Reba McEntire began to come into her own as a recording artist with the album “My Kind of Country.” She suggested to producer Harold Shedd that they avoid recording the album with a string section, and became adamant about it when informed that strings would cost an additional $10,000. Reba also started selecting her own material, and manager Bill Carter set up one of her first song-finding appointments with veteran songwriter Harlan Howard.
McEntire drove with then-husband Charlie Battles over to Howard’s home and after a half-hour of small talk, they sat down to listen to songs. Harlan played several “ditties” and Reba diplomatically passed on them. Satisfied that she wanted something better, Howard pulled out his ace.
He played her “Somebody Should Leave” and according to Harlan, Reba sat “bolt-upright in that chair like she’d been pinned by a Sumo wrestler.” Tears came to her eyes and the hair stood up on her arms. When the song finished playing, Reba blinked away the tears and asked Harlan, “Can I have that song?” Harlan smiled and said, “I thought you’d like that one.”
Reba believes Howard was testing her the whole time. She thinks that if she had liked the other ones, he wouldn’t have played “Somebody Should Leave” for her. “This was his cherished baby and he was very protective of it,” remembers Reba.
Harlan guarded “Somebody Should Leave” with good reason – it was personal. He started writing the song with Chick Rains on a 75-mile drive to Center Hill Lake and, as they discussed the status of his rocky marriage, Howard remarked, “It looks to me like somebody should leave.” Rains looked over at him, instantly recognizing that the line would make a good song title, and they wrote the first verse and the chorus before they arrived at their destination, where Rains jotted it down on a legal pad.
After fishing on Harlan’s houseboat until midnight, they finished the song on the sundeck the next morning. Howard decided that he wanted someone with a traditional bent – hopefully Reba – to record it. The lyrics about a married couple getting a divorce with the added complication of children in the proceedings would make for a very traditional-sounding country song, and Harlan believed there was none better to deliver such material than Reba McEntire. His instincts proved correct, and Reba logged the fourth of her 25 Billboard number one hits with “Somebody Should Leave” on May 11, 1985.