Essential 80′s: #75-#51

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July 9, 2006

#75
“I Did”
Patty Loveless
1987
Peak: #56

The first album by Patty Loveless was a scattered affair, as she searched for a style she could call her own. Interestingly, it was this single she penned herself that foreshadowed the honky-tonk wail that would become her trademark. It didn’t fare to well on the charts, but has aged better than a good chunk of her MCA singles, including ones that received much more airplay.

#74
“Mountain Music”
Alabama
1982
Peak: #1

The band was reluctant to release this single because it tread so closely to the format of their breakthrough smash “Tennessee River”, with a standard country-rock arrangement breaking out into full hoedown towards the end. Wisely, they went against instinct, and had one of their biggest hits.

#73
“Baby, What About You”
Crystal Gayle
1983
Peak: #1

A beautiful pop confection with a melody that lingers long after every listen.

#72
“Never Be You”
Rosanne Cash
1985
Peak: #1

Tom Petty may have seemed an unlikely source for a country smash back in the mid-80′s, but he supplied Rosanne Cash with a fiery piece of material here, which rocked harder than just about anything on the radio. In fact, it still would today.

#71
“Had A Dream (For The Heart)”
The Judds
1983
Peak: #17

The girls were flawless right off the bat with this debut single. A brilliant stroke was having Wy’s vocals start right away, without any harmonies from Mom, introducing the world to arguably the greatest female singer of her generation for the first time.

#70
“I May Be Used (But Baby I Ain’t Used Up)”
Waylon Jennings
1984
Peak: #4

Country song concepts and themes are recycled from time to time; there’s only so many original ways that love and life can play out. Fans of the wonderful Toby Keith hit “As Good As I Once Was” can find its spiritual predecessor here, as Jennings cautions a young lady at the bar not to pass him over – he may be used, but he ain’t used up. He’s still got some gas left in the tank if she wants to go for a ride.

#69
“Louisiana Saturday Night”
Mel McDaniel
1981
Peak: #7

McDaniel broke through with this delicious Cajun foot-stomping hit that makes you feel like you’re actually on the back porch with him.

#68
“If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will)”
George Jones
1981
Peak: #8

Jones drives himself home in a drunken stupor: “I lay my head on the wheel, and the horn begins honking. The whole neighborhood knows that I’m home drunk again.” They just don’t write great alcohol songs like this anymore: “With the blood from my body, I could start my own still.” That’s great stuff right there.

#67
“Change of Heart”
The Judds
1988
Peak: #1

How much did Wynonna grow as a vocalist in the first five years of The Judds? Compare the original recording of this song on their debut album to this new recording for their Greatest Hits, which topped the charts five years later. There’s more power, but more importantly, greater nuance.

#66
“I’ll Leave This World Loving You”
Ricky Van Shelton
1988
Peak: #1

Shelton’s voice put nearly all of his contemporaries to shame, sounding like a hybrid of Haggard and Orbison. This single helped him win the Horizon Award that year; only one year later, he’d be the CMA Male Vocalist.

#65
“Guitar Town”
Steve Earle
1986
Peak: #7

It’s not surprising that Earle was tagged with endless Springsteen comparisons when his debut album hit; this sounds like his very own “Born To Run.”

#64
“Love In The First Degree”
Alabama
1981
Peak: #1

This is the type of campy hit that makes you understand just why these boys were so big in the early 80′s. Classic.

#63
“I Won’t Take Less Than Your Love”
Paul Davis, Tanya Tucker & Paul Overstreet
1987
Peak: #1

The definitive anthem of unconditional love for its era, in classic three-act country style.

#62
“Single Women”
Dolly Parton
1982
Peak: #8

She’s one of the greatest songwriters in history, but her great taste in outside material certainly helped. The women in this song are feeling a lot more desperate than the protagonist of Pam Tillis’ “All The Good Ones Are Gone” would be fifteen years later, but the harrowing attention to detail (“You wish they’d change that jukebox, cause you know every song they play”) makes it entirely believable.

#61
“Born To Run”
Emmylou Harris
1982
Peak: #3

It’s not the Bruce Springsteen song. Rather, it’s a great statement of independence – “No man is master to me, I ain’t that kind” – and Harris turns it into an anthem for the road warrior she’d already become by 1982.

#60
“Runaway Train”
Rosanne Cash
1988
Peak: #1

Oash was hooked on the song by the killer demo that Mary Chapin Carpenter recorded for it. Carpenter didn’t write the song, but the arrangement and her performance formed the blueprint for Cash and producer Rodney Crowell. The end result is a tension-fueled smash that builds in intensity as the song progresses.

#59
“Swingin’”
John Anderson
1983
Peak: #1

My favorite thing about this record, outside of the horns, was that Anderson – great hillbilly vocalist he is – sings “Swaangin’”, which the Urban Cowboy chick singers backing him up respond with the “correct” pronounciation “Swingin’.” Anderson’s so good he makes them sound like the ones who are doing it wrong.

#58
“Ocean Front Property”
George Strait
1987
Peak: #1

If you buy that he’s really over you, he’s got some ocean front property in Arizona he hopes you’ll also buy. Clever, don’t ya think?

#57
“Diggin’ Up Bones”
Randy Travis
1986
Peak: #1

It’s hard to believe this is a song from a debut album, with a performance so rich and fully realized. He even manages to work “exhuming” into the chorus of a #1 country hit.

#56
“Mama He’s Crazy”
The Judds
1984
Peak: #1

Could there have been a more perfect breakthrough hit for a mother-daughter duo than a song about a daughter telling her mother about her first love? The sweet video and homemade costumes bought the girls some time before the world realized that the daughter was really a rock and blues rebel and mom was the one who was crazy.

#55
“Don’t Cry Darlin’”
David Allan Coe
1985
Peak: #29

‘Drunk and totally drained, on the verge of going crazy, on the edge of insane. I know you prayed I’d make it, but I never pulled through.” Coe drinks himself to death and then pleads from beyond the grave for his wife not to cry or blame herself, reminding her that “I was stealing time from the devil and I just got caught.” George Jones shows up with a recitation on Coe’s behalf towards the end. Seriously. A tour-de-force of whiskey-drenched country.

#54
“Blue Moon With Heartache”
Rosanne Cash
1981
Peak: #1

It boggles the mind that this was a #1 single – a rambling inner monologue with no real melody, just a disjointed stream of thought. It’s a great record, to be sure, but it’s hard to believe that it was radio-friendly enough to top the charts.

#53
“Beneath Still Waters”
Emmylou Harris
1980
Peak: #1

Harris got tired of hearing how she wasn’t a pure country act, so she made an album of pure country to shut her detractors up. The third and final single brought her a #1 hit, a heartsick ballad about a woman who knows that under the surface, her man’s love for her has died – “Beneath still waters, there’s a strong undertow.”

#52
“I Just Came Home To Count The Memories”
John Anderson
1981
Peak: #7

Anderson comes back to his literally and figuratively broken home: “I saw roses choking in the grass, flaking paint and a broken window pane.” The neighbor wants to know if the kids can come over to play, apparently oblivious to the fact that his family is no longer there, and Anderson’s just come home to count the memories.


#51
“The Bed You Made For Me”
Highway 101
1987
Peak: #4
Remember that Destiny’s Child hit “Say My Name”, where Beyonce is certain her man is not alone on the other end of the line? This is the country equivalent, though lead singer Carlson doesn’t harbor any doubt, and demands to know “did you tell her she was sleeping in the bed you made for me? Did she like my satin sheets?” A savage message tempered by her bittersweet vocal.

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3 Comments

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  1. RoyNo Gravatar says:

    Shocking! -roj797jc

  2. CharlieNo Gravatar says:

    “Three biggest lies” and “Wop-Bop bam-bam” gonna pop up here anytime soon?

  3. KevinNo Gravatar says:

    Nah, they weren’t singles. Somehow I think Trace Adkins could probably have a top five hit with the former at radio today.

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