Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Randy Travis, “On the Other Hand”

“On the Other Hand”

Randy Travis

Written by  Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz


#1 (1 week)

July 26, 1986

The famed Class of 1986 arrived with three of the best debut country albums every made:  Randy Travis’ Storms of Life, Dwight Yoakam’s Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., and Steve Earle’s Guitar Town. From these three landmark albums, only Travis was embraced enough by radio to earn a couple of No. 1 hits.

Travis was born Randy Traywick outside of Charlottesville, N.C., and he’s such a foundational artist of his time that his biography is widely known to country fans of his generation.  He sang with his older brother Ricky as a teenager, until Ricky’s trouble with the law left Randy a solo act.  Randy himself would get well acquainted with the boys in blue, as he was arrested multiple times while he was the house act at Country City in Charlotte.  His last time in front of a judge, he was released on the promise of Country City owner Lib Hatcher to support him, and she became his manager and helped him release some independent singles in the late seventies.

The pair took their talents to Nashville, where Hatcher managed the Nashville Palace.  Randy was the regularly featured musician, as well as the short order cook whenever needed.  They recorded a live album there and it got the attention of Warner Bros. Nashville, which signed him to a deal.  His first single for the label, “On the Other Hand,” peaked outside the top sixty.  A name change to Randy Travis and a new single, “1982,” earned him his first top ten hit.

Warner Bros. wisely reissued “On the Other Hand” right afterward, and it showed how important timing and marketing are to a hit record.  An easier name to remember plus a warmup hit in the bank set the stage for “Hand” to be Travis’ breakthrough smash, earning him his first No. 1 single and a slew of awards.  He was already the ACM’s Top New Male Vocalist when “Hand” hit the top of the chart.  He’d go on to win the CMA Horizon Award in the fall of 1986, then returned to the ACMs in 1987, where “On the Other Hand” won Song of the Year, Storms of Life won Album of the Year, and Travis was named Top Male Vocalist.

The importance of “On the Other Hand” at establishing Travis as a bona fide superstar and the leader of the New Traditionalist movement cannot be overstated.  The song itself is flawless, and it’s easy to imagine its co-writer, Paul Overstreet, having a gentle hit with it himself.  But his version wouldn’t have the pathos of the Travis cut.  Overstreet does well with hits about embracing life at home because there’s no doubt that’s where he wants to be.  Travis, however, sounds like a man who is quite tempted to slip off the wedding band, and him choosing not to do so is what gives the record its emotional heft.  You get the feeling that this isn’t just a random come on at a bar, and that the big personal growth moment is him saying “no” and going back home to his wife.

Travis wasn’t the first New Traditionalist to have a No. 1 single and he wasn’t the first country singer to sell multiplatinum.  But this young, handsome guy showing up and singing traditional music, then proceeding to sell millions of records without any crossover airplay? That changed everything.  Country music could now produce its own superstars in house without catering to the whims of the pop market.  Nothing would ever be the same again.

“On the Other Hand” gets an A.


Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. A great artist and I loved the new traditional movement. It’s just sad that it only lasted a few short years and Nashville had to go right back to pop country. Don’t get me wrong, I do love some pop country but I miss this sound so much.

  2. I’m also following along adding to my personal playlist songs that went number 1 on Record World too. On that chart 1982 went number 1 but hits such as Whoevers in New England and Mamas Never Seen Those Eyes didn’t. Also on Record World Lacy J Dalton got a number on hit with Whisper, whereas on the other charts she never had ONE. Does anyone know how each chart was tabulated to make for such diffrent results and sometimes weeks between songs hitting number one on one chart before the other?

  3. I purchased all three of the albums mentioned above and dubbed them onto a 120 minute blank cassette so I could take them with me on my travels. After a couple of weeks, I had enough of the Earle and Yoakam albums so I dubbed STORMS OF LIFE onto a separate cassette for travel use. To this day I consider STORMS OF LIFE to be the best country studio album of all time.

    Billboard did not track album track play in 1986, but many radio stations gave airplay to five or six songs from the album. I feel that there were actually about seven songs that would have made good radio singles. As it was, four singles were sent to radio – two #1s, a #2 and a #6 – not standard practice at the time.

    His run at the top only lasted about four years but what a glorious run it was !

  4. The second I hear those familiar strums of the guitar, I start smiling. One of those songs that I would play if someone asked me “what is country music?”

  5. One can lament the unintentional (or intentional) consequences of new traditionalist movement pushing out older stars of the genre or artists who never got a fair shake, but when you hear this song, you see why it was so captivating. As Tyler said, this isn’t a bad choice of a song to perfectly encapsulate country music at its finest. Respectful of its sonic roots, expertly written, and beautifully sang. Randy Travis was a special talent and I dearly miss hearing his voice post-stroke.

  6. In the case of this classic debut, you can most certainly judge an album by its cover.

    When has a cover photo ever so brilliantly made good on the promise of what a listener could expect from the music contained within the album?

    Warner Brothers expertly leveraged the emerging creative tension within the country music industry between the old and the new with this one image.

    The sepia-toned photo of an abandoned general story from Flynn’s Lick in Jackson County Tennessee evokes all the familiarity and comfort of a memory. All the sentimental commercial signifiers from Purina to Coca-Cola to mail pouch tobacco suggest a simpler time, place, and pace.

    The scene is complete with old men wearing overalls sitting in front of the store.

    If I knew my cars, I imagine the vehicle Travis leans on in the foreground is equality evocative of an intentional association or feeling.

    The only thing seemingly out of place is the tastefully and modestly dressed 27 year-old Randy Travis himself.

    That is, until the opening acoustic guitar strums sonically insert Travis into this scene and he instantly makes good on the promise of the cover photo.

    A star is born out of a sonic boom.

    And a second chance.

    “On the Other Hand” was such a phenomenon, I remember referencing the song in a parenthetical aside as after I used the transitional phrase in a writing assignment in Mrs. Wheeler’s grade six class in Zachary Lane Elementary School in Plymouth, Minnesota.

    How wild is it that both this single and George Strait’s most recent Number One “Nobody in His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her” were lifted from Keith Whitley’s 1985 RCA debut “L.A. to Miami?”

    The collection of songs on “Storms of Life” felt so cohesive and complete, it was a true album.

    I could go on and on.

    I am so grateful that I was around for this moment in country music history.

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