(Above: Recognize any of those kids?)
This morning we got the news that Kenny Rogers passed away at the age of 81.
I’ve already seen a lot written about Rogers’ expansive career in both Pop and Country music. (I already covered one of favorite songs of his, “Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love To Town),” when composer Mel Tillis passed in 2017.) My Facebook feed has been filled with references to “The Gambler” and folding cards and such. Ask anyone – they can start naming popular Rogers tunes that rank among their favorites.
So, I thought “What’s a different tack I can take?” And I thought of one: a look at the Adult Contemporary charts of the 1980s, where Kenny Rogers was the top artist.
That’s right: the top artist of the 1980s, in terms of the soft hits stations, was Kenny.
The numbers help to make the case: from late in 1979 until 1989, Rogers put 28 singles on the AC chart. (I’ve included “Coward of the County,” which first charted in November of 1979 but hit its peak of #5 in 1980.) Of those, seven went on to be #1 songs, topping the chart for a total of 22 weeks. Nineteen of the singles, including the #1s, ended up in the Top Ten on that chart. We’re talking about songs that also had tremendous crossover appeal as well. Two of the hits, 1980’s “Lady” and 1982’s “Islands In the Stream” – a duet with Dolly Parton – went on to be #1 on the Pop side. Meanwhile, on the Country side, his charted Pop crossovers topped that chart for a total of fourteen weeks.
The individual titles are ones that you can no doubt hum. The first single I mentioned, “Coward of the County,” has the same sort of memorable chorus as “Lucille” that stays with you all day. (I always wondered if Becky was OK. We really don’t find out.) The very next hit was almost the one I picked to headline this piece. “Don’t Fall In Love With a Dreamer” spent four weeks at #2 on the AC chart (the spring of ’80 was dominated by Air Supply’s “Lost in Love”) and seemed to always be on whatever radio station my parents had on in the house at the time. (At 11, I only got to control the music in my room. The house or the car? Not happening.)
As the 80s wore on and I went to high school, it was inevitable that you’d hear a slow Rogers tune played at one of the weekly post-game sock hops (more on those here). It signaled that you were either going to announce some short-lived romance to your peers or that it was time to go to the bathroom, the hallway – anywhere but the dance floor. The strains of “We’ve Got Tonight,” a duet with Sheena Easton, meant slow dance time. Same with “Through the Years,” which topped the AC chart in ’82 (though I will always pick the Bob Seger version over this one any time).
But when I got to thinking about Kenny Rogers in the 80s, one song popped in my head. “Love Will Turn You Around” was a #13 Pop hit in the summer of ’82 and spent two weeks on the top of the AC chart. It’s from the soundtrack of the film Six Pack. Remember that one? It’s where Rogers, playing stock car driver Brewster Baker, parks his car and wakes up to find it stripped by a group of orphans. As he’s dealing with the local sheriff, he somehow ends up becoming a father figure to the kids, and discovers that not only can they strip cars, they can fix ’em, too. The kids end up as a sort of pit crew, if I am remembering this correctly, and he wins races. Everyone feels good, except maybe the critics. Oh, and the oldest girl? That’s 17-year-old Diane Lane. The film is also the debut of Anthony Michael Hall, who two years later will figure prominently in Sixteen Candles. It’s utterly forgettable, but the song isn’t. I can’t recall the last time that I heard it on the radio, but I’d be surprised to hear an 80s-hits station work it into the rotation.
You can run, you can hide, you can hear “Love Will Turn You Around” by clicking here.