Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: John Conlee, “Got My Heart Set On You”

“Got My Heart Set On You”

John Conlee

Written by Dobie Gray and Bud Reneau


#1 (1 week)

September 20, 1986

After several years of hits, John Conlee exited the MCA Nashville roster in 1985, ending his run with the top five hit “The Old School,” which featured on his Greatest Hits Volume Two compilation.

He resurfaced on Columbia Nashville a year later with Harmony.  The title track went top ten, and was followed by “Got My Heart Set On You,” Conlee’s most recent No. 1 hit to date.

His label may have changed, but his long running partnership with producer Bob Logan continued, so sonically, the transition is seamless.  As he did on some of his earlier uptempo hits, Conlee borrows heavily from the early days of rock and roll.  That was the sound of nostalgia by 1986, and the youthful lyric would’ve sounded slight if there was a similarly young artist at the mic.

But Conlee was always wise beyond his years, and he was firmly in middle age by the time this was recorded.  His maturity adds some gravitas to this wide eyed commitment to newfound love, as it suggests he’s already had his heart broken a few times and he can tell when love is for real.  It’s warm, whimsical, and wonderful, perfectly showcasing Conlee’s careful phrasing and his joyous approach to material like this.

I suppose this is where I would write something about a veteran artist losing touch with where country music was going, or just losing the ability to access top shelf material.  But Conlee never stopped being great. Both of his albums for Columbia – Harmony and its followup, American Faces, are excellent.  The latter set even produced a top five hit with “Domestic Life,” as well as his final top twenty hit, “Mama’s Rocking Chair.”

Conlee was one of many veteran artists to exit a major label and resurface on the independent 16th Avenue, where he released a string of excellent singles that didn’t gain traction at radio.  One of those, “Hopelessly Yours,” was originally recorded by George Jones would later be a top twenty hit for Lee Greenwood and Suzy Bogguss.  Another, “Doghouse,” was his final chart appearance and will be well remembered by anybody addicted to CMT in the early nineties.

Conlee’s remained an Opry staple and a popular draw on the road, though his recordings have been limited to a spiritual album and live/re-recorded version of his hits.  If you want to hear how well this man’s voice has held up, try to differentiate some of those re-recordings from the original ones.

Here’s hoping that before we get around to this man’s seventies No. 1 hits down the road, we’re celebrating his long overdue induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

“Got My Heart Set On You” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. I remember purchasing a 2006 Varese Sarabande John Conlee CD titled “Country Hearts.” I bought it completely on faith. I had been a huge fan of Conlee’s singing since I was a young kid as I have shared here. I was always enchanted by the tender rumbling of his big vocals.

    While pulling away the shrink wrap, I noticed how many great songwriters contributed material to the collection: Larry Cordle, Thom Schuyler, Guy Clark, Bob McDill, Hugh Prestwood, and Kent Robbins.

    When I listened to it, I was as much stunned by how great the songs sounded as I was impressed by how his vocals hadn’t lost any strength or flexibility. He was still a nimble and nuanced interpreter of songs.

    Turns out album was a collection of songs from his 16th Avenue album “Fellow Travelers” and some previously unreleased material recorded in 1990.

    Conlee was an ’80s artist who was done dirty by the changes sweeping through Nashville. His musical style and artistic sensibilities perfectly aligned with what the next generation would be recording and promoting. He should have fit right in with what was happening at radio and allowed to age into a role as a mentor and elder statesman.

    I guess he did that on his own terms through his commitment to the Opry and Farm Aid.

    Sadly, it was cooler to name drop Haggard and Jones or Waylon and Cash then it was to acknowledge just how special Conlee was as a singer and champion of country music thought the decade. I am sure the image of a moustached, over-weight middle aged man with a side-part didn’t excite too many promoters or marketing agents at the time.

    To bring it back to the single at hand, Conlee sounds genuinely sincere and smitten here. He is in great voice.

    I always wanted to listen to John Conlee just to hear him sing.

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