Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: K.T. Oslin, “Do Ya'”

“Do Ya'”

K.T. Oslin

Written by K.T. Oslin

Radio & Records

#1 (2 weeks)

November 27 – December 4, 1987

Billboard

#1 (1 week)

December 19, 1987

If Highway 101’s Paulette Carlson bridged the gap between Juice Newton and Shelby Lynne, it’s fair to say that K.T. Oslin built the same bridge between Rosanne Cash and Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Intelligent, sophisticated, literate. All words that describe K.T. Oslin as a singer-songwriter, yet they don’t fully capture the enormity of her talent and her unique place in country music history. Because while Oslin certainly drew upon the history of thoughtful songwriters, there was also a raw honesty and clarity of perspective that placed her squarely in the tradition of Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, and Dolly Parton.

She wrote from a woman’s perspective that was fully contemporary, capturing what had changed about gender dynamics while also understanding what was constant about human relationships over time. It was her songwriting that got her a record deal, and while her first stint on Elektra fizzled, she resurfaced on RCA as the unlikeliest of new country artists: a middle-aged woman from New York City, playing self-written songs on her keyboard that didn’t sound like anything else anywhere on the radio dial.

It was the generation-spanning anthem “80’s Ladies” that provided her breakthrough hit, and it set the groundwork for her next two singles from 80s Ladies to go to No. 1. “Do Ya'” was a song that Oslin was struggling with, until one day she slowed the tempo down and made it a ballad. In the videoclip below, she dedicates “Do Ya'” to everyone who’s been married for about five years, and that’s right on the nose. She’s capturing that stage in a maturing relationship where forever starts to feel like forever, and you start second guessing whether or not you’re in it for the long haul.

It’s a love song for the era of options, when staying married was no longer a given and self-made, self-sufficient women were becoming more common. They don’t actually have to stay together, but she wants to…as long as he also wants to. A true stylist, Oslin makes so many interesting choices as a singer that magnify the song’s impact. Listen to how her confidence shifts in the second verse, as she starts contemplating: “Do you miss me when I’m gone, but sometimes wish that I’d stay gone just a little bit longer?” She’s prepping herself for the worst, and tipping her hand that this song is all about her own self-doubt, resulting in her giving up the game and confessing she still loves him, while still giving herself an out if he doesn’t feel the same: “Honey, I sure do still love you…at least I think I do.”

I’m old enough to remember when Oslin came on the scene, even though I wasn’t paying much attention to country music as a kid in elementary school, because the novelty of her success broke through to mainstream media. She broke every single rule and became a platinum-selling artist. It’s still the coolest success story in country music history, as far as I’m concerned, and she did it all with a pen and a keyboard.

What a legend.

“Do Ya'” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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1 Comment

  1. I always had a soft spot for KT Oslin, even though I was too young to appreciate her mature lyrics or to appreciate how unlikely her rise to fame was when she burst onto the scene. Her sound nonetheless captured me, unique enough to stand out but still mainstream enough that it didn’t sound out of place on country radio. As I’ve matured, I’ve come to appreciate her lyrics, often alternating between confidence and astonishing insecurity as is the case with this one. Sonically, “Do Ya?” doesn’t deliver the same supercharged rewards as “80s Ladies”, easily my favorite song from KT’s catalog and one that still gives me goosebumps, but it’s a worthy follow-up to showcase the sound and lyrical depth that defines her as an artist and shines a spotlight on what made the late 80s such a unique flashpoint in country music. It’s also an interesting reminder that so many artists’ career records never made it to #1.

    Grade: B+

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