Music

Charly McClain: Whatever Happened to the '80s Country Star?

Screengrab via YouTube

Charly McClain was a bonafide country star from her debut single, 1976's "Lay Down," to the early '90s, when she pulled a Bobbie Gentry and left the public eye.

Born Charlotte Denise McClain on March 26, 1956 in Memphis, Tennessee, the future pop-country star started recording herself at age 9 so her dad could hear songs she learned for school performances while he was hospitalized with tuberculosis. At age 12, McClain joined her brother Mike's band, Charlotte and The Volunteers.

After a 1973-'75 run on Memphis' country music showcase the Mid-South Jamboree, McClain signed with Epic Records.

McClain's last six singles of the '70s ("Let Me Be Your Baby," "That's What You Do To Me," "Take Me Back," "When a Love Ain't Right," "You're a Part of Me" and Johnny Rodriguez duet "I Hate the Way I Love It") cracked the country chart's Top 20, positioning her as a potential breakout star.

In 1980, McClain was among the country-pop acts to benefit from the Urban Cowboy craze. Indeed, a run of five straight Top 5 singles in '80 and '81 ("Who's Cheatin' Who" (a future hit for Alan Jackson), "Surround Me With Love," "Sleepin' With the Radio On," "The Very Best is You" and "Dancing Your Memory Away") solidified her as a mainstream hitmaker, as did her 1980 albums Women Get Lonely and Who's Cheatin' Who.

McClain appeared on the hit ABC mystery series Hart to Hart in 1981-- not as the similar-looking sister of Jennifer Hart (Stefanie Powers), which is totally a missed opportunity. Two years later, she co-starred on CHiPS.

Three hit duets with someone who'd benefitted even more from Urban Cowboy, Mickey Gilley ("Paradise Tonight," "Candy Man" and "The Right Stuff"), furthered McClain's commercial success.

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McClain's fame reached its peak in 1985 with her third and final No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, "Radio Heart," plus two Top 10 duets with her husband, Wayne Massey ("With Just One Look in Your Eyes" and "You Are My Music, You Are My Song.")

From 1977 to 1988, McClain put together a discography of 15 studio albums (including duet albums with Gilley (It Takes Believers) and Massey (When Love is Right)). There's also multiple compilations, released during her commercial heyday (1982's Greatest Hits and 1985's Biggest Hits) and since she left the public eye (1999's Anthology).

Though her typical chart placement had slipped since her final Top 20 entry, 1987's "Don't Touch Me There," McClain was hardly a has-been when she walked away from country music in the early '90s. By most accounts, McClain went home to spend time with Massey, a former star of soap opera One Life to Live, and take care of her mother, who passed away 2009.

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Charly McClain: Whatever Happened to the '80s Country Star?