Ten Country Albums Turning 40 In 2020

Ten Country Albums Turning 40 In 2020

Despite the polarizing crossover success of 1980’s Urban Cowboy film and soundtrack, legends and old souls stood tall throughout the first year of a new decade.

It’s hard now to imagine the legacies of Merle Haggard, George Jones, Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton without their biggest songs of 1980. Meanwhile, Alabama, John Anderson, Emmylou Harris and Hank Williams Jr. found commercial success while honoring country music’s past.

As for the other end of the spectrum, Eddie Rabbitt and Johnny Lee did ’80s pop-country first, and few over the coming years did it better.

Read on to rediscover 10 definitive country music albums released in 1980.


RCA Records

Alabama’s ‘My Home’s in Alabama’

Alabama’s ownership of the charts throughout the ‘80s began with two hits: the Southern rock-inspired fiddle tune “Tennessee River” and the lovelorn “Why Lady Why.” Toss in the autobiographical title track, and you’ve got the first great Alabama album.

Warner Bros. Records

John Anderson’s ‘John Anderson’

John Anderson’s big-label debut lacked the commercial success of other albums on this list, but it deserves a mention for featuring songs of the caliber of “1959” and teasing the future rise of more traditional-sounding options in a pop-saturated marketplace.

MCA Records

Merle Haggard’s ‘Back to the Barrooms’

“The Hag” kicked off the ‘80s by rolling the clock back to his ‘60s honky-tonk output. Forty years later, it’s hard to imagine Haggard’s catalog — or his sons’ covers-heavy live sets — without “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.”

Warner Bros. Records

Emmylou Harris’ ‘Roses in the Snow’

Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, Tony Rice, the Whites, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt eased Emmylou Harris’ transition to the bluegrass-inspired sound heard on covers of the Louvin Brothers (“You’re Learning”), the Stanley Brothers (“Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn”) and Paul Simon (“The Boxer”).

Epic Records

George Jones’ ‘I Am What I Am’

The opening track “He Stopped Loving Her Today” would be enough justification to list this album here; it is, after all, one of the greatest country songs ever. Beyond that, though, Jones covers Tom T. Hall (“I’m Not Ready Yet”) and Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson (“Good Hearted Woman”) on this project.

Columbia Records

Willie Nelson & Family’s ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ Soundtrack

The other impactful country music soundtrack of 1980 featured film star Willie Nelson and a few of his famous friends, including Jeannie Seely, Hank Cochran and Johnny Gimble. Its legacy, though, has got to be one of Nelson’s trademark hits, “On the Road Again.”

RCA Records

Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5 and Odd Jobs’

“9 to 5” still gets talked about more than any Dolly Parton song, aside from perhaps “Jolene.” Likewise, the film it’s from earns more praise than anything else Parton’s done outside of country music, philanthropy and the theme park business. Plus, there’s covers of folk and country classics by Woody Guthrie (“Deportee (Plane Wreck of Los Gatos)”) and Merle Travis (“Dark as a Dungeon”) on this album.

Elektra Records

Eddie Rabbitt’s ‘Horizon’

Eddie Rabbitt was a great country music songwriter with pop sensibilities, as heard a decade earlier when Elvis Presley struck gold with the Rabbitt co-write “Kentucky Rain.” Rabbitt continued a run of solo dominance in 1980 with crossover hits such as “Drivin’ My Life Away” and “I Love a Rainy Night.”

Full Moon/Asylum Records

Various Artists’ ‘Urban Cowboy’ Soundtrack

Whether they view it as a source of boundless nostalgia or an ugly blight in between the reigns of outlaw country singers and neo-traditionalists, fans of a certain age feel strongly about the film Urban Cowboy and its impact on the careers of Mickey Gilley and Johnny Lee.

Elektra/Curb Records

Hank Williams Jr.’s ‘Old Habits and New’

When he wasn’t griping about Donna Summer during “Dinosaur,” Bocephus cut some of his better tributes to his father, including a cover of ol’ (and older) Hank’s “Kaw-Liga” and Kris Kristofferson’s “If You Don’t Like Hank Williams.”

 – The Boot

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