In the 80s, country music started crossover with pop music thanks to movies like 1980s Urban Cowboy starring John Travolta and Debra Winger. Many people refer to this decade as the Urban Cowboy Movement. During the mid-80s, country music hit a plateau, with one New York Times columnist declaring the genre dead. However, there was a resurgence next year when new artists like Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, and Ricky Van Shelton started performing traditional country songs again. The same year, Kathy Mattea and Keith Whitley had their fist hits. During the 80s, many country music duos and groups became popular because people gravitated to melodic harmony. Alabama was one of the most prominent bands of the decade, blending pop country with southern rock. Other groups like The Oakridge Boys and The Statler Brothers also gained prominence. Along with new acts, country music legends like George Jones and Conway Twitty charted top hits. As the decade ended, several more artists emerged to drive country music into the next decade, including Garth Brooks, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Travis Tritt. There were many fantastic country songs during this decade. These are the 20 best country songs of the 80s.
20. Forever and Ever Amen – Randy Travis
This song was the title track on the singer’s 1987 album. According to Wide Open Country, the idea for the song was inspired by co-writer Don Schlitz’s son. After the little boy said his prayers, he’d often look at his mom and say, “Mommy, I love you forever and ever, amen.” Paul Overstreet co-wrote the song. Together, it only took the songwriters several hours to complete it. When they took it to Martha Sharp at Warner Brothers, she immediately suggested Randy Travis as the singer. The song spent 3 weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, a first in 7 years.
19. Copperhead Road – Steve Earl
Copperhead Road is a street in east Tennessee where people make moonshine. Earle wrote Copperhead road after a tough year. He spent New Year’s Day in jail after he assaulted a policeman, beginning At one point, he had an answering message with a subversive message. The lyrics of Copperhead Road tied all these experiences together.
18. Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses – Kathy Mattea
Jean and Paul Nelson wrote the song. It has become one of the most popular trucking songs, unlike many others that celebrate the wildness of being on the road. According to Songfacts, two brothers who wrote this song used their aunt and uncle’s story as inspiration. They often visited North Carolina and constantly heard their aunt asking when their uncle would return to travel the road together.
17. 9 to 5 – Dolly Parton
When Dolly Parton was asked to do the movie 9 to 5, she accepted on one condition; she could write the theme song. It was released a month before the film and stayed at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for a year. In 2017 the song went platinum. The title and lyrics represent the National Association of Working Women or 9 to 5. According to American Songwriter, 9 to 5 co-founder Karen Nussbaum said, “I think the song is brilliant … in the space of this wildly popular song with a great beat, Dolly Parton just puts it all together by herself.”
16. I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool – Barbara Mandrell
Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan wrote this song. During this time, country music was gaining popularity since Urban Cowboy had just been released. According to Wide Open Country, Mandrell talked about how they wrote the song and said it was a conversation with Fleming and Morgan. She told them about her childhood and when her classmates made fun of her for being so country. One of the lyrics in the song is “circling the drive-in and turning down George Jones.” They brought Jones into the studio to sing this line. Another standout on the song is that the applause is an overdub even though it sounds like it was recorded live.
15. Lady – Kenny Rogers
According to country thing daily, Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers co-wrote this 1980 song. It was released on Kenny Roger’s Greatest Hits album. It made history for the first record of the 80s song to chart on all four Billboard magazine singles charts; Hot Country Songs, Billboard Hot 100 Adult Contemporary, and Top Soul Singles. It reached number one on each of those charts except for top soul singles, where it went to number 42. According to Country Thang Daily, Richie talked about writing the song and collaborating with Kenny Rogers in an interview with Rolling Stone. He was happy because not only was it a huge hit, but it also created a longstanding friendship between the two artists.
14. Whoever’s In New England – Reba McEntire
On February 24th, 1987, Reba McEntire won the Best Country Vocal Performance at the Grammys. Additionally, the song’s video received Video of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards. According to Outsider, the song is about a woman who suspects her husband is cheating on her. After all, he frequently travels to New England, claiming it’s for business. This song was the debut single from Reba McEntire’s album of the same name. It became the singer’s first number one album on the Billboard Country Albums list, spending 23 weeks at the top and moving straight to number one. Many people consider this song Reba’s breakthrough hit.
13. Could I Have This Dance – Anne Murray
This song was featured on the Urban Cowboy Soundtrack and Ann Marie’s Greatest Hits album. It peaked at #33 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #3 on billboard’s adult contemporary charts. Additionally, it topped Billboard’s Hot Country Singles for a week in November 1980.
12. Rose Colored Glasses – John Conlee
Conley Co-wrote this song with George Baber and released it in 1978. It was the first single and title track from his debut album, peaking at #5 on the Hot Country Songs charts and #6 on the Canadian RPM Country Tracks.
11. God Bless The USA – Lee Greenwood
One thing about Lee Greenwood is that he has a deep love of the country. Although this song never became popular on the charts, it became Greenwood’s signature song. Throughout the years, many conservative politicians, including George Bush, have used it in their campaigns. After the September 11th attacks happened, it became a popular song on the airwaves to help the country band together. Later on, Lee Greenwood turned the music into a children’s book, Proud to be American, in 2015 since much of the song draws from his own childhood.
10. Don’t Close Your Eyes – Keith Whitley
This song was written by Bob McDill, who additionally recorded with Waylon Jennings and Pam Tillis. Since its recording, Don’t Close Your Eyes had become a classic slow song at Honky Tonks and roadside bars. When Whitley released it in 1988, it went to the top of the charts and created the trajectory that his career could have followed. Sadly he died a year later from alcohol poisoning. Years later, Kelly Pickler re-recorded the song from a female standpoint.
9. If It Don’t Come Easy – Tanya Tucker
Dave Gibson and Craig Camp wrote this song. It was released in February 1988 as the third signal single from Tucker’s album Love Me Like You Used To. Tucker’s ninth number one song on the country charts, staying at number one for 14 weeks.
8. A Country Boy Can Survive – Hank Williams Jr.
This song was written and recorded by Williams. It only reached number 2 on Billboard Top Country Singles yet gained popularity throughout the years. The song is a “glorification of old-fashioned values and to this day still characterizes Williams career.” When Williams recorded this song, it was unpopular because many people thought he was disparaging urban life. Thirty years after the song was released, the Twin Towers fell in New York City. Williams decided to rewrite the song’s lyrics as a tribute to America and named it America Will Survive. That song reached number 45 on the Billboard country charts, much like the original version Williams wrote this song as a tribute to the American people and their tenacity
7. Islands in the Stream – Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers
Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees originally wrote this song for Marvin Gaye but later gave it to Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. The title of the song came from a novel by Ernest Hemingway. The song replaced Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart at number one on the pop charts. It was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
6. Slow Hand – Conway Twitty
Slow Hand was written by John Bettis and Michael Clarke and initially recorded by The Pointer Sisters in 1981. Conway Twitty recorded it a year later, changing very little on the song. His version topped the Billboard Hot Country Charts for two weeks and was his last multi-week number one song.
5. He Stopped Loving Her Today – George Jones
Bobby Braddock and Curly Putnam wrote this song. George Jones released it in 1980, the first single from his album I Am What I Am. Many people believe this is the greatest country song of all time, and it made it to number 4 on Rolling Stones list up 100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time.
4. The Highwaymen – Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristopherson, and Waylon Jennings
This song was first recorded by Jimmy Webb in 1977. Additionally, it was recorded by Glen Campbell in 1979. Then, in 1984, the power country group recorded it because they wanted a project to work on together. Their version of the song is the only one that made it to the top of the Billboard Charts, reaching number one. The song won a Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 1985.
3. I Will Always Love You – Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton wrote this for Porter Wagner. As she sang the song to him, she started crying. After listening to her sing the music, Wagner helped her produce her next record and even performed alongside her at the Grand Ole Opry. According to Do You Remember, Parton sang to Porter the day he died. Parton also said, “it’s saying just because I’m going doesn’t mean I won’t love you. I appreciate you, and I hope you do great, and I appreciate everything you’ve done, but I’m out of here.”
2. All My Ex’s Live in Texas – George Strait
This song was written by Sanger D. Shafer and his wife, Lyndia. The piece was Strait’s eleventh number one single and was nominated for Best Male Country Vocal Performance at the 1988 Grammys. Shafer said, “this song is a true story, kind of. I changed the names to protect the guilty.”
1. Always On My Mind – Willie Nelson
The song was co-written by Johnny Christopher, Marc James, and Dwyane Carson. It was nominated for Song of the Year, Single of the Year, and Grammy awards by the Country Music Association. Additionally, Willie Nelson won the Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance, Best Country Song, and Song of the year. In 2014, The Pet Shop Boy’s version of the song was voted the best cover by BBC music.