Every No. 1 Country Single of the Eighties: Ronnie Milsap, “Cowboys and Clowns”/”Misery Loves Company”

“Cowboys and Clowns”

Ronnie Milsap

Written by Steve Dorff, Snuff Garrett, Gary Harju, and Larry Herbstritt

“Misery Loves Company”

Written by Jerry Reed


#1 (1 week)

August 30, 1980

Ronnie Milsap scored a double-sided No. 1 hit this time around by pairing up a track from the Bronco Billy soundtrack with another cut from his Milsap Magic album.

“Cowboys and Clowns” is so much stronger than the previous No. 1 single from Bronco Billy that it’s hard to believe it’s from the same soundtrack. It’s an original concept, comparing how children enjoy clowns the way women love cowboys, but want nothing to do with them once the show is over:

Everybody loves cowboys and clowns
You’re everybody’s hero for just a little while
But when the goodbye are said and the spot light goes dead
There’s no one left to cares to hang around to love the cowboys and clowns

Some of the production flourishes work better than others. I love the slowed down piano playing circus music. It’s incredibly subtle and plays into Milsap’s distinctiveness as a pianist.  The background vocals are a bit overbearing, but that’s the early eighties for you.

As for “Misery Loves Company,” it was one of Jerry Reed’s earliest compositions. Porter Wagoner took it to No. 1 in 1961.  Milsap completely reinvents the track, which had been an uptempo, traditional country number in Wagoner’s hands.  Milsap slows it down a bit, brings his signature countrypolitan smoothness to it, and brings the sadness of the lyric to the surface.  He does enough with it to make it his own.

It’s a solid 45 with two strong sides, and it serves as a precursor to one of Milsap’s very best singles, which is coming up next.

Both “Cowboys and Clowns” and “Misery Love Company” get a B+.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. Well, that’s fascinating. For a very long time I thought Porter Wagoner was the only one who ever recorded “Misery Loves Company.” I’ll have to check this one out.

    Not long ago I discovered that John Conlee also did a really cool version of it on his Friday Night Blues album.

    • The album “Friday Night Blues” is one of my favorite albums from the early 80’s. I also really liked “She Can’t Say That Anymore” which has that creepy southern gothic production going on for it and I love it.

  2. These early eighties RCA numbers are showing how capable and gifted Ronnie Milsap was with more traditional material, albeit worked through a countrypolitan filter. He and Mickey Gilley really set the standard for these kind of productions.

    I love how Milsap’s vocals are featured out-front in the verses of “Cowboys and Clowns.” The strings and background singers don’t get in the way for me. Those production elements still feel comfortable and familiar to my ears.

    I thing Milsap’s legacy would be different if this earlier material received as much recurrent play as his upcoming run of hits. They show a depth and reverence for the genre he will later be criticized for pillorying.

  3. I really like the Milsap and Conlee recordings of “Misery Loves Company”, but I still think the song works better with a slightly faster tempo

    To be truthful, I had forgotten about “Cowboys and Clowns” (I never saw BRONCO BILLY). Thanks for bringing it to my attention. It is a pretty decent song – I would give it a B+

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