There is a whole swath of country music out there that isn’t classic like Hank or Patsy or outlaw like Waylon and Willie or alternative like Uncle Tupelo or crappy like Trace Adkins and Rascal Flatts. Most of the 1980s fits into this category – the new traditionalists as they’ve been dubbed. Sometimes the production is a bit over the top and too many country guitarists discovered effects pedals, but largely I still like much of the music from this period. I have soft spots for Alabama and Reba McEntire. I love Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakam, and Rosanne Cash. George Strait, Randy Travis, and John Anderson made some of the best music of their careers in the 1980s. Keith Whitley was the 1980s. Then there were those handful of songs that became bigger than the singer even, like “Lookin’ For Love.” Quick who sings that one?
Mel McDaniel would be responsible for a few of those great songs. He wrote “Louisiana Saturday Night,”
and “Baby’s Got Her Blues Jeans On.”
Country music of the 1980s is often incredibly well crafted music. It was made by men and women who grew up listening to Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Charley Pride, Ray Price, and Charlie Rich first hand and their songs acknowledged that. It was also a period of restraint. The new outlaws were cowpunks playing lonely L.A. stages not big arenas.
The music doesn’t have a lot of edges, it is home and hearth songs, love songs, slow dance songs, and break-up songs. I recognize that’s a bit broad, but what they have in common with each other is that they really are country songs. This isn’t the Eagles, or Taylor Swift, or Lady Antebellum. This was music playing off of a shared foundation and all of these singers could sing ol’ Hank upon request.
We lost one today in what has turned out to be a pretty bad month for country music. Maybe not the most famous of them, but a great one nonetheless. The next warm evening put “Louisiana Saturday Night” on your car stereo, roll down the window and hang your arm out and sing along with Mel McDaniel and let the car next to you know that you kind of love the wonderfully weird decade of 1980s country music. I will if you will.