Every No. 1 Country Single of the Eighties: Johnny Lee, “Prisoner of Hope”

“Prisoner of Hope”

Johnny Lee

Written by Gerald Metcalf and Sterling Whipple

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

July 24, 1981

Johnny Lee’s third No. 1 single from Lookin’ For Love followed the top five hit, “Pickin’ Up Strangers,” giving Lee four major hits from his breakthrough album.

I wish I could give some enlightenment about why this was one of the rare country albums of its era to go four hits deep.  All I can say is that it has the exact same groove as the album’s other hits.  The same barely there vocal delivery.  The same shopping mall studio backing track.

It’s a nice enough song about a man who is allowing himself to fall for a woman who is way out of his league.  There are so many emotions that could go with this lyric, from euphoria at the opportunity to anxiety over blowing it.  I have no idea what Lee is feeling because his performance is flat and dull.

Lee followed “Prisoner of Hope” with “Rode Hard and Put Up Wet,” which was a single from Urban Cowboy II, another collection of songs from the Urban Cowboy film.  It went top thirty.  It had a pulse, which must have been more than country radio could handle from Johnny at the time.

Lee returned to No. 1 in 1982 with the lead single from his next studio album.

“Prisoner of Hope” gets a C.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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1 Comment

  1. Johhny Lee may forever play second fiddle to Mickey Gilley whose stage he shared at the den of sin, Gilley’s bar in Pasadena.

    “Prisoner of Hope” is riding shotgun to Eddie Rabbitt’s “Gone Too Far” as the most uninspiring and limpid love song of the early ’80s.. It is familiar and nice and little more, a harmless poof of a historical placeholder and song.

    It was popular enough at radio to reach the top, giving listeners no reason to change the car station, but it was not interesting enough for those same listeners to drive their cars to record stores to buy the album. Simultaneously, radio advertisers were thrilled while music executives were not.

    The ’80’s country output shines a light on the conundrum of the Urban Cowboy years as highlighted by its flagship artist Johnny Lee. Despite an album spawning four charting singles at radio, album sales in Nashville didn’t rival top selling pop artists. “Prisoner of Love” is only an RIAA certified Gold album whereas the Urban Cowboy soundtrack that introduced Lee to the world is triple platinum.

    Wade Jessen wrote, “….the film, Urban Cowboy, had caused an upheaval in Nashville’s creative community, resulting in scores of forgettable records that didn’t sell.”

    Kevin has talked a lot about Jimmy Bowen’s importance to the ’80s for bringing a more professional style and higher production value to country recordings, no doubt, intended to drive-up those sagging album sales that radio success could not raise on its own.

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