The essential '80s country playlist
Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

The essential '80s country playlist

The 1980s were an interesting time for country music. A host of influences, from pop to outlaw, shaped the genre and produced a truly wide array of songs, perfect for both traditionalists and pop-country fans alike.

Flip through the gallery below for a look at the decade's most iconic country tunes, including hits from Reba McEntire, George Strait, Willie Nelson, and more of the genre's finest artists. 

 
1 of 20

"Forever And Ever, Amen," Randy Travis

"Forever And Ever, Amen," Randy Travis
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Arguably the most recognizable song from one of country music's most iconic voices, "Forever And Ever, Amen" was the lead single from Randy Travis's sophomore album in 1987. The song quickly rose to #1, then won Travis a Grammy Award, an ACM Award, and a CMA Award for Song of the Year. 

 
2 of 20

"Islands In The Stream," Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers

"Islands In The Stream," Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers
Paul Natkin/Getty Images

In what may be the most recognizable duet in country music history, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers sailed to #1 with "Islands In The Stream" in 1983. 

 
3 of 20

"If Tomorrow Never Comes," Garth Brooks

"If Tomorrow Never Comes," Garth Brooks
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Described by Garth Brooks as his signature tune, "If Tomorrow Never Comes" was co-written by Brooks and Keith Blazy and released in 1989. It was the first of many #1s for Brooks, who went on to become one of music's top-selling artists in any genre. 

 
4 of 20

"Elvira," The Oak Ridge Boys

"Elvira," The Oak Ridge Boys
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With its killer harmonies and endlessly catchy lyrics, the Oak Ridge Boys took "Elvira" to #1 in 1981, 15 years after the song was first recorded by Dallas Frazier. It's now a staple for the band and sounds even better live. 

 
5 of 20

"He Stopped Loving Her Today," George Jones

"He Stopped Loving Her Today," George Jones
David Redfern/Redferns

Considered by many as the greatest country song of all time, this devastatingly sad track was a hit for George Jones in 1980. 

 
6 of 20

"9 to 5," Dolly Parton

"9 to 5," Dolly Parton
Bob King/Redferns

Released in 1980 alongside the film of the same name, "9 to 5" instantly became a signature for Dolly Parton. It's since become an anthem for workers everywhere as they try to make it through the daily grind. 

 
7 of 20

"Always On My Mind," Willie Nelson

"Always On My Mind," Willie Nelson
Paul Natkin/Getty Images

First recorded in the 1970s by Brenda Lee, Willie Nelson made "Always On My Mind" a country legend in 1982. The song was #1 hit, and earned Nelson and its writers three Grammy Awards the following year. 

 
8 of 20

"Queen of Hearts," Juice Newton

"Queen of Hearts," Juice Newton
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

This ridiculously catchy tune is pretty heavily influenced by pop sensibilities, but that didn't stop it from becoming a top-ten hit after Juice Newton recorded "Queen of Hearts" in 1981. In addition to the chart success, it also scored Newton a Grammy nod and was later certified gold by the Recording Industry Academy of America. 

 
9 of 20

"Highwayman," The Highwaymen

"Highwayman," The Highwaymen
Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

A manifesto for both outlaw country and the Highwaymen, a supergroup comprised of Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, and Willie Nelson, this cosmic tune recorded in 1985 starts with the tale of its title character, then a sailor and a dam builder before that iconic verse where Johnny Cash sings about piloting a starship "across the universe divide." 

 
10 of 20

"When You Say Nothing At All," Keith Whitley

"When You Say Nothing At All," Keith Whitley
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

This iconic country ballad was a #1 hit for Keith Whitley in 1988, just months before Whitley died in 1989 after developing alcohol poisoning. The song's timeless nature was proven when Alison Krauss scored a sleeper hit with "When You Say Nothing At All" in 1995. 

 
11 of 20

"I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool," Barbara Mandrell

"I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool," Barbara Mandrell
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An ode to country authenticity just in time for the "Urban Cowboy" era, Barbara Mandrell hit #1 with "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool" in 1981. 

 
12 of 20

"Slow Hand," Conway Twitty

"Slow Hand," Conway Twitty
David Redfern/Redferns

This cover of the Pointer Sisters' original proved that Conway Twitty still had what it took to hit #1 in 1982. It was his last major chart success, and remains a fan favorite. 

 
13 of 20

"Little Rock," Reba McEntire

"Little Rock," Reba McEntire
Mike Slaughter/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Even though its title might indicate otherwise, Reba isn't singing about the Arkansas city in "Little Rock," a #1 hit from 1986. Nope, it's about a woman who marries a rich man and quickly learns that marrying for money isn't all it's cracked up to be. 

 
14 of 20

"Fishin' In The Dark," Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

"Fishin' In The Dark," Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

This catchy little jam about a little late-night fishing session that turns into lovin' was a hit for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1987. Since its release, the song has sold more than a million copies, earning a Platinum certification from the Recording Industry Academy of America. 

 
15 of 20

"Swingin," John Anderson

"Swingin," John Anderson
Scott Harrison/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

With its jazzy instrumentation and ridiculously catchy lyrics, "Swingin'" was an '80s radio staple that was a hit for John Anderson in 1983. It scored Single of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards that year and remains popular among lovers of good vintage country. 

 
16 of 20

"God Bless The U.S.A.," Lee Greenwood

"God Bless The U.S.A.," Lee Greenwood
Paul Natkin/Getty Images

A patriotic hit that still stirs emotions today, "God Bless The U.S.A." earned Lee Greenwood a top-ten hit after its release in 1984. The song has continued to find new life and has since sold more than a million copies. 

 
17 of 20

"Guitars, Cadillacs," Dwight Yoakam

"Guitars, Cadillacs," Dwight Yoakam
Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Even though it wasn't a #1 hit, "Guitars, Cadillacs" helped cement Dwight Yoakam's place as one of the most compelling neo-traditionalists in the genre in 1986. 

 
18 of 20

"80's Ladies," K.T. Oslin

"80's Ladies," K.T. Oslin
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Released in 1987, K.T. Oslin's "80s Ladies" is definitely an anthem for the modern woman in changing times: "We've been educated, we got liberated, and had complicating matters with men," Oslin sings. "Oh, we burned our bras, and we burned our dinners, and we burned our candles at both ends." 

 
19 of 20

"All My Ex's Live in Texas," George Strait

"All My Ex's Live in Texas," George Strait
Paul Natkin/Getty Images

A massive hit for George Strait in 1987, "All My Exes Live In Texas" is still a fixture in the reigning king of country music's live shows. 

 
20 of 20

"Seven Spanish Angels," Willie Nelson and Ray Charles

"Seven Spanish Angels," Willie Nelson and Ray Charles
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Bringing together two of the twentieth century's most iconic artists, "Seven Spanish Angels" paired the incredible talents of Willie Nelson and Ray Charles in 1984. It's a classic country tune, telling the tale of an ill-fated outlaw and the woman who loves him, with seriously stirring lyrics and a melody for the ages. 

Amy McCarthy is a Texas-based journalist. Follow her on twitter at @aemccarthy

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