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.
“When You Leave That Way You Can Never Go Back” – Sam Neely
This 1983 song reached #77 for a talented performer who spent many years playing the clubs and honky-tonks of Corpus Christi. The song, the reflection of a condemned inmate’s life, looks back at all the bridges he burned beyond repair. The song also was recorded by Bill Anderson and Confederate Railroad.
“Dream Lover” – Rick Nelson
Epic reissued Rick’s 1979 cover of a Bobby Darin classic after Rick’s death in a New Years Eve 1985 air crash. It only reached #88 but it gives me a chance to mention one of the fine rock ‘n roll / country singers one last time.
“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.
“Wabash Cannonball” – Willie Nelson with Hank (Leon Russell) Wilson
This song is at least as famous as any other song I’ve mentioned in any of my articles. Although the song is often attributed to A.P. Carter, it really is much older than that. Willie and Hank took this to #91 in 1984.
“American Trilogy”– Mickey Newberry
Mickey issued a new version of his classic 1971 pop hit in 1988. While it only reached #93, it was good to hear it again on the radio. Glory, Glory Hallelujah forever.
“The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)“– Judy Kay ‘Juice’ Newton
This #1 hit from 1982 was Juice’s biggest hit. As great as this recording is, the song sounds even better when she performs it acoustically.
“Dance Little Jean” – The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Perhaps my favorite recording by NGDB, it only reached #9 in 1983 but I still hear the song performed today by various and sundry acts, not all of whom are country. The song was the group’s first top ten country hit there would be sixteen in all), although they had pop chart hits dating back to the 1960s.
“Let’s Go All The Way ” – Norma Jean and Claude Gray
A pair of veteran performers teamed up to release this 1982 hit which charted at #68. The song was Norma Jean’s first chart hit back in 1964. This was her last chart hit; in fact, she hadn’t charted since 1971 when this record was released on the Granny White label.
“Elvira” – The Oak Ridge Boys
Although not their biggest chart hit, this cover of a Dallas Frazier-penned song from the 1960s , was easily their biggest selling song, reaching #1 in 1981 while hitting #5 on Billboard’s pop charts. Has anyone really forgotten the chorus?
So I’m singin’, Elvira, Elvira
My heart’s on fire, Elvira
Giddy up, oom poppa, omm poppa, mow mow
Giddy up, oom poppa, omm poppa, mow mow, heigh-ho Silver, away!
I didn’t think so …
“Oh Darlin’” – The O’Kanes (Kieran Kane and Jamie O’Hara)
This coupling of a couple of singer-songwriters who had not had solo success, resulted in a half dozen top ten records that had a fairly acoustic sound and feel that sounded like nothing else currently being played on the radio. This song reached #10 in 1986. Their next single “Can’t Stop My Heart From Loving You” would reach #1.
“That Lovin’ You Feeling Again” – Roy Orbison with Emmylou Harris
Roy’s first and biggest country chart hit, reaching #6 in 1980. In the world of country music, Roy was but a blip on the radar, but in the world of pop music Roy Orbison was a colossus, with a vocal range and delivery seldom heard. While alive, Roy’s fans included the biggest names in the world of music. Although he has been gone for nearly 24 years, he still is revered.
“Rockabilly Rebel” – Orion (Jimmy Ellis)
After Elvis died, Plantation Records owner came up with the idea of having Jimmy Ellis, a fine singer who could sound exactly like Elvis, put on a mask and sing in the Elvis voice some old rock ‘n roll songs that Elvis never recorded. The name Orion was a play on Presley’s middle name. This song reached #63 in 1981, Orion’s biggest hit. The idea was to portray Elvis as still alive but in hiding. Silly gimmick but Ellis was as good at singing Elvis as anyone who ever lived.
“I Can Hear Kentucky Calling Me” – The Osborne Brothers
The last chart record for one of the all-time great bluegrass acts, this song made it to #75 in 1980. Sonny Osborne retired years ago, but Bobby Osborne is still going strong – he’ll be 81 in a few weeks.
“80’s Ladies” – K.T. Oslin
Oslin had a long career in music and the theatre before finding her way to Nashville as a songwriter in 1985. This 1987 classic only reached #7 for the then 46-year-old Oslin, but the song became somewhat of a theme song for the 1980s. Oslin would have recording success through the end of 1990 with four #1 recordings.
“Honky Tonk Amnesia” – Scott McQuaig
Scott had two chart singles that got marooned on 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.
“Meet Me In Montana”- Marie Osmond and Dan Seals
Marie exploded onto the scene in 1973 when her Sonny James-produced cover of the old Anita Bryant classic “Paper Roses” reached #1 for two weeks. She then largely disappeared from the country music scene until this exquisite duet with “England Dan” Seals reached the top in 1985. Marie would have only four top ten records during her 1980s run, but three of them reached the top slot, including “You’re Still New To Me” her 1986 duet with Paul Davis.
“I Think About Your Lovin’ (All The Time)” – The Osmond Brothers
The brothers of Donny & Marie Osmond reinvented themselves as a country act during the 1980s , after originally appearing as a barbershop quartet on the Andy Williams Show (1962-1967). Along the way, they scored some pop hits during the 1970s including the #1 pop record “One Bad Apple”. They actually made a pretty good sounding country group (brotherly harmony and all that) but their success was limited. This 1982 recording was their only top twenty country hit out of eleven charted country records.
“I Won’t Take Less Than Your Love” – Paul Overstreet, Paul Davis & Tanya Tucker
A fabulous songwriter (“Same Ole Me”, “On The Other Hand”, “Forever and Ever Amen”), Paul finally achieved solo chart success with this #1 recording from 1988. This song kicked off a string of nine consecutive top ten recordings.
“Me and The Boys In The Band” – Tommy Overstreet
No relation to Paul Overstreet, Tommy’s career had largely faded away after a solid string of hits during the 1970s. This song only reached #72 in 1980 but did better than that in some areas and was my favorite of his 1980s recordings.
“Act Naturally” – Buck Owens & Ringo Starr
After Dwight Yoakam dredged Owens out of retirement Ol’ Buck released three new albums, none great sellers but all worth having. None of Buck’s other 1980s singles (“Hot Dog”, “A-11”, “Somebody Put A Quarter In The Jukebox”) had great success, but this 1989 single with Ringo Starr (who had also recorded the song during the 1960s) did reach the top thirty. The video that accompanied the single was quite amusing.
“No Aces” – Patti Page
Patti Page had always recorded country songs and her recording of “Tennessee Waltz” spent 15 weeks atop the Billboard Pop Charts in 1951. By 1981, the 54 year old singer was relegated to minor label Plantation Records, where this fine vocal made it to #39. Her Plantation album is a keeper, should you run across a copy.
“(Who’s Gonna Sing) The Last Country Song” – Billy Parker
A long time disc jockey at KVOO-Tulsa , this song barely missed the top forty in 1982. It’s a great song, and Billy is a bona-fide country singer who worked with Ernest Tubb, among others.
“Tennessee Homesick Blues” – Dolly Parton
I regard most of Dolly’s 1980s output as garbage. If I had to pick a favorite from this decade (other than her trio work with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris) it would be this #1 song from 1984.
“Old Violin” – Johnny Paycheck
This 1986 classic only made it to #21, but it may be the best recording Paycheck ever made. That’s saying something considering how many great records he recorded during the 1960s and 1970s.
“Birth of Rock and Roll” – Carl Perkins
He was there. This song reached #31 in 1986 so it wasn’t a big hit, but funny thing about Carl’s recordings – they all sounded good at the time and they have all held up well. He was a classic.
“In The Jailhouse Now” – Webb Pierce and Willie Nelson
By 1982, Webb had been retired for six years, living off his investments. The #1 country artist of the 1950s, Webb had saved his money and invested wisely so that he really could enjoy his retirement. For some reason, Willie Nelson wanted to record a duet album with Webb and dragged him out of retirement to cut an album of Webb’s old hits of the 1950s and 1960s. While it seems a strange pairing, it works and the album is still available today. This 1982 cover of Webb’s 1955 hit that spent 21 weeks at #1, did not quite do as well this time around, only getting to #72.
“Mama She’s Lazy” – Pinkard & Bowden
The dynamic duo’s spoof of the Judd’s “Mama He’s Crazy”. I swear, I prefer the spoof to the original!
“San Antonio Medley” – Curtis Potter & Darrell McCall
Neither of these guys ever became big stars but as vocalists, they are about as good as it gets. This medley is comprised of “San Antonio Rose”, Home In San Antone” and the refrain from “There’s Still A Lot of Love In San Antone”.
“Guitar Man” – Elvis Presley
This remix of a 1968 pop hit for Elvis, reached #1 in early 1981. The song was written by Jerry Reed and Jerry plays guitar on the record.
“Faded Love” – Ray Price & Willie Nelson (& Crystal Gayle trio harmony)
This song reached #3 in 1980 but it was a #1 hit in many parts of the country. If you want to hear what truly exceptional vocal trio work sounds like you must give this recording a listen. Bob Wills wrote it, and many have recorded it, but none better than this. Ray Price would chart 29 times during the 1980s, not bad for an artist whose peak years were 1952-1975. “It Don’t Hurt Me Half As Bad” would reach #6 on the small Dimension label in 1981.
“Shouldn’t It Be Easier Than This” – Charley Pride
RCA turned its attention to younger acts during the mid 1980s so Charley left them in 1986 after a couple of frustrating years in which his records received no promotional push from the label (I guess RCA got tired of all of those #1 records, 42 of them, that Pride had produced for the label). 16th Avenue Records went belly-up after a few years, but not until producing one last top ten hit for Pride.
“Temporarily Yours” – Jeanne Pruett
After a few hits, most notably “Satin Sheets”, in the early 1970s, Pruett faded away, only to be revived by the smaller IBC label where she had three consecutive top ten hits before fading away for good. “Temporarily Yours” reached #5 in 1980. It was preceded by “Back To Back” (#6) and fallowed by “It’s Too Late” (#9), all three songs peaking in 1980.