My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: John Conlee – ‘Blue Highway’

What was to be John Conlee’s last studio album for MCA, 1984’s Blue Highway saw him making some adjustments to his sound in the light of the pop-leaning music which was dominating comntry radio at the time.

The lead single, however, ‘Years After You’, was vintage Conlee – an emotional lost love ballad written by Thom Schuyler with strings and a lovely melody. The backing vocals have dated, but the song itself is gorgeous and Conlee’s vocals excellent; it did well on radio, just missing the top spot:

I don’t know if I can explain it
‘Cause there’s really nothing different at all
The sun still burns
And the earth still turns
And the winter still follows the fall
I knew that it wouldn’t be easy
For my heart to find somebody new
But I never thought it still would be broken in two
These years after you

They tell me time is a natural healer
It kinda smooths the pain away
But this hurting within hasn’t yet given in
And it’s been over two thousand days
I still remember the taste of your kisses
And your eyes that were beautifully blue
And I can still hear the sound of your voice
When you said we were through
These years after you

Years after, years after you
I’m still cryin’
Tears after, years after you
I’m still tryin’ to make it through
These years after you

There’ve been mornings when I couldn’t wake up
There’ve been evenings when I couldn’t sleep
My life will be fine
For months at a time
Then I’ll break down and cry for a week
‘Cause when I told you I’d love you forever
I know you didn’t think it was true
But forever is nothing
Compared to some nights I’ve been through
These years after you

The next single, ‘Working Man’, peaked at #7. It is a well observed and sympathetic song about coping with everyday life and a difficult boss in a blue collar job. The title track served as the album’s third and last single, and was another top 20 hit. It is a melancholy ballad about having to work away from home and his loved one, with a slightly more AC vibe.

A possible missed opportunity arose with the memorable ‘Radio Lover’, an ironic and dramatic story song about a radio DJ who ends up killing his cheating wife and her lover. Written by Curly Putman, Ron Hellard, and Bucky Jones, it had been recorded by George Jones the previous year; neither man released it as a single at this time, but Jones re-released it in 1989. Few singers can compete with George Jones, and Conlee (although a great vocalist in his own right) is no exception, so the Jones version is obviously better, but it is still an excellent record with Conlee bringing the story to life.

The best of the other tracks (despite intrusive production) is Bobby Braddock’s tender portrait of elderly couple ‘Arthur And Alice’:

Poor Arthur, he’s got a bad heart and she’s nearly blind
At least that’s what doctors say
But his heart’s full of love and she reads his mind
Arthur and Alice, Arthur and Alice are doin’ OK

These are by far the best tracks and the ones worth hunting down.

Although it doesn’t sound very country with the steel pan drum accompaniment, ‘De Island’ is quite interesting lyrically – a story song about a man who starts a new life in the Caribbean with, it emerges, money stolen from his business.

‘Down To Me’ is a pretty loungy AC ballad with a rather busily orchestrated arrangement including saxophone. ‘A Little Bit Of Lovin’’ is quite a nice mid-tempo song, with more (and more intrusive) brass. ‘But She Love Me’ pays tribute to a wife and mother who has sacrificed her own dreams for her man, but is a little dull. Even more dreary musically is the closing ‘Is There Anything I Can Do’.

The album is not widely available at present. Beware: the title has been used for a compilation which is on CD and iTunes but with only a few songs from the original album release.

Grade: B-

2 responses to “Album Review: John Conlee – ‘Blue Highway’

  1. Ken March 13, 2019 at 12:29 pm

    Excellent review of the album that closed the curtain on John’s relationship with MCA Records. As Hope pointed out this was John’s last full studio album for that label although three compilation albums followed.

    John Conlee’s Greatest Hits Volume 2 was released one year to the month after “Blue Highway.” It included eight single hits plus two brand new songs. “Old School” is one of John’s best and most requested recordings. Story of a failed high school romance by a couple from opposite sides of the tracks. They meet again years later for a class reunion at their “old school.” Her marriage has failed and although she is fully aware that he is happily married she suggests a fling. He declines her offer because he is “old school” and very devoted to his wife. Extremely well-crafted song by Don Schlitz & Russell Smith. “Lifetime Guarantee” was the other new track. Another song of devotion that mirrors the theme of “Old School.” It might have been considered for a single had John not moved to Columbia Records. A strong lyric backed by twangy guitars fits that era well.

    MCA mined John’s catalogue for two more compilation albums in 1986.
    Songs For The Working Man [MCA 5699] and Conlee Country [MCA 5818]
    Both featured several singles mixed with tracks from previous LP’s. Neither LP included new or unreleased songs. MCA Special Products re-released “Songs For The Working Man” as a budget CD in 1990 [MCAD-22007]

    The most comprehensive single CD collection of John’s MCA singles to date was issued in 2003 on John’s own label RCR (Rose Colored Records) [RCR 1102] The first 19 tracks are indeed the original ABC and MCA singles. Three new recordings complete that set. The only missing hit is Working Man [1985/#7]
    An earlier 2002 version of that CD included one extra song “Could You Love Me One More Time” an excellent 1981 single [#26] that was not previously anthologized elsewhere.

    The 1987 MCA CD “John Conlee 20 Greatest Hits” [MCAD-5925] is another worthy collection. Although it excluded his hit “Baby You’re Something” [1980/#7] it does have “Working Man” and another single “Nothing Behind You, Nothing In Sight” [1982/#26]

  2. Michelle Matrisciano April 29, 2019 at 12:58 am

    I absolutely love that song because it’s just right to be free but you have to work to earn the right to be an Americans Amarillo by morning

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