Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: The Judds, “Mama He’s Crazy”

“Mama He’s Crazy”

The Judds

Written by Kenny O’Dell


#1 (1 week)

August 4, 1984

The Judds top the chart for the first time with “Mama He’s Crazy,” a perfect marriage between artist and song that broke them through to the big leagues.

Naomi Judd and daughter Wynonna both hailed from Ashland, Kentucky, though while Wynonna and younger sister Ashley were young, they spent quite a bit of time in California. After moving back from the West Coast, they settled on an Appalachian mountain top, where Wynonna’s budding musical talent was encouraged with the purchase of her first guitar.

The mother and daughter honed their harmonies, and by the end of the seventies, the family had moved to Nashville, where Naomi worked as a nurse while pushing for a music business breakthrough.  While Wynonna was still in high school, they performed on local morning television.  Naomi was able to get a demo tape to producer Brent Maher, who was instrumental in the duo getting a deal with RCA Nashville.

At that time, RCA was testing new artists in the marketplace with specially priced mini-LPs. The Judds’ fellow Hall of Famer Vince Gill also debuted with one of these. Simply titled The Judds – Wynonna and Naomi, the mini-LP featured their debut single “Had a Dream (For the Heart).” That Dennis Linde-penned hit went top twenty. The second release, “Mama He’s Crazy,” became their first of fourteen No. 1 hits.

It showcased their harmonies and their unique mother-daughter setup perfectly.  Wynonna would develop into one of popular music’s most powerful vocalists, so it’s especially striking to hear how innocent and fragile she sounds here.  Her performance is an early indicator of how well she could calibrate her incredible instrument to meet the needs of the song.

A moment of candor here: Naomi Judd’s death and the circumstances surrounding it cast a dark shadow over writing about these Judds hits, and the intimacy of this mother-daughter conversation makes this one the most difficult to hear.

But let’s take a moment to appreciate how poignant this record still is, and how it foreshadowed an illustrious career for the Judds and Wynonna on her own.  They more than delivered on the cautious optimism of “Mama He’s Crazy,” and this is the first of several era-defining classics that we’ll cover in the coming weeks.

“Mama He’s Crazy” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. While it’s not my favorite Judds single – that would be the follow up – this is an amazing song. A near perfect introduction to the mother/daughter duo.

    I think most people who heard this song on the radio when it came out knew immediately that this was going to be an act that we would be listening to for a long, long time. Such talent.

    Thumbs up to everyone involved with this song. Writing, production, musicians, and especially Wynonna and Naomi. A definite A.

  2. Oh boy oh boy here we go. I love the Judds! My 80’s playlist is looking phenomenal. Thank you Kevin for these single reviews. This has been so much fun and I hope you’re enjoying it. Maybe at the end do a top 20 singles of the 80’s and favorite discoveries for you personally.

  3. …the judds were probably as influential to the early rise of the neotraditional era as any of the men, who are usually credited/hailed for it.

  4. I have always loved how acoustic The Judds’ sound was. To me, there were two different branches of neotraditionalism during the 80s and 90s: the sound of acts like The Judds, Ricky Skaggs, Patty Loveless and even Randy Travis that were more closely related to bluegrass, Appalachia, and old-time music, and the sound of acts like George Strait, Clint Black, Mark Chesnutt, and Alan Jackson that were more closely related to Honky-Tonk, Western Swing, and Texas country music.

    That’s what made the earlier wave of neotraditionalism so much more vibrant than the mid to late 90s to me. The end of the neotraditional wave sounded very one-note whereas the beginning had a lot more stylistic diversity within a return to country music’s roots. Strait and Skaggs, the Judds and Loveless all were authentically country while sounding fresh and different.

  5. The narrative is always that Randy Travis saved country music. I love Randy but I did not realize this pre-dated Randy T. This is country music at it’s fines during this timeframe. The Judds deserve a bit more credit in bringing traditional country back to mainstream.

  6. An absolutely essential country classic from the ’80s.

    In The Rough Guide to 100 essential country cds, Kurt Wolffe said, “The Judds mixed traditional folk and country music with tastefully applied contemporary arrangements.”

    He also rightly points out that they were country music royalty.

    Acts like George Strait, Ricky Skaggs, and The Judds set the table for 1986.

    This wonder of a song could have landed on the radio in any number of eras or decades and not sounded out of place.

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