Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Oak Ridge Boys, “No Matter How High”

“No Matter How High”

Oak Ridge Boys

Written by Joey Scarbury and Even Stevens


#1 (1 week)

March 3, 1990

Radio & Records 

#1 (1 week)

February 16, 1990

The final No. 1 single from a Hall of Fame vocal group that first topped the charts in the seventies.

The Road to No. 1

The Oak Ridge Boys started out as a gospel quartet, winning multiple Grammys for their work in that field, before pivoting to country music during the seventies.  Their breakout hit, “Y’all Come Back Saloon,” topped the charts in 1977 and kicked off a long run of hits, which would include 16 Billboard No. 1 songs by the end of the eighties.

Best known for “Elvira” and “Bobbie Sue,” two huge crossover hits, they were a platinum-selling act at the peak of their fame in the early eighties.  But they maintained a successful country career throughout that decade, even surviving the departure of key member William Golden, who was replaced by Steve Sanders in 1987.

Their final album of the decade, American Dreams, would also be their final album for MCA Records.   The lead single, “An American Family,” was a No. 4 hit, and was followed up by “No Matter How High.”

The No. 1

If the infectious enthusiasm of this upbeat spin on “Wind Beneath My Wings” can’t hook you with the audio, then try to resist the impossibly endearing video, where all four members return to their hometowns to sing the song to their respective mothers.

“No Matter How High” reaches its own high in the chorus, which showcases their flawless harmonies and lifts up the pure joy of the lyric. The verses, on the other hand, tread a bit of water, with the solo lead vocal not being nearly as effective as the power punch of the four men singing together in the choruses and on the bridge.

It’s still a charming record, and its healthy dose of gratitude makes for a great way to end a long run of No. 1 hits.

The Road From No. 1

A label change to RCA brought two more studio albums and a final top ten hit in 1990 (“Lucky Moon”), as the Oak Ridge Boys became another huge act washed away by the new wave of nineties country stars.  Toward the end of 1995, personal problems that were plaguing Steve Sanders led to his resignation from the band, creating the opening for William Golden to return shortly thereafter.  The lineup with Golden has remained active ever since, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015.

“No Matter How High” gets a B+. 

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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  1. I’m not a big Oaks guy, but I always enjoyed this version of the group a little more than the more famous lineup (although I will concede, I love me some “Ozark Mountain Jubilee, as sung by “the beard”, William Lee Golden). But, I always liked Steve Sanders voice, and though they chose some stronger, slightly more mature material with him in the group. My other favorite Oaks song is probably “Beyond Those Years”, which is a nice ballad that showcases a marriage that stays strong despite the challenges of having a baby out of wedlock, and having to deal with the family’s judgement on it. While I do like a few of the Oaks 70s/80s hits, that type of topic wasn’t really explored much in their singles at that time, and I always appreciated them going in that direction.

    As far as “No Matter How High” goes, it’s one of those songs you can’t really hate on. As mentioned in the review, it’s such a happy, upbeat record, and that video with the group members and their moms is memorable. It’s one of those feel-good records, and a good note for the Oaks to have their last number one with.

  2. The first album I ever received as a gift was The Oak’s “Fancy Free.” I joined their fan club. I hung their posters on my wall. I bought their 45 singles. I even bought 8 tracks of the Oaks.

    I have also loved their recent albums with Dave Cobb. It’s like getting together with an old friend you just fall into easy conversation with even after miles and years apart.

    All of this is to say I loved watching this song reach #1 when I was in high school. It is just an infectious, fun song.

    The Mighty Oaks tower over all other country bands in my fandom.

    For what it’s worth, my youngest son can sing along with all the songs on my vinyl copy of “Fancy Free.”

    The Oaks still have a magical hold on young listeners.

  3. I remember liking this song a lot. I got into country music in ’93 and this song was played pretty regularly on the country station in my area that played classic and current hits, but it was never played on the Hot New Country station, even though it wasn’t old. So, I thought it was a classic song for a long time, since it still has an old-timey vibe to it thanks to the harmonies and even the production.

  4. Yeah, compared to most other early 90’s country releases, it still has a slick 80’s pop country feel to the production, which was typical of much of Jimmy Bowen’s work from the late 80’s. I also remember hearing this as a recurrent on the radio up until the mid 90’s. After that, it was pretty much only heard on classic country shows, unless it was one of those independently owned stations that played whatever they wanted and didn’t follow the recurrent rules (we had one of those near us around the late 90’s/early 00’s, as well).

    Like others here, I’ve always enjoyed this song, along with much of the Oaks’ other singles, especially their more pop influenced stuff from the 80’s. I will forever associate “Elvira” with my step dad since it was one of his favorites, and he could never resist mimicking Richard Sterban whenever it came on. The already mentioned “Lucky Moon” is another one of my favorites, as well, and like Eddie Rabbit from this time, it was sort of their attempt to fit in with the neo-traditional sound that was all the rage then.

    One thing that always fascinated me about the period from around 1990 to early 1991, was how several 70’s and 80’s veteran artists (Rabbit, Oaks, Don Williams, Conway Twitty, Ronnie Milsap, Glen Campbell, etc.) were still getting some pretty decent airplay alongside the then hot newcomers like Garth, Alan, Clint, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Mark Chesnutt, Travis Tritt, etc. It was also like traces of the 80’s pop country sound were still able to hang around for this time, until it was pretty much forced off the radio for good later in 1991. Listening to some of the tapes I recorded from the radio around this time period, one of our stations seemed to actually play the 70’s/80’s established stars and Urban Cowboy recurrents more than the new faces and the neo-traditional sound that was actually hot then. Definitely an interesting time! It makes you wonder how many more hits some of those artists could’ve had had they not been forced off the radio.

  5. I’ve been a fan of the Oak Ridge Boys since the mid-1960s when Duane Allen and a very clean-shaven William Lee Golden first joined the group. All of the various iterations of the group had much to recommend them. Some of the earlier versions of the group were better at gospel music than the more famous version, but the later groups were better at secular music. True, Steve Sanders was a better lead singer than William Lee Golden but since Joe Bonsall and Duane Allen took most of the leads, it really didn’t make much difference whether Sanders or Golden was singing baritone. Because “Lucky Moon” made #1 on some of the local countdown charts, i didn’t realize that “No Matter How High’ was their last #1 record. I agree with the B+ assessment

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