Country Songs From The ’80s That Are Not Old Hat

Acts like Kenny Rogers, Barbara Mandrel, Eddie Rabbitt, and Crystal Gayle were a few of the country acts that gained success on the pop and adult contemporary charts and radio. Other stars, like Olivia Newton- John, Dan Seals, and The Osmonds revived their careers switching from pop to country.  Even though the 1980s had many great country songs that crossed over, there are some that listening today  hold up without having an outdated sound. Yes, just because they were from the 1980s, several songs have that sound where you knew it was from that era. I am not saying they are bad songs, in fact I love the 1980s music in all genres probably the best, but underrated songs like “Snapshot” and “Nobody” by Sylvia, have that 80’s feel to it (I will state that both of those tracks do not get the credit they deserve). Some country music experts have called the decade the Country Pop era, where many acts geared their music to the mainstream audiences in hopes to sell more records by breaking on the pop charts. The success of the movie Urban Cowboy also helped fans who were normally not country music fans take another look at the music, deemed hillbilly-ish before.

These are a few  country songs that were from the 1980s that still hold up today, without the label of being too “’80s sounding.” Now just because I am not listing “He Stopped Loving Her Today, ” (George Jones) “9 to 5 ” (Dolly Parton)  or “Looking For Love” (Johnny Lee) on this list, they were very important for the movement of country in the 1980s. I also wanted to list underrated songs, which I feel was overlooked, along with only one artist to a track, as opposed to listing many songs from the same artist. So here are my suggestions of country music songs from the 1980s that still could fit in today’s music scene (in no particular order).

 

 

  1. “Islands in The Stream” – Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers (1983).

Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers were no strangers to the crossover market by 1983. Rogers started out with his band The First Edition on the rock scene before hitting his stride in the 1970s in country music. “Islands”  is probably the most famous country duet song in history, where everyone heard this Bee Gees’ penned song every hour on many stations, from country, rock, and adult contemporary radio. The song knocked off “Total Eclipse of The Heart” by Bonnie Tyler on the pop charts (even Air Supply couldn’t knock off  Tyler’s song, as huge as they were, along with the fact their song was written by the same writer as Tyler’s hit). Barry Manilow and Reba McIntyre did a version of  “Islands” for Manilow’s 1980’s cover album. This song is still played at weddings and gatherings. The melody of the song, and catchy chorus, makes this song timeless, and finds a new group of listeners every decade.

2.”Could I Have This Dance -Anne Murray (1980).

Speaking of weddings, this classic recorded by Murray, was another song that people couldn’t get away from at the social gatherings from weddings to dances. Just like Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration,” this song is still sometimes played at weddings and receptions. The song was featured on the Urban Cowboy soundtrack, along with  her Greatest Hits release, and is  lyric perfection about falling in love with the right one forever. Just reading the lyrics without listening to the song is poetry. This was Murray’s next to last crossover hit, hitting #3 (AC), #1 (Country), and #33 (Pop) on the charts. The waltz rhythm of the song also adds to the softness of the song. This song would not have worked played as an up tempo song, or a disco track. The light rock style could be played right next to Michael Bublé today.

  1. “Amarillo By Morning” -George Strait (1982).

This song is pure solid country, with its fiddle playing and lyrics about a guy making his life in the rodeo. This is one of my favorite Strait songs, and makes my list of underrated because as many country listeners know the song, it never hit #1, only reaching #4 on the country charts, and is often not mentioned as one of his best. Written by Paul Fraser and Terry Stafford, the character talks about being broke, getting injured, and losing female relationships all for chasing his dreams. This is a traditional sounding country song, that does not have an ’80s sound. Even if the listener is not in the rodeo, the themes can relate to struggling musicians, or anyone else on the road chasing goals.

  1. “American Made”-The Oak Ridge Boys (1983).

Patriotism never goes out of style, regardless of the decade. Many point to Lee Greenwood’s most famous song from the era, but for me, this song still holds up, and is my favorite song about America from the decade. With the strong guitars, wonderful vocals,  mixing American pride along with the love of a woman, this song hit #1 on the country charts, and #72 on the pop charts, and was played on many of my local Top 40 radio channels when it came out. Co-written by Youngstown, Ohio’s Bob DiPiero (Youngstown is only twenty-some minutes from my hometown of Columbiana, Ohio), the song references Nikon cameras, Sony TVs,  and other foreign merchandise. The uniqueness of three out of the four Oak vocalists singing on the track, also gives each line a different approach. Many pick the band’s “Elvira” or “Bobbie Sue” (also crossover hits) as the best from the ’80s for them, but this is the one that doesn’t sound as dated as the other two musically.

 

  1. “The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)” – Juice Newton (1982).

My father was always a fan of Juice Newton and Crystal Gayle in the 1980s. Although I liked some their songs, it wasn’t until a few years ago, while listening to my Classic County radio station (AM 600 WRQX) that I really started appreciating the other songs by these two crossover artists.  With songs like “Love’s Been A Little Bit Hard On Me” (it has a great 80s style humorous video) and “Queen of Hearts,” Newton had both country and pop hits. This ballad was the third release from her famous Juice album, and may be one of the best of her work. The song was originally recorded in 1975, and then re-recorded in ’81, was a #1 country, #1 AC, and #7 pop hit. Great ballads last , regardless of the era, and this is one that still could be placed on Top 40 or AC radio and not be out of place.

  1. “Love in The First Degree” Alabama (1981).

Alabama along with The Oaks, were one of the biggest groups in country, where many acts were solo artists (this song hit #1 on the Country and #15 on Pop charts). “Love,” with its solid drum beat carrying throughout,  and guitar fills, would fit on today’s AC charts. Lyrically about the narrator falling in love , while using criminal symbolism, is not at all country sounding. The drum production on the song (which was a staple of the group), with the snare drum sounding almost like another tom, also adds a dynamic to the track.  Every time I hear this song, it gets me in a good mood and feels like a fun song to play on guitar, and would be a crowd pleaser even for a rock cover band to play.

  1. “You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma”- Shelly West/David Frizzell (1981).

This is another classic country duet song, and has grown to be one of my favorites the past year or so, thanks to that classic radio station, mentioned earlier. West and Frizzell had seven duet hits, and West even had a country favorite with “José Cuervo” after this duet in 1983. West( the daughter of Dottie West) and Frizzell’s song was picked by actor Clint Eastwood (after he heard the track and believed it was a  hit) for his movie Every Which Way You Can. Lyrically about two people living in separate states and lifestyles (one is a framer/rancher, the other in California), the song has a country sound, but still could be on today’s radio. Even though it #1 on the Country charts during the Urban Cowboy phase, the song is still relevant today. Eastwood was right in thinking this song was a hit, and is still enjoyable.

  1. “Meet Me In Montana” -Dan Seals and Marie Osmond (1985).

Another duet that has been a favorite of mine from the past few years (it’s hard to choose each day which song I like the best , this or #7). With a similar theme of two different lifestyles, this one is Seals struggling to make it as a singer in Nashville, while Osmond is in Hollywood trying to be an actress, where both are tired of the struggle, are willing to give up the dreams for each other and  live elsewhere peacefully. Seals had several pop hits with his duo act England Dan and John Ford Coley ( including “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight” and “Nights Are Forever Without You”), before moving on to a successful country music career. Osmond was already established with her variety show (with brother Donny) in the 1970s, before having a pop/country singing one (she known more now for her gossipy talk show gig). This song hit #1 on the country charts, and the reason it would still be able to be played on stations today is because the song was written by the vastly underrated pop singer Paul Davis (“Sweet Life,” “I Go Crazy,”  ’65 Love Affair,” and the wonderful “Cool Night”). Seals had such a smooth and unique voice, and mixed well with Osmond’s range. This is one song I never get tired of hearing.

  1. “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me” -Rosanne Cash (1984).

Much like Juice Newton and  Crystal Gayle, AM 600 WRQX  gave me a newer appreciation for Rosanne Cash. While I always liked her song “Seven Year Ache, ” this song was co-written by Rodney Crowell and won a Grammy in 1985 (the rumor was she co-wrote the song after losing to Newton at the ’83 Grammys). This song has a solid pop sound to it, with strong backing vocals by Vince Gill. The guitar sound on the track, and the layered vocals, is a throwback to the 1960’s style rock hits. This song could fit in with an act now like Susanna Hoffs. The song is soft, but has a mid tempo beat that could be brought back today and be a hit (I can imagine it on a movie soundtrack, perhaps the female character alone at a dance). This song is filled with  a radio friendly format and a melodic guitar fills on top of the wonderful vocals.

 

Even though some of these songs still fit the country format, they are still tracks that could be placed on today’s various formats without having an unfashionable theme. Although I am very critical to many of today’s so called country acts, I can still listen to these underrated gems (and there are many more I have no touched on). I encourage you all to take a listen to these.

 

 

 

 

Childhood Classic : Barry Manilow 1989- Simple Title But Memorable Songs

Barry Manilow was released on May 2, 1989

Every once in a while, I will be reviewing a release from my childhood or musical past that made an influence on me. Some of these will be well known, and others may have been passed by under the radar. Most will not be in the hard rock/metal genre. You can see reviews in that genre written by me in the Retro Review section on the webpage Sleazeroxx.com, or on my online portfolio at llumleyportfolio.wordpress.com

 

My first exposure to Barry Manilow was during my sophomore year in high school. I took a theater arts class and one day we were listening to the song “Memory” from Cats. The title looked familiar to me, so I went home and dug around my parents 45s (remember them??), where they had two of Manilow’s records ; 1981’s “The Old Songs”/ “Don’t Fall In Love With Me” and “Heart of Steel”/Memory” from 1982. A few years later , I stumbled upon Manilow’s PBS special from England, which ended up being “The Greatest Hits And Then Some” release. I was mesmerized by the show, and had to listen to more of his music. I played those 45s over and over again to the point where I needed some newer material. I saw an ad on television in 1997 that Manilow was coming to Starlake Amphitheater in Burgettstown , P.A. I had to get tickets to see him. My mother took me to the local National Record Mart, so I could get tickets the day they came out. If it weren’t for her, I would not have been able to see him. She gave me her credit card to use, and when the guy printed out the tickets, he mentioned that it was cash only (although there was nothing stating that before the sale date or at the store itself in the ticket policies). Luckily, she had cash on her, and I was shocked at the price of the tickets; I saw my first concert in 1991 with lawn seats at the same amphitheater for 18 dollars. Each ticket was $40 for Manilow, plus service charge, which was a lot back then (but they ended up being like 10th row-and now some of his seats go for over $100) .

After the show, I had to get some more Manilow releases (I had the cassettes of the 1978 Greatest Hits and the 1989 Volume 1 which I got from the BMG music club.) . I went to Best Buy, and the only CDs they carried were the Greatest Hits from 1989 (Volumes I, II and III), along with his self titled 1989 album. I chose the self titled one as my first Manilow CD.

Some fans have dubbed Barry Manilow as the “purple album”, because he released several other albums with his name on it; his debut in 1973, Barry Manilow II (1974), 1980’s Barry, and 1985’s Manilow. Whatever fans want to call it, it was an unique album for many reasons besides the title; all but one song had outside writers on it (Manilow usually wrote or co-wrote most of his songs, and allowed few outside writers at this time), it had a polished production, and it was his last all original music until 2001, where besides some live releases, he released covers and themed albums from Broadway, the Big Band era, and the 1970s (The Summer of ’78 album is highly underrated) . It was also one of the longer run times from previous records , almost an hour long.

The opener “Please Don’t Be Scared,” is a wonderful ballad to start off the record. Manilow still sticks to the formula of loss, love, and hope in his songs. This first track , with the lyrics “Someday someone will make you glad you survived” brings the hope theme into play , while struggling to see the bigger picture in life.

“Keep Each Other Warm,” is a cover of the British group Bucks Fizz, and became a hit on the AC charts for Barry at #7. The soulful/ R&B song would have been placed perfectly along the radio songs by groups like Surface and Breathe. Unfortunately it was never played in my area stations in Youngstown, Ohio (where the local station was, although I live in Columbiana, Ohio, twenty minutes or so away). Manilow’s take on this song has more power to it instrumentally, where the original sounds like an ABBA cover band.

Songs like “Once and For All, ” and “The One That Got Away” continue the polished 1980s feel , where “The One That Got Away” has a simple chorus lyrically , which Manilow pulls off, even though it is some of the weaker songs on the release. Even though they are weaker than the others, a weak Manilow song can still be better than some artists’ best work.

“When the Good Times Come Again,” and “Some Good Things Never Last” are two great songs in a row. “…Good Times..” has the format, much like his hit “Somewhere Down The Road,” with the theme of hoping better things will come in the relationship after taking a break, where “Some Good Things Never Last” was featured on his follow up release, Live On Broadway. The opening line of “It’s 3 in the morning/You’re nowhere in sight” is a line that’s been thrown in my head numerous times for no reason whatsoever, especially being awake at 3 A.M. It’s a wonder to me, looking back now, why “Some Good Things Never Last” was not released as a single. It should have been on the pop or AC charts.

The last three songs are the songs I remember most about the release. “My Moonlight Memories Of You’ is a catchy song that displays Manilow’s love for Broadway songs. The song starts off one way , and then goes in another style, one that you could see Fred Astaire dancing and singing in an old time musical, or in a vaudeville show. The “I Can’t Smile Without You” feel of the song challenges the listener NOT to sing along, and with the end , where he is singing the melody while it fades out, one can picture the main star walking down the street while the camera pans overhead to the city while the credits roll.

“Anyone Can Do The Heartbreak” was a hit for Anne Murray in 1987. Both versions are just as good, and it’s hard to choose one over the other.

The final is a road song, “A Little Traveling Music, Please.” I first heard this song on the PBS special, or the VHS release of the show, I can’t remember exactly, but I thought it was a great , soft song about being on the road , and away from the special person. Many road songs in music, like “Faithfully “or “Turn The Page,” have power to it musically (hence the name power ballad), where this song is a refreshingly mellow and clam, with drummer Vinnie Colaiuta playing brushes on the track. This song is the perfect placement as the ender of the album. I played this song many times after playing in local bands as a drummer on the way home to calm my ears after playing rock and blues all night long. It takes a while for the song to get going, with an instrumental intro, but when the song gets going, its great.

Barry Manilow has wonderful memories for me. One, it was exposure to Manilow’s latest work, and not just the popular hits that I knew the time. It also had a long run time, so I got my money’s worth, along with some songs becoming my favorite rarer songs from his catalog (“Memories of You,” and “Traveling Music” are two of them).

The songs still hold up after 30 years, and doesn’t sound too dated, even though it is one of his more polished production wise albums (along with 1985’s Manilow) . Manilow fans all have their favorite albums (they are as passionate as Kiss, The Beatles, and The Oak Ridge Boys’ fans as which are their favorites), this is one of my favorites where I don’t have to skip songs ( I am not counting his cover albums). Even though some are a little weaker than others, it can play all the way through. This is a CD that gave me more of a love of Manilow’s music (especially when I was in college at the time, where his music was a friend to me). It is still a go-to CD to play when I want to hear some rarer Manilow songs.

You can read my other post on Barry’s rarer songs here in the archives, by typing in “Barry Manilow” in the search engine.

 

Track Listing: 1. Please Don’t Be Scared 2. Keep Each Other Warm 3.Once And For All 4. The One That Got Away 5.When The Good Times Come Again 6. Some Good Things Never Last 7. In Another World 8. You Begin Again 9.My Moonlight Memories Of You   10. Anyone Can Do The Heartbreak 11. A Little Traveling Music, Please

Loving It-Some of the Most Romantic Songs in Music

It’s hard to define what exactly the word “romantic” is, or what songs is or is not considered romantic. There are the standard ones, like Etta James “At Last” or Dolly Parton/Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” which are usually played at weddings. One definition of the word is “displaying or expressing love or strong affection.”  This blog is going to look at a few of the songs that I would list in my favorite romantic songs, in no particular order, with the dates in the parenthesis. Maybe it is one of yours.

  1. “Lady In Red” –Chris Deburg (1986). This song was from his “Into the Light” Album, and is the song that made him famous. Deburg was said to have written the song about his wife when they first met, stating that men can’t remember what their wives were wearing when they first met. The song hit #3 in the U.S. in 1987, and hit #1 in other countries. Rolling Stone once ranked it on its Worst Songs of the 1980s, which to me, show how stupid the magazine and their so called experts are.  The song has a slow groove and the lyrics are very poetic.
  1. “Could I Have This Dance”-Anne Murray (1980). This song was everywhere for years after it was released, and was a wedding staple. The song was for a Greatest Hits Album, and was played in the movie “Urban Cowboy.” It was a #1 Country Hit, along with being a #33 Pop Hit. I remember this song being played at dances when my uncle would deejay them. Every time I hear the song, I can picture that 45 spinning around at those dances. Not only is Anne Murray underrated as a singer, but the song is pure magic. The theme about the dance being a symbol of life is also proof of the romance in the song.
  1. “God Only Knows”-The Beach Boys (1966). I remember watching an ABC Movie of the Beach Boys, and the part where this song is being recorded. The actor playing drummer Dennis Wilson is listening to the song and states that it’s the most beautiful song he ever heard. Whether Wilson really said that or not, the statement is true. This is one of my favorite Beach Boys songs, and most would be surprised to find out that it barely broke the Top 40 Charts, at #39.  The orchestration and the overlaying of vocals made the song a classic.  This song was off the famous “Pet Sounds” Album, which was considered Brian Wilson’s greatest accomplishment. This is one of the greatest songs ever recorded, and decades later, it is still being recorded by artists in many genres.
The Beach Boys
  1. “I’ll Be True To You”-The Oak Ridge Boys (1978). Picking out just one song by The Oaks to make this list was very difficult. They have recorded many romantic songs in their careers. In my mind, The Oaks are up there with the Beach Boy, Barry Manilow, and Kiss as my Top American Institutions in American Music.  This song was from the “Ya’ll Come Back Saloon” Album, and was the group’s first #1 single.  Duane Allen’s smooth and soulful voice about a couple that falls in love and breaks up, even though she stays true to him until she dies, makes the song even more heartbreaking.  The song was important in my childhood, being a big fan of the group, but it also shows how quality songwriting and soulful vocals that tell a story is missing in today’s Country Music. It was one of the first songs I heard in Country that made me listen to the layers of the orchestration and layering of the backing musicians as well as the upfront vocals.
  1. “If You Could Read My Mind”-Gordon Lightfoot (1970). Lightfoot is another underrated performer and songwriter that our younger generation is missing out on. His songs are pure poetry- in fact I used this song in teaching poetry when I was teaching English. Lightfoot uses a normal breakup and mixes the lyrics with references to cowboy movies, haunted ghosts, and books.  This song was a #5 hit in the U.S., #1 on the Easy Listening Charts, and #1 in Canada.
Gordon Lightfoot
  1. “I’m Sorry”-John Denver (1975). This song was a #1 hit in the U.S. about a man thinking back of a failed relationship.  I only discovered this song a few years ago, and it has become one of my favorite songs by Denver.  His line “I’m sorry about the ways things are in China” at first feels completely out of place, but it somehow fits.  The song is a short song, but is powerful in the lyrics, and Denver was one of the few artists that all he needed was his voice and a guitar to make a classic song.
  1. “Islands in the Stream”-Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton (1983). How could the most popular duet song not be on this list? The song was written by the Bee Gees, and was a huge hit (#1 on Pop, Country, and AC Charts), and is still recorded by acts all these years later. The medium tempo groove and the lines like “Baby when I met you/there was peace unknown/ I set out to get you with a fine tooth comb” is a typical Gibb Brothers lyrics that made them geniuses (how many songwriters can use a comb in a love song?).  The Bees Gees’ live version from their “One Night Only” Album is one of my favorite versions of this song. The catchy rhythm and unique lyrics makes this a classic. Barry Manilow and many others have recorded it throughout the years. Most younger fans may not understand how popular this song was when it came out, crossing over to all different charts.
  1. “Weekend in New England”-Barry Manilow (1976). Just like the Oaks, choosing a Manilow song is tough for this list (I could list all Manilow songs on here). I decided on this song, from the “This One’s For You” Album for its songwriting that makes you feel like you were on the “long rocky beaches.” The listener wonders if the singer will ever see the girl again, and the “story must now wait.” I can’t picture anyone but Manilow singing this song with the feeling and romanticism, even though he did not write the song.
Barry Manilow
  1. “Cool Night”-Paul Davis (1981). This year was a good year for music, giving us this gem from Davis. This is one of my favorite song from the whole decade, about a guy looking back at a summer breakup with the fall coming. This song was one of my earliest memories of listening to the local radio station and hearing the term Adult Contemporary when it came to music. This song is constantly played by me today. The theme of sitting by the fire on a cool night, is a common theme in romance, but Davis makes it lasting and not repetitive. Paul Davis was very underrated in his music and have many great songs.
  1. “I Love You More Than I Can Say”- Leo Sayer (1980). This song was actually a remake, which I did not know until I started doing research for this topic. It was written and recorded first by Sonny Curtis and Jerry Allison of The Crickets after Buddy Holly died. Bobby Vee then recorded the song in 1961. It was Vee’s version that Sayer went out and bought to learn for his “Living in a Fantasy” Album, when he was looking for an oldie to add to the album. Sayer’s version has more guitar and less piano than the previous recordings, and it hit #2 in late 1980 and early 1981, along with #1 on the AC Charts.  Sayer had other hits during his run within a few years, but this one is my favorite.

 

  1. “I’ll Be There”- The Escape Club (1991). Many people think this group was a One Hit Wonder after hitting #1 in 1988 with the song “Wild Wild West,” but they had a few hits that charted. This song was about a friend’s death, and is very broody, but beautiful in the same way. The song was produced by Peter Wolf. The heavy keyboards were common for music at the time, but it brings that eeriness to the song. The lines “In a whisper on the wind/On the smile of a new friend/Just think of me/And I’ll be there” makes me think of poetry that may have been during the Romantic Era. I was never a fan of “Wild Wild West,” but I still play this song often to this day. If you’ve been a follower of this page for a while, you’ll know how much I liked this song, due to my frequent mention of this 1991 single.

There are many other Romantic Songs I could mention on this list (I could probably list a hundred songs), such as “You Send Me” by Sam Cooke, “Waiting For A Girl Like You” by Foreigner, “Inside Silvia” by Rick Springfield, Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” and “Sara” by Starship to name a few more of my favorites. Maybe these songs would make your list, or maybe not. Hopefully you will take the time to explore these (along with other songs by the artists) to increase your music catalog.