From the singer's time as a talented child star alongside sisters Louise and Irene to her years as one of the most decorated hit-makers in all popular music, Barbara Mandrell songs defined country class while attracting new listeners to the genre.
Although she didn't have an early career hit like fellow "Jamestown Ferry" singer Tanya Tucker, Barbara was hardly an unknown before she signed with Columbia Records at age 20. She was a pedal steel wiz and a tour mate of Johnny Cash and others long before her high school graduation.
After a more traditionally country run with Columbia and producer Billy Sherrill from '69 to '74, Mandrell signed with ABC/Dot. A new label and a new producer in Tom Collins set the wheels in motion for a long run of more pop and adult contemporary-friendly hits that made the most of a great American vocalist's talents. With Collins, Mandrell dominated the television and radio airwaves in the '70s and early '80s, becoming the first-ever two-time CMA Entertainer of the Year recipient.
Despite the setback of a 1984 car crash and the rise of a more traditional approach to mainstream country, Mandrell stuck around as a respected veteran, still capable of wowing country audiences with unique love songs and Las Vegas-worthy stage shows.
From her purely country origins to her sweetened pop standards, the Hall of Famer churned out numerous memorable tunes, including these ten all-time greats.
10. "There's No Love in Tennessee"
Even Kenny Rogers must've been green with envy after hearing this countrified take on adult contemporary pop. Like Rogers, Mandrell's vocal talents really shone when presented with this kind of material. For more of this, check out the harder-hitting "Fast Lanes and Country Roads."
9. "If Loving You is Wrong (I Don't Want to Be Right)"
This is a vaguely country-sounding version of something from the Stax songbook. Like Eddy Arnold and other Nashville sound crooners, Mandrell could successfully shoehorn popular sounds into her own style. Earlier in her career, Mandrell made "Games People Play" her own.
8. "One of a Kind Pair of Fools"
Like a lot of good country songs, this one's about a proverbial losing hand. Not even '80s production trends could slow down the still-rolling momentum of one of country music's most gifted entertainers. This kept proving true with the singles "Only a Lonely Heart Knows," "Angel in Your Arms," "In Times Like These," "Wish You Were Here" and others.
7. "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man"
Chips Moman, the co-writer of "Kentucky Rain" and another classic beloved by country music fans, had a hand in this Aretha Franklin hit that suited Mandrell's style in 1971.
6. "I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)"
Mandrell pulled off the jazzy feel of Patsy Cline herself's greatest songs as her voice waltzes along with that infectious bass line. Oddly, it's an old Otis Redding co-write and not a hidden country gem.
5. "Midnight Oil"
This tale of unfaithfulness, framed as a working woman burning the midnight oil instead of coming home to her husband, is a strong exhibit A in any argument that Mandrell really was country before it became cool. Supporting evidence includes the honky-tonk fiddle tune "Show Me" and the more Western-sounding "Treat Him Right."
4. "Happy Birthday Dear Heartache"
This one's got it all: a sarcastic title, a gorgeous vocal performance, and buckets of guilt. Like "The Best of Strangers" or the equally smart jukebox favorites "Playin' Around With Love" and "Standing Room Only," it's got that added sass that makes it more than just another good country song by a great singer.
3. "Sleeping Single in a Double Bed"
Before she slows things down, this sounds like a '70s dance interpretation of a lyrically-driven song. That makes it more like a Candi Staton hit than a Dolly Parton original. Songs that bordered on dance music worked for Mandrell's varied skill set, as heard on "Woman to Woman."
2. "Standing Room Only"
Although Mandrell adapted to different years' pop-country needs, she sounded most natural when accompanied by weepy steel guitars and other elements of traditional country music. That's true on her earlier material and '70s singles like the conversational confessional "Married But Not To Each Other."
1. "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool" (With George Jones)
Mandrell and her sisters were as authentic as they come from a young age--even if this isn't really a live recording. It's one of the songs off the Urban Cowboy soundtrack that suited a new decade's pop needs while honoring the genre's past.