Every No. 1 Country Single of the Eighties: John Conlee, “Friday Night Blues”

“Friday Night Blues”

John Conlee

Written by Sonny Throckmorton and Rafe Van Hoy

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

July 11, 1980

John Conlee broke through in a big way in the late seventies with his debut album, Rose Colored Glasses.  The top five title track is still his signature hit, and the album’s next two singles – “Lady Lay Down” and “Backside of Thirty” – became his first two No. 1 hits.   His 1979 album Forever included the top five hit “Before My Time” and the top ten “Baby You’re Something.”  He returned to the top with the lead single and title track from his third studio album.

“Friday Night Blues” was originally recorded by its co-writer, Sonny Throckmorton.  His version reached #89 on the Billboard chart earlier in 1980.  Throckmorton’s recording is serviceable, aided considerably by the strength of the composition.  The John Conlee version is an entirely different league, a testament to his remarkable skill as a singer and the often overlooked virtues of early eighties country production.

Conlee’s vocal is rich and expressive, complementing the empathetic character drawings in the lyric.  You can feel the anguish of both the husband who’s “been working all week, he’s got mental fatigue,” and the lonely housewife, who’s been home all week “slowly going out of her mind.” The chorus soars, with the electric piano gliding alongside Conlee’s brilliant vocal performance, bringing the song’s vivid imagery to life:

Those Friday night blues they get in your shoes and they work to get you downOh but there ain’t a lady that I ever knew who didn’t need her a night on the townBut the hills and the bills and a week’s worth of deals has got him feeling usedWhile he’s kicking his shoes off,  she’s putting hers on, she’s got the Friday night blues

The song is so fantastically written that even the competing neighbor down the street is a fully realized character, and we get a window into her entire marriage in just one line, again amplified by Conlee’s reading of it: “The girl down the street says her husband is neat and she makes it sound so true.” Most country songs can’t do that much character development in three minutes, let alone in one line.

We’re going to see a lot of John Conlee in this feature, and it still won’t be nearly enough.  The next single from Friday Night Blues is the equally excellent “She Can’t Say That Anymore,” which just missed the top spot.  The third release, “What I Had With You,” went top fifteen.

Conlee then releases his fourth album, With Love.  The lead single, “Could You Love Me (One More Time),” underperformed, only going top thirty. But its second single, “Miss Emily’s Picture,” added to Conlee’s list of classic hits, going top five.  I’m proud to say that the definitive piece of writing on “Miss Emily’s Picture” was written for Country Universe by contributor Peter Saros. (I’m slightly relieved it didn’t go to No. 1 because there was no way I could do better than he did writing about that song.)

Conlee pulled four singles from his 1982 album Busted.  The title track went top ten, as did the third single, “I Don’t Remember Loving You.” The second single, “Nothing Behind You, Nothing in Sight,” went top thirty.  Conlee returned to the top with the fourth and final single from the album. We’ll get to it in 1983.

“Friday Night Blues” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. Pig Robbins’ piano intro gives me chill bumps every time I listen to this classic song. If there is a performance that best captures the sound of mainstream Nashville in the early eighties you may well be hearing it here. It is utterly captivating and breathtaking, big and beautiful.

    Conlee’s baritone is a wonder because it is simultaneously exhausted and hopefully sympathetic. His common man persona makes the emotional tension of this Friday night uncomfortably familiar.

    I love the album cover. As gross as it sounds, I can almost smell his warm and sweaty shoes, the open bag of Tostitos, and the Charlie perfume I always imagine his wife has expectedly put on for the evening.

    Country music doesn’t get much more real than this.

  2. There were plenty of cheating and drinking songs in country music. But how unique and refreshing to hear a song about a bored partner wanting to go out on the town while her partner wants to stay home and chill after a long stressful week at work.

    That was John Conlee’s style. He found unique songs and made hits out of them. His voice was so special and he appealed to so many people. It always seemed like while everyone was going one way, Conlee was etching his own path and standing out in the most positive of ways.

    Such a great song sung by a master singer. Glad it received an A.

  3. That piano! The piano in old country songs hits all the right spots for me on sad songs. If done right it’s just as effective as a fiddle or steel guitar!

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