To gauge the rivalry between country stars LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood, one need look no further than last week's Billboard, where the two singers' competing versions of ''How Do I Live'' were neck and neck at No. 7 (Rimes) and No. 11 (Yearwood) on the pop singles sales chart. The last time two singers locked horns on the top 30 with the same song was 1971, when Helen Reddy and Yvonne Elliman released concurrent versions of ''I Don't Know How to Love Him,'' according to the trade magazine's Fred Bronson.
The history of ''How Do I Live'' has more turns than a backcountry road. Written by Grammy-winning songwriter Diane Warren, it was commissioned by Disney for the movie Con Air. Producer Tony Brown was initially asked to record the song with the red-hot Rimes. He agreed, but Rimes wound up cutting the song with Blue coproducer Chuck Howard. After rejecting Rimes' effort, which it judged lacking in emotional weight, Disney paired Brown with Yearwood, whose version is now included in the film (though it is not on the soundtrack album).
''I feel like I've been in the middle of this mess from the beginning,'' says Brown, laughing. ''It's getting crazy; the local paper just ran a contest where you could vote for which version you liked. I never wanted this to be a war.''
Maybe not, but the battle is on. There is, however, a middle road: A number of radio stations are playing an unauthorized version of ''Live'' that mixes Rimes' and Yearwood's vocals together to create a mock ''duet'' effect. Although not officially available, the fabricated team-up is proving to be popular with listeners. ''[The duet] is our number two most requested song right now,'' says Bruce Logan, program director at Greenville, S.C.'s WSSL-FM. Have the singers complained about the bogus recording? ''Not that I know,'' says Logan. ''Maybe because they both get a [royalty] every time we play it.''