Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Ronnie Milsap, “Stranger Things Have Happened”

“Stranger Things Have Happened”

Ronnie Milsap

Written by Roger Murrah and Keith Stegall

Radio & Records 

#1 (1 week)

April 13, 1990

Another huge seventies and eighties country star tops the charts for the last time.

The Road to No. 1

By the time the nineties rolled around, Ronnie Milsap was already one of the most successful country artists in history.  He’d spent the better part of two decades dueling with Charley Pride and Conway Twitty for the “Most No. 1 Singles” record, a title that Twitty ultimately won and held on to until he was eclipsed by George Strait many years later.   He was the first artist to win the CMA Award for Album of the Year three times, taking it home as recently as 1986 for his Lost in the Fifties Tonight LP, which beat out a crowded field of new traditionalists.

And as the decade turned, radio was still very much on board.  Milsap’s album output had slowed from releasing new albums annually to releasing them every other year, but he remained a consistent presence because those later albums produced multiple hit singles.

Thus was the case with Stranger Things Have Happened.  Released in 1989, two of the album’s first three singles – “Don’t You Ever Get Tired (of Hurting Me)” and “A Woman in Love” – had topped the charts, the latter being his final release to do so on the Billboard survey.  In between those two chart-toppers, “Houston Solution” had made it to the top five.   With another new album still a year away, RCA sent the title track to radio.

The No. 1

“Stranger Things Have Happened” has that classic Milsap sound, with a piano-heavy sixties feel.   His blue-eyed soulful singing shines brightly on the chorus, where he leans into that pleading wail that had served him so well on so many hits before.

But it all has a paint-by-numbers feel, perhaps because the lyric simply isn’t strong enough to carry it across the finish line.  The writers can’t seem to decide on the metaphor they want to run with, so it devolves into a generic heartache ballad that goes back over ground he’d already covered before and better.

That was good enough for early 1990, but it wouldn’t get the job done for much longer.

The Road From No. 1

Milsap was able to keep the hits going with one more studio album, Back to the Grindstone, which released in 1991.  Three singles from it made the Billboard top ten, with another just missing it, stopping at No. 11.    A single from his third hits collection in 1992 broke his hit streak, peaking outside the top forty.  A label switch to Liberty/Capitol produced a fresh energy to his sound, but couldn’t get him beyond the top thirty on the singles chart.

Milsap still remained a heavy presence on the road, and continued to release new music. He received a well-earned induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2014.

“Stranger Things Have Happened” gets a B-


Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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  1. I’m not the biggest Ronnie Milsap fan, even so, I was surprised to find that this was his last #1, especially since he continued to get radio airplay around her (in Florida) for another five years or so. My favorite Milsap comes from the period before about 1982

  2. I’m a Milsap fan – did get to see him once at Westbury. I agree with Paul’s “before about 1982” cutoff for most of my favorite Milsap songs.

  3. This is actually one I don’t recall hearing during it’s original chart run or as a recurrent in the early 90’s. I have to agree that it’s not one of Ronnie’s most memorable songs, but it’s still pretty good. As usual, his vocal performance is superb.

    However, one of my stations was still playing “A Woman In Love” from this album quite a lot in early 1991, and that’s actually my favorite single off this album. Another station was also still playing “Don’t You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me” as late as the Fall of 1998. While I do like some of the traditional flavored songs he did for this album, most of my favorite Milsap songs are from his commercial prime in the late 70’s and 80’s when a lot of his music had a pop/r&b influence. Interestingly, he went back to a more contemporary sound with the follow up album in 1991, and still had a good run of hits from it despite traditional country being the biggest trend.

    Of all the 70 and 80’s veterans who saw an end to their hit making days in the early 90’s, Ronnie seems to be the one who hung in there the longest, as I remember his single, “All Is Fair In Love And War,” still getting some pretty decent airplay around mid 1992.

  4. I like this song fine, but I forgot about it until I listened to it, because I didn’t recognize it by the title.

    I like a lot of Milsap’s singles, including the nineties singles like “Turn that Radio Up.”

    His voice still sounds very good/strong!

  5. An essential familiar voice that bridged the country music of the 80’s with the more traditional sounds of the 90’s. As Kevin mentioned Charley Pride and Conway Twitty were still in play. Vern Gosdin mattered again on the charts for a while there as well.

    All this to say it was amazing that these veterans were still allowed a grab at the brass ring as the youth movement swept through Nashville.

    As an aside, I always thought Robbie Fulks unfair swipe at Ronnie Milsap’s music in his 1997 song “F*ck This Town” was tactless and ignorant. The entire song was bitter and tough to take.

    This Milsap song, and his vocals, still sound great to my ears today.

  6. Was it “Houston” or might it have been “Houston Solution” that made it to the top five in 1989 (in between Milsap’s two chart toppers from that year)? I don’t recall a Milsap hit simply named “Houston,” though I do fondly remember “Houston Solution” and another lesser known song of his referencing Houston along the lines of “(From the Cold Rocky Mountains of Denver,) I Can Almost See Houston from Here.”

    Strangely, I don’t remember the Milsap song featured here, even though it holds the distinction of being Milsap’s final #1 hit. Like Paul and Bob, I prefer Milsap’s song output that came before 1982.

  7. …except for honky tonks perhaps, ronnie milsap an his style of (country) music could take you almost anywhere. fantastic artist and another fine song of his, although i could have sworn that it must have been a much earlier release than only 1990. stranger things have happend, i guess.

  8. I remember this song. It’s always been a favorite, along with “Houston Solution.”

    I saw him in 2007 as he opened for George Strait and he was phenomenal. Not sure about now, but his voice was as strong then as it was back in his heyday.

  9. This is not one I remember all that well, but it’s a fairly solid tune. I’d probably go with a B. I always liked Milsap’s stuff, but I seem to go back to a lot of his 80’s stuff, primarily when Mike Reid was writing a ton of his hits (Stranger in My House, Prisoner of the Highway, Lost in the 50’s tonight, etc), along with his bigger crossover hits of the time. Regardless, he was always good, and for him to hang around on the charts from 1973 until 1991/1992 shows how good he was at writing/picking songs.

  10. @bob. That’s a great point. I seem to even recall seeing a video on youtube of him participating in a tribute to that style of music at the Grammys, with Huey Lewis and The News and some of the Doo Wop Groups from the 50s.

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