Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Randy Travis, “Forever and Ever, Amen”

“Forever and Ever, Amen”

Randy Travis

Written by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz

Radio & Records

#1 (4 weeks)

May 22 – June 12, 1987


#1 (3 weeks)

June 13 – June 27, 1987

Every once in a while, a record comes along that changes the course of the country music industry.

In 1987, Randy Travis released that record.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first.  “Forever and Ever, Amen” was an obvious hit right out of the gate. They even filmed a video around a wedding, knowing that this was an instant wedding standard.  It had a singalong chorus that was enough to hook little kids on country music for life.  It’s clever, funny, and heartfelt, all while showcasing pure country instrumentation and one of the finest voices ever put down on tape.  Still young, Travis was already in full command of his talent.

But it wasn’t the quality of the record in and of itself that made “Forever and Ever, Amen” such a dramatic turning point for the country music industry.

It was the song pushing Travis’ Always & Forever set to multiplatinum sales without any crossover airplay.

With this record, Nashville realized they could keep everything within their control – country artist signed to a country label singing songs from Nashville publishing houses while backed by Nashville studio musicians – and they could keep all of the money in town.  No need to work with the pop divisions in NY or LA to work a record to multiple formats.  We’ll keep everything down home, thank you very much.

This is why crossover was presented as a cardinal sin and why everyone from Garth Brooks to Trisha Yearwood publicly disavowed what little crossover airplay they received.  It was the crossover era that killed country music, you see, and we can’t risk that again.

We can thank Randy Travis for the decade that followed, and for making room for a bumper crop of platinum plus country artists who made a healthy living singing great songs written by Nashville publishing houses and played by Nashville pickers.

The downside of all of this was the unfair dismissal of the artists from the seventies and eighties who grew the genre’s audience in their own heydays.  It wasn’t enough to just kick them off of the radio. They had to be the sinners so the genre could be saved.  This feature has shown the silliness of that framing, but it was undisputed gospel from the late eighties through the late nineties.

And we got some damn good music because of it, so I’m not complaining.

“Forever and Ever, Amen” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. Even as a young boy, I felt a certain transcendent gravity about this song. Of all of the country songs that had dominated the airwaves during my childhood, none had been so unmistakably “country’ in their execution. I think it’s a pretty safe bet that no song that sounded like this had ever been performed on “Saturday Night Live” before back in 1987. And while I suppose you could say my instinctive inclinations leaned to the more pop-flavored country that had been coming out of my childhood babysitter’s radio in the early-to-mid-80s, there was no denying even at age 9 that I was really digging this Randy Travis guy!

    If only all new artists already holding a good hand after their debut albums could be so lucky as to get a song like this to kick off their sophomore album. With all of that said, there were a couple of choices in the performance that still strike me as a bit odd and prevent me from giving an unconditionally perfect score. Travis’s clunky enunciation of “make people forget things they…knew” remains a momentum killer in this record’s playback for me. I get it….who am I to question Randy Travis’s choices, but just saying….I could have done without that.

    Regarding the emergence of scorn for the music that came before Randy Travis took over Nashville, I never picked up on that at the time. Most of the Urban Cowboy heavy hitters continued to have hits for at least a few more years, and certain acts (Ronnie Milsap, Restless Heart, to a lesser extent Tanya Tucker) marched forward with a pop-flavored sound even though they were longer scoring pop crossovers with it. But I certainly recall instances of shade thrown at “the time when country was starting to get gimmicky” in the country music awards shows of the 90s.

    What’s ironic is that, at least the imaginations of people of a certain age with fuzzy memories and a poor grasp of timelines, it was the 90s, and not the 80s, when “they ruined country music”. Even in the mid-90s, I recall some teachers at my high school grumbling how country was turning into pop. The fact that Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard were still making hits 15 years earlier seemed to help them memory-hole Kenny Rogers and Eddie Rabbitt from that era, whereas the dominance of Garth Brooks and Shania Twain rendered Alan Jackson and Tracy Lawrence inconsequential in the present in their minds. Even today, when I tell people that country music sounded more like pop in the 80s than the 90s, I get confused looks. From now on, I’ll give them the link to this website so they can listen for themselves!

    Grade: A-

    • Offensive in what way? I suppose someone could find this song dorky and corny (though I would argue the exact opposite) but I struggle to comprehend what could possibly be offensive here.

      • I’ve always been off-put by the end of the second verse, which treats dementia/Alzheimer’s as a punchline. Even before my dementia-suffering stepdad entered my life, I found that line extremely ageist.

        • Forgetfulness is a normal part of aging, as is hair changing color and falling out, which is all that the song is referencing. The second verse isn’t about dementia (or alopecia.) I can understand it, making someone uncomfortable because of their specific circumstances, but I wouldn’t assign that intent to the songwriters based on the lyric itself and the context around it.

  2. I suppose it was unrealistic to expect subsequent albums to be as good as STORMS OF LIFE, which I regard as one of the top five albums in country music history. As it happens Randy never again reached those qualitative heights, although he had plenty of top-notch singles. “Forever and Ever Amen” certainly kept the ball rolling, although after that the singles dropped off a little in quality, and the albums had a significant decline (I would rate most of the subsequent albums to be in the B to B+ range.

  3. As a song, this is a classic charmer. So far was its reach and influence that non-country fans know this song. It’s a pure joy and deserving of the accolades it received then, and those it continues to receive today. It’s timeless.

    As a a cultural and a historical event, there is a lot to unpack with what this single represents.

    For starter’s, doesn’t the in-house ability to claim full creative control control for the production of country music spawned by “Forever and Ever, Amen” look and sound like the fulfillment of the Outlaw movement’s battle first waged in the ’70s?

    Certainly, how one listened to country music would became a moral issue in the coming years. This included the advent of alternative country music and the emergence of No Depression artists in the ’90s. Terms like authenticity and sincerity were wielded with increasing militancy. Something was at stake during these country music crusades, a real urgency to get back to some mythic, pure, and genuine past.

    Or maybe it was a just a willingness by younger artists to acknowledge and embrace influences beyond country music while still choosing to identify as country performers.

    There are many doors into this discussion and complicated genre that is always rubbing against an influence it wants to resist or deny.

    Regardless of the point of entry, country music is on the verge of living in interesting times, Steve Earle’s “great credibility crisis” is at play and, more so, the mindset behind such a provocative comment.

    This feature has spotlighted the insane diversity and talent that was invited to sit the country music table during the ’80s. Not even the most distasteful chart-toppers or clunky production styles of this decade need to be apologized for.

    It was just bad music.

    Let those with ears listen! No artists, not even the industry as a whole, sinned so deeply that it needed saving.

    Unfortunately, this segregated mindset would birth categories and sub-classifications of the genre in this century that previously co-existed simply as country music during the eighties.

    The much-maligned eighties, perhaps as much as any decade, was the most inclusive and disparate collections of country sounds, styles, and singers.

    Thus may it always be so.

    Forever and ever, amen!

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