Cowboys, good ol’ boys, and country gentlemen, the most famous male country singers of the ’80s, created powerful personas along with memorable country songs. Some of the country songs written and recorded by these country stars are popular country standards today.
Take a ride back in time to enjoy the best of country music as performed by our list of the most famous male country singers of the 80s. Love, family, love of country, good times, and sadness they’re all experiences we share. Those thoughts and more are woven into the lyrics and performances by these country kings of the ’80s.
Related: Check out our list of the top male country singers here.
1. Lee Greenwood
Singer-songwriter Lee Greenwood’s patriotic hit song, “God Bless the USA,” was released in 1984 and is still popular every Fourth of July.
Greenwood had a string of chart-topping hits in the 1980s, including “I Don’t Mind the Thorns (When You’re the Rose),” “Somebody’s Gonna Love You,” and “Dixie Roads.”
Greenwood was discovered by country star Mel Tillis’ bandleader and bassist in the late 1970s in Las Vegas, where he worked in casinos as a blackjack dealer by day and a singer by night.
2. Kenny Rogers
Already a country star when the 1980s began, Kenny Rogers gained more fame in the decade thanks to duets such as “Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer” with Kim Carnes, “We’ve Got Tonight” with Sheena Easton, and “Islands in the Stream” with Dolly Parton.
Rogers had many crossover hits during the 1980s, thanks in part to his interest in collaborating with artists from other genres.
Lionel Richie, famous at the time for being the front man for the Commodores, wrote and produced Rogers’ international number-one hit song “Lady” in 1980.
3. George Strait
Known for his signature white cowboy hat, George Strait hit the country charts in 1981 with “Unwound,” and he didn’t stop there. By 1989, Strait was named Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year.
In between those years came hits, including “Amarillo by Morning,” “The Chair,” “Ocean Front Property,” and “All My Exes Live in Texas.”
Strait kept creating hit songs in the decades that followed, eventually breaking Conway Twitty’s record of 40 number-one hit singles in 2009.
4. Ronnie Milsap
Blind from birth, Ronnie Milsap had a passion for music at an early age. Starting as a session musician and playing with an R&B band, the pianist and singer first became a successful solo act in the 1970s.
By the 1980s, Milsap was hitting adult contemporary and country music charts with hits such as “Smoky Mountain Rain,” “There’s No Getting Over Me,” “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World,” “Any Day Now,” and “Stranger in My House.”
“Lost in the Fifties Tonight” was named the 1985 Song of the Year by the Academy of Country Music.”
5. Randy Travis
Country music singer, guitarist, and actor Randy Travis gained fame in the 1980s with hit songs including “Forever and Ever, Amen,” “On The Other Hand,” “Diggin’ Up Bones,” and “Honky Tonk Moon.”
“Old 8×10” won Travis his second Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance in 1988. Travis moved to a bluesy sound when he recorded “It’s Just a Matter of Time.”
Travis was discovered by Elizabeth “Lib” Hatcher when he and his brother won a singing contest in the club she owned.
By 1980, she became Travis’ manager, and 18 years his senior, Hatcher married Travis in 1991. After their 2010 divorce, Hatcher and Travis filed a flurry of lawsuits against each other.
6. Dwight Yoakam
A cowboy hat and tight jeans gave this “Honky Tonk Man” his iconic look. Dwight Yoakam first gained fame for what he called “hillbilly music” in the mid-1980s.
At a time when country music began to stray from its roots, Yoakam’s music had a more traditional country sound at the time, making him stand out.
In 1987, Yoakam won a Grammy for Best Country Song for “Guitars, Cadillacs.” The album of the same name won Album of the Year honors from the Academy of Country Music in 1986.
The Country Music Association gave “Honky Tonk Man” Video of the Year honors.
7. Travis Tritt
Travis Tritt started writing songs while in high school and never stopped. By the late 1980s, Tritt was under contract with Warner Bros.
Signed to record six singles, Tritt was told he couldn’t record a full-length album unless one of them became a hit. That hit came when Tritt recorded “Country Club” in 1988. That song spent 26 weeks on the charts, peaking at number nine.
Tritt wrote the hit song “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)” the night he received divorce papers from his second wife, shortly before hitting it big with “Country Club,” a song about a countryman chatting with a city lady outside her country club.
8. Vince Gill
First gaining fame as a member of the country-rock band Pure Prairie League in 1979, Vince Gill went on to be a solo country artist, garnering Best New Country Vocalist honors from the Academy of Country Music in 1984.
Gill’s 1984 solo album, “Turn Me Loose,” included hit songs “Oh Carolina,” “Victim of Life’s Circumstances,” and the title track.
Gill continued recording into the 1990s and beyond, creating hits such as “I Still Believe in You.”
9. Garth Brooks
Country megastar Garth Brooks may be remembered more for his international hits of the 1990s, but this Oklahoman first charted in 1989 with the number 1 hit love song, “If Tomorrow Never Comes.”
Another song from his self-titled first album, “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old),” reached number eight on the country charts.
Brooks, like many of the country stars of the 1980s and 1990s, gave his music a pop sound that made many of his hits popular with people who weren’t country fans.
Brooks, who grew up enjoying rock music, gave many of his country songs a rock-and-roll edge.
10. John Anderson
The release of John Anderson’s fourth album, “Wild & Blue,” in 1982 gave him country music stardom with hits such as “Swingin’” and the New Horizon Award from the Country Music Association.
The song, about sitting with a girl named Charlotte Johnson on her front porch swing, also won Single of the Year honors.
Following his number-one hits in the mid-1980s, Anderson continued recording during the decade but didn’t reach the same level of success until the release of “Seminole Wind” in 1990.
11. T.G. Sheppard
A country star in the late 1970s, T.G. Sheppard, had a string of number-one hit songs in the 1980s including “Do You Wanna Go to Heaven,” “I Feel Like Loving You Again,” “I Loved ’Em Every One,” “Party Time,” “Only One You,” “Finally,” “War is Hell (on the Home Front, Too),” and “Faking Love.”
Born William Browder, Sheppard had become an executive at RCA Records but used the name T.G. Sheppard to record for Melodyland Records so that he wouldn’t jeopardize his day job. Melodyland was a short-lived country label owned by Motown Records.
Summing Up Our List Of Famous 1980s Male Country Singers
The 1980s were a time of patriotism, fun, family, and love, and the songs performed and sometimes written by the decade’s top male performers were the soundtrack of those times.
The 1980s saw country music stretch its boundaries, and, as a result, these country stars also had adult contemporary hits.
Some of country music’s most influential artists were first hitting the charts in the 1980s, while country kings of the 1970s gained even more success in the ’80s.
That makes the 1980s some of the most pivotal years in country music, influencing the following decades and the country music we hear today.