I became interested in country music at a time when many of the genre’s legends were still scoring hits. Within a few years however, the landscape changed dramatically as the New Traditionalist movement swept a lot of veterans off the charts. Though it was an exciting time with a lot of new talent emerging, it was also a bit sad to see a number of old favorites disappearing from the airwaves all at once. In their struggle to remain commercially relevant, many of these veterans produced some of their finest work. In some cases it resulted in one last big hit; in a few rare cases it resulted in a temporary halt in their slide down the charts, but above all, it usually resulted in some really great music. Here are a few examples of memorable late career moments from some of my favorite artists:
1. “Two Story House” — George Jones & Tammy Wynette (1980)
Though this duo continued to record together after their divorce, their collaborations became less frequent as Jones battled his personal demons. “Two Story House”, a tale of a marriage destroyed by materialism, was their last big hit, charting at #2. They scored one more Top 20 hit later the same year with “A Pair of Old Sneakers”. After that there were no more Jones/Wynette collaborations until 1994 when they remade their biggest hit, 1976’s “Golden Ring” for George’s Bradley Barn Sessions album, which led to one final album of duets, 1995’s One.
2. “Another Chance “– Tammy Wynette (1982)
This bouncy tune was Tammy’s last Top 10 hit as a solo artist, peaking at #8 in 1982. It’s largely forgotten today but it received a lot of airplay at the time and I’ve always thought it was one of her best singles. She would hit the Top 10 one more time in 1985 with “Sometimes When We Touch”, a duet with Mark Gray.
3. “I Lie” — Loretta Lynn (1982)
Loretta’s chart decline paralleled that of Tammy Wynette. This #9 hit from 1982 is one of her glossiest singles. It was her first Top 10 solo hit in three years, and her only appearance in the Top 10 as a soloist in the 1980s, though she did enjoy three more Top 10 duets with Conway Twitty.
4. “Shouldn’t It Be Easier Than This” — Charley Pride (1987)
Charley Pride’s hits began to taper off in the mid-80s. He ended a twenty-year association with RCA Records in 1986 and signed with the independent 16th Avenue label. He scored one final Top 5 hit the following year.
5. “I Wish That I Could Fall In Love Today” — Barbara Mandrell (1988)
Barbara was at the peak of her popularity in 1984 when she was seriously injured in a car accident. Her career never quite regained its momentum, which she partially blames on the bad publicity she received when she filed a lawsuit against the estate of the driver that struck her car — a requirement under Tennessee law in order for her to collect from her own insurance company. She ended a three-year dry spell in 1988 when she returned to a more traditional sound. I was unfamiliar with the Ray Price original, but I loved Barbara’s take on this song and consider it to be one of her very best recordings. By coincidence, my colleague Paul also gave this record a shout-out in the latest installment of his Favorite Country Songs of the 1980s series.
6. “Don’t You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me” — Ronnie Milsap (1989)
Ronnie had a voice tailor made for country music, but unfortunately much of his output during the 1980s leaned heavily towards pop and R&B. He was still enjoying chart success when he got on board with the New Traditionalist movement and covered this Hank Cochran tune.
7. “Wrong “– Waylon Jennings (1990)
This whimsical tune about a marriage that didn’t quite turn out as expected was Waylon’s first single released during a brief stint with Epic Records. It reached #5 and was the last hit of his career.
8. “Feed This Fire“– Anne Murray (1990)
Anne regularly scored hits in both pop and country throughout the 1970s, but during the 1980s her successes were primarily on the country charts. In 1986, in an attempt to regain her popularity outside of country, she deliberately moved in a more pop direction. Ironically, her first release under this new strategy, “Now and Forever (You and Me)” became a #1 country hit, even though it was not remotely country. After that she fell out of favor with both pop and country radio, and by the beginning of the 1990s, she was trying hard to get back on country radio. She succeeded with this excellent Hugh Prestwood tune, which she took to #5 in the US and #6 in Canada. It was her last Top 10 country hit in the US.
9. “Three Good Reasons” — Crystal Gayle (1992)
Loretta Lynn’s little sister managed to buck the commercial trend towards more traditional country and stay on the charts through most of the 1980s. By the end of the decade, however, the hits began to taper off. Like many others she eventually switched to a more traditional sound. This 1992 tune did not chart, although it did get a lot of airplay in the Philadelphia market because Crystal was one of the artists appearing at the local country radio station’s annual anniversary concert that year.
10. “Buy Me A Rose” — Kenny Rogers (1999)
Kenny Rogers hadn’t scored a Top 10 hit in a decade, but age 61 he defied the odds and became the oldest person in country music history to score a #1 hit when he took this tune to the top of the charts in 1999.