Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: T.G. Sheppard, “Strong Heart”

“Strong Heart”

T.G. Sheppard

Written by Charlie Black, Austin Roberts, and Tommy Rocco


#1 (1 week)

August 23, 1986

T.G. Sheppard’s maturity as an artist was in full sight by the time he switched from Warner Bros. to Columbia Records.  The hits continued on the new label, with his second set producing his final No. 1 hit on either chart.

“Strong Heart” was the lead single from It Always Rains in Memphis.  It’s a heartfelt ballad sung in tribute of his partner who has supported his dreams along the way. I like the attention to detail in the verse, where we learn about how he pulled their roots up every time that they started settling down.  This creates a lonely existence for her which can only be justified by her unconditional love for him and her unwavering belief in his dreams.

Sheppard sings it just fine, resisting the temptation to sing too aggressively over the unnecessarily busy production.  A big reason that so many songs from the the eighties didn’t stay in rotation was the production quality wasn’t up to snuff.  While new traditionalist records were being recorded with the same exquisite care as the pop and rock records of the day, “Strong Heart” is still stuck in the early eighties, sounding antiquated next to the records we’ve just covered by Reba McEntire and Randy Travis.

It seems like the artists who were best positioned to survive were the ones who already favored clean and simple arrangements.  Sheppard needed a stronger producer to keep him on the charts for the rest of the decade, despite his material getting better as the eighties progressed.

Memphis produced two more top five singles, and the only single from his next Columbia album, the title track of 1987’s One For the Money, was his final top ten hit.  He’d reach the top twenty one more time in 1988, from his aptly titled Columbia swan song, Crossroads.

He then recorded for Curb Records, but even a game attempt at a country version of the Bryan Adams hit “(Everything I Do) I Do it For You,” failed to chart.   He’s continued to record for various independent labels, with his most recent album being 2019’s Midnight in Memphis.

“Strong Heart” gets a B. 

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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1 Comment

  1. Even Sheppard’s growing vocal skills cannot elevate this performance. It just sort of hovers about like motes of dust hanging in sun beams in a window , neither tethered to the ground nor threatening to take off somewhere better.

    I should celebrate his more mature sing sense, but, like dust, Sheppard will soon fall from the charts unnoticed and settle into forgotten irrelevance.

    For an artist whose songbook takes up more lyrical real estate in my mind that I would care to admit, I really don’t look back at his output with any warmth or curiosity.

    I certainly didn’t thrill at a rediscovery of his artistry or significance through this feature. Being able to sing along to his melodic hits felt more silly than even just guilty pleasure.

    Ultimately, I find so little pleasure in his music.

    Given how obnoxious his early ’80s’ material was, there is some poetic justice that his next three singles consecutively stalled at #2 on the Billboard charts as country music went places he was incapable of following.

    If you wanted to make a case for why ’80s country music sucks , Sheppard’s work would certainly be in the mix.

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