Family bands may be pretty common in country music, but few have the same success as Alabama. Comprised of cousins Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook, Alabama started in 1972 and snuck onto the country scene in the late 1970s. They eventually signed to RCA records and became one of the most successful music acts throughout America in the 1980s.
Drummer Mark Herndon rounded out the lineup that created most of the band’s hits. But after an unstoppable decade, their pop country popularity declined a bit in the 1990s. They drew a lot of flak for releasing a version of the NSYNC hit “God Must Have Spent A Little More Time On You.” But they still released several notable songs, like “Sad Lookin’ Moon,” the funky “Dancin’, Shaggin’, On The Boulevard)
When the 2000s came along, the band more or less disbanded. They launched a two-year farewell tour in 2002. But they also released several religious and inspirational albums. Their Christmas records contain some of the stronger Christmas songs from country artists (“Little Drummer Boy,” “Silent Night,” “Thistlehair The Christmas Bear” and “O Little Town Of Bethlehem” in particular). Then, in 2015, they released Southern Drawl without Herndon, a mixed bag that, if anything, reminded the world just how amazing their run in the 1980s was.
They amassed an incredible 26 No. 1 hits in the 1980s alone, on their way 33 total on the Billboard Hot Country charts. So you can understand picking the top 10 Alabama songs isn’t easy. Heck, any time a band has multiple “greatest hits” albums, it never is.
Their 1989 album Southern Star may have been their most successful ever. The platinum album produced four No. 1 singles, including this gem. It helps redefine success and the meaning of wealth. And it’s the kind of tune that endeared a lot of fans to Alabama songs.
1981’s Feels So Right produced this beautiful hit, which carries some of the trio’s more pop country flare, complete with full orchestra. One of the coolest things about this tune is the chord progression and the way they marry the melody with it. The sensational Tim DuBois had a hand in writing it, along with Jim Hurt and Ian Moore. It’s one of their more memorable love songs. The album also produced “Old Flame,” a similarly tragic love song.
Believe it or not, it took four albums for Alabama to really break through. But when they did, they did it in a big way. And “Tennessee River” off their 1980 album My Home’s In Alabama. Written exclusively by Randy Owen, this tune became their first every No. 1 and launched their success. It really underscores a huge part of Alabama’s overall sound, which is rooted in homeland pride and drawing metaphors between the physical attributes of their home and their preferred way of life. Jason Aldean also did a live version of the song on Alabama And Friends.
“The Closer You Get” off the album of the same name actually had a life with a few other artists. Exile (whose members wrote it) released the song, as well as Don King, whose version made it to No. 27 on the country charts. Rita Coolidge also recorded it for her 1981 album. But Alabama’s 1983 version gave the song that superstar push it needed, and it remained a fan favorite ever since.
“Mountain Music” is one of the band’s most immediately recognizable song. Those three part harmonies at the beginning are pretty much unmistakable. Besides being a huge hit in 1982, Brad Paisley used “Mountain Music” in his sold “Old Alabama.” But instead of sampling the song, he brought the band into the studio and had them re-record part of the bridge and add harmonies to the song. It was one of the cooler moments from 2011, with roots 30 years earlier.
This tune is, ironically, only one of two to make the list from after the 1980s. Released in 1992, “I’m In A Hurry (And Don’t Know Why)” is one of the band’s catchiest songs. With those Eagles-esque a cappella harmonies, it was one of their last No. 1’s on country radio. Florida Georgia Line briefly revived the tune in 2013 with their cover for the Alabama And Friends tribute album.
“Born Country” was actually the leading song on their 1991 compilation album Greatest Hits Vol. 2. Written by Byron Hill and John Schweers, it’s perhaps the one song that best sums up Alabama’s entire ethos.
One of the most immediately recognizable songs in pretty much the entire world, how can you not love a song that begins with “The Eyes Of Texas”? And what’s a better summation of country music that the line, “So rosin up that bow for faded love and let’s all dance”? Plus, any tune where the crowd gleefully yells out “Cotton-eye Joe!” that isn’t actually the Cotton-Eyed Joe deserves a good spot on this list.
The Closer You Get really did feature some of Alabama’s best love songs. From the title track to “Lady Down On Love” and several others. But “Dixieland Delight” is by far their most iconic. That easy-listening feeling mixed with their unusual chorus harmonies make this one of country music’s true staples.
“Sweet potato pie and a-shut my mouth!” Has there even been a song about economic depression that’s more catchy and upbeat? Doubtful.