Top 10 of the decade

The 80s were a strange time for country music. The decade started with the Urban cowboy the craze and ended with the famous Class of ’89, with the sound of country radio swinging wildly between crossover pop and neo-traditional country in the years that followed. The country love song, a staple of the genre throughout its history, also shifted form throughout the decade, at times embracing bright pop and at others veering into more rock-and-music-tinged territory. people.

Our list of the 10 best love songs of the 80s is a surprisingly mixed bag, with efforts by Nashville veterans Tammy Wynette, George Jones and Dolly Parton enduring alongside works by alt-country upstarts Lucinda Williams and Rodney Crowell. . It’s proof that, despite many people’s justified hatred for schmaltz that dominated the early years of the decade, there were always more nuanced and thoughtful love songs out there – you just had to look a little deeper for find them.

10. “Your Love”, Tammy Wynette

Tammy Wynette struggled in the 80s, facing a landscape that saw her sound and image as woefully outdated. But his 1987 album higher ground, a rooted return to form that followed flimsy attempts to rebrand itself as a crossover act, contains some of its most under-loved gems. The best of these is lead single “Your Love,” a joyful ode to the restorative power of love that features uncredited backing vocals from none other than Ricky Skaggs.

9. “I’m always lucky with you”, George Jones

Only George Jones could pull off such a moving vocal performance from a song as unsubtle as “I Always Get Lucky with You.” Originally a non-single from Merle Haggard’s 1981 album Big cityJones managed in 1983 to make the song’s double meanings sound like heartfelt professions of love, giving him his ninth and final solo country No. 1 hit.

8. “Love Is Alive”, The Judds

William Shakespeare has nothing on the Judds. On this must-have track from their 1984 debut, Why not me, the duo take flowery metaphors and abstractions of love to task, instead finding it much closer to home. “Love is a man and he’s mine,” Wynonna says at the end of each verse, emphasizing the song’s no-nonsense approach to romantic love.

7. “Ocean Front Property”, George Strait

“I’ve got a property by the ocean in Arizona,” George Strait sings on this iconic track from his 1987 album of the same name, proving that the long-reigning country king is both an irrepressible charmer and a very bad liar.

6. “I couldn’t leave you if I tried”, Rodney Crowell

Among the most unlikely commercial successes of the 80s was singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell, who cut his teeth singing harmony for Emmylou Harris and writing essential outlaw tracks. like “Bluebird Wine” and “I Ain’t Living Long Like This”. The best memory of the five record-breaking No. 1 country hits of 1988 Diamonds and dirt is the rockabilly-flavored “I couldn’t leave you if I tried,” on which Crowell gleefully affirms his devotion to a partner he’s clearly wronged once too often.

5. “Miami, my Amy”, Keith Whitley

Keith Whitley’s all-too-brief career – which ended in 1989, when he tragically succumbed to alcoholism – spawned many of the decade’s defining hits, including “Miami My Amy”, a moving portrayal of ‘a bicoastal relationship that culminates in the narrator’s decision to move across the country to be closer to his beloved Amy. Swoon.

“Money”, KT Oslin

“80s Ladies” phenom KT Oslin was no stranger to nuanced portrayals of love and life. But “Money,” a little-remembered single from his 1988 album This womanis as simple as possible: “I don’t need the money” Oslin sings over a shimmering, synth-tinged production. “All I need is you.”

“Old Flames Can’t Hold You a Candle”, Dolly Parton

Even during his peak years as a crossover artist, which began with “Here I Come Again” in 1977 and ended with “9 to 5” in 1983, Dolly Parton declared his allegiance to country by delivering songs like the steel-tempered waltz, “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You”. Co-written by Pebe Sebert – best known as the mom of pop star Kesha, who recorded the song as a duet with Parton in 2017 – the song describes a romantic bond so strong that memories of former lovers are saved. sadness.

“Side of the Road”, Lucinda Williams

Released a whole decade before 1998 Car wheels on a gravel road, the album widely regarded as her masterpiece, Lucinda Williams’ self-titled third album is nonetheless a landmark. One of its many highlights is “Side of the Road,” which makes a stark statement that romantic love and self-reliance don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

“Love at the Five and Dime”, Nanci Griffith

Nanci Griffith’s self-penned saga of a couple whose romance begins with a fateful waltz through the aisles of the local Woodworth’s is one of the decade’s greatest achievements. Kathy Mattea’s 1986 version rose to No. 3 on the country charts — the start of an impressive radio run for Mattea — but it’s Griffith’s clearer rendition that lives on.

READ MORE: 15 Best Country Love Songs From The 90s

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Grace D. Erickson