Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Johnny Lee, “You Could’ve Heard a Heart Break”

“You Could’ve Heard a Heart Break”

Johnny Lee

Written by Marc Rossi


#1 (1 week)

November 24, 1984

Johnny Lee earns his final No. 1 single to date, and he goes out on a high note.

“You Could’ve Heard a Heart Break” feels like a spiritual predecessor to Reba McEntire’s “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” as we get a birds-eye view of all of the happenings at a local bar from the view of the bartender.

The storytelling is perfectly crafted, and Lee gives an empathetic performance that heightens the impact of the lyric.  You get the sense that everyone is this bar knows everyone in town, and as a man tries to cheat on his wife, the onlookers hold their breath.  

He makes the phone call home to say he he’ll be late.  He makes his move on the innocent girl who has no idea he’s married.  And then in the second verse, his wife shows up.  

How many hearts could you have heard break?  At least three, by my count.

This is easily Lee’s strongest No. 1 single, and while he didn’t return to the top after this, he had a handful of top ten hits, with the final one coming in 1990. 

Lee has continued to perform and record ever since, especially around the Lone Star state.  His most recent album, Everything’s Gonna Be Alright, was released in 2021. 

“You Could’ve Heard a Heart Break” gets an A

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. Even if Johnny Lee is the poster child for the urban cowboy era in the first half of the decade, he did no real harm to country music. He kept his music firmly in the middle of the road, with the country-cruise control safely set to prevent any swerves or unexpected maneuvers.

    Stack his hits up, and the worst charge that can be brought against them is that they are sleepy. They are not, however, an embarrassment or abomination the way so many Bro-Country hits from a more recent decade are.

    Johnny Lee should never be mentioned in the same breath as Jason Aldean or Luke Bryan. Those artists have some answering and apologizing to do for threatening to snuff out the torch Lee carried through the early ’80s.

    Here, Lee just tells a compelling story through song.

    This one has that punchy eighties production but the vocals are clean and it all holds together well.

    • I think you described Lee and the role he played perfectly here. Not everybody can be John Conlee, but he made decent records and I think this particular one is in the same league as Conlee’s story songs.

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