Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Crystal Gayle, “Straight to the Heart”

“Straight to the Heart”

Crystal Gayle

Written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

January 23, 1987


#1 (1 week)

February 21, 1987

Crystal Gayle’s final No. 1 hit is of a piece with many of her previous chart-toppers.

The pop country production is interesting, and I like how she makes a nod to the new traditionalist sound that was taking over at the time.  The pivot from the acoustic opening, anchored in steel guitar, to the pure pop confectionary sounds that follow works very well, and Gayle’s vocal performance is in the same league as on her previous chart-topper from this album, “Cry.”

I think what I like most about this record is that Gayle sticks to her guns.  Her artistic commitment to pop-flavored country was no less authentic than Ricky Skaggs’ commitment to bluegrass or Dwight Yoakam’s commitment to the Bakersfield sound.  Somewhere along the line, especially in country music, a belief took root that only traditionalism can be claimed as right and good, and that those who dare to crossover from their home genre are either sell-outs or mortal threats to the genre itself.

Someone smarter and more well-versed than me will write a treatise on this phenomenon, which was happening in country, rock, R&B, and hip-hop all at the same time. But what I will write is that Crystal Gayle’s contributions to country music were vital and significant, and you can draw a direct line between her final No. 1 hit and Shania Twain’s series of No. 1 hits from The Woman in Me.   There are so many surprising musical twists and turns throughout the track, and Gayle’s fiery performance suggests that she was having a ball singing along with such fresh and captivating musicianship.

Gayle would have a final top ten hit with Gary Morris, “Another World,” which served as the titular theme song for the daytime soap opera.  She continued to record solid material for Capitol through the early nineties, including an excellent pre-hit version of Garth Brooks’ “What She’s Doing Now” and a should’ve been smash called “Three Good Reasons,” which showed that Gayle could sit comfortably alongside the independent and forward-thinking material on the radio by Mary Chapin Carpenter, Pam Tillis, and Kathy Mattea at the time.

But leaving the major labels was its own artistic liberation, and Gayle was able to record the classic pop standards and gospel material that she couldn’t carve out space for during her mainstream country career.  Gayle remains a popular draw on the road, and she’s still in fine voice.  A critical reconsideration of her career is long overdue, as is her long gestating but inevitable induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

“Straight to the Heart” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. Kevin, I must say that I shed a couple of tears while reading this review of Crystal’s final chart topper. I’ve never read such an excellent description of her style of recording pop-country songs.

    Being a major Crystal Gayle fan, it’s a constant disappointment to see her constantly pushed aside – or downright ignored despite an incredible catalog of quality material.

    But to see someone like yourself, who admittedly loves the 90s return to traditional country sound, show such respect his heartwarming. Thank you.

  2. This has always been my favorite Crystal song since I first heard it on her Best of collection. Such a fun song to sing along too. I never understood why Crystal’s 90s singles didn’t take off bc the were exelent. Ain’t Gonna Worry is one of my top Crystal songs! CMHOF get her in while she’s here to enjoy it, you already ruined Loretta getting to be here for it………

  3. Listening to a number of country music’s veterans’ recordings late in the decade sounds like they were confidently declaring their awareness of the changes coming to the genre, and, more importantly, their willingness to pivot toward the new styles and sounds, or at least record a forward-looking hybrid.

    They were game to artistically adapt.

    They were also actively demonstrating they could still create and produce engaging music under new promotional paremeters, and often with a subtle swagger and moxie only years of experience and wisdom could provide.

    For example, with this single Gayle is anticipating and embracing what will sonically soon follow from many of the younger rising female country stars. What’s more, she sounds so absolutely youthful and energetic doing it. It didn’t follow that Crystal Gayle had to necessarily be curbed to make way or room for those emerging artists.

    New traditionalism and new country didn’t have to be a zero-sum game with established stars in terms of who was allowed a seat at Nashville’s newly set table.

    Crystal Gayle’s legacy unarguably earned her that privilege the same way I feel John Conlee’s career had earned him his.

    Yet, both she and he were turned away.

    We could easily add more stars from the ’80s who unceremoniously lost industry support at the peak of their careers.

    Gayle clearly stands out as my most significant re-discovery of an ’80s star through this feature.

  4. I never heard of this before. Crystal as always has great pronunciation and flawless vocals. What a shift in sound and that chorus is very catchy. Crystal is long overdue to get the hall of fame and she always chose great material. Kevin thank you for the feature as I dismissed her 80’s material and her songs have become favorites on my 80’s playlist that I created thanks to this feature.

  5. What a jam! If Crystal Gayle had to go away, she couldn’t have possibly gone out on a higher note than this one. And what a fantastic eulogy to Crystal’s hitmaking years in both the review and the comments. Most casual country fans today, even the middle-aged ones, probably look back on her career and think she had five or six hits in the late 70s and then went away. As stellar as her 80s output was, almost all of it has been forgotten outside of fans and folks like us who have a strong curiosity in music history. It’s frustrating, and I try to compensate by injecting her into as many conversations as possible relating to the country music of days gone by.

    My mom was a big Crystal Gayle fan so her records provided some of my earliest memories of country music initiation. Only a handful of artists were as influential as Crystal in defining my long-term stylistic preferences. Even as a young child, I admired her smooth vocals and clear pronunciations, both of which were complemented by the arrangements on most of her hits. Everything about “Straight to the Heart” matches what attracts me to Crystal Gayle’s music and catapults it to my short list of her best singles.

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