As Kristy covered some time ago: 1983 was a year of some kind of musical magic. Kristy’s original realization of the disproportionate amount of awesome that came out of pop/rock in 1983 led to me to look back at country, since that’s the music I was being exposed to–almost exclusively–at that time. I was pleasantly surprised–and slightly weirded out–to find that the statistically improbably percentage of musical gems was present in the country world just as in the pop/rock arena. And, like Kristy, I found that the overwhelming majority of the songs listed were basically the soundtrack to some of my earliest memories.
Now, the nature of the country niche means that, unlike the songs Kristy identified before, not all the songs will have as wide a following. But, part of the thing that amazed me in a look at just the Billboard country charts, were the number of songs that did break out of the genre. The biggest example is “Islands In A Stream” (which was number-one on 3 different US Billboard charts, and several foreign charts including Austria’s…really? Austria???). Honestly, if you haven’t heard Kenny and Dolly on this at least once, I really don’t know what kind of intergalactic odyssey you’ve been on for the past 28 years.
But that wasn’t the only one that tends to get some love outside of country fans: this was the year that Shelley West made sure we knew that “Jose Cuervo” was a friend of ours (oh, do I EVER beg to differ with that statement). Anne Murray was just looking for “A Little Good News” (which has a nice, timeless message if you can overlook the whole part about “Bryant Gumble was talking about the fighting in Lebanon”) and at a time when everyone was worried about Japan taking over our jobs (yeah, remember when they were the global market threat?), the Oak Ridge Boys assured us their baby was “American Made.” And somehow a very bizarre assortment of my friends who generally hate this genre learned that “Houston (Means That I’m One Day Closer To You)” from Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Bros.
For those more familiar with the country genre, there’s plenty that might not be known to the outside, but which that you should recognize as absolutely classic fare. In 1983 not only were you getting the ascension of today’s mega stars like Reba McEntire (“Can’t Even Get The Blues” was the first number one of the year), and George Strait (“A Fire I Can’t Put Out” was #1 in September) coming in with a neotraditionalist sound (which George has kept and Reba has mostly ditched), but the generally epic!fail of the country/pop crossover of the 70s had finally ripened into something awesome with the likes of Kenny, Dolly, Alabama (“The Closer You Get” although, it’s arguable that Alabama had some neotraditionalist tendencies because you also have “Dixieland Delight” the same year), Janie Fricke (“He’s a Heartache Looking For a Place to Happen”) and even Charley Pride’s “Why Baby Why” (because, yes, kids, there have been black country singers well before Darius Rucker). You were also still getting the outlaw country, in particular the absolutely classic musical epic of “Pancho and Lefty” from Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson (I still remember the music video for that one–it was much higher quality than many videos of that time). Even songs that didn’t make #1 were awesome (honestly, until now I never knew that George Strait’s signature song “Amarillo by Morning” was not a number one in the US).
Maybe it was this unique transition and overlap, or maybe there was just some kind of weird planetary alignment, but something was just right in 1983, and while the rest of the 80s were also (in my far-less-than-humble opinion) fantastic for this niche of the musical market, something about 1983 was just a stand out.