This feature of the “best hit songs” has been something I’ve been promising to do for quite a few months now. Back in April when I wrote somewhere else, Kyle of Kyle’s Korner Blog requested me to take a look at this particular year.
For those who don’t know, I’ve usually based these lists off of whatever Billboard shows for its year end charts. For the most part, it’s worked out nicely.
To be blatantly honest though, when I initially looked at Billboard‘s year end chart for this particular year, not only didn’t I know most of the “big” hits of this year, but most of the ones I did know were mediocre fluff.
As such, I expanded my search and spent a lot of time running through every single released in this given year. While I couldn’t come up with a top 10 list based off Billboard if my life depended on it, when I looked at Wikipedia’s list, my search expanded to the point where I had to make some painful cuts. In fact, out of all the lists I’ve done, this was by far the hardest to narrow down.
That could be attributed to two things. For one, this is the first one of these I’ve done in several months, but more importantly, this time around I’m not basing these lists just off my personal preferences. No, instead I’m going to take more of an objective look at these charts, combining the subjectivity of my personal preferences with a historical look at what the actual best and biggest hits of this year were.
As for how 1987 was in country music otherwise, I’d say it’ll ultimately be remembered as a year of transition for the genre. There were a lot of bland artists making bland music at the time, but on the other hand there was also an incredible amount of variety resulting in some cool music. Most of the class of ’86 were transitioning into newer material that admittedly didn’t shine as brightly as their debut (well, for the most part, although two out of the three will prove that wrong later on). Country music was in a strange phase of figuring out what was next (gee, doesn’t that sound familiar?), so overall I’d say that while 1987 was a good year overall, it was also an odd one that I don’t have much to say about.
With that said, I can’t start my list without first indicating some honorable mentions (listed in no particular order). Let’s get started!
- Kathy Mattea – “Train Of Memories”
- Highway 101 – “Whiskey, If You Were A Woman”
- Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt (Trio) – “Those Memories Of You”
- Randy Travis – “No Place Like Home”
- Foster & Lloyd – “Crazy Over You”
- Don Williams – “I’ll Never Be In Love Again”
On with the list!
10. Holly Dunn – “Love Someone Like Me”
No. 10 on any of these lists is always the hardest to fill. Ultimately I had it down between this song, Don Williams’ “I’ll Never Be In Love Again” for being one of his more underrated cuts and Foster and Lloyd’s “Crazy Over You” for being incredibly tight instrumentally. There was just something about “Love Someone Like Me” that pushed it over the edge for me though.
Shrouded in a darkness eclipsed by minor chords and a haunting vocal delivery, “Love Someone Like Me” is simply a stunning song. The simplicity of the lyrics gives it an extra weight, letting the mood capture you over the sentiment, something that’s effectively different for this type of song. Female artists in country music are usually known for creating unique songs, and this is no exception.
9. Steve Earle – “Nowhere Road”
Sure, with a peak of No. 20, one could argue this wasn’t really a hit at all. But when Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson thinks it’s good enough to record for Jennings’ own album, you’ve definitely got a darn good song on your hands. With its punchy rhythm and its nihilistic lyrical content that could only be penned by Earle, this was a breath of fresh air on the charts at the time. But hey, speaking of Jennings …
8. Waylon Jennings – “Rose In Paradise”
Ah the days when a densely packed story song such as this could reach No. 1 on the charts …
Anyway, what would become Jennings’ final No. 1 hit was certainly a heck of a way to go out. In a genre that’s mostly known for being male, male and male, it’s nice to hear a song such as this where the female character escapes her oppressor’s shackles and quite literally leaves him to wither away in his mansion without her (the play on words here is also incredible and can’t really be described accurately by me). It’s a tad slicker than his outlaw material, but it’s still got a murky edge to it that could only be Jennings’ and his alone.
7. Keith Whitley – “Homecoming ’63”
My Lord this is smooth as peanut butter. Sure, it may show traces of that now badly dated ’80s production in certain spots, but “Homecoming ’63” adds an extra layer with those horns to give it an incredibly smooth feel. Plus, when you combine this type of production with Whitley’s voice (one of the best in the genre really), this was an easy choice to include on this list. Sadly it was only a minor top 10 for Whitley that should have been among several No. 1’s for him, but at the very least, we still have this as well as many other Whitley songs to enjoy.
6. K.T. Oslin – “80’s Ladies”
What would ultimately become K.T. Oslin’s breakthrough hit is also among her best. A tribute to friendship, the song adds in rich details to really capture the feel of growing up during the respective time frames mentioned (in this case, the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s). From growing up in a conservative period to rebelling and figuring out who they were the next two decades, it feels like a closing of the book on their adventures as they reach (what was then) the new decade. Still, they did it all (according to them), and they’re still together all these years later. I also love that this song just goes all in with the pop-country production, bringing in nice crunchy electric guitars during the chorus to give the song an anthemic swell.
5. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – “Fishin’ In The Dark”
I can see this being a controversial pick. What’s silly is that it’s either going to be controversial due to massive overexposure (a reason why many Rodney Atkins songs are off-limits to some people now) or the fact that it influenced “bro-country” or some stupid, asinine baloney such as that.
Historically, it’s hard to deny this song’s place here (plus I like it). It’s easily the band’s most iconic song, and it’s easy to see why. The harmonica blends well with that punchy guitar riff and percussion to give it a nice rootsy feel. With one of the catchiest choruses and hooks as well, this is a light-hearted fun song that manages to transcend that label for its wonderful execution. To this day I don’t tire of hearing it.
4. Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt – “Telling Me Lies”
What just might be the most underrated collaboration in country music resulted in one of the most emotionally gripping songs of this particular year. All three artists give fittingly haunting vocal performances for a song that speaks to well … being haunted by an old lover. Filled with regret, the narrator (narrators?) is aware enough to admit to her part played in the relationship and how she should have backed out much quicker, and that makes it all the more sad to hear how her regret will now follow her around forever. Backed by some ghostly sounding pedal steel, this is definitely what I call a compelling performance.
3. George Strait – “All My Ex’s Live In Texas”
I should preface this top three by saying that it was incredibly hard deciding how to rank them. Personally, I would place this song as well as my No. 2 pick on a list for honorable mentions if I was formatting this the old way, but when picking one of George Strait’s most iconic songs, it’s hard to go wrong with this pick.
Back when this blog had a Twitter account, you all seemed to agree with that also, as I originally was going to let the winner of that poll be my No. 1 pick. Since that poll is gone, I won’t spoil what the No. 1 pick is, but I will say that I ultimately went against it anyway.
With all that said, as I sit here and type listening to this song, it may be ultimately goofy, but it deserves a spot here. Beyond just being the only country song to mention “transcendental meditation,” “Ex’s” is just catchy as can be, blending in a nice and slow Western-Swing feel with Strait’s endearingly corny vocal delivery.
On a sidnote, this is one of the only country songs my ’80s pop loving friend likes a lot.
2. Randy Travis – “Forever and Ever, Amen”
There really isn’t a “secret formula” to crafting a country music hit, but one trademark of some of the genre’s best and most iconic shines through in their simplicity. “Forever and Ever, Amen” is a love song, sure, but it’s not damaged by the trademark glossy, bad production of the ’80s, nor is it overloaded with cliches. It’s straightforward, easy, simple country music backed by dobro and acoustic guitar sung with Travis’ rich voice (another one of the best).
Really, that’s all I can ultimately say about why “Forever and Ever, Amen” ultimately works well or why it’s become a timeless classic. Travis may have had better songs than this, but he tapped into something special for this hit.
1. George Strait – “Ocean Front Property”
If George Strait was simply having fun on “All My Ex’s Live In Texas,” he’s having a friggin’ ball being a smart aleck on “Ocean Front Property.” Truthfully, I’m not sure what the “correct” No. 1 for this year should have been. It’s hard to go wrong with Strait though. While everyone and their mother (including my friend) knows “Ex’s,” every country fan adores “Ocean Front Property” it seems, and for good reason. It’s built on a brilliant premise of fun little lies and straightforward country nature. Sure, this humorous trademark would come to mark the ’90s badly in some cases with corny jokes, but on “Ocean Front Property,” Strait perfectly executed this classic hit with ease.