In terms of consistency and eye-opening pop music success, few bands of any genre could match the sparkling catalogue of hits posted by country pop band Alabama during the '80s. The group's songs - both carefully selected from Nashville songwriters and generated by members of the band - were everywhere on North American radio, and the quality of the performances and songcraft was often substantially high. Here's a chronological look at Alabama's best songs of the '80s, which all reached the top spot on Billboard's country charts.
In 1980, this song became Alabama's first No. 1 country music hit of many to come in both the U.S. and Canada. It failed to make a mark as a crossover hit, but its savvy blend of traditional, fiddle-fueled country with rock guitars and accessible pop melodies easily could have done so. The song is one of several written by guitarist and frontman Randy Owen, and it works very well more than three decades later as a memorable country pop tune that celebrates all layers of the band's influences. There are touches of country rock and Southern rock here as well as soft rock and straight-ahead country, and in that way Alabama set the stage for a decade of dominance.
2. "Old Flame"
Alabama's keen sense of nailing near-perfect country pop shows through on this 1981 track, an undisputed classic ballad of that genre that served as the lead-off single from Feels So Right. Although it didn't quite make the Hot 100 on Billboard's pop charts, the song certainly paved the way for what would be Alabama's brief but potent run as a major crossover artist of the era. It's no accident that co-composer Mac McAnally would go on to pen one of country's finest songs ever in "All These Years." This song boasts a strong, unforgettable melody and delivers a heartrending tale of heartache with genuine pathos.
urban cowboy sound of the time on this mellow, lovely tune of romantic devotion. Still, other than some strings that provide orchestration, the song relies most on a simple guitar-bass-drums approach anchored by the smooth vocals of songwriter Owen. Composed by Owen as a very young man years earlier, this track became the group's first genuine crossover hit, peaking at No. 20 on Billboard's pop charts. More importantly, it widened the appeal of an already welcome, unintimidating ensemble of what seemed like regular guys.
Following the traditional country music romp "Mountain Music," Alabama sustained a healthy, laid-back momentum by posting its third and final Top 20 pop hit from 1982's Mountain Music LP. The group's exploding popularity meant that fewer of its songs featured internal songwriting, but Owen & Co. demonstrated a solid ability to choose songs from the ongoing Nashville machine that perfectly suited its place in the industry. This is pleasant stuff that certainly sidesteps controversy or provocation, but there's no doubt it's well-crafted and skillfully presented.
Alabama returned to the traditional country well for this early 1983 smash, and the result retains plenty of credibility outside the realms of soft rock and country pop. Original hit songs became increasingly scarce for the band at this peak stage, but the sparkling harmony vocals from Cook and Gentry provide welcome support for another standout lead vocal turn from Owen. This is a band that always understood its strengths, multi-faceted and balanced as this track clearly proves them to be.
The inclusion of this song on this list instead of 1984's up-tempo, blue-collar "Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)" will not please all Alabama fans, and that fact certainly demonstrates the challenges posed by a catalogue this consistent. However, this track - written by Owen - is a serious heartbreaker, dealing straightforwardly with the pain and sorrow of divorce from the perspective of both the wronged woman and wandering, neglectful man in this particular imagined scenario. Full of emotional depth, this is a ballad with some serious punch, again proving Owen to be a deft, nuanced songwriter.
Throughout its spectacular '80s run, Alabama continuously engineered an impressively balanced attack consisting of earnest, melodically pleasing love ballads and good-time pure country songs. 1984's Roll On presented a particularly strong example of this approach, putting forward two slow chart-toppers and two faster ones in the title track and "If You're Gonna Play in Texas." Nevertheless, I skip ahead to this lovely 1985 ballad because it represents so accurately the top strengths of Alabama. The quality of the group's music had perhaps begun to wane slightly by 1985, but the charts certainly wouldn't provide evidence of that for several more years. A great central melody and passionate vocal performance from Owen dominate here.
Sporting its geographical name by more than mere happenstance, Alabama frequently celebrated its Southern heritage through its recordings, and this 1988 track stands arguably as the group's finest anthem of this type. A look back at the Depression-era struggles of a typical agricultural family, this upbeat but substantial number belies its somewhat slight sing-along chorus. Another example of Alabama taking a song recorded multiple times by other artists without major success and turning it into a bona fide smash, this 1988 standout from Southern Star is vintage old-time Alabama.