The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [April 1987]

No single cover for "Rose In Paradise" since Waylon is too badass for that.
No single cover for “Rose In Paradise” since Waylon is too badass for that.

This is the past pulse of mainstream country music. Each week, I take a look at the Billboard Country Airplay Chart (or, “Hot Country Songs” as it used to be called) from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the past top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. The grade I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9 [+4], 8 [+3], 7 [+2], 6 [+1], 5 [0], 4 [-1], 3 [-2], 2 [-3], 1 [-4], 0 [-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the past state of mainstream country music and determine if it was better or worse compared to now. To see the full list of the top 30 country airplay songs for this week, click here. This week, I’m going to go all the way back to the eighties. Since I can only find the top 25 for anything pre-1990, the highest and lowest scores will be +125 and -125, respectively. This week I will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Hot Country Songs from April 25th, 1987.

  1. Waylon Jennings – “Rose In Paradise” +4 [Best Song] (Waylon’s final number one will be thirty years old next year. Hard to believe)
  2. T. Graham Brown – “Don’t Go To Strangers” +3
  3. Michael Johnson – “The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder” +3
  4. Michael Martin Murphey & Holly Dunn – “A Face In The Crowd” +3
  5. The Trio – Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris – “To Know Him Is To Love Him” +4 (three females on one song?!? Damn, we can barely get three women on the charts these days!)
  6. The O’ Kanes – “Can’t Stop My Heart From Loving You” +2 (Props for the accordion in the chorus)
  7. Kathy Mattea – “You’re The Power” +2
  8. The Oak Ridge Boys – “It Takes A Little Rain”  +2 (Before they liked “doing it” to country songs)
  9. Don Williams – “Senorita” +2
  10. Reba McEntire – “Let The Music Lift You Up” +2
  11. Steve Earle – “Goodbye’s All We’ve Got Left” +3 (80’s Steve was SOOOO good)
  12. Conway Twitty – “Julia” +3
  13. Judy Rodman – “Girls Ride Horses Too” +2
  14. The Bellamy Brothers – “Kids Of The Baby Boom” +4
  15. John Conlee – “Domestic Life” +3
  16. Dan Seals – “I Will Be There” +1 [Least Good Song]
  17. Billy Joe Royal – “Old Bridges Burn Slow” +2
  18. Gary Morris – “Plain Brown Wrapper” +2
  19. The Forester Sisters – “Too Many Rivers” +2
  20. Lyle Lovett – “God Will” +3
  21. Moe Bandy – “‘Till I’m Too Old To Die Young” +3
  22. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – “Baby’s Got A Hold On Me” +2
  23. Highway 101 – “The Bed You Made For Me” +3
  24. Keith Whitley  “Hard Livin'” +3
  25. T.G. Sheppard – “You’re My First Lady” +3

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: +66

Once again, it’s nice to see a positive score on this thing. Not as good as last week, mostly because there’s a lot of cheesy love songs with sleepy production. Still, nothing inherently bad here. When you have songs by Waylon, Keith Whitley, and Don Williams, how can you really complain?

As always, if you have any questions as to why I gave a song a certain grade feel free to ask me. Also, let me know what you guys think of the chart in the comments!

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18 thoughts on “The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [April 1987]

  1. Great chart! My favorites would have to be Waylon, The Trio and Keith Whitley. You’re right about the cheesy songs, as this was when they started to really get played more. Early 80s there wasn’t so many of them. Also interesting to look at this chart because this was right before the class of ’89, which completely changed the makeup of who was played on the radio and the direction it would take.

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    • One of the things that sometimes is lost is that yes the class of ’89 was huge but if you look at 1988 that was the year of Keith Whitley and Randy Travis who were with George Strait laying the ground work for the change that was coming. Between this chart and early 1989 Travis would hit #1 with ‘Forever…’, ‘I Told You So’, ‘Honky Tonk Moon’, and ‘Deeper Than The Holler’ as well as a couple others and mid 1988 to mid 1989 was the peak of Keith Whitley’s success as ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’, ‘When You Say Nothing At All’, ‘I’m No Stranger To The Rain’ and ‘I wonder Do You Think Of Me’ all hit #1.

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  2. Thoughts:

    I agree this isn’t the greatest list of songs you’ll ever see but this chart is from April 25, 1987 and if one were to look further down that chart you would find the debut of ‘Forever And Ever, Amen’ by Randy Travis which was one of the game changing country hits of all time. It was a HUGE hit which greatly expanded the possibilities for traditional country music and broke the fever spell of some of the ‘cheesy love songs with sleepy production’ as you rightly call them.

    It’s also interesting to see so many great and highly successful performers with some of their most forgettable singles here like Don Williams, Conway Twitty, Reba McEntire, Dan Seals and with his last top ten after a great run John Conlee.

    Also not as big a fan of ‘Kids Of The Baby Boom’ as you are and I would recommend checking out the Bellamy Brothers catalogue as songs like ‘Let Your Love Flow’ (a huge #1 pop hit for them in 1976), ‘Sugar Daddy’, ‘Dancin’ Cowboys’, ‘Redneck Girl’ and a great song called ‘Old Hippie’.

    I would say this was a time when mainstream country was adrift and waiting for something and it was about to come big time with Randy Travis and George Strait (‘All My Ex’s Live In Texas’ debuted the next week) really becoming the king of country music.

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    • ‘Old Hippie’

      I have said it before and will say it again:

      This is one of my favorite songs ever. So timely and culturally relevant when it came out, and it has aged very well. I wish the Bellamys had done more songs like this and fewer songs like “If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body…”

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      • ‘So timely and culturally relevant’

        Yep I remember a few guys like that when I was growing up in the 80s.

        David Bellamy who was the primary writer of most of their hits is a talented guy.

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  3. “‘Let Your Love Flow’ (a huge #1 pop hit for them in 1976)”

    The song was (& is) a huge hit in Germany (& other german-speaking countries) too. “Ein Bett im Kornfeld” is the name of the german version (“A Bed In The Cornfield”). Jürgen Drews is still a big star in Germany. The 70+ year old singer is known as the “King of Mallorca” & is the most successful “party-singer” on Mallorca. One of his songs (“Don’t Want Nobody”) went to #79 (Billboard Hot 100) in 1981. He used the name J.D. Drews.

    Not a bad week for good music:
    Judy Rodman – “Girls Ride Horses Too” is one of my all-time favourites & is a big fat +5!
    Dan Seals – “I Will Be There” is (like all other Dan Seals songs) an all-time favourite of my mom & big fat +5!
    Michael Martin Murphey & Holly Dunn – “A Face In The Crowd” is…well you know…+5.

    There was a place on the charts for country-pop (T.G. Sheppard), traditional country music (Keith Whitley), female artists (Forrester Sisters), older acts (Moe Bandy), living legends (Conway Twitty), unique voices (T. Graham Brown) & former pop stars (Billy Joe Royal).
    Now we have Sam Hunt, Chris Lane, FGL, LoCash, Pop Tarts, Jason Aldean, Tucker Beathard, OD, P!nk, Thomas Rhett & LANco.

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  4. The presence of the Dolly/Linda/Emmylou TRIO collaboration here is a testament to how important these three women were then and remain to this day to a lot of enterprising female artists, and it’s a good place to note that more of that collaborative energy will be unleashed in September with the unveiling of previously unreleased TRIO material from the three of them. It’s a bittersweet thing, of course, because Linda can no longer sing due to Parkinson’s Disease. But it is a great reminder of what they wrought.

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  5. I remember all but about two of these songs and am a big fan of most of them. I would agree that “Rose in Paradise” is the best of them…

    ..but I would have to designate John Conlee’s “Domestic Life” as the worst. I absolutely adore the vast majority of his work, but I always thought this song was incredibly cheesy, to say the least. It sounds like something Lonestar would have done right along with “My Front Porch Looking In” and “Mr. Mom.” That song is just bad on its own merits, and absolutely horrendous when you compare it to his singles from from 1978 to about 1986. His run of singles through those years, in terms of quality, was unequaled by any of his contemporaries. “Backside of Thirty,” “Miss Emily’s Picture,” “Busted,” “I Don’t Remember Loving You,” “As Long As I’m Rockin With You,” “Old School…all stone-cold classics. 20 Greatest Hits or Classics would be a fine place to start if you’re not familiar with anything beyond “Rose Colored Glasses.”

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    • I agree and as I mentioned above ‘Domestic Life’ was the last of his 22 top ten hits between 78 and 87 so that may speak to the quality of this song. Another of his I always liked was ‘Friday Night Blues’.

      He belongs on the list of underappreciated singers along with Johnny Rodriguez, John Anderson and Dan Seals These guys didn’t win a bunch of awards but they put out some damn good music in their day.

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      • Dan Seals is another favorite of mine. A lot of his stuff was more pop-flavored, yes, but it was quality music. “Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold)” is one of the greatest songs ever.

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        • Could put together one hell of a compilation of mainstream radio hits with a rodeo theme. Just from the 80s would have ‘Amarillo…’, ‘Everything That Glitters’, ‘Much Too Young’ etc.

          Good stuff.

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      • I really like a lot of Dan Seals’ work and I’m a big John Anderson fan. It seems to me that Anderson should have been a much bigger star than he was, given his talent and the quality of his songs. I’m not sure why he wasn’t. His peak was before my time, so maybe he was bigger than I thought…

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        • John Anderson kind of had a strange career as he had a string of hits starting with ‘1959’ and including ‘Swingin’ which won the CMA Single of the Year Award in 1983 and then about 1985 his career went off the rails before having a huge resurgence starting in 1992 with hits like ‘Straight Tequila Night’ and ‘Seminole Wind’. The end result was a career with almost 60 chart hits and 20 top tens.

          A very good career for sure but never really reached that top tier for some reason.

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          • I got into John Anderson when I got into country music in the early 90’s. While he did have some very good songs in the 90’s, I prefer his older stuff, with “Your Lyin’ Blue Eyes,” “Wild and Blue” and “She Just Started Liking Cheatin’ Songs” being some of my favourites.

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  6. It’s interesting to compare that picture of Waylon and compare it to the typical “country” star album cover nowadays. Waylon looks like a man. The “stars” of today look like stalkers and child molesters.

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