The 1980s got off to a poor start with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wrecked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.
Here are some more songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records:
“Everybody Needs Love On A Saturday Night”– The Maines Brothers Band
This 1985 song was the biggest hit (#24) for a bunch of talented musicians, some of whom went on to bigger and better things. Lloyd Maines is a leading steel guitar whiz and record producer – his daughter is Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. Three other brothers of Lloyd’s were in this band, as well.
“I Wish That I Could Fall In Love Today” – Barbara Mandrell
This 1988 slightly re-titled cover of Warren Smith’s big hit from 1960 was to be Barbara’s last top ten recording. It is one of my favorite Barbara Mandrell recordings.
“Save Me” – Louise Mandrell
Louise never quite emerged from her big sister’s shadow but this #6 single from 1983 shows that a lack of talent wasn’t the problem.
“My First Country Song” – Dean Martin with Conway Twitty
Not really – Dean had recorded many country songs to great effect, although never with country accompaniment. The album from which this 1983 song was taken, was actually the last album the 66-year-old Dean would record after a hugely successful career as a pop singer, movie star , television star and stage performer. In his time very few performers were bigger stars than Dean Martin. Conway Twitty wrote this song and performed it with Dean. It wasn’t a huge hit (#35) but it was an interesting ending to one of the greatest careers in American entertainment history.
“You Are My Music, You Are My Song”– Wayne Massey with Charly McClain
Wayne Massey was a soap opera heartthrob and his wife Charly was stunningly attractive. This 1986 hit was one of two top tens the duo would have, although Charly had a very successful career as a solo act.
“Love At The Five and Dime“– Kathy Mattea
This #3 hit from 1986 was Kathy’s first top ten recording after seven chart singles that failed to crack the top twenty. The next fourteen singles would all reach the top ten, but this Nanci Griffith song was the launching pad from which all future hits would be delivered. Her biggest hit was the 1988 CMA Single of the Year “Eighteen Wheels and A Dozen Roses”.
“Long Line of Empties” – Darrell McCall
Darrell was as good a singer as ever existed but he also was a little too country for his time. This song got to #43 for him in 1980, his penultimate chart hit.
“Timeless and True Love” – The McCarters
For one brief shining moment in 1988, the McCarters were producing music unlike anything heard on the radio in years. Their debut album produced two top five hits in this song (#5) and “The Gift” (#4) as this sister act consisting of Jennifer and her younger twin sisters charmed listeners with their unique sound. For the follow-up album Warner Brothers re-captioned the group as Jennifer McCarter & The McCarters and went for a more commercial sound, and watched the singles fade away.
“Who’s Cheatin’ Who” – Charly McClain
Charly McClain was probably the most attractive female recording during the late 1970s and early 1980s. This 1981 hit was her first #1 recording (she would have three) and third top ten recording (she would have fourteen top ten recordings). Alan Jackson would have a hit on this song years later.
“Hello Daddy, Good Morning Darling” – Mel McDaniel
A honky-tonk lament (‘I traded “hello Daddy” and “good morning Darling” for this’), this 1980 song barely cracked the top forty but remains my favorite Mel McDaniel song. Mel would start having some top ten singles shortly after this, but the top tens were sort of mixed in with a bunch of lesser hits. Most people remember Mel for his lone #1 “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On”.
“Older Women” – Ronnie McDowell
Ronnie McDowell’s curse and blessing is that he could sound like Elvis Presley without even trying to do so. His biggest pop hit was the Elvis tribute “The King Is Gone” which reached #13 pop in late 1977. By 1980 Ronnie managed to establish himself as a country artist and launched a string of thirteen straight singles that reached #11 or higher. This 1981 song was one of Ronnie’s two #1s, an upbeat ode to the joys of dating older women.
“Savin’ My Love For You” – Pake McEntire
Reba’s older brother charted seven times during the period 1986-1988 , then went back to doing something else . This recording made it to #3 in 1986.
“You’re The First Time I’ve Thought About Leaving” – Reba McEntire
Reba’s second #1, this 1983 hit is still my favorite of all of her songs.
“Crying” – Don McLean
Most singers have no business trying to sing Roy Orbison; however, Don manages to pull it off. This 1981 record only reached #6 on the country charts but it also got to #5 on Billboard’s pop charts. Don is, of course, best remembered for “American Pie”.
“Honky Tonk Amnesia” – Scott McQuaig
Scott had two chart singles that got marooned in the fifties. I haven’t a clue as to why he didn’t become a star, but I really liked his singing.
“Love’s Last Stand” – Donna Meade
This was a nice song that made it to #50 in 1988, her biggest hit. As I recall, her label, Mercury had a glut of female singers at the time and didn’t give her much of a push. Donna married the sausage king (and Country Music Hall of Fame Member) Jimmy Dean in 1991 and they were married at the time of his death in 2010.
“I Still Do” – Bill Medley
When the Righteous Brothers split up in 1968, Bill Medley investigated the possibilities of a solo career. Although the Righteous Brothers reunited in 1974, Medley continued to seek solo opportunities, recording music aimed at the county market during the 1980s. This song reached #17 in 1984, his biggest country hit. Although Medley is a decent enough singer, his reputation will forever rest on the laurels achieved as part of the Righteous Brothers.
“River In The Rain” – Roger Miller
Roger Miller wrote this song, one of many from Big River, a Broadway musical for which Roger provided the lyrics. This song only got to # 36 but don’t feel bad for Roger as the play won several Tony Awards and ran for years.
“Am I Losing You” / “He’ll Have To Go“– Ronnie Milsap
The only single released from Ronnie’s 1981 Jim Reeves tribute album, “Am I Losing You soared straight to #1. The flip, a cover of Jim’s biggest hit, didn’t chart on Billboard, but Record World had it reaching #1 as well. I still prefer the Jim Reeves recordings of these songs, but Ronnie’s versions are a close second.
“Trainwreck Of Emotion” – Lorrie Morgan
After a decade of knocking around, Lorrie finally scored her first top twenty single with this 1989 single. The top ten hits would follow shortly.
“Baby Bye Bye”- Gary Morris
It is hard to pigeonhole Gary and his rather operatic voice. For some reason Gary (or his label) thought he was a country singer and marketed him as such. This was his first # 1 recording, reaching the peak in early 1985.
“Rolling Nowhere” – Michael Martin Murphey
Most people remember Murphey for his haunting 1975 single “Wildfire” (#1 AC / #3 Pop). Initially marketed as a pop artist, Murphey’s music really didn’t change so much as the music market did (he’s actually always been a western artist).
After “Wildfire”, county stations started playing his music and when he moved from Epic to Liberty the marketing emphasis shifted to country, where he had great success for about seven years, racking up twelve top ten hits. This song wasn’t one of them, peaking at #15, but it is one of my MMM favorites, and has a restless quality to the lyrics that appeals to me.
“Just Another Woman In Love” – Anne Murray
The best of all the ‘fellow travelers’ to grace the country charts, Anne slid over from the folk/MOR fields and produced a stately catalogue of great vocal performances. Anne isn’t country, but she was/is a great singer, whose heartfelt vocals appealed strongly to country listeners. This record reached #1 in 1984, but I could have selected any of a dozen other songs for her.