Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Randy Travis, “Diggin’ Up Bones”

“Diggin’ Up Bones”

Randy Travis

Written by Al Gore, Paul Overstreet, and Nat Stuckey

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

October 10, 1986


#1 (1 week)

November 8, 1986

I don’t think there was another singer on the planet in 1986 that could’ve made “Diggin’ Up Bones” work this well.

It’s a dark and borderline creepy song on paper, with “exhumin'” in the chorus and a protagonist who handles his ex-wife’s skimpy nightie as he haunts their “recent broken home.”

But with Randy Travis singing it, it becomes a song about the ugly side of heartbreak and divorce.  His pain is palpable as he wails, “I’m resurrectin’ memories of a love that’s dead and gone. Tonight I’m sittin’ alone diggin’ up bones.”

A generation earlier, this would’ve dissolved into a cheating murder ballad like the ones Porter Wagoner specialized in.  But in 1986, it was just country music capturing a heartbreak that was becoming more relevant as the nation’s divorce rate soared.

As we dig up more bones from the Travis catalog, keep this in mind.  Travis brought country back to its traditional roots, but his point of view was thoroughly contemporary.  That’s why his work resonated so powerfully.  The scenario in this song would’ve been completely foreign to the honky tonk stars of the fifties, but for the modern eighties man, it was just one of those storms of life.

“Diggin’ Up Bones” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. Huh. I had no idea that Nat Stuckey co-wrote this song.

    (He’s the guy who wrote Jim Ed Brown’s ”Pop A Top.”)

    • I’ve always wondered who the Al Gore who co-wrote the song is

      I normally loathe bro country but I kinda hope he wrote a song fetishizing a truck just for the irony factor

  2. There’s been a lot of discussion about the transition from pop country back to traditional country. I know we’re in 1986, but I found an old magazine that had posted Billboard Magazine’s top 10 country albums of 1984. It’s obvious that we were in full transition that year based on the list, which I believe is based solely on sales.

    Don’t Cheat In Our Hometown – Ricky Scaggs
    Right Or Wrong – George Strait
    Don’t Make It Easy On Me – Earl Thomas Conley
    Roll On – Alabama
    Deliver – Oak Ridge Boys
    Without a Song – Willie Nelson
    Man Of Steel – Hank Williams Jr
    Cage The Songbird – Crystal Gayle
    Eyes That See In the Dark – Kenny Rogers
    The Closer You Get – Alabama

  3. I listened to the STORMS OF LIFE album so many times that the lyrics to all ten songs are embedded in my memory.

  4. An absolute classic and one of my favorite Randy Travis songs. If “On the other hand” took off the first time it was released and a fifth single was released I would have loved to see “Storms of Life” released as a single. Like Paul stated I’ve listened to the album
    Hundreds of times and always enjoy revisiting it from time to time.

  5. The 1984 chart Caj shared highlights the historical conceit underpinning so many too-neat and tidy historical narratives. The familiar story is that Randy Travis saved country music in 1986. That theory has never adequately accounted for the steady contributions earlier traditionalists like Ricky Skaggs, George Strait, or the Judds were making to the genre or the very traditional elements ’80s artists like John Conlee were making. This feature has completely given the lie to the premise that country music needed saving pre-1986.

    As for this classic song , I always remember my mom sharing she thought the phrase “digging up bones” was crude.

    I thought the song’s lyrics and situation were exotic. As special as Travis was as a vocalist there was something just as special about the song itself.

    There was certainly a sense of artistic and creative convergence in country music with these young artists.

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