Country singer K.T. Oslin recently passed away. She had a hit record called “80s Ladies” and it got me to thinking about my interest in country music back in the late 1980s. There were some very successful female singers that flirted with pop music.
K.T. Oslin – Sadly, it seemed she did not release a lot of albums. She was in her mid forties when her second album, This Woman, became a major success. Her big and soulful voice blended styles of country, pop and rock. Love in a Small Town came out a couple of years later, was nearly as successful, but her career began to wind down.
Kathy Mattea – She is probably the most “country” of the performers on this list. Had tremendous success on the country charts in the 1980s, but her popularity on the radio faded in the 1990s. What I noticed was as her music became more complex and deeper, it was less successful.
Reba McEntire – Seems like she’s been around forever. She had country music success in the late 1980s and mainstream success in the 1990s as her sound was more polished and orchestrated. This was soulful country-pop. Beginning with Rumor Has It, through Read My Mind, these were mature and sophisticated albums that found radio success and satisfied both country and mainstream fans.
Lorrie Morgan – Her success was mainly with her early albums of the late 1980s and early 1990s, which also paralleled her marriage to the late country singer Keith Whitely. Morgan’s career has had its share of tragedy and grief. Her singing is very dramatic and full of emotion, and she has been compared to Tammy Wynette.
Patty Loveless – Beginning with her second album, If My Heart Had Windows, the hits started coming. There was a soulfulness and edge to her voice, a sassy attitude. My favorite of her albums is Up Against My Heart (1991). I kind of lost track of her after that.
Carlene Carter – The daughter of June Carter, Carlene burst onto the country scene. A California girl in appearance, she met up with English performer Nick Lowe, before divorcing him and landing with Howie Epstein of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. She scored most of her success in the 1990s and had a fine album called Little Love Letters, with “Unbreakable Heart.” In more recent years she has veered more toward traditional country and the Carter Family roots.
Suzy Bogguss – She also had her greatest successes in the early and mid 1990s, but it was evident from her early releases that she had the voice and style of someone you wanted to pay attention to. Aces in 1991 was a huge success for her, a number one country album with three top ten singles. Her albums were produced by veteran producer Jimmy Bowen. Suzy’s popularity waned, although she still records and tours.
Mary Chapin Carpenter – It is virtually impossible to categorize her music. Is it country, pop, folk? Her greater success came in the 1990s, Grammy Awards and multi-platinum albums, radio play, but you could tell from the albums she released at the end of the 1980s that she had something special. She would have been comfortable in the early 1970s along side Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins.
Wynonna Judd – On her own after The Judds, Wynonna scored big with a solo career in the early 1990s. I have her in this group because she became known as part of The Judds. Her first two solo albums, Wynonna and Tell Me Why, contained carefully chosen songs, produced by Tony Brown. After her first three solo albums, she was passed by as newer performers emerged, although she still maintained the audience built as a duo and solo performer.
Every generation provides the foundation for those who follow. Behind these successful women came Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Trisha Yearwood, Shelby Lynn and others. Before them were Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Dottie West, Kitty Wells, June Carter, Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton.