Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Michael Martin Murphey, “A Long Line of Love”

“A Long Line of Love”

Michael Martin Murphey

Written by Paul Overstreet and Thom Schuyler

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

July 24, 1987


#1 (1 week)

August 15, 1987

On paper, Michael Martin Murphey recording a song co-written by Paul Overstreet makes complete sense.  Both men favor acoustic production and soft delivery of greeting card sentimentality.

In practice, it’s too “same on same.” Murphey doesn’t do much with “A Long Line of Love,” delivering it with such restraint that it’s difficult to anticipate the happy endings that the song insists are on the way.  Instead of sounding like he comes from a long line of love, where generations of men and women stick it out during the hard times, he sounds like he comes from a long line of settling for what you can find and staying put.

This was released during a time of sepia-tinted nostalgia for the good old days that never existed. Overstreet made an entire career out of such songs as a singer and a songwriter, and as I’ve noted in the Randy Travis entries of this series, that approach works best when it’s a song written by Overstreet that is paired with a singer who has some intensity and grit.

Murphey has neither, so there’s not much to recommend here, unless you’re struggling with insomnia.

This was Murphey’s last No. 1 single on the country charts, but he did enjoy one more successful album – 1988’s River of Time – which was his highest-charting country set and included three top five singles, including a duet with his son, Ryan.  He earned one more top ten hit from the follow up set, and that was it on country radio.

That was ideal for Murphey creatively, who returned to the Western cowboy songs that best suited his musical identity. His trio of cowboy albums in the early nineties were so critically and commercially successful that they temporarily inspired a Warner Bros. Western imprint. He closed out his time at the label with another well-received cowboy album, this time with the songs receiving lush symphony orchestrations.

In the years since, Murphey has been an important champion for Western culture and music, and has done more to preserve the legacy of the old cowboy songs than any other artist. His brief time at country radio was the career era that was least representative of his talent and significance, so don’t mistake the low grades he’s received in this series for a definitive statement on his talent.

“A Long Line of Love” gets a D.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. This saccharine offering certainly wasn’t my cup of tea. I’ll concur that it was bland and lifeless. My first impression was that a “D” was a bit harsh, but neither the melody, the vocals, nor the story went anywhere interesting or unexpected. These mush-peddling entries were the kinds of songs that made me angrier in the 90s when I listened to radio more regularly and they were inescapable for months on end, but I can’t quite muster up the umbrage to torch Murphey over this one given my more limited exposure to it.

    Murphey’s run on radio was largely undistinguished, but I have some nostalgia for “Still Taking Chances”, “Will It Be Love By Morning”, and “From the Word Go”. I’ll quibble with you on the point of his eight-year hitmaking run on radio being “brief”, however. Even in the context of country stars of the 70s and 80s, eight years of uninterrupted hits is a pretty good resume. His Wikipedia page shows he had 12 top-10s and four additional top-20s. It would take a quarter century for all but the top-tier artists to accumulate that many hits on country radio today, where the average chart run infuriatingly and inexplicably lasts almost a year.

    Grade: C-

  2. I am not sure that I agree with the harsh grading of this song. I would give it a C+, and agree that a more accomplished vocalist could have done more with the song.

    Of course MMM was operating outside of his milieu. I love his turn toward western themes and his earlier endeavors such as ” Wildfire” and “Carolina In The Pines” were excellent.

  3. I picked up Gary Stewart’s classic album Out of Hand a few years ago. One of my favorite cuts from it is ”Back Sliders Wine.”

    Now, I imagine what I’m about to say was largely due to Gary’s interpretation of that song, but suffice to say you could have knocked me over with a feather when I found out it was written by Michael Martin Murphey, and that reaction was entirely due to his largely milquetoast run of mainstream hits like this.

  4. Back off!

    Just let me curl up with some blankets and pillows – with the lights down low- and enjoy the cozy corner of country music. My stack of vinyl will include Jim Reeves, Don Williams. Kathy Mattea, Dan Seals, Michael Johnson, Steve Wariner, and Michael Martin Murphy.

    I think “A Long Line of Love” is a pretty performance of a well-written song celebrating fidelity.

    For the record, I went to bat for “What’s Forever For” as well.

    I also have been enchanted by “Wildfire” ever since I first heard the somber single on the radio in a friend’s kitchen as a kid. The image of a pony busting down its stall and being lost in a blizzard was haunting and upsetting to young me.

    Later, I became fully invested in Warner Brothers Western imprint in the ’90s, purchasing cassettes by Herb Jeffries, Don Edwards, Bill Miller, Waddie Mitchell, and the Sons of the San Joaquin.

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