:38 am
It’s a great song no matter how you like country or pop!!!!
May 25, 2022 @ 4:12 pm
The Year of Our Lord, 1997 is one I would rather forget musically. In my honest opinion, that was the year the Corporate Reign of Terror began in the music world. From Puff Daddy thinking he was a rightful heir to The Notorious B.I.G. and shamelessly usurping his legacy (I honestly believe Puffy had him killed, but that’s another story for another day) to the scourge of teen pop music everywhere, to the rise of Swedish mononymed producers. The years 1981 to 1996 were the last golden years of popular music in America. But 1997, to me, will always be the year everything turned to shit. And it’s all been downhill ever since.
LeAnn piggybacking off this song and stealing Trisha’s thunder was such a microcosm of that. You almost NEVER heard Trisha’s version. It was such a shameless cash grab and ushered in LeAnn’s wannabe Britney routine…which, thankfully, she shed in the mid 2000s.
May 27, 2022 @ 7:10 am
Now I really want to hear the Puff Daddy theory…
I still remember my girlfriend’s little sister hearing Sting’s “Every Breath You Take” and shouting that he stole Puffy’s song. It flabbergasted me..
May 29, 2022 @ 8:58 am
It is pretty simple, and no long version is needed. I believe Puffy had Biggie set up to be killed on purpose.
Why, you ask? It was becoming common knowledge that Biggie was getting tired of Puffy’s meddling in everything he did on record and on video. He was starting to contemplate leaving Bad Boy and striking out on his own. Anyone who has followed Puffy’s career knows you don’t leave him. He leaves you, and leaves you broke and destitute. Apparenty, Biggie saw the writing on the wall and determined he wasn’t having that shit.
Biggie was the one artist Puffy couldn’t control and could never be bigger than. And that is why I believe he had Biggie killed.
May 28, 2022 @ 8:21 pm
I wish you’d write a whole long version of this…I want to know more
May 27, 2022 @ 6:03 am
“”Sittin’ on Top of the World” failed to produce a smash single?” Hello, it produced 2 Top Ten country hits, in its lead single, “Commitment”, and “Nothin’ New Under the Moon”. So do some research, before writing the article.
May 31, 2022 @ 7:35 am
I am a country music purist and absolutely love both Artists. In fact I’ve seen both live. Not sure why, but I personally think LeAnn Rimes is a much better vocalist. Trisha kinda had the inner lane when it came to her persona especially after her affair with Garth become public knowledge. That and the age difference between then made Trisha a little more easily parlayed with adult themes like honky tonks, saloons and parties. LeAnn in my opinion has a much better voice. Period. I love and will say that both versions of the song I have. It’s kind of interesting how they both made #2. But that Trisha got the Grammy, yet Leann set a long time record for legnth on the charts. So in other words, it seems like both were successful. I have to say in closing that I’m sure grateful that this type of ‘harvasting of talent’ sure didn’t become the norm. It would probably have detroyed many careers. Kinda great that most the truly huge successful artist now are actually a part of or are the principle writers and don’t just give songs to labels or artist leisurely but maintain control even if they choose not to record it themselves. i.e. Dolly Pardon for perfect example. ‘I Will Always Love You’ was a big hit (#1on country charts), yet when she allowed Houston to record it for the movie ‘Bodyguard’, she refused to sell her righs as the author. Of course everybody knows how universally successful the Whitney realease became. Yet fet realize that Dolly profited not once, not twice but three times from her song.