Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Exile, “Hang On to Your Heart”


“Hang On to Your Heart”


Written by Sonny LeMaire and J.P. Pennington


#1 (1 week)

December 14, 1985

If AI was a thing in the mid-eighties, and you asked it to spit out a midtempo pop country love song, you’d get something along the lines of “Hang On to Your Heart.”

I say that not because of what AI gets right but because of what it gets wrong.  It can capture the structure and lyrical components of a typical song, but it can’t capture the heart of the human experience.

I don’t know enough about Exile to say with certainty that this was a song manufactured with radio in mind, rather than being inspired from a real experience.  But it’s on the singers, songwriters, and musicians to make sure that a record feels genuine and heartfelt, and none of them pulled it off.

This is one of four No. 1 singles from the Hang On to Your Heart album. I can only hope that any of the next three can hang on to my attention better than this one did.

“Hang On to Your Heart” gets a C-.


Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. I love how, “What do I do with my hands?” is the theme of every single band photo for these guys.

    They’re local and actually got even more regional airplay at the time than Alabama, so perhaps I should be more charitable towards them, but they’re just so aggressively banal.

  2. Exile does not come by their banality easily.

    They are increasingly an enigma for me.

    Artists ranging from Janie Fricke to Alabama to the Forester Sisters would successfully pull from the Exile songbook, so the band had good song-sense while band members had legitimate song writing chops.

    When I focus on listening to the lead vocals, J.P. Pennington is a clear-voiced and confident singer.

    The band was allowed to play their own instruments in the studio while recording their albums.

    Buddy Killen produced their most successful albums.

    So why so much of the same sound and energy level from the band?

    This is one of my favourite hit songs of theirs, but I’ll be damned if I can explain why.

    Why Exile? Why?

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