Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: K.T. Oslin, “I’ll Always Come Back”

“I’ll Always Come Back”

K.T. Oslin

Written by K.T. Oslin

Radio & Records

#1 (2 weeks)

March 25 – April 1, 1988


#1 (1 week)

April 23, 1988

My favorite singer-songwriters are the ones who can write a lyric and a melody that are both perfectly tailored to their voice.

Oslin is one of those singer-songwriters that I love the most, and there’s one line in the bridge that captures what I’m talking about here: “Keep your eyes on the hor-eye-zon” twists those vowel sounds so she can make them rhyme in her New York City twang.

We focus on Oslin’s songwriting so much because she’s one of the all time greats in that regard. “I’ll Always Come Back” is a reminder of how her effectiveness as a singer elevated already excellent material. This song could have been maudlin if delivered with too much sentimentality, but Oslin’s voice tells her loved one to buck up and be strong, as there’s no doubt at all that she’ll come back.

“I’ll Always Come Back” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. If Roseanne Cash is country music’s rock star, K.T. Oslin is its alien superhero.

    Stay with me here.

    She feels completely other, even as she mines situations we all recognize and surgically extracts emotions we all feel.

    Just as country music was getting in touch with its roots, her music did not harken back to the honky tonks nor did she wear a cowboy hat.

    She did not look the part.

    Is it her age? The fact that she lived in New York City?

    Whatever it is that makes her feel foreign, her inclusive sense of lyrical emotional oneness, her ability to touch familiar feelings, and the empathy that comes from a shared world perspective is what makes her inescapably country.

    She was, after all, born in Alabama and raised in Texas. She has maintained her style combines elements of country, southern blues, and R&B.

    It is her disarming skill exploiting all those influences, and using her creative super powers, while doing her work as a singer-songwriter, that makes her country royalty.

    To stay with my alien analogy, and double-down on my nerdiness, I am thinking of the Justice League and how many of its strongest, most committed characters were aliens, from Superman to Martian Manhunter to Hawkman. They were not of the world they felt compelled to serve. It was a calling.

    Country music sounds like K.T. Oslin’s calling.

    This song is evidence of that. It is stark and tender, honest and sincere. It’s all about horizons and home. Rather than hide from the awkwardness and fear of separation, she fully leans into faith, hope, and love.

    This is a song about trust and boundaries.

    The wonder of the song, the lovely assurance that the narrator will always come back, works only because she apparently leaves and wanders a lot. One doesn’t have to return if one never leaves.

    There is so much room, however for the lyrics to breathe, for listeners to see themselves in her story.

    The video is touching interpretation of a relationship between divorced parents and a child, and it works well.

    K.T. Oslin was a wonder and a gift.

  2. K.T. Oslin nails it again with lyrics that lift the material above and beyond its inaugural sonic value. I only knew some of her biography before reading this feature and it always seemed confusing to me that she hailed from New York City as her cultural footprint seemed to reach beyond the Big Apple. It definitely makes sense that she was born in Alabama and raised in Texas, blending her cosmopolitan sensibilities with noticeable country roots. As stated elsewhere, the theme and conceit of the lyrics pack a punch and Oslin maneuvers her way through them credibly with her vocals. There’s always a gut factor for me with songs and this one doesn’t reach “80’s Ladies” levels, but it’s a solid record I’ve appreciated more on this revisit.

    Grade: B+

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