Every No. 1 Country Single of the Eighties: Waylon Jennings, “I Ain’t Living Long Like This”

“I Ain’t Living Long Like This”

Waylon Jennings

Written by Rodney Crowell

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

February 22, 1980


#1 (1 week)

March 1, 1980

Waylon Jennings may have been the fourth artist to record “I Ain’t Living Long Like This,” but it fits him so perfectly that you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a Waylon original.

Like “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” this track also appeared on the Emmylou Harris album, Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town.   Before Harris recorded it, it was released by Gary Stewart, and songwriter Rodney Crowell also featured it on his debut album.

It’s Jennings that can claim the definitive version, and that shouldn’t be surprising.  Jennings was living out the lyrics at the time he recorded it, struggling with a cocaine addiction that nearly killed him.  There’s such a melancholy that he brings to the table here, as if he’s resigned to the inevitable: either he’s going to stop, or he’s going to die.  Either way, he ain’t living long like this.

The power of television helped make his other No. 1 single from 1980 linger far longer in the collective memory, but this is the better of his two chart-toppers this year.  We’re in the era where all the artists with exceptional taste were raiding Rodney Crowell’s catalog, and we’ll see another one of his early songs atop the charts soon enough.

“I Ain’t Living Long Like This” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. It’s actually kind of amazing how prolific Rodney Crowell was as a songwriter – and singer. I’ve heard so many songs that later turned out to be written by him and they’ve all been songs I’ve liked. He is an amazing talent and I love this song – I’m a fan of a lot of Waylon’s music. I’m guessing the other no. 1 is the Dukes of Hazzard theme/Good Ol’ Boys? I like that one too, but I really know it more as a song, I never watched the show much, though I liked what I saw of it.

  2. Jennings released his Don Was produced album “Waymore’s Blues (Part II) the same year (1994) Johnny Cash released his original Rick Rubin produced ” American Recordings album. His creative renaissance is often overshadowed by that of Cash, Hagggard and even Bobby Bare.

    I mention that here, because Jennings is as good an example as anyone of the older stars who still enjoyed radio success, albeit intermittently, in the 80’s who were completely passed over by radio come the new traditionalist movement of the late 80’s and 90’s country.

    Performances like this in 1980 still rumble with the edge and danger that made Jennings such a star and compelling personality.

    I smile when I think back to being able to hear new Waylon Jennings music on the radio in the 80’s.

    As a kid, I had no ideas how important and influential Rodney Crowell was as a songwriter. As a fan, I associate his emergence as a solo recording artist with his 1988 album “Diamonds & Dirt.”

    This is a great Jennings’ performance of a Crowell-penned tune.

    • Jennings definitely got overshadowed at the time, which is a shame, because it was a great album. Jennings, Cash, Haggard, Nelson, Bare, and Harris all made some of their best albums in the mid-nineties. And while it was a bigger commercial success than all of those albums, I still feel that the Parton/Lynn/Wynette album didn’t get the critical love and awards attention that it deserved.

      • And that was one aspect of the country music boom of the 1990’s that was detrimental to the genre as a whole (IMHO). The industry seemingly had forgotten (or had a memory lapse of some sort) what guys like Waylon contributed over the previous three decades, and what they continued to do–though audiences, even those who were more of the Garth variety, were astute enough to find out for themselves what Waylon and his contemporaries were all about.

  3. I whole heartedly agree about that album! I bought a used CD copy of it just because the price was right, and I had my mind blown by how good it was. Am I correct in remembering that album was largely ignored by the media, and dismissed as a last gasp from some aging stars? Obviously, radio didn’t touch it in 1993.

    Of course, I may be the only one who feels similarly about the 1998 Bobby Bare produced “Old Dogs” record featuring Waylon Jennings, Mel Tillis, Jerry Reed and Bobby Bare performing Shel Silverstein compositions.

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