The Oak Ridge Boys
Written by Roy August and Jimbeau Hinson
Radio & Records
#1 (2 weeks)
October 23 – October 30, 1981
#1 (1 week)
November 7, 1981
The Oak Ridge Boys became bona fide superstars with the catchy singalong hit, “Elvira.” Rather than tap that vein again with their follow up single, they went in a far more emotionally complex and delicately intimate record. It’s very difficult to write about the kind of unconditional love that requires letting somebody go. Maybe that’s because listening to music is its own form of escapism and its own form of therapy. Most songs center the feelings of the person singing, so we get incredible songs about falling in and out of love, but they’re usually about prioritizing the emotions of the person doing one of those things. “Fancy Free” is about a guy who really loves Fancy, but knows he’s standing in the way of her happiness. He doesn’t want to let her go but he knows that it’s the right thing to do. Every step of the way, he puts his own feelings secondary to her needs:
I’m settin’ Fancy free, even though I love her stillShe’d be no good to me if I held her against her will Even though that girl, she’s the best part of my world Along with all my dreams, I’m settin’ Fancy free
The Oak Ridge Boys wisely choose a “less is more” approach with their signature harmonies, sounding like they’re softly supporting their heartbroken friend. It’s such a contrast to their career-making hit, and it’s all the more effective because of that. “Fancy Free” gets an A.
Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties
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If, based predominantly on the production style and vocal strength of the artists, there is a trinity of early eighties country music performances, those three songs are: John Conlee’s “Friday Night Blues.” “Charley Pride’s “Never Been So Loved (In All of My Life), and “Fancy Free” by the Oak Ridge Boys.
Maybe it follows that those last two songs consecutively topped the charts. They both sound amazing. If nothing else, Nashville knows how to copy what works. Both these songs represent the pinnacle of what the eighties could do with mainstream country music.
And “Fancy Free” more than works, it soars. I get chill bumps listening to this song. It is such a reluctant, melancholic performance. Duane Allan sounds amazing singing lead. The harmonies are supportive and sweet. The Oaks leverage their voices as if they were a separate, stand-alone instrument. They are supremely skilled and versatile with how they maximize the impact of those magical four-part harmonies. They slip in and out and surround one another.
A total tribute to Roy August’s and Jimbeau Henson’s lyrics, this level of sensitivity to genuine emotional conciliation sounds foreign to our echo-chamber-damaged ears and existence today.
An ’80’s classic!