Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Ricky Skaggs, “Uncle Pen”

“Uncle Pen”

Ricky Skaggs

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. 


Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. Ricky Skaggs covering Bill Monroe in that era was quite the combination. He also did a really good cover of ”Can’t You Hear Me Callin’” on the album before this one.

  2. @ KJC:

    Between “Uncle Pen” and the revival of traditionalist country in the 1990’s, there was the Trio album by a couple of women named Dolly, Linda, and Emmylou (are last names necessary? [LOL]).

    But yes it was a shock to the system to have a classic by the founder of bluegrass on top of the C&W chart at the mid-point of the 1980’s for sure.

  3. A trifecta of country icons have seen country later-generation country legends take their compositions to the top of the charts in a decade often maligned for not being country.

    Haggard took Frizzell’s “That’s the Way Love Goes” to the top.

    George Strait took Bob Wills’ “Right or Wrong” to the top.

    Now Ricky Skaggs takes Bill Monroe’s “Uncle Pen” to the top in 1984.

    This song is an absolute blast, a time machine to the past that simultaneously propels country music forward.

    These artists, drawing from their hero’s songbooks, are, “Coming hither to go yonder.”

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