200 Essential 80’s Singles
“Tennessee Homesick Blues”
Parton sings in the voice of a homesick Tennessean turned off by the coldness of New York City. In one of life’s little ironies, I’m a New Yorker who lived in Tennessee for four years, and I share Parton’s homesickness. A beautiful tribute to the very best qualities of southern life.
“Don’t Cheat In Our Hometown”
The cuckold’s anthem. Skaggs just asks that if his wife is going to cheat, she do it where his neighbors can’t see, and preferably with someone other than his best friend.
“Fishin’ In The Dark”
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Album artists to the core, their greatest contribution will always be their Will The Circle Be Unbroken collections. But this ridiculously catchy single makes you want to find a canoe and go fishing in the dark, weather be damned.
“Think About Love”
It’s a tribute to Dolly Parton’s warmth as a singer that even against the sterile backdrop of mid-eighties synthesizers, she can shine through with sheer passion and heart as she pines for a man who doesn’t realize what he’s missing.
“Ring On Her Finger, Time On Her Hands”
Greenwood is the epitome of the early 80’s country star: all bombast, no subtlety. His Vegas showboating garnered him two CMA Male Vocalist Awards, back when singing intensely was enough to earn praise. Most of his records have aged terribly, but this one, his first top five hit, still sounds good today because he lets the song shine through, sparing us the vocal histrionics that marred his later work.
A gorgeous tale of true love finally found, Mattea’s first #1 hit uses the metaphor of a lighthouse to pay tribute to the love that has shown her the way to happiness.
“Whiskey, If You Were A Woman”
A woman sings about the competition she has for her man’s affections, and you think this is another one of those doormat songs, where the lady puts up with a cheating man. When she reveals in the chorus that it’s whiskey competing with her for her man’s soul, you suddenly have the most powerful testament to the downfalls of alcohol since “There Stands The Glass.”
“My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”
He may have done a bit of ribbing to the myth of the cowboy life with “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys”, but he destroys it entirely here, as he mourns the cowboy way, which has led him to exploiting women who love him until the only affection he can get it is from the hookers who’ll take his money.
“Do I Ever Cross Your Mind”
Peak: #1 (flip)
Released at the height of her pop days, this is one of the best country songs she ever released. As the b-side to her glossy cover of her own “I Will Always Love You”, this remains a golden treasure from her catalog just waiting to be rediscovered.
“I Know Where I’m Going”
There’s always been a spiritual undercurrent to the work of The Judds, becoming even more pronounced during Wynonna’s solo career. Here, it surfaces for the first time, with a clever parallel between religious salvation and finding love.
“Baby I Lied”
Until Trisha Yearwood scored a massive hit with “Believe Me Baby (I Lied)” in 1996, this was the best play on that concept country music had seen. Allen does her best Juice Newton impression with this crossover smash.
“Smoky Mountain Rain”
Rip-off of “Kentucky Rain”? Yes. Worth a listen anyway because of its pure camp and melodrama? Hell yes.
“When You Say Nothing At All”
Yes, the Alison Krauss & Union Station cover in 1995 was the definitive version, which was somewhat ironic given they recorded it for a Whitley tribute album. But a great song is a great song, and Whitley’s pure vocal makes it shine.
“Now I Lay Me Down To Cheat”
David Allan Coe
“Now I lay me down to cheat on the woman I love so, and if I die between the sheets, I pray to God she’ll never know.” Coe may be the best honky-tonk singer in history because he doesn’t mince words. This is country music at its most raw.
“One Promise Too Late”
Of course, in the 80’s, the men could cheat and sing about feeling bad for it, but the women wouldn’t dare. Instead, we get this awesome single from Reba, the definitive female vocalist of the 80’s, moaning the fact that she’s met the man of her dreams “one promise too late.” As she wails, “Where were you when I could’ve loved you?” you can’t help but admire her commitment to a promise she wishes she hadn’t made. Sure, Reba herself divorced the same year, but who said art needed to imitate life?
Roy Orbison & k.d. lang
The world is introduced to a vocal powerhouse, as newcomer k.d. lang makes the rafters ring with her plaintive wail. Why would anyone want to listen to Orbison’s solo original again?
“I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me”
Funny story. Cash was nominated for a Grammy and lost. As she drove home, tongue-in-cheek, she sang to herself “I got new shoes, new dress, I don’t know why you don’t want me.” Husband Rodney Crowell talked her in to fleshing it out to a real song, and she scored a #1 hit with it – and it was nominated for a Grammy; this time, she won.
“In My Dreams”
Harris did her best to make a rock album with White Shoes, but her country soul shone through, even with her heartbreaking cover of Donna Summer’s “On The Radio.” This was one of the only hits, and it scored her a country Grammy.
“I’ll Always Come Back”
You’re never sure if she’s singing to her lover or a child that she doesn’t have custody of, but either way, her commitment to always come back is a thing of beauty.
“On The Road Again”
One of Willie’s iconic hits, it makes you want to follow him around the country like a Dead Head.
“I’m Ragged But I’m Right”
Damn right you are.
A poignant tale of love from daughter to father. The reason the CMA gave her the Horizon Award is the promise that this early record indicated.
The Bellamy Brothers
What happens when a hippie gets older, and can’t get into new wave? Well, he holds on to his beliefs, grows his own pot, and tries to make sense of the world around him. A sensitive portrait that makes a great companion to Haggard’s “Are The Good Times Really Over?” Regardless of whether you’re liberal or conservative, getting older will still make you feel like your time has come and gone.
“Starting Over Again”
Emmylou Harris never sent her cover of “On The Radio” to country radio, but Dolly covered Donna Summer’s “Starting Over Again”, and country fans found out that the disco queen was a brilliant songwriter, listening to this sad tale of an older couple deciding to divorce and go out on their own – “Facing fifty years old, breaking up a happy home, and this far down the road you find yourself alone – two fools, starting over again.”
“Rockin’ With The Rhythm Of The Rain”
Having sex to the beat of the rain falling down. From “Lightning Strikes” to “Georgia Rain”, it’s been the premise of hit records for decades. This Judds hit is possibly the best spin on it.