Rewinding the Country Charts: 35 Years Ago, Waylon Jennings' 'Dukes' Theme Sped to No. 1

© CBS / Courtesy: Everett Collection
"The Dukes of Hazzard" stars (left to right) John Schneider, Tom Wopat and Catherine Bach.  

The down-home TV show's theme remains as memorable as its star car.

On Nov. 1, 1980, Waylon Jennings topped Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart with "Theme From The Dukes of Hazzard (Good Ol' Boys)." The track, written by Jennings, then 43, opened the beloved TV series that ran on CBS from 1979 to 1985.

Part of CBS' Friday night lineup, the show consistently racked up high weekly ratings, sometimes second to only Dallas, which ran directly after it on the network. At its peak, Dukes averaged 22 million viewers a week, according to Nielsen, ranking as the second-most-watched program of the 1980-81 season.

Jennings recorded two versions of the theme song, with the TV take containing the extra verse, "Fightin' the system like two modern-day Robin Hoods." The radio version, meanwhile, poked fun at Jennings' off-screen role on the series (except for one 1984 episode in which he starred as himself) and the weekly shot of him in the opening playing guitar … from the neck down: "I'm a good ol' boy / You know my momma loves me / But she don't understand they keep a-showin' my hands and not my face on TV."

Dukes was inspired by the 1975 movie Moonrunners, for which Jennings served as narrator, just as he did for Dukes (where he was billed as "the balladeer"). The show followed the adventures of Hazzard County, Georgia, cousins Bo (John Schneider) and Luke Duke (Tom Wopat) – the modern-day Robin Hoods – and their Southern belle cousin Daisy (Catherine Bach).

Of course, the Dukes' customized orange 1969 Dodge Charger, dubbed the General Lee, was perhaps the show's main star (although it's since come under fire for sporting the Confederate flag on its roof). The car even gave autographs (no pun intended), by driving over pieces of paper, leaving its tire tracks as a memento.

(And, with Chargers regularly wrecked in stunts, was there ever concern that the show would run out? "Chrysler Corporation sold about 85,000 1969 Dodge Chargers in the U.S.," noted a 1982 TV Guide story. "Even if half of those have already been scrapped, the ones still on the road would stock The Dukes of Hazzard for another 600 years.")

"Dukes" became the 12th of 16 Hot Country Songs No. 1s for Jennings, who passed away, at 64, in 2002, while the show also spurred the music careers of Schneider and Wopat, who themselves became country chart regulars in the '80s.

Aided by Jennings' memorable theme, Dukes has built a legacy lasting long after its original TV run. It yielded two reunion movies on CBS in 1997 and 2000 (without Jennings) and a big-screen adaptation in 2005 (starring Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott and Jessica Simpson), which has grossed $111 million worldwide. An annual "DukesFest," featuring multiple cast members (and countless cars), has also drawn legions of fans. In 2014, Jake Worthington's take on "Good Ol' Boys," from NBC's The Voice, reached No. 33 on Hot Country Songs.

Dukes "touches a chord for people," Wopat told Billboard in 2013. "It's harmless. No blood, no sex, no cursing.

"Just a lot of vehicular violence."


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