Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Earl Thomas Conley, “Right From the Start”

“Right From the Start”

Earl Thomas Conley

Written by Billy Herzig and Randy Watkins

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

October 2, 1987


#1 (1 week)

October 31, 1987

When is good not good enough?

Earl Thomas Conley’s “Right From the Start” is a great example of that. He’s in fine voice as always, but the material isn’t up to the same level of his best work and he has to work a little to hard to sell the chorus, which is in desperate need of a hook.

And here’s the deal. That would’ve been fine in any other era of country music. We’ve covered quite a few marginal chart-toppers by legends like Ronnie Milsap and Conway Twitty. The catalogs of most country legends not named Emmylou Harris all had clunkers, and it didn’t slow them down.

But that’s not really going to cut it in the late eighties and early nineties. We talk a lot about how the wave of female artists that broke through a little bit later had levels of talent not seen before or since, but that’s also true about the male artists that came along right before, from 1986 to 1993 or so.

Conley was a fantastic vocalist, but the landscape now already included Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam, and big breakthroughs were on the way for Ricky Van Shelton, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Clint Black, Joe Diffie, Tracy Lawrence, Mark Chesnutt, Alan Jackson, and Travis Tritt. You needed damn good material to survive that wave, and aside from George Strait and a resurgent John Anderson, the eighties guys really couldn’t cut it.

“Right From the Start” gets a B.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. I like this one more than you. There’s an album cut from my CD collection that this song reminds me of sonically, but I can’t put my finger on it. The pleasant energy of both the vocals and the arrangement complement the lyrics nicely. Perhaps the relatability of the lyrics at this moment of my life make it an especially easy sell, especially when the record has a sound that takes me back to my 80s-era boyhood happy place. I like all of ETC’s #1s from 1987, but this is my favorite of the three.

    And while I agree generally that the wave of material and new artists forthcoming in the 90s was destined to leave most of the 80s stars in the dust, I’m not sure that’s necessarily unique to the 80s stars. After all, many 90s kingmakers like Clint Black, Collin Raye, and Mark Chesnutt disappeared quickly in the early 2000s even without the kind of profound transformation in the industry that was experienced in the early 90s. And I wouldn’t uniformly concede that the early 90s newcomers didn’t take their share of mediocrities to the penthouse even as they were nudging guys like ETC off the stage. More than anything else, I think it was a matter of generational change for generational change’s sake, which isn’t always a good thing and isn’t always a bad thing.

    Grade: B+

  2. Conley is in great form here. We should be celebrating his consistency instead of questioning if he still has what it takes to be a hitmaker.

    Describing cultural change presumes adopting a particular perspective or narrative that squares a convoluted circle.

    I think so many of the eighties artists who didn’t carry their success into the dawn of the new decade functionally had the bat taken out of their hands. Hard to have a hit when you have nothing to swing with in terms of industry promotion, song material access, and media attention.

    Artists don’t forget how to be artists.

    Regime change came to Nashville. Highly skilled veteran talent was passed over for younger talent. This process happens all the time in the sports world and it is never clean and is seldom fair.

    The music business is just that- a business.

    The temptation is to minimize and criticize the ability of the outgoing players to justify the investment in the new. It’s all confirmation bias bluster.

    Change is inevitable and as Vince Gill sang, “Sometimes you gotta’stand back/And watch ’em burn it to the ground/ Even though you built it, it’s a young man’s town.”

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