Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Ricky Skaggs, “Highway 40 Blues”

“Highway 40 Blues”

Ricky Skaggs

Written by Larry Cordle

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

July 1, 1983


#1 (1 week)

July 9, 1983

Larry Cordle would go on to become a bluegrass icon and surprisingly successful country songwriter, penning the CMA Song of the Year winning “Murder On Music Row” and writing excellent singles for Kathy Mattea (“Lonesome Standard Time”) and Diamond Rio (“Mama Don’t Forget to Pray For Me.”)

It is to Ricky Skaggs’ eternal credit that he encouraged Cordle to pursue his craft, and Skaggs’ version of “Highway 40 Blues” remains Cordle’s highest charting country single as a songwriter, forty years since it topped both country charts.

Inspired by a state highway in Kentucky, this bluegrass-flavored wandering man’s anthem captures a dreamer on his way down, looking for home now that his money has run out and his fantasies of stardom are further away than they’ve ever been.

Cordle’s an inspired wordsmith and he’s especially adept at capturing the moral and spiritual prices paid along the way when you fall short of your dream.  Skaggs counters the darkness of the lyric with a jaunty production and the vocal performance of a false narrator: listen closely and you’ll hear how he’s singing about letting his dream go, but he sounds happiest when singing about the prices he’s paid for chasing it, suggesting he’ll be back on the other side of the highway soon, heading away from home and giving his fantasy one more shot.

“Highway 40 Blues” gets an A.  

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. I think this is probably Ricky Skaggs’ greatest single, certainly far and away my favorite of the singles from that album. That instrumental bit from about 1:14 to 2:19 just makes the whole thing, if you ask me, and Bruce Bouton’s steel guitar performance here is just spectacular.

  2. So long as everyone has their reasons!

    It is clear I need to add a hard copy of “Highway and Heartaches” to my collection. It is an obvious gap.

    As with all of Skaggs’ other hits, this sounds like it could have been a hit on the radio in any era. It is so genuinely, authentically, and sincerely country in both spirit and in sound.

    This song is pure fun.

    I will gladly stuck out my thumb any time this country classic passes me by.

    Dwight Yoakam had to have been listening to Ricky Skaggs at the time, no?

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