Music

'I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool': Behind Barbara Mandrell's Classic Hit & Signature Song

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Barbara Mandrell is a legendary country singer known for hits such as "Sleeping Single in a Double Bed" and "(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want to Be Right," but one of her most iconic songs is undoubtedly her 1981 single, "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool." The tune, from her Barbara Mandrell Live album, went on to become a hit, landing at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and likely contributing to her Entertainer of the Year award at the 1981 CMA Awards. Mandrell herself even calls the tune her "signature song," and it turns out the song was actually tailor-made for her.

"I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool" was written by Nashville songwriters Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan during a time when country music was experiencing a rise in popularity thanks in part to Urban Cowboy. Mandrell, who started her career as a child, once told CMT that the song was inspired by a conversation she had with Fleming and Morgan during which she told them about other children making fun of her for her country leanings.

"She and Dennis wrote it after a visit we had had about my early years as a little grade schooler in California doing live television on a Saturday night and going back to school on Monday morning and being teased about ... that hillbilly music," she said. "Just things of that nature, little stories."

"It's literally the story of my life," she added.

However, "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool" is more than just Mandrell's life story. It is also the life story of Fleming and Morgan, who were also longtime country fans.

"Even though we wrote the song with Barbara Mandrell in mind and thought it would be a perfect song for her, every line in the song is locked into our backgrounds," Morgan wrote in Chicken Soup For The Soul: Country Music"When it says, 'I was listening to the Opry when all my friends were diggin' rock 'n roll and rhythm and blues,' that was certainly my life. There is a line in the song about 'puttin' peanuts in my Coke,' and it's funny because I remember talking to Kye about putting peanuts in my Coke when I used to hang out at Craig's Pool Hall in Tracy, Minnesota. She grew up in Fort Smith, Arkansas, but she said she used to do it, too."

Read More: 5 Stories That Capture the Legacy of George Jones

The song also features a line about "circling the drive-in and turning down George Jones," so producers brought in George Jones to sing the last line of the song. Although the original recording of the song sounds live, it was actually recorded in a studio and the applause sound was dubbed in. A later version of the track was recorded live at the Roy Acuff Theater of Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee.

"I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool" was also included on Mandrell's Greatest Hits albumwhich was released on MCA records in 1985. The song was also recorded by Reba McEntire and Kenny Chesney for the album, She Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool: A Tribute to Barbara Mandrell. The tribute album also features tracks from Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley, Lee Ann Rimes, Dierks Bentley and more.

"I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool" lyrics:

I remember wearin' straight leg Levis
Flannel shirts even when they weren't in style
I remember singin' with Roy Rogers
At the movies when the West was really wild

And I was listenin' to the Opry
When all of my friends
Were diggin' Rock 'n' Roll and Rhythm and Blues
I was country, when country wasn't cool

I remember circlin' the drive-in
Pullin' up and turnin' down George Jones
I remember when no one was lookin'
I was puttin' peanuts in my Coke

I took a lot of kiddin'
'Cause I never did fit in
Now look at everybody
Tryin' to be what I was then

I was country, when country wasn't cool
Ooh

I was country, when country wasn't cool
I was country, from my hat down to my boots
I still act, and look the same
What you see ain't nothin' new

I was country, when country wasn't cool

They call us country bumpkins
For stickin' to our roots
I'm just glad we're in a country
Where we're all free to choose

I was country, when country wasn't cool

Hey, I was country, when country wasn't cool
Yeah, I was country, from my hat down to, whoa my boots
I still act, and look the same
What you see ain't nothin' new

Yeah, I was country when country wasn't cool

 

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'I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool': Behind Barbara Mandrell's Classic Hit & Signature Song