100 Greatest Men: #77. John Conlee

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

One of the greatest vocalists of his generation, John Conlee powered to stardom on the strength of a self-written hit that would provide both his musical and fashion signature for the rest of his career.

He’d been singing and playing guitar since early childhood, but his first career was as a mortician, followed by a stint as a radio deejay.    He moved to Nashville in 1971, and five years later, he earned his first recording contract with ABC Records.

A handful of singles failed to gain steam, including “Backside of Thirty”, which would later be re-released when “Rose Colored Glasses” took off.  That breakthrough hit made it to #5, its chart placing limited by its slow ascent, as early stations dropped the record while latecomers were still adding it.

ABC soon folded into MCA Records.  Through 1985, Conlee had his biggest string of success with that label, connecting with signature hits like “Common Man” and “Friday Night Blues.”  His dark sense of humor surfaced often, with eerie hits like “She Can’t Say That Anymore” and “I Don’t Remember Loving You.”

After seven years and two greatest hits collections, Conlee moved to Columbia, where he kicked things off with four consecutive top ten hits.   Radio success cooled when he moved to independent labels in the late eighties, and he made his last chart appearance in 1990 with the comedic single, “Doghouse.”

Conlee’s distinctive vocals earned him award nominations early in his career, and he is recognized as one of the strongest talents from the Urban Cowboy era, managing to bring a traditionalist edge to even his most pop-flavored productions.  Conlee can still be widely heard on the Grand Ole Opry and the concert circuit.  He released a well-received gospel collection in 2006, but his faith has been expressed long before that through action.  His various charitable endeavors include work on behalf of children’s hospitals and family farmers.

Essential Singles:

  • Rose Colored Glasses, 1978
  • Backside of Thirty, 1979
  • Friday Night Blues, 1980
  • Miss Emily’s Picture, 1981
  • Common Man, 1983
  • As Long As I’m Rockin’ With You, 1985

Essential Albums:

  • Rose Colored Glasses, 1978
  • Friday Night Blues, 1980
  • With Love, 1981
  • Busted, 1982
  • Blue Highway, 1984

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Previous: #78. Brad Paisley

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List


  1. I’d add his 1989 album Fellow Travelers to the essential list. Although I believe it’s not currently available as such, almost all the tracks were included, with a planned followup which never got released due to the label folding, on a compilation entitled Country Heart, in 2006.

  2. MONONGAHELA was a 1988 album by the Oak Ridge Boys. I don’t believe John issued an album in 1988.

    John’s career had already cooled down before leaving Columbia. After “Domestic Life” hit #4, the next two Columbia singles started the slide – “Mama’s Rocking Chair” only reached #11 and “Living Like There’s No Tomorrow” stalled at #55.

    John figured not to have a long shelf life in our increasingly youth oriented market – he was 32 when he had his first chart record and did not have matinee idol looks to start with, and he didn’t age well.

    “Doghouse” would have been a huge it hadhe recorded it in the early 1980s. As it was, it didn’t even appear on an album for many years

  3. I’ve always had a soft spot for the song, “Old School”, as well, although it’s kind of hokey. Definitely one of the better vocalists of his era, and I’m glad he made the list.

  4. He definitely has some good songs, but he isn’t attractive. Its not enough to be a good singer anymore, you have to also have good looks. Conlee could cut it in an earlier era but not in today’s age.

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