Essential 80′s: #125-#101


June 22, 2006

200 Essential 80′s Singles
Part 4:

“All My Ex’s Live In Texas”
George Strait
Peak: #1

Classic Texas swing from the modern master. Strait almost sounds relieved to be hiding out in Tennessee from all those ex’s living in Texas.

“Trainwreck of Emotion”
Lorrie Morgan
Peak: #20

Morgan finally broke through with her RCA debut single, after several false starts with various labels since the late seventies. She finally has a good lyric to wrap her voice around, and the production backs her up, complete with a steel guitar doing a damn good train whistle impression.

“If It Don’t Come Easy”
Tanya Tucker
Peak: #1

If it don’t come easy, you better let it go. Damn skippy.

“Life Turned Her That Way”
Ricky Van Shelton
Peak: #1

Shelton’s stark portrait of a bitter woman run down by life would sound condescending if it wasn’t so heartfelt and sincerely delivered. “I hate to admit it, but the last footprint’s mine” foreshadowed his own marital troubles that were on the way.

“Don’t Go To Strangers”
T. Graham Brown
Peak: #1

Brown give his cheating wife the smackdown, reminding her when she complains that her affairs aren’t satisfying, “if you want love, don’t go to strangers.” Ouch.

“Fool Hearted Memory”
George Strait
Peak: #1

Strait’s first #1 hit shows he’s a cowboy who likes a good turn of phrase.

“How Blue”
Reba McEntire
Peak: #1

After nearly a decade of middling records drenched with strings, McEntire rediscovered her country roots and put out her first new traditionalist single. Listeners finally got to hear her voice shine for the first time, minus all the saccharine studio sweeteners that marred her early work.

“We’ve Got Tonight”
Kenny Rogers & Sheena Easton
Peak: #1

Better to leave the pop music to the master. Look, Rogers was able to get Miss Sugar Walls herself to duet with him, and they made a drippy let’s-get-it-on hit that still sounds great today.

“Have Mercy”
The Judds
Peak: #1

The Judds make an absurd twist on the doormat female stereotype so common in country music. By exaggerating the abuse the woman takes in the song – the rogue empties her bank account by the time it’s all said and done. Wynonna’s vocal is too saucy for her to not be in on the joke.

“Seven Spanish Angels”
Ray Charles & Willie Nelson
Peak: #1

Ray Charles received a lot of praise towards the end of his life for his musical legacy. Often overlooked during these retrospectives was his huge impact on country music in the early 1960′s, where he introduced a soulful country style that still surfaces today. Charles is so talented, as is his partner here, Willie Nelson, that this song, which on paper is a ludicrous Tex-Mex love saga, sounds completely convincing in the hands of these two masters.

“Deeper Than The Holler”
Randy Travis
Peak: #1

Those city singers can talk about the stars and the ocean, but this country boy is going to use the holler to show how deep his love is. Cheesy, sure, but nobody could touch this guy in 1988, and he absolutely owns this record.

“The Bird”
Jerry Reed
Peak: #2

One of the best novelty records in country music history, Reed meets a guy at a bar with a bird that can sing like Willie Nelson and George Jones. It gives Reed an opportunity to do dead-on impressions of those two distinctive vocalists.

“Why Does It Have To Be (Wrong or Right)”
Restless Heart
Peak: #1

An epic of moral ambiguity that basically wonders why we can’t just all have guilt-free sex. Yep, that’s the message hiding under all those pretty harmonies.

“She’s Single Again”
Janie Fricke
Peak: #2

Cosmpolitan Country Camp.

“There Goes My Love”
Pam Tillis
Peak: #71

Tillis’ only Warner Bros. single that shows the promise she’d deliver on with Arista in the 1990′s, she delivers a wonderful performance of the Buck Owens chestnut.

“Blue Side of Town”
Patty Loveless
Peak: #4

Few names are more synonymous with hardcore country than Patty Loveless, and this was the lead single from an album called Honky Tonk Angel. Sure, the lyrics celebrate a honky tonk, but with snare drum and rockabilly rhythms, this is anything but traditional country.

“I Know How He Feels”
Reba McEntire
Peak: #1

One of the best productions of any single from this era, this song expertly builds from a sparse arrangement to a full-blown ballad so subtly that the listener barely notices.

“Walk The Way The Wind Blows”
Kathy Mattea
Peak: #10

The album was a surprise nominee for Album of the Year at the CMA’s, but voters were picking up on a seismic shift in women’s perspective on record in country music. She’s leaving, not with tears in her eyes or fake bravado. Just a matter-of-fact observation that it didn’t work out, and it’s time to see what next. This wistful take on love gone bad was a new wind blowing, indeed.

“Little Rock”
Reba McEntire
Peak: #1

Reba’s own spin on “Lyin’ Eyes”, sitting home in her big house ain’t cuttin’ it anymore. All those fancy things “don’t mean nothin’ when you can’t get a good night’s lovin’.” So she’s gonna go get laid downtown.

“Little Sister”
Dwight Yoakam
Peak: #7

Yoakam seems to think little sister is gonna do him just like her big sister done, unlike Elvis, who seems cautiously optimistic on the original recording. Yoakam’s still gonna take the ride, however, no matter how badly it ends.

“Are The Good Times Really Over
(I Wish A Buck Was Still Silver)”
Merle Haggard
Peak: #2

The Okie from Muskogee has given up the fight, no longer thinking he’s got a chance in the culture wars. If Haggard was insistent his way of life would win out on those early records, here he’s sadly accepted that the good times are really over; the hippies won.

“Through The Years”
Kenny Rogers
Peak: #5

Interesting that this didn’t do as well as his other romantic hits during the early eighties, but it’s aged better than most of them. The gold standard of country anniversary songs; listen closely, and you’ll notice just how much Shania Twain ripped off from Kenny with “You’re Still The One.”

“If You’re Gonna Play In Texas
(You Gotta Have A Fiddle In The Band)”
Peak: #1

If you honestly believe the title’s assertion is true, you probably helped these guys get into the Hall of Fame. Inherently ridiculous, but an entertaining record nonetheless.

“I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried”
Rodney Crowell
Peak: #1

Crowell finally gives himself some of the hits he’d been giving others for so many years, with a fantastic spin on a man in over his head in his latest love affair.


“Pancho and Lefty”
Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard
Peak: #1

Emmylou Harris is usually untouchable, but Nelson & Haggard absolutely blow her out of the water with this cover of a Western tale from her late 70′s Luxury Liner album. It sounds like they were born to tell this story in song, making this collaboration feel anything but forced.

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