Every No. 1 Country Single of the Eighties: Alabama, “Tennessee River”

“Tennessee River”


Written by Randy Owen


#1 (1 week)

August 16, 1980

In many ways, the arrival of Alabama is the arrival of eighties country.

They got their start in their namesake state, as three cousins – Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry, and Jeff Cook – came together as a band in the early seventies. The band took a long, hard road to success, with all three of the founding members working real world jobs while they played local theme parks on the weekends and clubs at night.  Once they committed to the band full time, they relocated to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where they became wildly popular on the local scene.

They rotated through drummers while recording three independent albums.  A series of singles for MDJ Records charted in the late seventies, just as proficient drummer Mark Herndon joined the band, completing their Hall of Fame-destined lineup.   When “My Home’s in Alabama” cracked the top twenty, they performed at the Country Radio Seminar, which led to a contract with RCA.

Their new label purchased their MDJ masters, allowing for those singles to be included in their RCA debut album, My Home’s in Alabama. Their first standalone single for the label was “Tennessee River,” and it became their first No. 1 hit.

“Tennessee River” is being covered as a single here, so it’s important to note that the studio and radio version of this song is incomplete. The entire second verse is eliminated, which interrupts the narrative flow of an otherwise excellent lyric.  Perhaps it’s because I have family in Scottsboro, Alabama and have driven these roads and mountains myself.  I think Owen captured the feel of the area and the connection to the land felt by generations in his songwriting.

The musical breakdown at the end would be revisited on other Alabama records, so it’s easy to miss how fresh this sound must have been at the time.  The label made the choice to remove the second verse so that radio could get to play that breakdown and still keep this record from a brand new act at a reasonable running time, but they should’ve at least let the band keep it on the album version.

The live version of this song is the best way to listen to it, with Owen delivering the lost verse with real verve.  That version, which also appears on their Greatest Hits album, is essential listening.  Still, it’s hard to argue with a label choice that kicks off a record-shattering string of 21 consecutive No. 1 hits.

The single version of “Tennessee River” gets a B+.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

Previous: Eddie Rabbitt, “Drivin’ My Life Away” |

Next: Ronnie Milsap, “Cowboys and Clowns”/”Misery Loves Company”


  1. Alabama was the first concert I attended in 1981 at the omni in Atlanta and to this day their writing ,singing and performing tops the charts and they are the best country music band there ever will be.

  2. Trying to listen to this song again for the first time, I am struck by the mash-up of decidedly nostalgic rural themes/images with the energy and drive of contemporary sounds while still maintaining many traditional elements. That’s a tough act to pull off without pandering or putting off a significant portion of their audience. It’s a cool record for a band that would change the game in Nashville.

    Alabama’s earliest hits exist in that magic ether of childhood for me where they seem to float above either criticism or judgement. They are simply an assumed dominant presence on country radio in the 80’s.

    That being said, I never feel in love with Alabama. I was always happy to leave them to the airwaves and out of my personal collection when I began buying my own music.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. ≫ Alabama, “río Tennessee” – Universo Country

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.