I’ve been on an 80s and 90s country music kick lately. Like any foray down memory lane, it’s fueled by nostalgia; I started working in country radio in the mid-1980s while still in college, and hearing, say, Randy Travis’ On The Other Hand puts me right back into an era when life was a little easier and my hair a lot more brown.
But as I was listening this weekend to some 80s and 90s country at the gym, it struck me that many of these songs and artists are probably completely unknown to a whole generation of younger listeners. And even for those of us who’ve been around awhile, there are songs and artists that pop up on playlists like this who make you go “Ohhh yeah, I forgot about that one!”
So with that in mind, I thought I’d start blogging occasionally about certain artists from those eras that I think have disappeared a little too thoroughly from the radar and are worth re-discovering…or discovering for the first time. I’ll pick an artist, give a brief reason or two why they mattered back in the day, and give you 3 or 4 songs of theirs to check out. Starting with…
RICKY VAN SHELTON
Ricky Van Shelton started strong out of the gate, being named 1987’s ACM Top New Male Vocalist. In ’88 he won the CMA equivalent to that, their Horizon Award, and in ’89 was named the CMA Male Artist of the Year. Van Shelton was considered part of a traditional country resurgence in the 1980s, a movement that also included folks like George Strait, Dwight Yoakam, Randy Travis, Reba and The Judds. He came along a little later, but was instantly praised for his music’s authenticity and a ridiculously elastic vocal range. Van Shelton was a staple on country radio through the early 1990s, before he was sidelined after admitting a problem with alcohol. Van Shelton eventually got sober but never again achieved the status he had originally attained and the 67 year old has now been officially retired from touring since 2006.
But what a nice little run he had. His first single, Wild-Eyed Dream, stalled out in the mid-20s but the next single, the rockabilly-influenced Crime Of Passion reached the Top Ten
After that, he scored his first number one with the mournful Somebody Lied, a song that channeled Conway Twitty (not surprisingly, Twitty had actually recorded a version of this song on an album two years earlier) and gave country fans a first glimpse of RVS’ stunning vocal abilities
Shelton then scored two more #1s from that debut album with Life Turned Her That Way and Don’t We All Have The Right before releasing his sophomore album, Living Proof, which spawned three more #1s, including the title track
Shelton powered into the early 2000s with more notable album, Backroads, which yielded some of his biggest hits, including a #1 duet with Dolly Parton called Rockin’ Years, the declarative I Am a Simple Man and, with Father’s Day coming up, one of the best songs about dads ever, Keep It Between The Lines.
After that though, Shelton had to take time off to focus on himself and getting better, and, as so often happens in the music industry, once you’ve been away for a few years, it’s very tough to gain back your previous success, and he never did.
Still, for a stretch, Ricky Van Shelton was one of the hottest artists in country music, and, along with a handful of other traditionalists, really helped Nashville get reacquainted with its roots, paving the way for the 90s country explosion that included artists like Garth, Clint Black and Alan Jackson. Check him out some time.
Next Time on Rediscovered Country: Restless Heart!