Sometimes Wynonna Feels Like Elvis

Despite the temptation, Wynonna didn’t throw in the towel while recording the album that would become What the World Needs Now is Love. But she came awfully close — twice.

“Too much money was being spent,” she tells “I felt like I was never going to finish it. I couldn’t find the songs. They were all sort of party songs or went straight for the libido. I was frustrated. I felt like I didn’t belong, like I needed to live in a different time or something. I go a different way than most people. If it is getting heavy, I get simpler. I just feel like it is getting real slick. I can’t understand who’s who anymore. I got real frustrated and thought, ‘Do I want to be in this? Should I wait until it changes?’”

Even as she second-guessed herself, Wynonna didn’t duck out of the spotlight completely. She contributed “Burning Love” to the Lilo & Stitch soundtrack and “You Are” (which she co-wrote and produced) to the Someone Like You soundtrack. She performed at the Paralympics’ Opening Ceremonies in 2002, as well as the Super Bowl XXXVI pre-game show. She spoke on behalf of a variety of causes, from milk drinking to asthma. She had a garage sale.

Then, in May, the single “What the World Needs” showed up. Within three weeks, it was in the Top 40. Before long, word arrived the album was complete. The release date got bumped up due to the single’s success. And as her album arrives in stores this week, she’s enjoying her highest-charting single in years with “What the World Needs.”

“I’m aware that this song now is speaking to a lot of people, but when I initially recorded it, I really did it for myself,” Wynonna confesses. “As a home school teacher, I’m always telling my kids ‘And the greatest of these is love.’ That’s pretty much what it boils down to for my family. When I heard these words, I said, ‘Well, that is exactly what I am trying to say to myself.’ Now that others have embraced it and it has become an anthem for some, that’s a blessing that others are resonating from those words.”

She continues, “If you’re singing every day ‘What the world needs now is love,’ it’s going to put you in a good mood.”

It’s likely that What the World Needs Now is Love will put longtime Wynonna fans — and Judds fans — in a spectacular mood. The familiar topics of home and simpler times are prevalent here. Her mother, Naomi Judd, lends her famous harmonies to “Flies in the Butter (You Can’t Go Home Again),” while Wynonna herself embraces nostalgia on “Sometimes I Feel Like Elvis.”

“People hear that title and they think I’m wearing a cape and a belt channeling Elvis,” she says. “It’s not about that. It’s about having everything and nothing at all.”

It’s also about not knowing what to do with success, and the temptation of giving it all up and getting back to basics.

“I have two great kids and I still talk about 1970, or whenever it was, when we had nothing but each other and our dreams,” she says. “We ate soup, beans and cornbread because we didn’t have money for meat. And I still make soup, beans and cornbread. I long for those days when things were simple. Don’t want to go through the busted pipes and skunks living under out house and my mother having to put herself through nursing school and me raising Ashley. But I do long for that [simplicity] and when I sing those words, the pain of all of that is so coming through me, it’s kind of weird.”

Wynonna’s story is as famous as any in country music. She and her mother — once known as Christina and Diana, respectively — moved to Nashville from Hollywood and often sang on Ralph Emery’s early morning television show. With Wynonna in high school, Naomi was working as a nurse. She slipped a demo tape to a patient, who was the daughter of a producer, Brent Maher. Then Maher introduced them to arranger-guitarist Don Potter. Together, they worked up that signature mother-daughter sound. The Judds released their first album on RCA in 1984, eventually selling millions of albums because of hits like “Why Not Me,” “Mama He’s Crazy” and “Love Can Build a Bridge.”

Naomi and Wynonna parted ways, so Naomi could recover from Hepatitis C, in 1991. Not yet 30, Wynonna took a stab at solo stardom, and knocked out three No. 1 hits in a row — “She Is His Only Need,” “I Saw the Light” and “No One Else on Earth.” She was a mainstay in the Top 10 until 1996, when women like Jo Dee Messina, LeAnn Rimes and Shania Twain first started to dominate the airwaves. After record label troubles, her most recent albums failed to stir much interest.

Fast forward to today. Nestled into a studio to record promotional announcements for country radio stations, Wynonna is wearing gigantic Elvis-like sunglasses and a black jumpsuit like you’d find at Old Navy. Her red hair is flowing and she looks into the air when she answers the questions, almost like she’s following an insect.

Already this morning, she has said “This is Wynonna, and you’re listening to …” about a thousand times, though she does not complain. Interruptions don’t faze her because she’s used to sharing the studio. In fact, she hired a camera crew to follow her around during the recording of What the World Needs Now is Love. (Ozzy, watch out!) She’s going to be on Coke cans in the Southeast, too.

But with Wynonna, it eventually comes back to music, because she believes that music is the best way to reach her audience. That’s evident in “Your Day Will Come” — not only for the dynamic, soaring final note, but also for the encouraging lyrics.

“I recorded ‘Your Day Will Come’ for the fans,” she says. “‘You belong in the sun. Your day will come.’ I just want to remind people every day. I get letters all the time from women and men. God bless the single parent. If you say, ‘I’m about to give up,’ I’ve been there. I gave up on this record. Something inside of me kept me going, and I just want to tell people, ‘Keep going. Don’t give up. Don’t let somebody have the party in your honor. The best revenge is living well.’”