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Good Country Music (1985-90): Going Country

Sunday Simmons ItcherIn 1985, the New York Times declared country music ‘dead’, but a whole host of new faces were about to prove it wasn’t true. All genres go through lulls in popularity, but the best was yet to come with Garth Brooks, Dwight Yoakam and more good country music in the years 1985-1990. ~ Sunday Simmons

Driving down to Dixie

When most thought the golden days of country began and ended with the likes of Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette and Johnny Cash, a new breed of country star had crept in on the heels of Dolly and Kenny – the urban cowboys.

As the eighties drew to an end, country music was no longer confined to a niche market, and future superstars were about to make their debuts.


Toe-Tapping Country Music Recommendations

Garth Brooks

Essential Album: ‘Garth Brooks’ (1989)

Yes my life is better left to chance // I could have missed the pain but I’d have had to miss the dance…

Arguably one of the best country music showmen, Garth Brooks released his debut album in 1989 to almost instant success. The album spawned four smash hit singles, and a follow up gig with Kenny Rogers gave Garth the chance to reach an even wider audience. Thus began Garth’s rise to superstardom.

But let’s go back to that debut album because it really is one of Garth’s finest moments.

From the moment ‘Not Counting on You’ kicks in with its relentless fiddle and foot-stomping beat, you know you’re in for a treat. By the time you reach the acoustic prettiness of ‘The Dance’, you’re likely to be hooked on Garth’s perfect country/pop style.

Of course, Garth went on to become a huge country music star but for me, it’s his debut album that has the biggest impact – there’s not a bad song on it, and Garth’s smooth, emotive vocal performance is just out of this world.

Alan Jackson

Essential Track: ‘Blue Blooded Woman’ (‘Here in the Real World’, 1989)

And she loves a violin, I love a fiddle // We go separate ways but we meet in the middle // Don’t see eye to eye but we’re hand in hand // A blue blooded woman and a redneck man…

With a career helped off the ground by country legend, Glen Campbell, Alan Jackson hit the ground running with his debut single ‘Blue Blooded Woman’ in 1989. Although it may not have made the biggest impact on the country charts, it did open the door for this honky tonk hero.

‘Blue Blooded Woman’ is one of those country tracks that swings from the opening bars, inviting you to get on your feet and clap your hands along with the fiddle and steel guitar while Alan’s friendly vocal style tells the tale of the blue blooded woman and her red necked man! If you’ve overlooked Alan Jackson, may I suggest you remedy that and check out his debut album for some pure honky tonk heaven.

Clint Black

Essential Track: ‘Killin’ Time’ (‘Killin’ Time’, 1989)

If I did the things I oughta // You still would not be mine // So I’ll keep a tight grip on the bottle // Gettin’ loose and killin’ time…

Clint Black’s debut album ‘Killin’ Time’ launched his career in a big way, boasting five hit singles and securing him a place in the country charts. Whilst this early success was never to be repeated in quite the same way, Clint remains a good, solid, swing-country artist.

I’ve said it before but there’s a huge storytelling element to country music, and for me, Clint Black is a mighty fine storyteller.

One of my favourite songs from ‘Killin’ Time’ is the title track. It’s catchy, easy on the ear and perfect for getting people on their feet. I absolutely love Clint’s vocal on it – there’s a rock n roll edge to his country boy voice that makes for good listening. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed!


Essential Track: ‘Too Rock for Country, Too Country for Rock N Roll’ (‘Roadhouses & Dance Halls’, 1988)

Yeah, when you’re out there on the floor // It don’t matter which way it goes // It ain’t too rock for country, too country for rock and roll…

To say Lonnie Mack’s single ‘Too Rock for Country…’ is autobiographical, is definitely an understatement!

Over the course on Lonnie’s career, he not only contributed massively to ensuring the lead guitar became the voice of rock music during the sixties, he also put his impressive shredding skills to use in other genres including blues, blue-eyed soul, gospel and, of course, country.

‘Too Rock for Country…’ is an absolute treat for the ears. It’s a catchy blend of rock n roll riffs and foot-stomping country twang, all wrapped up neatly with a kick-ass vocal and a scorching solo from Lonnie.

It’s good-time music – perfect for blaring out loud and singing along!

Lorrie Morgan

Essential Track: ‘Trainwreck of Emotion’ (‘Leave the Light On’, 1988)

I can see tomorrow’s headlines, ‘Heartbroke from blind devotion’ // Just another victim of a trainwreck of emotion…

Nashville country diva, Lorrie Morgan, launched her career during the late seventies, but it wasn’t until 1988 and the release of ‘Trainwreck of Emotion’ that she finally got her breakthrough and the attention she deserved.

‘Trainwreck of Emotion’ showcases Lorrie’s edgy style, and with her mane of bleach blonde hair and powerhouse vocal, it’s hard not to imagine how well she’d have suited a rockier genre. This is a kick-ass country track, with bags of attitude and a killer hook from an often overlooked lady of country.

Check out Lorrie’s album ‘Leave the Light On’ for more sassy eighties country!

Dwight Yoakam

Essential Album: ‘Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.’ (1988)

Now it’s guitars, Cadillacs, hillbilly music // And lonely, lonely streets that I call home // Yeah, my guitars, Cadillacs, hillbilly music // Is the only thing that keeps me hanging on…

When Dwight Yoakam’s urban cowboy style didn’t seem to be reaping any rewards in Nashville, he headed out to Los Angeles where his edgy, hillbilly, honky tonk sound would be better appreciated. Now lauded as a pioneer in ‘fringe’ country, his ground breaking sound has ensured his fans are as diverse as his music!

What’s not to love about Dwight Yoakam? Nothing. And his debut album ‘Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.’ belongs on any music lover’s playlist. I love that brand of rocking country music; it has elements of two of my favourite genres all wrapped up in one.

Dwight Yoakam’s country vocal with a rock ‘n roll backbone is guaranteed to get the party started.


And If You Really Want to Get into the Late Eighties Country Scene…

The eighties saw the continued rise to super stardom for two very talented country artists – Vince Gill and Reba McEntire. I can’t round this article off without at least mentioning two of the biggest names to hit the Billboard Country Hot 100 Chart during the end of the decade.

Reba McEntire got her glad rags on for ‘Fancy’ in 1989.

Vince Gill was hoping for a happy ending with ‘Cinderella’ in 1989.

I’ve loved writing this, having a wander back down those country roads I grew up knowing so well, so why not share your thoughts and let us know who you’d add. If you love country, why not check out the stars of the seventies in my article good country music 1970-1975, and get commenting!

Oi Oi, I’m Sunday Simmons, professional freelance writer and indie author. Born into a family of entertainers, musicians and artists, I chose the pen as my instrument at a young age and I’ve been scribbling stuff ever since. Hopefully some of it makes sense! Writing is my passion, and with three kids and plenty of pets, life is chaos and I love it.
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