By 1984, country music had begun to regain the stylistic focus it had surrendered to the brief and artistically confused Urban Cowboy period. Nearly as quickly as they had arrived, the new audience that the 1980 film had brought to country music moved on, leaving the genre with a restless, tradition-hungry core audience. Heritage artists excelled and the mother-and-daughter Judds launched an unprecedented chart career among duos while the Bellamy Brothers, Exile and B.J. Thomas saw their careers resurge. This perfect storm of stylistic variety and middle-aged listeners would only last about five years, as the storied “Class of ’89” would fire the opening shot of the eventual abandonment of country music’s rural heritage, cultural values and working-class, white ethnic themes. In 1984, these five acts dominated.
Nelson, then 51, celebrated the third phase in his storied career with the Julio Iglesias duet “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.” He also scored his 15th Hot Country Songs No. 1 with Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans” and co-starred in the film Songwriter.
The band members, whose ages ranged from 29 to the mid-30s, opened 1984 with their 12th consecutive Hot Country Songs No. 1, “Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler),” and closed it with their 14th, “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band).”
Hank Williams Jr.
Twenty years after his breakthrough, Williams, 35, landed his second Top Country Albums No. 1, Major Moves, and three top 10 Hot Country Songs, including future Monday Night Football theme “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight.”
Skaggs, 30, upped his Hot Country Songs No. 1 tally to eight; in a score for tradition, all of his chart-toppers were venerated covers: Mel Tillis‘ “Honey (Open That Door),” Ray Pennington’s “Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown” and Bill Monroe‘s “Uncle Pen.”
Strait was 31 when his album Right or Wrong hit No. 1 on Top Country Albums — a first for him — and spent five weeks at the summit. He also collected three Hot Country Songs No. 1s, including the evergreen “You Look So Good in Love.”
An edited version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 1 issue of Billboard.