Some of the greatest country classics were released in the ’80s as old and new generations of artists flirted with crossovers. However, not everyone was fond of fusing the genre with pop to blend in with mainstream music.
As such, neotraditional country music rose to prominence during the middle of that decade to rejuvenate the genre and return to its roots.
The following are 19 of the best country songs of the ’80s that showcase how diverse and creative music artists were in that era. Want to learn about them? Read on!
Related: Looking for the most popular country songs? Check out our list here.
1. “Lookin’ For Love” By Johnny Lee
Up first, we have the hit country song “Lookin’ for Love” by Johnny Lee. It was included in the soundtrack of the 1980 film Urban Cowboy, starring John Travolta and Debra Winger.
Much of the film takes place in Gilley’s, a popular honky-tonk bar in Pasadena, California, in the ’70s and ’80s. Johnny Lee, who had been a popular performer at the club, recorded the song for the movie after about two dozen other country artists turned it down.
This song was one of the first to spend three weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in the 1980s. It became Johnny Lee’s biggest career hit, with over 1 million copies sold!
2. “Forever And Ever, Amen” By Randy Travis
Next, we look to Randy Travis, who released “Forever and Ever, Amen” in 1987. It stayed at #1 for three weeks and earned him a Grammy and a Country Music Association Award.
Always & Forever, the album this song comes from, gave the singer four singles that hit #1. He recorded several more albums until a stroke in 2013 left him unable to perform.
With its sentimental theme of love and lifelong marriage, “Forever and Ever, Amen” was a popular wedding song during the ’80s and ’90s. It has also been covered by a number of artists, like Josh Turner and Ronan Keating.
3. “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me” By Ronnie Milsap
Now we look to a legend of the 1980s, Ronnie Milsap, who had more number-one hits during that decade than any other country artist. One of our favorites of his has to be “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me.”
The song, which features sweet bass guitar riffs and a saxophone solo, spent three weeks at the top of the Country chart. It also became one of the singer’s crossover hits.
Milsap was born almost completely blind, but despite this hardship, he recorded 40 number-one hit songs. He also earned six Grammy Awards and eight CMA Awards.
4. “Feels So Right” By Alabama
“Feels So Right” comes from the 1981 album of the same name by country supergroup Alabama. The song was their fourth consecutive #1 hit.
Despite several more songs that hit #1, this was the only Alabama song to spend three weeks at the top during the ’80s. It also achieved crossover success on the Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts.
“Feel so Right” is a slow ballad about how it feels so right to be with someone you love. It has sensual lyrics and a pop sensibility that helped it reach beyond the country music scene.
5. “Always On My Mind” By Willie Nelson
Many artists recorded and released “Always On My Mind,” which reminisces about a long-time love before and after Willie Nelson, including the original singer Brenda Lee and Elvis Presley.
Nelson recorded the song in 1982 for his album by the same name and released it as the first single. It spent three weeks at #1 on the Hot Country Songs chart.
The album stayed on the chart for 253 weeks and spent 99 weeks on the Billboard 200 chart. Nelson, one of the most famous country music singers in history, also won three Grammy Awards for the song.
6. “I Believe In You” By Don Williams
In “I Believe in You,” Don Williams lists many things he doesn’t believe in and points out what’s important and true, including love, babies, and the person he’s serenading.
With the guitar intro and slow beat throughout, “I Believe in You” has a true classic country sound. The lyrics are simple but hold a deeper meaning.
This 1980 hit spent two weeks at #1 and almost three months on the chart. It charted in several other countries as well and became a crossover hit for Williams, spending several weeks on the Hot Adult Contemporary chart.
7. “Slow Hand” By Conway Twitty
The Pointer Sisters originally released “Slow Hands” in 1981. Conway Twitty changed the original lyrics to reflect a man’s point of view and released his cover in 1982.
The song is a sensual description of how the singer is as a lover. He’ll not come and go in a rush, but he will stay and take his time to love his partner.
“Slow Hands” became one of his biggest hits of the decade and spent two weeks at #1. Though it was the last song of Twitty’s to stay more than a week on the chart, it wasn’t his final hit to reach the top.
8. “Just To Satisfy You” By Willie Nelson And Waylon Jennings
Written by Waylon Jennings and Don Bowman in 1963, Jennings made “Just To Satisfy You” the title track of his 1969 album, then rerecorded it as a duet with Willie Nelson in 1982 in the album Black on Black.
The upbeat country tells the story of a person constantly loving and leaving people. The narrator seems to be chastising, asking how many hearts must break to satisfy them and implying that they should learn to really love before it’s too late.
The song topped the Country charts soon after release, and other country superstars have covered it, including Jerry Reed, Barbara Mandrell, and Glen Campbell, but none were as popular as this version by two country legends.
9. “Islands In The Stream” By Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton
Country icons Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton had multiple solo hits during the 1980s. Their duet “Islands in the Stream” spent two weeks in the top country spot in 1983. It also hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts and sold over 2 million copies.
This hit song about enduring love and being each other’s safe place has a beautiful melody and lyrics that have made it one of the best country songs of the decade. It has been covered by numerous artists, like Owen Gray, Hailey Whitters, and the Bee Gees.
10. “Houston (Means I’m One Day Closer To You)” By Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers
In 1983, Larry Gatlin wrote this song that became the first single from their album Houston to Denver. This upbeat hit about being one day closer to a loved one spent two weeks at #1 and 15 total weeks on the Hot Country Songs chart.
“Houston” was their third song to reach the top, though they had other popular songs that charted over the next few years, reaching as high as #2.
The song became an anthem for people who travel for work or work over the road and want nothing more than to get home to the person they love.
11. “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before” By Julio Iglesias & Willie Nelson
Spanish singer Julio Iglesias is one of the best-selling artists in the world, with over 100 million record sales and 5,000 concerts. He was already a famous Latin music singer when he teamed up with Willie Nelson for this duet, “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.”
The song spent two weeks at #1 on the Hot Country Chart in 1984 and became Iglesias’s first crossover English-language hit. The CMA named it Single of the Year.
As the title suggests, “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” is a ballad honoring all the women whom the singers have loved in days past but are no longer in their lives.
12. “Lost In The Fifties Tonight (In The Still Of The Night)” By Ronnie Milsap
Next up, we have another ’80s country hit by Ronnie Milsap. “Lost in the Fifties” spent two weeks at #1 in 1985, his second to hit the top of the chart that year. It also became a crossover hit, reaching #8 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
The nostalgic ballad takes the listener back to the ’50s and how romance worked during a simpler time when “The Still of the Night” was a hit song. The slow doo-wop tune is also reminiscent of that time.
The song also won the singer his fourth Grammy Award and helped his album of the same name sell over 1 million copies. Milsap is considered one of the most famous blind musical artists in history.
13. “Why Not Me” By The Judds
Mother-daughter duo the Judds is behind the song “Why Not Me.” It is about someone who is single. She’s eyeing a guy who appears to be looking for love, and she wonders why he doesn’t choose her; after all, she’s got lots of love to share.
The song is the title track from the duo’s debut album, released in 1984. “Why Not Me” charted and spent two weeks at #1 on the Country chart. It has been covered twice: Jill Johnson recorded it for her 2007 album, and Emily Ann Roberts sang the song in season 9 of The Voice.
14. “When You Say Nothing At All” By Keith Whitley
Let the baritone voice of Keith Whitley croon into your ears with this classic country love song released in 1988. “When You Say Nothing At All” was included in the singer’s second studio album, Don’t Close Your Eyes.
A sweet ballad of expressing love without saying anything at all, the song became a #1 hit when it was released and spent two weeks at the top of the Country chart. It was the first of Whitley’s two number-one hits.
Sadly, Whitley passed away in 1989, and as a tribute to him, Alison Krauss released a cover. Frances Black and Ronan Keating soon followed with their versions.
15. “I’ll Leave This World Loving You” By Ricky Van Shelton
“I’ll Leave This World Loving You” was originally written and recorded by Wayne Kemp for his Harlan Country record in 1974. It charted at #47 on the Country chart.
In 1988, Ricky Van Shelton released his piano-heavy version, singing about a breakup and assuring the person he loves that he’ll always love her even if they never see each other again.
The track stayed at #1 on the Hot Country Songs chart for two weeks in late 1988 and was one of the three songs from the singer’s second album, Loving Proof, to top the charts.
16. “Eighteen Wheels And A Dozen Roses” By Kathy Mattea
“Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses” is a song about a trucker named Charlie. He’s about to retire. He has only a few hours left of work, he’s bought his wife a dozen roses, and he’s looking forward to spending the rest of his life with her.
From her 1988 album Untasted Honey, this song was one of Kathy Mattea‘s biggest hits. It spent two weeks at #1 on both Hot Country Songs and Canadian RPM Country Tracks charts. It was one of four songs of hers to reach the top.
17. “I’m No Stranger To The Rain” By Keith Whitley
A poignant song by Keith Whitley, “I’m No Stranger To The Rain,” is about being familiar with hardships—having experienced them many times—and enduring and overcoming them in the end.
The distinctively country sound and lyrics of this song helped Whitley’s career soar. Released in early 1989, it topped both the US and Canada’s country charts.
Sadly, the singer’s career was tragically cut short by his untimely death in May of the same year “I’m No Stranger To The Rain” came out. He posthumously received a CMA Single of the Year for it.
18. “I Told You So” By Randy Travis
Country and gospel music singer Randy Travis originally recorded “I Told You So” in 1983 under the name Randy Ray, which became a local Nashville hit. The later release from his second studio album spent two weeks at #1 in 1987.
The song is about the singer asking his love if he can come back home. He’s constantly wondering if she’ll take him back or say she has found someone else.
Carrie Underwood covered the song in 2009, and she and Travis recorded it as a duet that year, which hit #2 on the Country chart.
19. “The Church On Cumberland Road” By Shenandoah
Last but not least, we have “The Church On Cumberland Road.” This upbeat country rock was Shenandoah‘s first #1 track, spending two weeks in the top Hot Country Songs spot. It was their second single from their 1989 album The Road Not Taken, which sold half a million copies.
The song tells the story of a groom who has partied a little too hard with his buddies the night before his wedding. The next day, he’s scrambling, late to get to the church “on Cumberland Road,” where his bride is waiting.
Summing Up Our List Of ’80s Country Songs
Some of the songs on this list earned their singers Grammy and CMA awards, while others lacked critical praise but became fan favorites.
None of them were one-hit wonders, as the artists all had other top hits and, in some cases, music careers that lasted several decades.
Many country songs from the ’80s have become so popular that you can still hear them on the radio today.
So whether you prefer slow country ballads or upbeat songs filled with classic country guitar strumming and profound lyrics, there is bound to be a song (or more) you’ll love from that era.