The Mega Star Series has to feature George Strait. He is one of the defining artists in the format's history. He was also the catalyst for real change in country. I started working in country radio at WOBL the same exact time Strait hit the air, and I am proud to say I played every one of his 60 plus number one hits on great radio stations all across the country.
The stage was waiting for Strait in 1981. He recorded an album or two in the mid 1970's with zero luck. The reining stars of 1981 were mostly long-time established stars, some as far back as the late 1950's. Conway Twitty, Ronnie Milsap, George Jones, Waylon, Willie, Loretta, Dolly, Kenny Rogers, Tammy Wynette and others. There were also those made more famous by Urban Cowboy like, Don Williams, Mickey Gilley, Johnny Lee, Ed Bruce, Eddie Rabbitt, to name a few. There were some newer acts too, Lee Greenwood, Leon Everette, Razzy Bailey, TG Shepard, Sylvia, Janie Fricke and others.
All of them recorded good music and I played them all for years. But I'm not sure Nashville knew what fans were really looking for then. We were trying to be a lot of things to a lot of people and that seldom works well in any part of life. What we needed was a clear direction. Alabama burst on the scene and they were gaining momentum so fast it was staggering. They were young, and looked like the listeners we didn't have then and wanted. That in itself was a step forward. Hank Williams Jr., was turning the corner for superstardom, John Anderson was a new traditional favorite, Reba too, and Earl Thomas Conley was fresh and new. Then, there was George Strait.
Strait was different, he was young, handsome, wore jeans, boots, a big belt buckle, a hat and was pure country. Unlike Alabama, he was not a crossover artist. His name even sounded country. He became the prototype for the next 20 plus years for others. His unassuming personality was endearing, his music was honest, and in a very short while, was the talk of the format. Strait is the only person to have a top 10 hit every year for over 30 years. He sold 100 million albums and won over 60 awards, with more than 60 number one songs, with 30 years of sold out shows. Simply incredible. But how did that happen? How was it that HE was able to have the longevity that others dream of and pray for?
Well, there is no definitive answer to that, but I have always had a theory that is the only explanation I can possibly give you. FIRST - without question he is incredibly talented, and got his hands on really amazing songs. But my theory begins here......
George Strait never had that gigantic hit song that you can't follow up well. Sometimes those HUGE hits can be a problem in the long run. He was incredibly consistent. He branched out of course, but he never drifted so far from who he is, and his fans were never alienated by some new direction. They liked who he was. BUT THEN there are the SIX SONGS that to me - made him, defined him, and made fans fall in love with him over and over again. From my seat, these six songs are the among the reasons George Strait became - and stayed a Mega Star.
1981 - Unwound - His first big hit. It was totally country at a time pop country was the rage so it cut through. It was fun, upbeat, short, with an amazing hook that got him noticed. But as much as anything, this song made you want to hear more from him. And to me that is the only job of a debut song.
1982 - Amarillo By Morning - This song is loved for its honesty and grit. He showed fans that he understood the lifestyle of rodeo, and the lives of country people in general. That things are tough but we push on because we have to, and we love our country lifestyle. This song is a work of country music art.
1985 - The Chair - A simple song that gave a voice to every dude with the fear of asking a woman on a date or to simply dance. Incredibly vulnerable and sweet, you can feel the nerves and the tension. This song showed that Strait understood the listener absolutely. A wonderful story song that's timeless and forever relevant. One of the smartest songs he ever recorded.
1987 - All My Exes Live In Texas - Just a flat out great country song in every regard.
1992 - I Cross My Heart - Is everything that's great about a country love song. This is a perfect example of the perfect artist meeting the perfect song. This is loved all these years later by virtually every country music fan.
1995 - Check Yes or No - Everyone on earth can identify with this song in one way or another. I can't imagine anyone else singing this major hit song.
Strait changed everything. He was the lightning bolt that "younged" us up by sounding older school, quite a feat then. Strait precipitated the changing of the guard in Nashville, by signaling the end of mutton chops, bad hair dye jobs, leisure, rhinestone and 3 piece suits, He inspired and ushered in new hat wearing stars in jeans, boots, and belt buckles. George Strait never had to reinvent himself either. He is who he is and we are fine with that. He is an icon in country music. His arrival was the beginning of the eventual end for many on the charts, but it was also the start of country's greatest movement forward and opened the door for many others to walk through.
Strait spearheaded the traditionalist movement when he appeared during Urban Cowboy, which was the other end of country. He went through early and mid 80's pop-country, he paved the way for Randy Travis and other traditionalists in 1986. He joined in with the Neo-traditionalists of 1989 and beyond. He even recorded during Bro-country. He was always there, always on top of the charts. He also revolutonized country concerts with his all-day festival style shows at stadiums, and once did a show in front of about 105,000. Many of the biggest stars in country opened for him at his stadium shows over a number of years.
A Little Later Strait - One Of My Favorites From Him - Simply Fantastic!
Strait is the bar that all are measured by over that last 40 years. His name shows up in countless songs, and is looked upon as the reason a slew of country stars wanted to become stars in the first place.
Mega Star? You bet - in the 1980's, 1990's, 2000's and beyond. He was the beginning of the new beginning.