Critics today would have a field day with Barbara's strange, unfocused career, which encompassed country, pop, R&B, No. 1 hits about sleeping single in a double bed and eating crackers in said bed, a prime-time TV variety show, a tabloid scandal (when, for insurance reasons, she was forced to sue the family of a man who died in a September 11, 1984 car accident -- spooky! -- in which she herself was seriously injured), and even a stint on the Aaron Spelling-produced daytime soap Sunset Beach.
Of course, back then, as a budding music obsessive, I didn't concern myself with such things as career analysis. I just loved Barbara's beauty, her countrypolitan style and, of course, her music. After all, as she insisted in one of her six No. 1 hits, she was country when country wasn't cool. Yes, wishful thinking indeed. Despite a brief flirtation with country early in her career (particularly on "The Midnight Oil," her first trip to the country Top 10 in 1973), she was almost as pop as Olivia. But I dug the song anyway.
My Top 5 Country-Pop Chanteuses From The Late '70s/Early '80s (plus their three essential heyday hits)
- Anne Murray "You Won't See Me," "Another Sleepless Night," "Somebody's Always Saying Goodbye." Anne (above, with me in New York City in the mid '90s) was Canada's first country female superstar. John Lennon once called the first hit the best Beatles cover ever.
- Barbara Mandrell "(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want To Be Right," "Years," "Till You're Gone." The latter was a No. 1 single, Barbara's fifth overall, from In Black & White.
- Crystal Gayle "You Never Miss A Real Good Thing (Till He Says Goodbye)," "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue," "The Woman In Me."
- Dolly Parton "Here You Come Again," "Starting Over Again," "But You Know I Love You." Once, during an interview, Dolly feigned being offended when I told her the latter was my favorite of her songs. Why insulted? Because she didn't write it. Interestingly, during her late-'70s/early '80s commercial peak, country's best-ever female songwriter did not write most of her biggest hits, "9 To 5" excepted. Fun fact: "Starting Over Again" was cowritten by none other than disco queen Donna Summer. Listen closely; it could have fit right in on one of Donna's post-disco albums.
- Dottie West "A Lesson In Leavin'," "Are You Happy Baby," "What Are We Doing In Love"