Number One Country Hits of the '80s

Kenny Rogers
Doug McKenzie/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Unlike some of Billboard's other niche categories, the '80s country music charts displayed a remarkably egalitarian record when it comes to the duration of its number one hits. In fact, only four songs enjoyed as many as three weeks atop the chart, in contrast to the multiple-week high marks of most other singles charts. More than two dozen songs more spent two weeks at number one, while the remaining tunes had only single weeks of chart supremacy. Here's a detailed look at the four singles that stake a statistical claim to country's biggest hits of the '80s.

Three of the songs on this exclusive list probably come as little surprise to country music fans, as they are highly recognizable and beloved hits of the era. At the same time, the fourth tune's title might not even ring much of a bell.

Let's start with the very beginning of the decade, when Kenny Rogers' "Coward of the County" claimed the top spot for three weeks to kick off the year. This may be such a crossover track that it can barely be characterized as country, but it does feature remarkably strong narrative songwriting. Even better, the lyrics boast a reasonable amount of ambiguity, which mainstream country music often avoids like the plague, with usually eye-roll worthy, on-the-nose results.

Later in the same year, popular country pop artist Ronnie Milsap earned the distinction of three weeks at the top of the charts, with one of his singles, "My Heart," and it remains his biggest hit of all time.

The phrase "urban cowboy" swept American pop culture in 1980, owing as much to the popular film of the same name as the style of slick country pop that reached its commercial zenith that year. Johnny Lee's "Lookin' for Love" may be far from the most authentic country music you'll ever hear, but the song's distinctive melodies (particularly in the verses) became iconic for good reason as well. Lee took a lot of heat for the song's massive accessibility – backlash was inevitable for this pop music flashpoint, I suppose – but widespread popularity is not always an indicator of low artistic quality.

Several years passed before country music produced another (relatively) long-term top hit, and by 1987 the New Traditionalists from Dwight Yoakam to Lyle Lovett to Randy Travis had injected a much-needed blast of freshness into the genre. Rejecting most of the pop music impulses that had most recently dominated the country charts, these artists embraced honky tonk roots and seemed to approach their music regardless of what anyone might anticipate in terms of broad commercial appeal. "Forever and Ever Amen" remains one of the signature singles of the late '80s, and Travis helped create that success with his earnest, traditional vocal performance.

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