Bobby's One Hit Wonders: Volume 10: Tommy Shane Steiner - What If She's An Angel
By: Bobby Peacock
So far, most of the other one-hit wonders I've written about haven't been the most literal of types. Most of the ones I've covered have seen a little more chart action, but still managed only one song that got into the single digits. However, it does happen now and then that someone sticks around for just one song, then never sees Top 40 again. One such artist is Tommy Shane Steiner, whose #2 hit "What If She's an Angel" became his lone hit in 2001-2002.
Although one would expect the member of a rodeo family to be rough-and-tumble like Chris LeDoux, or at least an easygoing cowboy in a pressed shirt and jeans like George Strait, "What If She's an Angel" fell right into the country-pop wheelhouse of the early 2000s: slick production with plenty of string section, but tempered with a few flourishes of steel guitar and Vince Gill on backing vocals. In fact, Steiner's phrasing recalls a lower Vince Gill, and while he doesn't quite have the same silken smoothness, Steiner comes off as a certainly likeable vocalist. Lyrics that question whether that homeless man on the corner, the abuse victim upstairs, or the little cancer patient seen on TV are angels "making certain that you're doing your best / To take the time to help one another." His sincere, everyman delivery and the straightforward lyrics — using ordinary language, not hyperbolic metaphors or vague symbolism á la "Concrete Angel" — keep the song's message intact without ever feeling heavy-handed. Overall, the song seemed like it fit right in with the post-Faith pop-ification of country, and its message of not taking others' lives for granted must've really hit home after 9/11. All in all, this song's Top 5 success made it look as if his RCA debut, Then Came the Night, would position him for stardom.
But as early as single number two, all the momentum came to a screeching halt. Steiner's follow-up was the widely covered ballad "Tell Me Where It Hurts", penned by pop cliché queen Diane Warren and originally cut by Milli Vanilli after they stopped lip-syncing. Steiner's take on the song was surprisingly tight, rife with searing electric guitar riffs and a steady beat, not to mention some of Warren's more palatable lyrics. Honestly, I'm at a total loss as to why this failed to make the Top 40. It's not as if 2002 was overrun with hot new male acts clogging up the charts — and those that did were mostly one-hit or even no-hit wonders of their own. (Kevin Denney, anyone?)
Now, the last chart entry for Steiner, "What We're Gonna Do About It", is a real humdinger of a song. And I mean that in a good way. The verses mainly consist of actress Bridgette Wilson carrying on a phone conversation, which is interspersed with Steiner as an awkward yet loveable man hitting on her ("Did you know there's 35 Starbucks and 3 million people in Atlanta / The odds of you and me being in the very same line are staggering"). It's cute and clever, but it might have been a little too "different" for radio. Perhaps he could've made a hit out of "The Mind of John J. Blanchard", a captivating story song about an elderly stroke victim who, upon awakening, recounts what he was doing in his mind: "Fly fishin', workin' on that Firebird engine / Runnin' 99 proof moonshine cross that county line / 3-2-1 and ignition, off on some space shuttle mission / Playin' QB for the Cowboys / Gettin' high on the crowd noise and the bright lights…" (And if RCA had gone with this as a single, then Anthony Smith might've ended up with a more fruitful second single from his 2002 If That Ain't Country album, as his own version of "Blanchard" made #40 in late 2002.)
Even the writer of Steiner's biggest hit, Bryan Wayne, is close to a one-hit wonder, as a search on BMI shows only one other chart entry that he penned: Chris Cagle's 2002 single "Country by the Grace of God", which only got to #33. Beyond that, the only other songs of his that got cut appear to be "It Ain't Called Heartland (For Nothin')" by Clay Walker, "Kick My Ass" by Big & Rich, and "Simplify" by John Rich.
And ever since, it's almost as if Steiner never existed. No one said anything about him online after his 15 minutes of fame, except a short blurb from CMT stating that he exited RCA in December. Beyond that, he appears to have played a few gigs in 2003, then disappeared off the face of the earth. Overall, he strikes me as a talented, yet baffling one-hit wonder: why did that second song do nothing? Why did no other label try to salvage him? Did he even seek any other contracts, or just give up? Does he consider his album an old shame now? Surely the answers are out there somewhere.