Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Alabama, “Southern Star”

“Southern Star”

Alabama

Written by Rich Alves, Steve Dean, and Roger Murrah

Billboard

#1 (1 week)

February 10, 1990

Radio & Records 

#1 (1 week)

February 9, 1990

The biggest selling country act of the eighties keeps its hot streak going into the nineties.

The Road to No. 1

It’s difficult to fully capture just how enormous Alabama was in the 1980s.  They were the first act to win CMA Entertainer of the Year three times, and were eventually named the ACM Artist of the Decade.   They rattled off an unprecedented 21 consecutive No. 1 country hits, and spent most of the decade selling multi-platinum as casually as the biggest rock bands of the day.

But as the biggest cash cow of RCA Records, the label couldn’t take any chances with their top act.  Emblematic of the increasingly high expectations of Music Row’s burgeoning corporate culture, their 1987 album, Just Us, resulted in a full-scale intervention.  First, the lead single, “Tar Top,” broke their #1 hit streak, stopping at No. 7.   Then, the album itself struggled to reach gold status, taking nearly a year to reach that mark.

The result: RCA required Alabama to switch producers, terminating their long relationship with Harold Shedd, and their next album was delayed until enough great material could be found, making 1988 their first year since breaking through where they didn’t release a new studio album.

It worked.  Southern Star became the second album of their career to produce four No. 1 singles, and was certified gold only three months after its release.   After topping the charts with “Song of the South,” “If I Had You,” and “High Cotton,”  RCA sent the title track to radio as the cleanup single.

The No. 1

The more aggressive production is showcased across the Southern Star album, and the title track is as good an example as any of how Alabama revved up their sound to keep pace with a new generation of country stars.

They sound fantastic, with Wall of Sound harmonies providing an energetic counterpoint to the piano charmingly supporting the band throughout the track.  There’s even some enjoyable electric guitar work, but it takes a back seat to the vocals and fiery fiddle work that do most of the heavy lifting.

It’s a fun and uplifting track that has aged quite well over the years.

The Road From No. 1

You’re going to see a lot more of Alabama throughout this decade, as they were still scoring chart-toppers as late as 1998.

“Southern Star” gets an A. 

 

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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5 Comments

  1. For some reason, this is one of the very few of Alabama’s upbeat singles that seemingly got very little recurrent play after its chart run was over. I myself hadn’t heard it in quite a while until this post. I pretty much agree with your assessment on the song and its parent album. It’s a fun song, and it’s aged much better than a lot of their other 80’s work. Especially really like the already mentioned fiddle and southern rock style guitars. My personal favorite cut from this album that was never a single is the heartland rock flavored “Pete’s Music City.”

  2. This was a pretty good song, and I heard a bunch of cover bands perform the song, with mixed results. Although not one of my all-time favorites, I would give it a B+

  3. Agreed on both the review of the song and the album it came from. I also like how you broke down the events that led to “Southern Star” and the change in producers. I remember watching a CMT interview with Randy Owen back in the late 90s, where Owen said that one of the few things he regretted was the removal of Harold Shedd as producer, given how successful they were with him back in the first half of the decade. It appears to be more of a loyalty thing, as it’s hard to argue with the results of that particular album, sales/singles/quality wise.

    Additionally, I don’t know that Alabama stays as hot in the early 90s, nor collects some hits in the latter half of the decade, without that change in producers. However, I think you nail it in that it shows how much pressure even acts like Alabama felt when sales didn’t meet expectations, and how much the record labels depended on that. I just can’t imagine having to feel that much pressure on a daily basis. In that same interview I mentioned above, I recall Owen talking about having a panic attack at some point in the early 90s, which led the band to relax and slow down a bit. Count me as someone who never wants to be famous (and thankfully, I don’t think I have to worry about that).

  4. Thank you for sharing that, Mike. I remember that same CMT interview. You could see how it pained Owen to talk about it. The funny thing is, JUST US eventually went platinum (in 2002), and Alabama basically just leveled off at platinum sales for a few years. It reminds me a bit of the Brooks & Dunn “comeback”, where an album dropped down to gold (Tight Rope) and then they just went back to selling platinum, never becoming a multi-platinum act again.

  5. I really like this song and I remember loving this album as a kid.
    Jamie, I also thought “Pete’s Music City” was a stand out on the album.

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