Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Conway Twitty, “Julia”


Conway Twitty

Written by John Barlow Jarvis and Don Cook

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

May 1, 1987

Borderline was Conway Twitty’s reunion with MCA Records and Jimmy Bowen, and as an album, was one of his strongest efforts.

What surprises me is that “Julia” was the lead single and the only one of the three tracks sent to radio that went to No. 1, because it’s not as powerful as either of its follow up hits.

Twitty and Bowen (and Dee Henry, who co-produced with both) got a lot of things right here.  Twitty sounds fantastic, and when he’s given enough of a melody to work with in the bridge, he really takes flight.

The song has a fatal flaw that Twitty couldn’t figure out a way to work around: the title, which is repeated incessantly and delivered in a way that is unpleasant to listen to.  I really believe this would be a better record if every mention of “Julia” was eliminated.  Maybe they didn’t want to think up a new title?

Anyway, come for the tick up in production quality and the tail end of Twitty’s vocal performance.  But stay for “I Want to Know You Before We Make Love” and “That’s My Job.”  That last one only went top ten, but it’s his best single of the era and his only release from this period to earn a gold certification based on streaming.

Twitty won’t return to No. 1, but he remained a steady presence on country radio, with several singles just missing the top in the late eighties and early nineties.  His final studio album of his lifetime, Even Now, was still good for a top thirty hit.  Sadly, his untimely death in 1993 was the real end of his commercial success, a tribute to how enduringly popular he remained right until the end.

Twitty was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999, and while he hasn’t been inducted yet into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he did receive a nomination in 2005.  That remains the final outstanding accolade for his incredibly outstanding career and his lasting contributions to popular music.

“Julia” gets a B.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. I had no idea that “That’s My Job” wasn’t a #1. If you’d asked me what Conway’s last chart-topper was, I’d have probably guessed five songs before I came up with this one. It’s a solid if unremarkable entry in his catalog, and I think he maneuvers nicely around the mid-80s-style arrangement. I didn’t mind his repeated name-dropping of “Julia” so much as I thought it helped evoke a sense of the narrator’s urgency. The only instance where it felt a bit annoying was in his final recitation of the name. His penthouse swan song wasn’t as fantastic as that of Waylon Jennings a few weeks earlier but I can give it a qualified thumbs-up.

    Grade: B

  2. Regarding why “Julia” was released as a single prior to “I Want to Know You Before We Make Love” and “That’s My Job”, the explanation comes with Jimmy Bowen himself.

    Bowen had asked Conway to look outside the box for the “Borderline” album and pick five songs out the the ordinary, that Conway may not have ever thought about putting on a previous album before. Bowen called them “piece of business” songs. Country radio was changing and he thought Conway needed a fresh new direction.

    “Julia” was one of the five songs that Conway had picked upon the suggestion of Bowen. It was released as more of an experiment than anything. And it worked. #1 in R&R and #2 in Billboard (2 weeks) was nearly unheard of at this point in time for a thirty year veteran of the business.

    “I Want to Know You Before We Make Love” was a typical Conway single. There are no surprises that it was released.

    The next planned single was the title cut, “Borderline” (which the country group The Shooters would eventually take to the Top-40). However the Gary Burr song, “That’s My Job” soon gained notice by Conway fans in live shows, when promoting his new album. It was then decided to run with the Burr song as the third single. No stranger to controversy, Conway had some Disc Jockeys and radio programmers baulk and complain that the single was nearly five minutes long. Some programmers limited the play of the single (and in some cases did not play it at all) due to its lengthy run. This contributed to its stall on the charts (Billboard #6, Cash Box #8, R&R #9, Gavin #10). But as pointed out in the article Conway had the last laugh as it quickly became his last career record and today it is a Gold single, quickly moving toward platinum.

    And on a side note, The Oak Ridge Boys turned down “That’s My Job”. A decision they long since have regretted.

  3. Conway did actually have three other #1 hits on other charts after “Julia”. He took “She’s Got a Single Thing In Mind” (1989) to #1 in Cash Box (#2 in Billboard, #5 in R&R), “Crazy in Love” (1990) to #1 in Cash Box (#2 in Billboard, 2 weeks and #3 in R&R) and “I Couldn’t See You Leavin” (1991) to #1 in The Gavin Report (#3 in Billboard, #2 in R&R, two weeks).

    During this time period however the Cash Box publication was getting some bad press about chart manipulation. Because of this some historians will not site Cash Box as accurate. But Conway was respected in the industry and no one would dare to accuse him of such accusations. In looking at those two particular singles, “She’s Got a Single Thing in Mind” was #2 in Billboard and was the third biggest country single in Billboard for the year. “Crazy in Love” held on to the #2 slot in Billboard for two weeks. In both cases the Cash Box #1 totals were not at all far removed from that of Billboard.

    The third single, “I Couldn’t See You Leavin” topped the The Gavin Report publication in February of 1991. Beginning in 1986 The Gavin Report emerged from a weekly “tip sheet” to a full fledge trade publication like Billboard, R&R and Cash Box. Many artists including, George Strait, Reba McEntire, Don Williams, Ronnie Milsap, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson and Vince Gill all utilized their #1 hits in The Gavin Report during this time period, and they are included on all of those “#1 hit” compilations. “I Couldn’t See You Leavin” was Conway’s only #1 hit in Gavin during the time period and for many years was overlooked.

  4. Conway’s final radio single, a cover of “Rainy Night in Georgia” with Sam Moore, is also very much worth seeking out.

    • Sam Moore crying out “Conway!” at the end of the video clip is my strongest memory of his tragic death. I remember it came out shortly after he had passed.

      A close second was Loretta Lynn singing “It’s Only Make Believe” in tribute and nearly breaking down.

  5. Even though it didn’t hit the top, That’s My Job has rightfully had the legacy it deserves. In my opinion, it’s the finest father-son dynamic song in country music, and there’s plenty of those.

  6. This song sounded like Twitty was poised to open another successful chapter in his storied recording career. He was declaring his readiness to run with the young guns.

    I distinctly remember this single feeling like an event or a moment, despite his rock-steady run of hits throughout the decade. I guess at this point in Nashville, everything for older acts felt vulnerable and uncertain.

    Conway, however, was still in top vocal form with this one. He had stopped smoking and began exercising in 1985, and the power, force, and intensity of his vocals was abundantly evident in his run of singles at the end of the decade.

    Disc Four in the MCA “The Conway Twitty Collection” boxed sense is a wonderful testament to the muscle and ferocity of his singing at the end of the decade. I know it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I think songs like ”Goodbye Time”, “Crazy in Love,” “Who’s Gonna Know, ” and (I Wish I was) Still In your Dreams” are vocal tour de forces.

    What is most noteworthy is how contemporary his production style and song selections sounded after his final number one hit.

    Conway was most definitely still in the game with a run of top ten hits up until his death. He was once again creatively pivoting – something he had been doing since the late ’50’s – and he had positioned himself to catch the crest of the new country music wave rising over Nashville so he would not be crushed by it and washed out to sea as many of his unsuspecting peers would soon be.

    Twitty was the artist most able to keep his finger on the pulse of country music . Combine that skill with an impeccable song sense for what would worked with his image and sound specifically, and he was something special.


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