My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

A look back at 1989. part 3: Barbara Mandrell

I'll be your jukebox tonightAs noted before, the year 1989 saw the debuts and/or emergence of a fine crop of new artists that would continue the neo-traditionalist movement that flickered in the early 1980s with the arrival of Ricky Skaggs and started building up steam in 1986 when Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam arrived.

Amidst the flood of newer artists, veteran artists struggled to remain relevant. The last of my three backward looks is Barbara Mandrell.

Unlike George Jones and Buck Owens who were in the vicinity of 60 years old in 1989, Barbara Mandrell was barely past forty. She had been the genre’s dominant female performer from 1977 until 1984, with a network television show for two of those years and twenty-one top ten records to her credit by 1984.

Then a near catastrophe struck, on September 11, 1984, when she was involved in a serious automobile accident in which the other driver crossed into her lane causing a head-on crash. In the accident Barbara suffered multiple fractures in her right leg, including a broken thigh bone, knee and ankle. She also suffered various lacerations, contusions and abrasions and received a severe concussion that caused temporary memory loss and speech difficulties.
Barbara would be out of commission until the middle of 1986. MCA had a sufficient backlog of material that they could continue to issue singles during the period, but without Barbara on the road working the singles, the hits became ever smaller.

Changing labels to EMI America (shortly to be merged into Capitol), the first truly new Barbara Mandrell material was released in July 1987 when “Child Support” reached #13. Between changing tastes and the loss of career momentum caused by the auto accident, Barbara would have only one more top ten single before retiring in 1997.
I’LL BE YOUR JUKEBOX TONIGHT was Barbara’s second post-MCA album and was released in late 1988, with three singles being released. “I Wish That I Could Fall In Love Today”, a slightly re-titled cover of an old Warren Smith hit from 1960, was the biggest hit on the album reaching #5. Two more singles were issued from the album, “My Train of Thought” which reached #19 in the spring of 1989) and “Mirror, Mirror” which peaked at #49 in early summer of 1989 and became Barbara’s final charting single. Personally I think the title track would have made a good single.

I’LL BE YOUR JUKEBOX TONIGHT was far more traditional sounding than anything Mandrell had released in twenty years. No doubt, this was because the ‘new traditionalist’ movement had overwhelmed the remnants of the Urban Cowboy and Nashville Sound styles; however, in her live shows, whenever she chose to get more traditional, she proved that she was completely comfortable with the style. I would regard this as a very good album and would point to her cover of Wynn Stewart’s “Big Big Love” as proof positive that Barbara Mandrell could be as country as anyone in the business.

This album did not project Barbara back into the top ranks of chart artists, and she would retire within a few years. There are many speculations as to why she retired but if I had to venture a guess, it would be that she never really recovered from the auto accident in 1984. Yes, bones heal, but with the extensive injuries she suffered, I would guessed that arthritis would become a major problem for her within a few years and made it painful, if not impossible, to perform at the energetic levels her fans expected of her and she expected of herself. If I were to recommend a single Barbara Mandrell album to anyone, this would be it.

2 responses to “A look back at 1989. part 3: Barbara Mandrell

  1. Razor X January 6, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    This is hands down my favorite Barbara Mandrell album. I still play it fairly regularly.

  2. Ken January 6, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    This album proved that Barbara could still sound great when she wasn’t overwhelmed with pop orchestration and background voices. This album reminded me of her early years with Columbia when she sang great country songs like “Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home” and “Playin’ Around With Love.” Too bad that she wasn’t able to generate additional hits with this style into the ’90’s but it seemed that her old audience had moved on and the New Country listeners just weren’t interested.

    By the way, Barbara’s “I Wish That I Could Fall In Love Today” was actually a re-make of the Ray Price version of that Harlan Howard song titled “I Wish I Could Fall In Love Today.” Warren Smith recorded that same song under a different title “I Don’t Believe I’ll Fall In Love Today.” Smith’s Liberty version hit #5 in late October 1960 while Price’s Columbia single also peaked at #5 during the first week of December 1960. It’s the only country song that has become a hit under three different titles.

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