George Strait’s sophomore effort finds him repeating the same winning formula of his debut, from teaming up once again with producer Blake Mevis, to working a pun based on his last name into the album title. Released in June 1982, Strait From The Heart attempts to strike a balance between Strait’s traditional country roots and the Urban Cowboy sound that was prevalent in the early 80s.
“Fool Hearted Memory”, written by Byron Hill and Blake Mevis was the album’s first single. Released a month in advance of the album, this mid-tempo number holds the distinction of being the first in what was to become a very long string of #1 hits for George Strait. It was his fourth single release in total, and the third to peak inside the Top 10. By this time, Strait was beginning to develop a solid reputation as a traditionalist singer, so the next single release, took some by surprise. “Marina Del Rey” was written by Dean Dillon and Frank Dycus, and no one was more surprised than they when Strait fell in love with the song. They’d figured he wouldn’t be interested in this contemporary-sounding romantic ballad. A big departure from Strait’s previous work, “Marina Del Rey” employed a full string section, while the fiddle and steel that had figured so prominently on his earlier singles took a back seat. Despite being more in line with what radio was playing at the time, “Marina Del Rey” didn’t perform quite as well on the charts as Strait’s previous two singles, missing the Top 5, but still peaking at a very respectable #6. Though it was a pivotal record in Strait’s career at the time, “Marina Del Rey” hasn’t aged as well as most of his other hits; the production sounds dated to modern ears, particularly the singing seagull sound effect employed at the end, which is something that Strait objected to at the time. “Blake promised me that he would take the singing bird out at the end of it, which he didn’t do,” Strait said. ” And I’ve always hated that.”
The third single from this set was “Amarillo By Morning”, my favorite George Strait song of all time. Originally recorded in 1973 by Terry Stafford, who wrote the song with Paul Fraser, “Amarillo By Morning” was covered by many other artists, including Chris LeDoux and had long been a staple of Strait’s live shows. Strait’s version was an instant classic, and it still holds its own against 21st century recordings. It peaked at #4 in Billboard. In a highly unusual move for the day, MCA released a fourth single from the album, “A Fire I Can’t Put Out”, which provided Strait with his second #1 hit in September of 1983.
Noteworthy among the non-single album tracks are “I Can’t See Texas From Here” — which held the distinction of being the only George Strait-penned song to appear on one of his albums until the release of Twang in 2009 — and Guy Clark’s “Heartbroke” which became a huge hit for Ricky Skaggs around the same time that Strait From The Heart was released. The Skaggs version is infinitely superior; Strait’s vocals sound almost robotic and for that reason, it is the weakest track on the album. Interestingly, Strait performed the song in his 1982 live show, while he was opening for Ricky Skaggs, unaware that his headliner has just released the song as a single. When Skaggs got on stage, he told the audience, “I know George has already done this song, but it’s my next single, so I’ll do it too.” The remaining tracks on the album fall into the category of forgettable filler, and with the exception of “Honky Tonk Crazy”, another Dean Dillon-Frank Dycus composition, they are bogged down by Urban Cowboy production.
Strait From The Heart reached #18 on the Billboard Country Albums chart, and became Strait’s second gold album. Eventually it earned platinum status for sales in excess of one million units. Despite this success, however, it was his last album to be produced by Blake Mevis. There was tension between producer and artist, due to creative differences. Mevis wanted to push Strait in a more pop-country direction, while Strait insisted on doing traditional country. A nearly completed third album was scrapped, and Strait teamed up with Ray Baker, who had previously worked with Merle Haggard, Johnny Rodriguez, and Connie Smith. Interestingly, Blake Mevis would find himself in a similar situation five years in the future with another artist by the name of Keith Whitley. In both cases, the artists went on to even greater commercial success, singing hardcore country, with Strait eventually earning the title of “King George.”
Strait From The Heart is still readily available in both CD and digital from Amazon and iTunes. It is worth seeking out if you are interested in listening to Strait before he developed his now-famous crooning style, but for most people, a compilation package containing the four hit singles will probably suffice.