Every No. 1 Country Single of the Eighties: The Oak Ridge Boys, “Elvira”


The Oak Ridge Boys

Written by Dallas Frazier

Radio & Records

#1 (3 weeks)

May 15 – May 29, 1981


#1 (1 week)

May 30, 1981

“Elvira” had been a minor hit for its writer, Dallas Frazier, in the sixties, and then again for Rodney Crowell in the seventies.  But it was the Oak Ridge Boys who turned it into an all-time classic country single.

The Oak Ridge Boys had already discovered gems from the Rodney Crowell catalog, having gone to No. 1 with Crowell’s “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” just one year earlier.  They learned “Elvira” from the Crowell cut, which may be the raunchiest record of its time to get even minor country airplay.  Crowell is joined by Emmylou Harris, and they grunt and pant for more than three minutes over a loose and dirty musical track.

The Oak Ridge Boys keep some elements of the Crowell recording on their way to making it completely their own.  They were able to hear something special in this record that would be a good fit for their quartet harmonies, and their sanitized version of “Elvira” made it the song to sing along with in 1981.  The song was everywhere in the early eighties, becoming a massive crossover hit and breaking the contemporary record for sales of a country single.

Of course, there are a lot of massive singles that folks sang along with that haven’t aged well.  (Don’t tell my heart. My achy breaky heart.)  “Elvira” can be carbon dated back to 1981, but because the song already leans into nostalgia for the doo-wop sounds of an earlier generation, it doesn’t sound any less out of date than it did upon release.

“Elvira” was a career record for the Oak Ridge Boys, winning them their fifth Grammy (and their only one in the country field), and earning the Single of the Year award from both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association.   It also powered their Fancy Free album to double platinum sales. We’ll see the Oak Ridge Boys again with the second single from this album.

“Elvira” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. I always assumed this song was written about Elvira Mistress of The Dark. Didn’t know it was written before 1981. A classic that even my non country living friends like!

  2. “Fancy Free,” along with a Marty Robbins’ greatest hits album, were the first two records I was gifted. In many ways, my fandom, begins with “Elvira.” The song was inescapable in the early 80’s, a perfect country music recruiting tool.

    The song is a smile, from ear-to-ear.

    How great is it that my 14 year old son likes it when I put this album on the record player? He actually sings along with the album cuts and not just “Elvira.” So unexpected and amazing..

    The Oak’s were slick but they were also sticky as hell.

    Yet another early 80’s country classic!

  3. I love the song, but also avoid it at all costs. It worms it’s way into my brain and doesn’t leave for weeks. When I catch it randomly I enjoy it and it Carries for a few months haha

    I think the second most ear worm worthy song is “Honey (Open That Door)”

  4. One of the reasons I think this song was such a huge crossover hit (it got up to #5 on the Hot 100 in July ’81) was the horn section on it, which sounds like something out of Memphis or Muscle Shoals, a Southern R&B feel to it, which is something the Boys did any number of times, but it was really evident to me on this record (IMHO).

    It may have been deemed country by most standards in 1981, but I don’t think it was too much of an accident that “Elvira” became as a bit a hit as it did.

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