Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: The O’Kanes, “Can’t Stop My Heart From Loving You”

“Can’t Stop My Heart From Loving You”

The O’Kanes

Written by Kieran Kane and Jamie O’Hara


#1 (1 week)

May 23, 1987

How on earth did they get away with this one?

The O’Kanes were a super cool duo made up of songwriters Kieran Kane and Jamie O’Hara.  They exploded on to the scene with their self-titled debut album, which produced three top ten hits, including the No. 1 single “Can’t Stop My Heart From Loving You.”

Which is basically a demo. Their whole debut album is basically a demo.  The instrumentation is spare and the writing is just as economical.  Vocally? It’s like two Bob Dylans covering the Everly Brothers. It’s a throwback and a forward-looking record at the same time, and it works. I don’t know how they got it on the radio and all the way up to No. 1, but it works.

Steve Earle has often referred to this era of country music as “the great credibility crisis,” where Nashville accidentally opened the gates and let all these brilliant, real artists in.  I reject that patronizing framework of his as a general rule, but it feels very applicable here.

Needless to say, radio soured on the duo toward the end of their second album’s life cycle, but they made three great albums and both men went on to distinguished careers as solo artists, and Kane founded Dead Reckoning Records.  Artists with exceptional taste mined their three collaborative albums and their solo projects for years, and when O’Hara passed from cancer at age 70 in 2020, the grief was palpable from artists, songwriters, and industry veterans.

“Can’t Stop Myself From Loving You” gets a B+.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. I guess I must be sensitized to some of the familiar Nashville production trappings because the O’Kanes and their low-fi sound never did much for me. Their only hit that tickled me was their debut top-10 “Oh Darlin'” I certainly didn’t have anything against them and, in retrospect, I have some respect for their ability to get past the gatekeepers and score a #1 with this, but when measured against the other outsider duo to emerge in the same era, I was decidedly on Team Foster and Lloyd. Given how steep country music’s sales decline was in the mid-80s, it’s easy to see why the industry was taking some chances and it helped pave the way for everybody from the aforementioned Steve Earle to Mary Chapin Carpenter, but this duo (and this song in particular) just wasn’t my flavor of pudding.

    Grade: C

  2. I would not describe this as a demo. Instead, I would call this a well-executed piece of acoustic country. There are six musicians on the track, all of whom are top drawer. To me the big surprise was that radio gave up on them so quickly.

    After this group split, I didn’t hear much more from O’Hara, but Kane (who crossed my radar with his album on Elektra a few years earlier) continued to make interesting recordings in conjunction with Kevin Welch, Fats Kaplin and others

  3. The eponymous album this single comes from is easily one of the most influential listens of my lifetime.

    No ands, ifs, or buts about it.

    I distinctly remember having my head rattled about the possibility of what country music could be when I checked this album out on vinyl from the Rockford Road Hennepin County Library at 6401 N 42nd Ave in Crystal, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis.

    I have shared in past posts, how important the library was for a pre-teen kid with no job in the ’80s to just be able to listen to new music.

    Beyond the three radio hits that came from this collection, the two album cuts that blew me away were “Daddies Need to Grow Up Too” and “The Bluegrass Blues.”

    The former for its wisdom and tenderness, a song song from a father to his son about making mistakes and stumbling in life. It’s conversational, brilliant, and heartbreaking. I thought that even as a kid before I became a parent, when to paraphrase and steal from Salmon Rushdie, I would later become a magician without magic, an exposed conjuror. This song highlights how dependent we are upon our simple humanity to get us through life.”

    The later is a spartan and haunting song. “Bluegrass Blues” is gorgeous and unsettling in its rawness and despairing loneliness.

    The full poetry and power of the lyrics can be shared here:

    Oooo, shed a tear
    For the man with the bluegrass blues

    Good love gone bad
    Hard times turn to sad
    Knock, knock who’s there
    Nothin’ but the cold night air

    Nothin’ to do
    But go and drink a few
    Come back again
    Strum a a tune on the mandolin

    I’m lost she’s found
    Another man, they’re Georgia bound
    Cold heart, cold bed
    Nothin’ left that ain’t been said.

    What I can’t recreate here is the sound of Kieran Kane’s eerie mandolin playing or his ghostly harmonies with Jaime O’Hara. The instrumental outro is spectacular in its clarity.

    With their debut album, the O’Kanes accomplish something sonically similar and significant to what Bruce Springsteen did with his “Nebraska” album following the success of his rock anthems and live-band energy from his previous album “The River.”

    Rather than an unexpected response to their own music, The O’Kanes offer an alternate take on a decade’s worth of country music. Coming after the big and dense production styles’ from much of Nashville’s ’80s’ output, the austerity and echo-y emptiness of these ten songs was a revelation.

    To be clear, this is no condemnation of what came before, rather, just a wonderful reminder of the power of restraint, subtlety and quiet spaces.

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