Day 52: The Coronavirus Countdown - 100 Days of Great Music

Both of our featured albums today date from the same general time period - Chuck's pick by Billy Idol was released in 1985, and Kendall's pick from The McCarters was released in 1988.

It was a great era for all kinds of popular music, but it was an especially strong time for country music which was in the midst of a new traditionalist revival. Powered by the hat acts and harmony groups like The McCarters - a trio of sisters from the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee - country music was getting back in touch with its soul.

The roots of that revival dated back to the late '70s and early '80s when traditionalists like John Anderson (whose latest album we featured yesterday) and George Strait were keeping it mostly country in the post-Urban Cowboy era. But while Anderson managed to crossover to the pop charts with "Swingin'" and Strait was softening out his rough edges with pop-friendly crossover material like "Marina Del Rey," an artist named Ricky Skaggs was keeping it country to the core.

Skaggs was a bluegrass veteran who made his major label debut in 1981 with Waitin' On The Sun To Shine. It was his bid for country stardom, and despite the country-pop leanings of the era, it worked. By 1982, he was the CMA Male Vocalist of the Year and the Horizon Award winner, and by 1985, he was taking home the Entertainer of the Year trophy. I was lucky to see him around that time at The Oil Palace in Tyler, Texas, and he and his band were the best in the business.

The rest of the country music world took notice. Suddenly, new traditionalists like Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam were everywhere, and it was during that time The McCarters made their way to Nashville and were signed to Warner Bros. Records. Like a lot of other artists from that time, they have Skaggs to thank for paving the way and reminding country label execs what business they were in.

Ironically, Skaggs had been moving toward a more mainstream country sound himself after leading country back to its roots. He faded relatively quickly at country radio after his big win in 1985, and struggled to consistently reach the Top 10 with a less traditional approach. Replaced on radio playlists by the very traditionalists he had inspired, Skaggs returned to a more traditional sound on his 1988 album Comin' Home To Stay, and he even managed to find the Top 5 a couple of times on his 1989 album Kentucky Thunder. Shortly after that, he returned to bluegrass for good in the '90s.

But those early Epic records are still the best, and it's hard to beat his 1982 album Highways & Heartaches featuring hits like "Highway 40 Blues," "I Wouldn't Change You If I Could" and "You've Got A Lover." It's your bonus pick of the day.

- Chuck Cox and Kendall Webb


Billy Idol

Vital Idol (1985)

Why I Love It

Another mainstay of the MTV era, Billy Idol made a habit of making hit songs with stunning visuals to go with them in the accompanying music videos. I like the idea of filling a greatest hits compilation with remixed versions that give the songs a little bit of new life. That sounds dicey on paper, but thinking outside of the box worked like a charm in this case. It also gave fans who already owned the original hits something different. Plus, the record included a previously unreleased live cover of Tommy James and the Shondells' "Mony Mony" that became yet another hit. This album is like a time capsule of the 1980s that I love dearly and listen to often.

Album Highlights

"White Wedding (Parts I & II)," "Dancing With Myself" and "To Be a Lover"

Kendall on Chuck's Album of the Day

If you're Billy Idol, it's probably just a matter of time before you release an album titled Vital Idol. And while it may have been a better name for a true greatest hits collection, it's still a strong record that catches the 'idol' at his best. A good pick that represents the mid-'80s well.


The McCarters

The Gift (1988)

Why I Love It

As noted above, country music was in the midst of a new traditionalist revolution when a trio of young sisters from East Tennessee broke onto the scene.

The McCarters hailed from Sevierville, Tennessee, the hometown of Dolly Parton. In fact, they were second cousins of Parton, and their 1988 album The Gift is one of the best debuts in the history of country music. It spawned a couple of Top 5 hits including "Timeless and True Love" and the title track, and "I Give You Music" also broke the Top 30. Beyond that, it's the album tracks that really separate this record from the pack. Every song was a perfect little gem on its own with older sister Jennifer handling the lead vocal duties while twin sisters Lisa and Teresa added the unmistakeable harmonies that defined their sound. The sisters paved the way for other female trios that followed in country music in the years to follow like The Dixie Chicks and SheDaisy. Currently out of print, The Gift is one of country music's overlooked classics.

Album Highlights

"The Gift," "Timeless And True Love" and "Letter From Home"

Chuck on Kendall's Album of the Day

Kendall has been a fan of The McCarters since the day I met him at Kilgore College. When we first started talking about music, I remember him playing some of this album for me. I was blown away by the breathtaking harmonies from the three sisters and the quality of the songs. This record perfectly led into a special decade of country music in the 1990s. It's still a fantastic album.

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