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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Howard


Updated: Apr 3, 2019

Respectfully written by Melanie Smith-Howard, October 25, 2018

I love this song – always have. It was written by Chick Rains and Harlan Howard in the summer of 1983. I put Chick’s name first because that is how Harlan wanted it. It’s not only respectful, he said, it’s the humble thing to do. This is the story that Harlan told me about writing and pitching the song, “Somebody Should Leave.”

Harlan and Chick were dear friends and occasional co-writers. On this particular afternoon, they were heading to Sligo Boat Dock on Center Hill Lake in Harlan’s baby blue Cadillac to do a little night fishing. Growing up in Detroit had made Harlan a loyal fan of American made cars. He could afford any car, but he wanted a Cadillac. While driving the backroads to Smithville, Chick and Harlan were talking about life, love and the lack thereof; perfect fodder for songwriting. Songwriting wasn’t on the docket, but Harlan revealed to Chick that his wife had mentioned the word “divorce” now that their young daughter had started school. Harlan was trying to keep the car on the road meanwhile his marriage was derailing. The mere utterance of the word “divorce” had started the ball rolling downhill at Mach speed in Harlan’s mind.

Divorce was a term that Harlan was well versed in. He’d had several by this time – three, in fact. As difficult as leaving was, it was made easier by Harlan’s life experiences. Leaving was easy, staying was tough. Most of his life he’d been left behind, but he was guilty of leaving, too. He knew that in order to write love songs, he had to have love. The conversation with Chick about Harlan’s failing marriage prompted Harlan to tell Chick that somebody should leave, but which one should it be. Harlan lamented the thought of leaving his youngest child. They both looked at each other and knew there wouldn’t be any fishing this night. As soon as the groceries were loaded in at the houseboat, they sat down and the words and melody to “Somebody Should Leave” fell out of the night sky onto a page of a yellow, legal-sized piece of paper.

Soon after returning to Nashville, Harlan gathered together enough songs for a demo session. “Somebody Should Leave” was on this session. He loved the song so much, he made several demos. He did it as a duet and had two female singers sing the song.

Harlan was a master song-plugger. He loved the art of pitching songs to artists, labels, managers, producers whoever he could get an audience with. On this particular day, Harlan had Reba McEntire and her first husband, Charlie, over to his house. He thrived on having a captive audience. Harlan was not great at making small talk as he was terribly shy. He was also a bit nervous as he loaded the reel-to-reel onto the Ampex tape machine. He played a song and got no reaction from Reba. He asked her about it and she mentioned that it wasn’t the one she was looking for. Harlan chuckled and said he was just testing her to see if she knew a good song or not. He also wanted to know if she was brave enough to pass on a song. He put on “Somebody Should Leave” next, and he said he saw Reba grab the arms of the recliner she was sitting in. He thought, now I have her attention. She wanted to hear it again, so Harlan played it again. She smiled and said that’s it, Harlan, that’s the song I want. I’m going to record it and she did.

Harlan, ever the consummate song-plugger, knew he’d found the perfect song for Reba. What he didn’t know was that Reba and Charlie were also headed for a divorce. The song hit home for Reba just like it did for Harlan when he was writing it. Reba cut “Somebody Should Leave” on her album My Kind of Country and “Somebody Should Leave” was the second single. It peaked at #1 on Billboard charts in May 1985.

Fast forward several years to 1987 and Harlan and I were dating. One day he got into my new, white, hatchback Honda that I was so proud of and he quickly admonished me for not driving an American made car. I put in a new cassette that I had acquired while working at Central South Music Sales and we were listening to Reba McEntire’s, “Somebody Should Leave.” I sang along heartily much to Harlan’s chagrin. I gushed, isn’t that a great song! Harlan affirmed my sentiment. Nothing else. Weeks later, I was reading the liner notes on the cassette and low and behold, I see that Harlan Howard and Chick Rains had written that song. I went to Harlan’s house after work and said, why didn’t you tell me you wrote “Somebody Should Leave?” He simply said, you didn’t ask and laughed.

After 35 years of being owned by Tree International and then Sony/ATV “Somebody Should Leave” is home. Welcome home my sweet song! I shall sing in full voice on Friday, October 26th to welcome her home. I may go sit at Harlan’s gravesite so he can hear me. I will chuckle when he says, baby, you are the worst singer I’ve ever heard in my entire life. He loved that I sang with gusto though I was guilty of murdering his melodies. Perhaps I’ll play Reba singing “Somebody Should Leave” so I don’t scare the dead! It is nearly Halloween. Now where is that cassette?

Below is Harlan’s original handwritten lyric for “Somebody Should Leave.”

Respectfully written by Melanie Smith-Howard, October 25, 2018

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