Every No. 1 Country Single of the Eighties: Kenny Rogers, “Lady”


Kenny Rogers

Written by Lionel Richie

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

November 14, 1980


#1 (1 week)

November 22, 1980

Despite their tremendous success together, Kenny Rogers was worried his sound was getting a bit stale.  So following his No. 1 hit “Don’t Fall in Love With a Dreamer,” Rogers made plans to replace producer and longtime collaborator Larry Butler.  As he prepared to release Kenny Rogers’ Greatest Hits, he tapped into the talents of Commodores singer Lionel Richie, who was getting ready to launch his own massively successful crossover career.

The result of them working together was “Lady,” which topped both country charts for one week but spent a stunning six weeks atop the pop singles chart.  We would get much more familiar with the signature sound of Lionel Richie, to the point that this now sounds like a Lionel Richie song as much as a Kenny Rogers song.  But at the time, this was a new and fresh approach for both artists.

It’s fitting that this song topped the chart right after Anne Murray’s “Could I Have This Dance,” because Rogers pulls off the same feat as a vocalist on his record as she does on hers.  It’s a delicate, eloquent, and carefully delivered performance from Rogers.  Richie’s songwriting and production challenged him to push beyond anything he’d tried as a singer before this, and he rises to that challenge, with exceptional phrasing that heightens the emotional impact of the lyric.  It’s his finest performance as a vocalist among all of his major hits.

“Lady” fueled Rogers to the peak in his popularity.  Kenny Rogers’ Greatest Hits topped the pop albums chart, a rarity for a country act at the time and one that wouldn’t be seen again until Garth Brooks’ Ropin’ the Wind eleven years later.  It would eventually sell over twelve million copies in America alone, another country record that wouldn’t be broken until Brooks’ No Fences reached 13x platinum in 1995.  Meanwhile, the arrangement of “Lady” would prove heavily influential on pop-flavored country.  The piano hook was practically ripped off by Lonestar’s “Amazed” many years down the road.

Rogers will be on top again soon enough with his next single, featuring his favorite duet partner, Dottie West.

“Lady” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

Previous: Anne Murray, “Could I Have This Dance” |

Next: Ronnie Milsap, “Smoky Mountain Rain”


  1. Another beautiful ballad, another wonderful song of Kenny’s. Nothing to ever take for granted. I’m also a Lionel Richie fan – Hello is such a beautiful song, and this is another I like a lot. The 80s and 90s eras are when I got into a lot of good new (or new to me) music and I’m still discovering songs of those eras today.

  2. I think everyone I knew in 1980-1981 owned Kenny Rogers’ Greatest Hits. He was one of the hottest acts in all of music back then.

    Kenny is my favorite male country artist all time. While I enjoyed his story songs, it was his ballads that made me keep coming back for more.

    I love the whole song but my favorite part is towards the end where it says ‘lady, your love’s the only love I need’. Perfect for Kenny’s unique vocals.

    According to Richie, the song was originally titled Baby. But after hearing Kenny continually call his wife, Marianne, a real lady, he changed the title to Lady. Thank goodness he did. Definitely deserves an A.

  3. My mom loved all the crossover artists and heck even my dad loves this song. I heard it all the time growing up as a kid in the 90’s because of my parents. Of course I didn’t appreciate this song then and even today Kenny wouldn’t rank too high on my favorites but this is one classy love song with a terrific vocal by Kenny. He really was a great love song interpreter.

  4. I liked to think that country music was my own little corner of the musical world as a kid as I was developing my own musical loyalties and identity. None of my friends or classmates exclusively listened to country radio the way I did, but it was hard for them to avoid the cross-over hits like this one.

    Still,I remember being floored when my dad took me to a vocal performance on the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus at Northrop Hall and hearing this song performed. Hearing it opened my eyes to the reach of of the artists and songs I obsessively thought of as mine and country music’s alone.

    Rogers was special for his ability as an interpreter and entertainer; he wasn’t blessed with a classically beautiful voice or vocal training.

    It is interesting to me, in my own mental filing and categorizing, that I don’t include Rogers among the great artists of all time. I look – and listen- to his deep catalogue and he has recorded many classic and important songs from “Lucille” to “The Gambler” to “Lady” to “Islands in the Stream” to “Buy Me a Rose.”

    I need to reconsider.

    Maybe Kenny rightfully belonged to too many people (as his album sales suggest) for me to claim him as exclusively mine or country’s.

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  1. ≫ Kenny Rogers, “Lady” – Universo Country

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