Country Music History – Essential Releases of 1987, Part I
Did you tell her she was sleeping in the bed you made for me?
1. “80’s Ladies,” K.T. Oslin. I’m not sure there has ever been another Nashville equivalent to K.T. Oslin, a woman who became in star in her mid-forties by writing lyrics about aging and sexuality. Oslin had worked in theater, performed jingles, and had writing credits on country hits by Gail Davies and actress Sissy Spacek before being signed to RCA Records. “80’s Ladies” was Oslin’s breakthrough single, a Forrest Gump like look at a trio of schoolgirls turned divorcees and the changes they had seen throughout the decades. I doubt that I will write about another song in this series that addresses bra burning.
2. “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” George Strait. The Ex’s in Texas wasn’t a new concept in 1987 – Willie Nelson wondered “Who Put All My Ex’s in Texas” in 1968 and Johnny Gimble released “Under the X in Texas” in 1976. Songwriter Sanger Shafer was at a low point commercially during the early 1980s and had enrolled in a truck driving school. Straight sought out Sanger material and the former pupil of Lefty Frizzell had writing credits on the #1 singles “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind” and “All My Ex’s Live in Texas.” Irony fans might enjoy knowing that this entry was written with Sanger’s fourth wife. This winking look at lost loves and geographical escape became one of Strait’s signature songs. Sanger later said the song was essentially true, but he changed the names “to protect the guilty.”
3. “The Bed You Made for Me,” Highway 101. Moose Lake, Minnesota native Paulette Carlson worked clubs in her home state and North Dakota for years before trying her luck in Nashville. After recording three unsuccessful singles in Music City, she returned to Minnesota and was later discovered by Chuck Morris, who was the manager of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The band Highway 101 was put together to showcase Carlson’s talent and had immediate success with the Top Five single “The Bed You Made for Me,” a tune Carlson wrote. A classic cheating number, Carlson wonders if her straying man informed his conquest about the origins of her temporary pillow and headboard. On the punk rock side of the pop culture musical equation, The Descendents covered the same theme in 1987 on “Clean Sheets.”
4. “Born to Boogie,” Hank Williams Jr. Junior’s last #1 single may have been his best one – autobiographical (of course), over the top, brassy, a pure pretentious pleasure. Bragging about meeting Elvis and Marilyn and drinking whiskey by the gallon, this is one of the few instances where Junior’s ego and material met on the same plane. He managed six more Top Ten singles from 1987 to 1990, before getting completely lost in his cartoon reactionary image. Soon enough, a much more authentic and talented Williams would hit the scene – Lucinda.
5. “Cowboy Man,” Lyle Lovett. Lyle Lovett was raised near Houston and went to college at Texas A&M, becoming friends with Robert Earl Keen in the process. Lovett, more of a singer/songwriter than a traditional country act, was signed by MCA Records in 1986 and quickly gained attention from his unusual looks and sardonic wit. The Top Ten single “Cowboy Man” was Lyle’s highest charting effort, a reinterpretation of Western swing where the narrator decides to become a cowboy, just to make a cowgirl (and himself) happy. Lovett would later embrace his lack of mainstream success, “I joke that I’ve never been burdened by having an actual hit. There’s something to that. My records have sold enough to make the record company money to help me keep my job. But I’ve never had anything so firmly ingrained in the mind of the public that I’m expected to repeat it.”
6. “Crazy from the Heart,” The Bellamy Brothers. The Bellamys were a bit ahead of their audience in 1987, the title track to their “Country Rap” only reached #31 on the country charts. Of course, they’ve never been confused with Parliament/Funkadelic in the groove department. “Crazy from the Heart,” another slice of their comfortable and definitive ‘70s soft rock sound, put The Brothers back into the Top Five. This David Bellamy/Don Schlitz composition chronicles a broken heart that only gets worse in the darkness. The long charting duo was a pure singles acts by the late 1980s. Their 1987 “Crazy from the Heart” album included three Top Ten singles, still only crawled up to #50 on the country album chart.
7. “Crazy over You,” Foster & Lloyd. Nashville songwriters Radney Foster and Bill Lloyd wrote the Sweethearts of the Rodeo #7 single “Since I Found You” in 1986 and were rewarded with their own record deal. “Crazy over You” was their first single and their most successful, a #4 hit. With a booming drum sound and Sun Studio guitar licks, Foster & Lloyd had a sound that compared favorably to Dwight Yoakam’s early material. They returned to the Top Ten with the 1960’s jangle pop inspired “Sure Thing,” the riding commercial momentum “What Do You Want from Me This Time,” and the Bakersfield twang of “Fair Shake.” When the calendar turned to 1989, their fame ended as quickly as it came.
8. “Crying over You,” Rosie Flores. Rosie Flores grew up in Texas and San Diego, performing in punk rock bands and as an acoustic guitar act while in California. Her 1987 debut album was her only major label effort and it was produced by Dwight Yoakam guitarist Peter Anderson. Rosie managed to both sound contemporary and like a traditionalist on the James Intveld composition “Crying over You.” Vocally, Rosie is in the tradition of strong female singers like Wanda Jackson (she’s covered “Funnel of Love”) and Loretta Lynn. Her quirkiness and breadth of musical interests may have kept her from the audience she deserved, but her spirit and passion always shine through.
9. “Do Ya,” K.T. Oslin. “Do you lie awake thinking I’m the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?” K.T. Oslin wasn’t pulling any punches on this long term relationship request for validation. Musically, it may have been light pop pretending to be country, but I’m not sure anyone has ever written about mature relationships in the genre with more honesty than K.T. Years later she talked about her thought process on writing and it relates to this #1 single, “I like to write stories rather than just ‘I love you and I’m going to love you forever.’ I want to know, ‘Why? Why are you going to love me forever?’ I try to write songs about people and real situations and to make them dramatic because it keeps it interesting for me.”
10. “Forever and Ever, Amen,” Randy Travis. Paul Overstreet went from sleeping in his car in Nashville to being one of the city’s most successful songwriters. He also had a string of nine Top Ten hits as a performer from 1988 to 1991. Still, he and Don Schlitz were pitching their material through the normal business process in 1987 – they hoped Travis would cut “Forever and Ever, Amen” but didn’t have dreams of it becoming his signature song. Lyrically inspired by “The Lord’s Prayer,” “Forever and Ever, Amen,” is a pledge of eternal love delivered with a smooth matter of fact confidence. Clever without being cute, devoted without being cloying, a perfectly written and delivered country love song.
11. “Fourth of July,” Dave Alvin. Life long roots rocker Dave Alvin always worked in multiple genres from punk to country to blues to Americana music. He spent the first half of the 1980s as a member of The Blasters, one of that decade’s best rock bands. He later joined the Los Angeles based punk band X and that group first recorded “Fourth of July” in 1987. Alvin recorded the song again for his 1987 debut solo album, sounding somewhat like Springsteen recounting a love affair gone bad while the world is immersed in fireworks. Alvin would never appear on the country charts as a solo artist, but did get airplay as a songwriter when Dwight Yoakam covered The Blasters’ “Long White Cadillac” in 1989.
12. “Kids of the Baby Boom,” The Bellamy Brothers. The last #1 single that The Bellamy Brothers had starts like one of those icky Statler Brothers’ nostalgia numbers – namechecking Mickey Mouse and hula hoops and John Kennedy. Those pop culture touchstones are a set up for unexpected left hook. It’s a song about a nation obsessed with materialism and comfortably disconnected with reality. The Bellamys not only get points for being subversive, but they also rhymed “Rolling Stones” with “George Jones” four years before Alan Jackson did.