Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: John Conlee, “Common Man”

“Common Man”

John Conlee

Written by Sammy Johns

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

May 13, 1983


#1 (1 week)

May 21, 1983

We haven’t seen John Conlee since “Friday Night Blues” went to No. 1 in 1980, but he released several classic singles in between that chart topper and “Common Man,” including “She Can’t Say That Anymore,” “Miss Emily’s Picture,” “Busted,” and “I Don’t Remember Loving You.”

“Busted” had been the highest-charting single from the Busted album until MCA took the rare step of releasing a fourth single from an album. It finally brought one of the era’s strongest artists back to the top, and it’s just as much of a classic as the songs listed above.

In fact, it would have that status even if the only line worthy of note was “I’d rather chug-a-lug a mug of Budweiser Beer than sip a crystal glass of wine,” but the entire song has a balance of clever wordplay and working class references.  The basic plotline is a venerable one for country songs: an uptown girl wants to hook up with a downtown boy, and they’ve got to figure out which world to live in.

Conlee is the Platonic ideal of a common man, so he’s the perfect singer for this composition.  He’s just super uncomfortable being around privilege and it’s a world he doesn’t aspire to fit into.  

We don’t find out what happens with this couple in the end, but I’d like to think she has her first Big Mac and fries and decides to leave her high living world behind.

“Common Man” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. …the longer this series goes on, the harder i find the general view that the “urban cowboy” era was such a poor one well founded. it just does not quite sound like it on the whole. especially, in the case of john conlee and this hit in particular.

    • This era did a lot to set the stage for the boom years that followed and it doesn’t get enough credit for that.

      For me, it’s not a story about traditional vs. crossover country. It’s a story of production standards. Once traditional country artists started having the same production standards as pop and rock records of the time, they started selling in the millions.

  2. Not going to lie, when I saw the cover I almost confused it for a ~2010 hick hop album (until seeing the stuff in the truck bed).

    • It does look like the cover of a redneck comedy album, circa 2005.

      What I love about John Conlee is that he never pretended to be anything other than a working class everyman. Even in his live performances at the height of his fame, he wore a button down tucked into jeans.

      He wasn’t pretending to be a small town culture warrior while actually living in Brentwood.

  3. I reflect a lot on how the messaging of this song influenced my attitude towards privilege and wealth as a kid. I believe lyrics can be as consequential as other cultural forces like education, religion, and literature.

    How couldn’t hearing songs like this and “Satisfied Mind” affect me if heard as truth?

    Beyond those musings, Conlee continues to sound completely captivating and convincing as a singer. He is one of country music’s all time great vocalists. HIs phrasing and vocal dynamics are stunning.

    For years, I didn’t understand what having a dog without a pedigree meant because I didn’t know the word pedigree as a nine year old.. These songs schooled me in unexpected ways.

    Today, I do know that “high-browed people lose their sanity.”

    Is there a better example of sincerity in country music than John Conlee?

    A classic ’80s song!

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