1983’s We’ve Got Tonight was Kenny Rogers’ final album for Liberty before moving on to RCA. By this stage of the game, his priority was maintaining his position on the adult contemporary and pop charts; he and his producers having long since figured out that country radio would stick with him regardless of what kind of music he released. That approach is apparent in both the choice of material and the choice of a duet partner to perform the album’s title cut. Instead of partnering again with Dottie West or another well-known country artist, Kenny was matched up with Scottish pop singer Sheena Easton. At the time Easton was signed to Liberty’s parent company EMI. She was best known to American audiences for her hit “9 to 5 (Morning Train)” which had topped the Hot 100 three years earlier. Since then, her chart success had been inconsistent, and pairing her up with Rogers may have been EMI’s attempt to increase her visibility in the US market.
If so, the strategy proved successful. Despite a complete lack of country instrumentation, “We’ve Got Tonight” quickly rose to #1 on the Billboard country charts (Easton’s only entry on that chart) and landed at #2 on the adult contemporary chart. It also reached #6 on the Hot 100, outdoing its composer Bob Seger’s original version, which had reached #13 five years earlier. Although not country, this ballad about a lonely couple seeking to justify and rationalize a one-night stand is a very good song and Rogers’ and Easton’s voices blend well together. One suspects that they might have teamed up again for future projects had Rogers remained with an EMI label.
“We’ve Got Tonight” was followed by another AC ballad “All My Life” another song that I liked though it is not even remotely country. Country radio balked a bit at two AC-leaning ballads in a row; “All My Life” topped out at #13 on the country charts, marking the first time Rogers failed to make the country top 10 since his pre-“Lucille” days. The song performed better on the adult contemporary charts, where it reached #2. It got to #37 on the Hot 100; I’d venture to say that today this is one of Rogers’ least-remembered songs.
It was relatively unusual in those days for a Kenny Rogers album to produce more than two singles, but Liberty sent a third track from this collection to radio. “Scarlet Fever” was perhaps a response to “All My Life’s” lack of success on the country charts. My favorite song on the album, it is one of the albums few nods to country music and marks a return of sorts to story songs like “Lucille”, “The Gambler” and “Coward of the County”. It tells the story of a middle-aged man who is infatuated with a much younger exotic dancer that he sees at a gentleman’s nightclub. It charted at #5 country but saw no action on the AC charts.
The upbeat rock-tinged “Farther I Go” was probably country enough by 1983 standards to have had a reasonable shot at country radio. The only other cut with any country appeal is “What I Learned From Loving You”; Lynn Anderson had a competing version on the charts at the time. Her rendition reached #18 and was something of a comeback hit for her. Randy Goodrum’s “No Dreams” is a very nice ballad that was probably too pop for country radio but could have been a bit hit on the AC charts.
The album closes with a “You Are So Beautiful”, a nice ballad that had previously been rendered unlistenable by Joe Cocker’s rough-as-sandpaper vocals. It’s too bad Kenny didn’t get to this one first.
Albums like this are always difficult to evaluate. It’s more pop than country, but that was hardly unexpected from Kenny Rogers by this stage of his career. I’d become interested in his music a few years earlier from listening to my father’s vinyl copy of his 1980 Greatest Hits album. We’ve Got Tonight was the second (after Love Will Turn You Around) Rogers studio album that I’d ever bought. It’s one that’s been with me for a long time and I’ve always found it enjoyable despite its pop leanings. It has certainly aged better than most of the albums in Rogers’ UA/Liberty catalog.