Written by Bill Monroe
#1 (1 week)
October 13, 1984
It’s difficult to overstate how impressive it was that Ricky Skaggs got a pure cover of “Uncle Pen” to No. 1 on the country chart in 1984.
We’re still a year away from the infamous 1985 New York Times article that claimed country music was essentially dead, yet here is Ricky Skaggs covering Bill Monroe brilliantly and being fully embraced by radio and retail. (The Billboard chart still included 45 sales in their tabulations during this time period.)
Skaggs gives his strongest vocal performance on a radio single so far, and the musicianship is simply extraordinary. As someone who lived through the nineties boom which was hailed as a return to traditionalism, I still never heard anything this mountain flavored on the radio, aside from The Chicks’ “Long Time Gone” in 2002. Even selling seven million copies and winning the Grammy Award for Album of the Year couldn’t get a track from O Brother Where Art Thou any meaningful airplay.
So I can’t quite decide if I’m more impressed by the record itself or its tremendous success. Let’s call it a tie.
“Uncle Pen” gets an A.
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