At 13 years old, LeAnn Rimes became a country music sensation when she released this lonesome ballad as the lead single from her debut album. She first recorded it two years earlier for her independent album All That but cut a new version after she was signed to Curb Records. It was originally supposed to be the B-side of the intended first single, "The Light In Your Eyes," but a snippet of "Blue" on a promo record for radio stations caught the attention of DJs and the sides were reversed. It was a huge hit, peaking at #10 on the Country chart and crossing over to the Billboard Hot 100 at #26.
Mike Curb, owner of Curb Records, knew he was hearing a career-making song when he first heard "Blue" on Rimes' 1994 release, so he sent the young singer back into the studio to record new vocals for her big debut - but that's not the version that made it to radio. "They actually released the wrong version," Rimes told American Songwriter in 2021. "The one you've been hearing forever is me as an 11-year-old."
Rimes' career could have turned out differently if she had signed to a different label. "I remember one label I was in talks with wanted to completely get rid of 'Blue,'" Rimes recalled to American Songwriter. "It's so interesting that if I had gone one way with a different label what my life and career would have looked like. It would have been completely different."
Although Rimes turned this into a hit, she wasn't the first artist to record it. The song was written by Bill Mack, a Texas-based singer and disc jockey who first released it himself in 1958 to little acclaim. At the suggestion of his fellow deejay Snuff Garrett (who went on to produce hits for Sonny & Cher), Mack hired a local female singer to record a demo version in 1962 and set it aside until the right voice came along - it only took about 30 years!
In the meantime, it was recorded by country singer Kenny Roberts in 1966, Texas singer-songwriter Polly Stephens Exley in the late '80s, and Australian singer Kathryn Pitt in 1993, but none of the versions were popular. After Rimes' success, Exley filed a lawsuit claiming she wrote the song's second verse and deserved 50% of the writers' royalties. In 1998, the case was dismissed.
A rainy day almost prevented the song from ever reaching Rimes. When Mack heard the young singer was looking for a tune, he agreed to deliver the cassette to her manager at a Denny's Restaurant - but the miserable weather nearly made him change his mind. "I wasn't about to make a trip half-way to Dallas to deliver a cassette for an 11-year-old kid to listen to!" he recalled in a 2011 interview. But thankfully his wife urged him to keep his promise. "Within a few weeks, I received a 45 rpm recording… featuring LeAnn Rimes singing my song. I was absolutely astonished! Her voice was perfect, and she sang from the heart. She was unbelievable!"
Many sources claim Mack wrote the ballad for Patsy Cline, but he merely pitched it to the country singer, who died in a plane crash in 1963 before she could record it. The myth gained steam when Rimes was hailed as the second coming of Patsy Cline after she released the twangy ballad.
In a 2010 article he wrote for Truckers Connection, Mack remembered how the song came together. He said, "I wrote 'Blue' while picking my new guitar in my home in Wichita Falls, Texas. I was creating some note changes on the guitar when the song entered my mind. Although I wasn't watching the clock, the melody and lyrics came to me in a completed form within 15 minutes. My wife at the time said, 'That's the best song I've ever heard! You need to record it as soon as you can!'"
At 14 years old, Rimes became the youngest artist ever to win a Grammy when she won Best New Artist and Best Female Country Vocal Performance for this song in 1997. Bill Mack also took home the award for Best Country Song.
The album debuted at #3 in the US, where it sold 6 million copies. It also peaked at #1 on the Top Country Albums chart.
Directed by Chris Rogers ("How Do I Live
"), the music video was shot at Barton Springs Pool at Zilker Park in Austin, Texas. Rimes playfully ignores the attention of teenage boys as she sings about the one that got away. The clip won the Billboard Music Awards for Best Country Music Video of the Year and Best New Artist Video of the Year.
Rimes' dad thought the demo sounded too old-fashioned and tossed it in the trash without letting his daughter hear hit. Out of defiance, she fished it out and was determined to record the song no matter what the demo sounded like. She recalled to Apple Music in 2021: "I went and dug it out of the trash and I listened to it. Obviously I understand why my dad threw it away because the demo was awful. It didn't sound anything like the song that you hear now, but because of my defiance, I'm like, 'I'm going to show my dad that this song's great.' By the time he got back, I'd put that little yodel thing in there. Then he was like, 'Oh, it's like a different song.' That's really how that song came about, was this little girl who was just like, 'I'm going to show my dad that I can make the song cool.'"
Rimes recorded a new version, featuring the Nashville-based Western swing band The Time Jumpers, for her 2011 album, Lady & Gentlemen.