Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: The Desert Rose Band, “One Step Forward”

“One Step Forward”

The Desert Rose Band

Written by Chris Hillman and Bill Wildes

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

January 22, 1988

Chris Hillman of the Byrds/Flying Burrito Brothers fame built a country supergroup around himself and pulled off four consecutive No. 1 hits for his efforts.

The Desert Rose Band launched shortly after Hillman’s most recent solo efforts had faltered, and they were a hit right out of the gate. This is the second new band in a matter of weeks to have broken through with a debut album produced by Paul Worley, and his signature alchemy of seventies rock, sixties pop, and c0ntemporary country are all over this track. The steel guitar is especially fantastic, and Hillman’s commitment to these arrangements help him pass credibly as a country vocalist.

It’s a clever piece of songwriting too, which helps explain why so many of these lyrically oriented rockers were surfacing alongside folkish singer-songwriters at country radio during this time period. It’s easy to dismiss them as genre interlopers, but if anything, “One Step Forward” encouraged everyone to step their game up, regardless of their country origin bona fides. It’s just that good of a record.

This is their most enduring hit, and as noted above, there are three more chart-toppers on the way, all in a row.

“One Step Forward” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. It went in one ear and out the other when I was a kid and heard that the Desert Rose Band was fronted by the former lead singer of the Byrds, just as I didn’t connect that Southern Pacific, formed around the same timeframe, were holdovers from the Doobie Brothers. This would come to resonate with me more in adulthood as I connected with an aforementioned coworker who’s a music history buff and an especially huge fan of the Byrds. He informed me of the Byrds’ decadeslong efforts to get a footing in country music and how it finally materialized in the late 80s with the Desert Rose Band. It’s a story easily transferable to the current hulabaloo about Beyonce and Post Malone going country.

    Anyway, I always loved this song. The Desert Rose Band has a particularly crisp sound that stood out to me even as a boy, and the stellar production and musicianship still stands out today. I don’t know if they could be defined as “the Bakersfield sound” (I’m pretty sure “Hello Trouble” was channeling Bakersfield), but for whatever reason their vibe oozes California in an inexplicable way…..kind of like the Beach Boys of country music. This is definitely their most enduring hit, even though there’s one coming up I like even better. It was pretty exciting when I saw the lineup for my 1989 county fair and saw The Desert Rose Band were coming to town. They didn’t have as long of a run as I’d have preferred, but lasted long enough to have a Greatest Hits album which I find time to listen to every year or so.

    Grade: A

  2. I don’t really think of Chris Hillman as a rocker – to me he is a pillar of modern bluegrass dating back to The Hillman, a band featuring Chris, Rex & Vern Gosdin and David Parmley (of Bluegrass Cardinals fame). After that he got involved in the rock scene before returning to a more acoustic brand of music. Personally, I loved the Desert Rose Band and his many subsequent projects, most of which featured Herb Pedersen.

    His 1984 solo album on Sugar Hill was titled Desert Rose

  3. I think Hillman always saw the Desert Rose Band as the kind of quality country band he wished he could have had with the Flying Burrito Brothers; he just had so many personal issues with Gram Parsons’ (to say the least) erratic behavior way back then. This, however, was in his wheelhouse, given his backgrounds in bluegrass and the country-rock movement he had a hand in developing in Southern California. He details his own history in his memoir Time Between.

  4. I certainly remember all the name-dropping of the Byrds and Gram Parsons when The Desert Rose Band broke, but also remember feeling insecure about not knowing anything by those two artists, much less anything about that larger era or scene of music.

    I am so grateful that this band put me on to a path of discovery and learning about the artists and music that came before their them. The Desert Rose Band helped me connect the dots and discover that a stone-cold country artist like Vern Gosdin came from the same inspirational well of west coast/California country music.

    The Desert Rose Band would sound great playing back-to-back with Midland on the radio today.

    There was every reason to be excited about this single and the sound The Desert Rose Band brought to mainstream country.

    This era is a blast to revisit. It feels frenetic and fun, where almost anything is possible, a frenzy of discovery about what came before and what lay ahead.

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