I didn't get out of the house much in 1980. I had a two-year-old and a four-year-old at home and up 'til May I was working part-time at a retail store ~ and by "part-time", I mean three or so hours a few weeknights and six hours on Saturdays. We needed to supplement our meager income, yet I wasn't comfortable leaving my children in the hands of a stranger. Thus, I found an evening job at a recently-erected catalog store located approximately one minute away from my house. Looking back, the pay was barely worth the gas fumes it took to motor there, and while I did get a ten per cent discount on merchandise, I really couldn't afford to buy anything. Like every job I've ever had, I only landed this one because I possessed one (just one) of the skills listed on the job description ~ I knew how to run a cash register. Thinking back over my long and varied career, if I had (or could bullshit through) at least one of the required competencies, I was pretty good at glossing over the ones I didn't have**.
**Note to job-seekers: Learn how to type.
By May I'd landed a high-paying (for my town and my skill set) job as a Communications Clerk at the hospital where I'd delivered my boys. I think my success lay again in my typing skills, plus I was interviewed by a lovely, compassionate lady, who may have noted my earnestness (I really needed to make more money). My shift was from 3:00 to 10:00 p.m., which eliminated the need for paid child care, although my live-in caretaker wasn't necessarily vigilant. I loved that job. It was right up my alley. I worked on the medical floor, transcribing doctors' orders, getting the necessary forms ready for each patient, scheduling surgeries for the next day, preparing menu orders, assigning rooms to new admissions. I was often called upon to help lift or reposition patients due to staff shortages. I found the entire medical world fascinating. Plus, I even managed to sock a little money away every two weeks in my hospital credit union account to save up for a yearly vacation.
Occasionally, my mom invited me to see a movie with her, which was odd because she and I weren't the best of friends. I guess my older sister must have been busy. We saw Coal Miner's Daughter together that year, and in 1977 Saturday Night Fever, which made me slink down in my seat when I got to witness the "sex in a car" scene with my mom. In 1980 (again for unknown reasons) my dad and I saw Ordinary People together. The film was great, but afterward I had to listen to Dad enumerating the many ways the film's cold mother reminded him of Mom. All in all, my movie outings with my parents were uncomfortable. But Mom and I also caught Urban Cowboy, which began with an uptempo Charlie Daniels song accompanying the scene of a black pickup barreling down a dusty country road. The film was mediocre at best, and the music mostly ehh. But, oh, what a fad that movie wrought.
I'm curious as to whether any of those Urban Cowboy tracks made the top ten this week. My source is the American Country Countdown Wiki. If you've been reading along, you know my rules:
- I review each single as a first-time listener.
- I must listen to the entire track before offering my critique.
- I stick with the Top Ten only, because this is unbelievably time-consuming.
- I do my best to find music videos. If all else fails, I use a video of the recorded song
Grab that mechanical bull by the horns! Let's go!
#10 ~ Pecos Promenade ~ Tanya Tucker
As 1980 songs go, this is okay. I like the fiddles and the two-step beat and (of course) the singer has plenty of chops and attitude. The familiar voice of her (reputed) boyfriend can be heard singing one line ~ "needs a cowboy". This track would be a great one to dance to in a country bar, if I ever had the chance to dance in a country bar, though it doesn't match the quality of Tanya's earlier hits. People Magazine tells me she's apparently going through a period of abandon right now. I hope she gets her mojo back in the future.
#9 ~ Steppin' Out ~ Mel Tillis
I'm willing to bet that the 2022 me will have no recollection of this track, even though I apparently own the album from which it came. For some reason this song reminds me of something a future country star who I'm imagining is named George might record. It's got a nice shuffle beat and the requisite country instrumentation. I don't even have to guess whether Mel wrote it, but it's a filler song. It really says nothing new and worse, doesn't say the old in an interesting way. I'm a huge Mel Tillis fan, but it's no wonder I won't remember it.
#8 ~ Hard Times ~ Lacy J. Dalton
I don't know this gal, but I'm not a fan of the tremulo. For my musical taste, this track has nothing to recommend it. It seems important to the singer to belt out those lyrics, but she slaps on a nothing tom-tom accompaniment. Apparently Bobby Braddock, who is a much better writer than this song demonstrates, penned the tune. And unfortunately, it's so unremarkable that I've already forgotten it.
#7 ~ Lady ~ Kenny Rogers
Oh, is this the one written by Lionel Richie? That explains a lot. Kenny has apparently been able to hustle the country music charts, I guess on the strength of his actual country hits.
Disclaimer: I saw Kenny Rogers in concert one summer on vacation with my immediate family and my parents. We were in Duluth, Minnesota, and there are only so many times one can traverse the boardwalk and wave at the ore ships that breach the harbor. My mom learned from the local paper that Kenny was appearing at the waterfront arena, so we purchased last-minute tickets. I honestly wouldn't even remember the show except for that white suit.
I don't hate Kenny Rogers, but I can't say I'm a fan of even his country tracks. It's just that "you gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em" is so ubiquitous that's it's turned into an earworm.
And I certainly am not a fan of this. The Commodores probably could have done it better, and at least they'd stay in their lane. I'm a country fan, so...
#6 ~ Old Habits ~ Hank Williams, Jr.
Was this melody cribbed from Merle Haggard?
I fully admit my bias. I rarely like anything Hank does, and yes, I did walk out on his concert once in the 70's. That said, his uptempo songs are far better than this. It's dull and not in his wheelhouse. I don't know what else to say about this. It's a nothing.
#5 ~ I Believe In You ~ Don Williams
Don Williams is kind of the Perry Como of the eighties. He's impossibly laid back, which is actually a nice contrast to the more bombastic tracks spun by local DJ's. And Don picked a good one to record, written by Roger Cook and Sam Hogin. It definitely confers a vibe, a "snuggle under a blanket", "sip hot cocoa" ambience, and what's wrong with that?
What the song has going for it: First, melody, Second, singer. Third, memorable chorus. Fourth, a nice warm feeling. I think this is one that will be remembered.
#4 ~ Could I Have This Dance ~ Anne Murray
Ahh, Urban Cowboy weighs in.
I read somewhere that Anne recorded this in a lower register because it was supposed to be a duet with Kenny Rogers. I like it as it is.
The first thing one can say about this track is that it is country. The second thing is, Anne Murray is one of the seminal voices of her generation. Thirdly, I'm a sucker for waltzes. This could and most likely will be the first wedding dance of just-married couples everywhere. The lyrics are lovely and the melody hits the sweet spot. Good songs don't have to be complicated; just honest.
#3 ~ I'm Not Ready Yet ~ George Jones
Like the Mel Tillis track, I'm willing to bet that I'll have zero recollection of this forty years in the future. It's got the required Jones recitation, which is kind of a lazy affectation, unless the song is Detroit City. The melody is pedestrian, the sentiment has been recounted countless times, in much better ways. Granted, unlike other die-hard country fans, I don't think George Jones is the best thing that's ever happened to country music, but I like a ton of his songs. Just not this one.
#2 ~ On The Road Again ~ Willie Nelson
The first two or three times one hears this song, it's fine. Pedestrian, but fine. The third through the nine hundred and ninety-ninth time, it becomes grating. For a master songwriter, this must have been a throwaway written for his bandmates on the bus. A lark. Then somebody hollered out, "Hey! You should record this!" And the rest is history. I imagine that Willie will collect tons of royalties from all the future commercials that'll use this track. Everything from cars to first-aid kits (?) to probably dog food. An amateur songwriter could pen something like this, but he'd be afraid everyone would laugh at him. Kudos, though, Willie, for your success!
#1 ~ Theme From The Dukes Of Hazzard (Good Ol' Boys) ~ Waylon Jennings
I have a four-year old this year (1980) who somehow knows when it's Friday, at which time he plops himself on his stomach in front of the TV, his chin propped on his hand, to watch his favorite show of all time, The Dukes Of Hazzard. He, of course, doesn't know whose hands on the guitar are being shown on the screen, but his mom does. He's far more interested in Luke and Bo and the General Lee, which magically flies through the air in every episode. He knows all the characters, including the one he refers to as "Roscoe Peeko Train".
I'm assuming most adults are like me, and only tolerate the goofy show for their kids, but I do appreciate hearing Waylon Jennings on my TV once a week.
Waylon wrote the song, and it's got something that the monotonous On The Road Again doesn't. Number one, it's got Waylon Jennings, one of country's legendary singers; but it's also got changes, appealing instrumentation, and creative lyrics. It's far more interactive than simply snoring along the highway on cruise control. This one is barreling down the road, feeling every bump, offering a wave (or the finger, depending on the situation) to fellow travelers.
Sure, the lyrics don't exactly relate to the average man's or woman's circumstances, but it still makes them feel good when they hear it.
Much to my surprise, only one track from Urban Cowboy appears in this week's Top Ten. I'm not dumping on the movie's soundtrack. There were actually several good songs inserted into the film; not just Could I Have This Dance. "Darlin'" by Bonnie Raitt, "Look What You've Done To Me" by Boz Scaggs, Charlie Daniels' "Devil Went Down To Georgia", and even "Love The World Away" from Kenny Rogers and "Here Comes The Hurt Again", a Mickey Gilley tune.
Unfortunately, of those, only Charlie Daniels hit the jackpot. Instead we got Johnny Lee's "Lookin' For Love" ad nauseum. And it beget an unsavory fad that eclipsed more quality country songs.
Still, this week included three A's. I think that's a record. Sometimes we forget that certain musical times were better than our cluttered brains recall.