Best Country Songs of the 1980s
Just like big hair and Spandex, country music was alive and well in the 1980s. Celebrating true love, simple pleasures and American pride, The Boot counts down ten of the songs that made the ’80s a musical decade to remember.
10. ‘Islands in the Stream,’ Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton
This endlessly upbeat love song has Kenny and Dolly inviting each other to “sail away with me to another world,” which is exactly what they did. Written by the Bee Gees, the song took Kenny and Dolly to the top of both the country and the pop charts in 1983.
Pining for four former flames (including one named ‘Dimples’) living in various cities throughout the Lone Star State, George sang this all the way to No.1 in 1987, right after his chart-topping hit about oceanfront property in Arizona. After leaving all his exes wondering of his whereabouts after breaking their hearts — it’s rumored he’s passed away — George reveals he’s “alive and well in Tennessee.”
8. ‘I’ll Still Be Loving You,” Restless Heart
No doubt played at countless weddings in the late ’80s, this assurance of eternal bliss brought the band its first hit in the pop world in 1987. With promises of love “till the sun doesn’t shine” and “till time stands still,” this everlasting love song still finds a home on the airwaves today.
This 1987 Grammy winner about enduring love moves from youth to old age. Promising “forever” love 12 times throughout the song, the uptempo hit was a romantic backdrop for country line dances all across America.
This anthemic 1981 song, featuring guest vocals by George Jones, pays homage to Barbara’s country roots in an era when all her friends were “digging rock ‘n’ roll an’ rhythm ‘n’ blues.” The second single off her ‘Live’ album, it’s credited with helping her take home the trophy for Entertainer of the Year at the 1981 CMA Awards.
This classic love ballad says that words aren’t necessary between two people in love. Reaching No.1 in 1988, less than six months before Keith’s untimely death from alcohol poisoning, it became a Top 5 hit for Alison Krauss and Union Station, who recorded it in 1994 as part of a Keith Whitley tribute album. More recently, in 1999, Irish singer Ronan Keating brought it back to life in the UK, both releasing it as a single and performing it for the Notting Hill soundtrack.
Recorded more than 300 times, by everyone from Elvis Presley to Fantasia Barrino, the 1982 song became one of Willie Nelson’s biggest hits. Admitting there were “little things I should have said and done,” the song longs for someone whose “sweet love” may have already moved on.
3. ‘I Will Always Love You,’ Dolly Parton
Written by Dolly and originally a hit in 1974, this 1982 remake captures the emotions of someone deeply in love but who realizes the relationship is ending. Recalling “bittersweet memories” while repeatedly promising to “always love you,” the emotionally drenched song gained a new audience 10 years later when Whitney Houston recorded it for the blockbuster movie ‘The Bodyguard,’ in which she starred with Kevin Costner. Dolly returned to the song for a third time three years later, recording it as a duet with Vince Gill.
The song, penned by Lee, became a Top 10 hit in 1984 and saw a huge resurgence after the devastating events of Sept. 11, 2001. Suddenly, the 17-year-old track became a mainstay on radio again, with Americans embracing its patriotic message as never before. The tune experienced yet another revival in 2003, when American troops invaded Iraq.
In one of the most tragic love songs ever written, a lovelorn man who promised he would love a woman till he died managed to kept his oath — loving her until “they placed a wreath upon his door.” The song resonated with listeners and won a Grammy, an ACM award, and a CMA Award for Song of the Year in both 1980 and 1981.