1980s Country Music: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Did you know that the 1980s were a pretty great time for country music? Join us as we take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of 1980s country music!

The Good

The 1980s were a great time for country music. Some of the biggest country stars today got their start in the 80s. The music was fun, upbeat, and catchy. There were a lot of great songs that came out of the decade.

The Dixie Chicks

The Dixie Chicks were an American country music band which achieved commercial success in the late 1990s. The band was founded in 1990 by three Texans – Emily Erwin Robison, Martie Maguire, and Natalie Maines – and they released their self-titled debut album in 1998.

The Dixie Chicks became one of the most successful country music groups of all time, selling over 30 million albums worldwide. They also won thirteen Grammy Awards, including five for Album of the Year (for their albums “Fly” and “Taking the Long Way”).

In 2003, the Dixie Chicks caused controversy when Natalie Maines made a comment critical of then-President George W. Bush. This resulted in death threats and many radio stations stopped playing their music. However, the group continued to be successful, releasing two more albums (“Taking the Long Way” and “Home”) before going on hiatus in 2006. They reunited in 2016 for a series of concerts and have announced plans to release new music in 2017.

George Strait

George Strait was born in 1952 in Pearsall, Texas. He was influenced by country greats such as Merle Haggard and Bob Wills, and he showed an early interest in music, singing and playing guitar in a local band called Country Boys when he was in high school. After graduation, he joined the Army and served for four years.

When he returned to civilian life, Strait enrolled in Southwest Texas State University on a rodeo scholarship. It was there that he met country singer and songwriter Dean Dillon, with whom he would later write many of his hits. Strait began playing nightclubs around Texas while still going to school, and he eventually dropped out of college to pursue music full-time.

In 1981, Strait released his self-titled debut album, which contained the single “Unwound.” The song became a hit, reaching number six on the Billboard country chart. His next album, “Strait From the Heart,” was released in 1982 and contained the number one hit “Fool Hearted Memory.” From then on, Strait would be one of country music’s most successful artists, with dozens of number one hits over the course of his career.

Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks is one of the most successful country artists of all time. He has sold over 100 million records and has won numerous awards, including five Grammy Awards and 23 Country Music Association Awards. His fusion of country and rock music made him a crossover success, and his traditional country sound made him a favorite of country fans.

The Bad

Country music in the 1980s was a lot different than it is today. Back then, there were three distinct sub-genres of country music: the good, the bad, and the ugly. The bad consisted of artists who followed in the footsteps of Nashville’s “outlaw” movement while adding their own rock and pop influences. This resulted in a sound that was too twangy for pop fans and too pop for country fans.

Kenny Rogers

Kenny Rogers was one of the most successful country music artists of the 1980s. He was known for his distinctive voice and his ability to connect with his fans. However, Rogers’ success came at a price. He was often criticized for his commercialism and for pandering to pop audiences. Some country music purists also derided him for scripting his live shows and for using pre-recorded tracks in his studio albums. Despite the criticisms, Kenny Rogers’ popularity continued to soar throughout the decade.


In the 1980s, country music was in a state of transition. The Good: artists like George Strait, Ronnie Milsap, andAlabama ushered in a new era of traditional country music. The Bad: The industry was beginning to be dominated by pop-crossover artists like Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, who watered down the sound of country music. The Ugly: A new generation of “outlaw” country artists, led by Hank Williams Jr., were starting to rebel against the slickness of the Nashville sound.

The Oak Ridge Boys

The Oak Ridge Boys are an American country and gospel vocal quartet. The group was founded in the 1940s as the Oak Ridge Quartet. They became popular in southern gospel during the 1950s. Their name was changed to the Oak Ridge Boys in the early 1960s, and they began touring and singing country music.

The Oak Ridge Boys have had many hits, including “Elvira”, “Bobbie Sue”, and “American Made”. They have been nominated for Grammy, Dove, and CMA awards. The Oak Ridge Boys were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015.

The Ugly

There’s no denying that the 1980s were a tough time for country music. The industry was dealing with the aftermath of the Urban Cowboy craze, and country radio was being inundated with pop-sounding country songs. But not all was lost in the ’80s. There were still some great country songs that were released during this decade.

Willie Nelson

By the early 1980s, Willie Nelson was back on top of the country charts with a string of No. 1 hits. But his career nearly came to an abrupt halt in 1990 when the IRS seized most of his assets, claiming he owed $32 million in back taxes. Nelson eventually reached a settlement with the government, but the incident took a toll on his popularity.

Hank Williams Jr.

By the early 1980s, Hank Williams Jr. was firmly established as one of country music’s biggest stars. The son of country music legend Hank Williams, he had followed in his father’s footsteps, starting his career in the 1950s and scoring his first hit with “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” in 1959. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he continued to rack up hits, becoming one of the most popular and successful country artists of his generation.

However, in the early 1980s, Williams Jr. began to move away from country music and embrace a more rock-influenced sound. This change was most evident on his 1981 album Habits Old and New, which featured the song “The Bocephus Boxset Blues” – a direct jab at then-popular country music singer Johnny Cash. The album also featured a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll”, further cementing Williams Jr.’s move away from traditional country music.

This shift in musical style was not well received by Hank Williams Jr.’s fans, many of whom felt he was betraying his country roots. As a result, his popularity began to decline, and by the end of the decade he was no longer the mainstream success he once was. While he continued to release music throughout the 1990s and 2000s, he never regained the level of commercial success or critical acclaim he enjoyed in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Conway Twitty

Conway Twitty was one of the most popular country music singers of the 1980s. He was known for his long, successful career in country music, as well as for his catchy tunes and sentimental lyrics. However, Twitty was also notorious for his string of failed relationships and his problems with alcohol and drugs.

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