Though artists like Kenny Rogers and Alabama probably took greatest advantage of the late-'70s and early-'80s rise of country pop, that form has never really stopped being a factor in pop music. Tastes and sounds have surely changed, and the country pop of the '90s and this decade sometimes hardly resembles its predecessors. Still, '80s classics like these certainly earned their day in the pop music sun, no matter what labels we assign them.
This impossibly catchy and clever track from 1982 exemplified '80s country pop in many key ways, particularly through its massive appeal and accessibility stemming from both its status as a great pop song and its young, photogenic singer. Skillfully tinged with just the slightest touch of country music flavor - primarily found in Sylvia's delivery - the tune heavily employs keyboards and otherwise directly advances its pop music genius. But that didn't stop "Nobody" from topping the country charts while at the same time climbing to No. 5 on the adult contemporary charts. Still, the song's No. 15 peak on the pop charts helped clearly demonstrate country pop's definitive if brief dominion over the music world.
North Carolina native Milsap - one of country and pop music's most prominent artists who also happens to be blind - displayed a keen understanding of what would sell to wide musical audiences but also specialized in solid performances and impeccable taste in song selection. Built on a warm, inviting electric guitar riff that deftly straddles rock, country and pop, this track remains eminently listenable today. To be sure, it's somewhat calculated in its deliberately broad appeal (check out the luxurious saxophone breaks), but "(There's) No Gettin' Over Me" undoubtedly makes the most of savvy arrangement and a clean, soulful vocal performance from Milsap himself.
Perhaps Newton is better known for the scarcely country "Angel of the Morning" or "Queen of Hearts," her fine cover of a rocking Dave Edmunds tune, but for my money her perfect country pop crossover moment came with this infectious 1982 offering. Some country music fans may scoff that "Love's Been a Little Bit Hard on Me" performed much better on the pop and adult contemporary charts than on the country charts, but this is probably exactly as things should be. After all, the song's arrangement relies so much on keyboard parts that it fully seems to channel the new wave sound popular at the time at least as much as it lays down a sweet soft rock groove. More than anything, Newton's vocals are consistently inviting.
Late country legend Rabbitt may have scored a number of country pop hits during the late '70s and early '80s, but his music was always unique in its embrace of rock and roll spirit and guitar-based arrangements. This major hit from 1980 became a Top 5 smash on three of Billboard's notable charts, including the Hot 100, adult contemporary and country charts. Even better, its inventive rhythms and assertive melodies undoubtedly earned the track a slot as one of overall pop music's finest singles of the period. Rabbitt's throwback style coupled with his willingness to branch out ensured that he kept a steady finger on the pulse of all the music styles that helped birth country music in the first place.
Serving as a vital link between the early-'70s California country-rock sound and mainstream country, Restless Heart found a way to extend the life of country pop into the late '80s and even into the '90s. This 1987 track failed to crack the Top 40 on the Billboard pop charts, but I can't for the life of me figure out why. Its fine harmonies and favorably accessible melody seem to mark it as a certain full-tilt crossover hit, but for some reason "Why Does It Have to Be" fell just short of the adult contemporary Top 10 even as it topped the country charts. Of course, by this time the success of crossover country pop had faded almost entirely, but Restless Heart proved to be a worthy exception on the strength of the band's versatility.