Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Ricky Skaggs, “Heartbroke”


Ricky Skaggs

Written by Guy Clark


#1 (1 week)

November 13, 1982

As we’ve noted before in this feature, a commercial breakthrough does wonders for a rising artist’s confidence.

Ricky Skaggs returned to the studio as a bona fide star, and Highways & Heartaches demonstrates his increasing assertiveness and clarifying vision.  He doesn’t sound like he’s singing over Emmylou Harris’ backing tracks anymore.

However, he learned all the right lessons from Harris, as evidenced by his sophisticated taste in material.  Taking a Guy Clark song to the top of the charts in 1982 demonstrates astonishingly good taste, and his growing skill as a producer is immediately evident.

“Heartbroke” is a bluegrass record that has been performed and recorded with the precision and care usually reserved for pop and rock records at the time.  We keep going back to this in this feature because it’s true: the emergence of country music as a commercial force on par with the rest of the music world isn’t a story about tending to or deviating from tradition.  It’s a story about the arrival of high quality production across the board, whether it’s being recorded a new traditionalist like Ricky Skaggs or a southern rocker like Hank Jr. 

As good as the song and the singer and the musicians are, what makes “Heartbroke” stand the test of time is how well all of it was recorded, a lesson that most of today’s hitmakers could stand to learn.

“Heartbroke” gets an A

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. Love this song — and particularly this version of it. George Strait recorded it for his sophomore album that came out that same year, and I know this makes me a bad Strait fan, but I like this version a LOT better.

    The entire Highways & Heartaches album is an absolute gem, really, from start to finish. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

  2. It would be another ten years before I finally figured out who Guy Clark was but I new Skaggs was on fire at this point.

    His music, along with Strait’s and John Anderson, would mark the point where country music either flowed forward or backward. For a boy from Minnesota, it was Laurentian Divide-like moment where country music could go at least two of many directions.

    This exciting sense of choice was related to song selection, production quality, and the age of the artists who were bringing a new wave of musical influences to their commitment to country music.

    So cool.

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