Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Ronnie Milsap, “Snap Your Fingers”

“Snap Your Fingers”

Ronnie Milsap

Written by Grady Martin and Alex Zanetis


#1 (1 week)

August 1, 1987

Ronnie Milsap followed his most successful studio album of the eighties with Heart & Soul, which produced another five top five singles for the Hall of Fame legend, including three more No. 1 hits.

“Snap Your Fingers” served as one of two lead singles for the project. We’re deep in the new traditionalist era now, but Milsap still had enough star power – and musical talent – to make it on the radio with a faithful and entertaining cover of an early sixties R&B hit.

You can hear the influence of this arrangement all over Lorrie Morgan’s “Watch Me,” though the finger snaps here are driven directly by the lyric. Milsap goes full kitchen sink on this number, complete with aggressive horns that threaten to overwhelm him in the chorus, but can’t quite do so because he’s such a strong and commanding singer.

Even if it felt at the time Milsap was relying on nostalgia and cover songs too heavily, I see him as something of a preservationist of the era, holding on to the soul and R&B roots of country music as the genre’s historical narrative was being rewritten into “crossover bad, traditionalism good.” Perhaps that’s why Milsap remained a force on radio for longer than most of his contemporaries. Rather than follow the trends, he stayed true to his own style, and it stood out even more in 1987 than it did during the Nashville Sound and Urban Cowboy eras.

“Snap Your Fingers” gets a B+.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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Next: Ronnie Milsap & Kenny Rogers, “Make No Mistake, She’s Mine”

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  1. I didn’t even realize this was a cover of a 60s song but given Ronnie’s proclivity for retro remakes at this point in his career, I’m not surprised. It wasn’t among my favorites of Ronnie’s but I still enjoyed it. It had a funk and swagger entirely unlike anything else on country in 1987. It even stood out among Ronnie’s extensive discography. I like the description of Ronnie as a preservationist for the country crossover era, which turns the conventional notion of a preservationist on its head but in this case seems accurate. Still, it was telling that even Milsap was compelled to pivot to a traditional country sound for his next album.

    I appreciated that Ronnie Milsap and Restless Heart could coexist with Randy Travis and Vern Gosdin at the top of the country charts in the late 80s. If I had it my way, this grab bag of styles would be the norm every era.

    Grade: B

  2. It was a wonderful aspect of this decade that the diversity of styles and sounds could still comfortably and compatibly exist under the one banner of country music.

    Something would be lost with the coming segmentation of the format into micro-genres and the clannish territorialism that comes with so many categories. Boundaries that never mattered before will somehow become almost militarized and monitored.

    Simply calling, or classifying a song as country and then diving into conversations and debates about the merits of the music is so much more interesting than gatekeeping or ensuring the square peg will never fit into the round hole.

    That said, I do believe Milsap was honouring a style and sound of music that was hugely influential to his iteration of country music this decade. Milsap has always maintained he was a trained vocalist and was not chained to a particular style or sound of his own. He knew what was required vocally to best serve a song.

    Like Kenny Rogers, he seemingly choose to not cast his lots with the new traditionalists. He would continue to dance with the one who brought him to the ball.

    As Kevin points out, his dance partner here, is clearly the sounds of soul and R&B music as they rub against country music.

    It was important that influences other than Hank Williams, George Jones, and Merle Haggard be acknowledged to the younger generation of country listener.

    As country music was looking to the future it was becoming increasingly important that artists identify their respective roots and inspirations.

    Milsap nails this performance.

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