Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Earl Thomas Conley, “Somewhere Between Right and Wrong”

“Somewhere Between Right and Wrong”

Earl Thomas Conley

Written by Earl Thomas Conley


#1 (1 week)

December 18, 1982

Earl Thomas Conley’s return to No. 1 is with a record that is nothing short of spectacular.

When embarking on this eighties journey, I knew there would be some unexpected discoveries.  I’m familiar with a handful of Earl Thomas Conley singles, but they’re all midtempo or straight up ballads.  I was completely unprepared for the cornucopia of pleasures that is “Somewhere Between Right and Wrong.”

Conley’s flawless vocal powers through an energetic production that combine for the brassiest country record this side of the Mavericks.  But it would all be for naught without the brilliantly constructed lyric.

After wading through the stale adolescent fantasies of his fading Urban Cowboy peers, Conley arrives with a tale about two fully realized adult characters who are navigating complex emotional feelings for each other while wrestling with the gray shades of morality that surround their situation.

love the woman in this song. She has agency. She’s cheating on an absentee husband that she hasn’t quite left yet.  The ring on her finger makes it wrong, but the empty marriage it represents makes it right.  She’s stuck between the two.

She said, “I can be had but I can’t be bought,And I can be bad Lord if I don’t get caught.But I’d rather be loved or left aloneThan be here in the middle somewhere between right and wrong.”

Her own journey would’ve been enough to make for a compelling record.  Even with a man singing the words, a woman saying “You know I never was the kind to spread it around, but I’ll let you get to me as long as you don’t let me down” on country radio in 1982 stands out.  But the song is from the perspective of the man she’s finding comfort with, and it’s creating a moral dilemma for him too:

It’s her kind of love keeps me coming back time after timeJust like a beautiful song I can’t get off my mindBut I worry a lot about love you have to wait onAnd I got second thoughts about a woman who is always gone

They’re both stuck somewhere between right and wrong, having a damn good time as the warning signs flash around them.  The record captures the rush and the regret, and one doesn’t follow the other.  They remain intertwined.

When we see Conley again, he’ll be kicking off his string of sixteen consecutive No. 1 hits.  I knew this was coming, but for the first time, I can’t wait for it to arrive.

“Somewhere Between Right and Wrong” gets an A

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. I don’t think ETC recorded a bad song during the entire decade of the 80s. He and his producer Nelson Larkin tapped into a style of country that fit Earl’s voice perfectly.

    Thomas was also a great songwriter and could do some amazing things lyrically. “Somewhere” is a great example of that.

    I hate that ETC doesn’t get the credit he deserves for what he brought to country radio and audiences. Incredible talent.

  2. Earl Thomas Conley was certainly unique and while I did not love all of his songs there were none that I really disliked. My chief quibble with ETC is that he used such poor grammar when proper usage would not have damaged any of his songs

  3. I completely took Earl Thomas Conley for granted during his insane run of number one hits in the ’80s. I recall liking most of his songs on the radio as a kid, but it was only in hindsight that I realized just how gifted a vocalist he was. I certainly didn’t ‘t appreciate the depth and skill of his songwriting. Maybe he was too smart for me, but it was more likely I was just too dumb to appreciate him and what he was doing. He was writing mature music and I was a kid, a pearls before swine kind of situation.

    Oddly, I ganged Conley together with Gary Morris in the musical catalogue of my mind from this era.

    Even stranger was my mishearing the the line ” I can be had but I can’t be bought” as “I can have hair but I can’t be bald.”

    Maybe kids shouldn’t listen to country music.

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