Country music's been a singles-driven format all along, limiting the number of truly great albums over time. Mention classic rock to a child of the '70s, and it'll evoke mental images of iconic album covers by Pink Floyd, The Eagles and other usual suspects. Bring up country to someone from the same age bracket, and they're more likely to sing Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler" or hum Dolly Parton's "Jolene" than reminisce about Rogers' The Gambler album or Parton's Jolene LP.
That's not to discount outliers in the annals of country music, from the Wanted! The Outlaws compilation (1976) to another album that pushed the genre into the future while upholding its past: Randy Travis' Storms of Life (1986). If anything, the lack of foundational country albums makes something like Travis' debut all the more special, with its sustained place in fans' hearts fueling demand for Warner Music Nashville to release a 35th anniversary deluxe edition on Sept. 24.
"It's an anomaly in any genre of music to create the perfect album," wrote Bernie Taupin, Elton John's lyricist, in the reissue's liner notes. "Oh, it happens, but inevitably it can be marred by that one track that makes you think 'Dang, if only they'd left that one out.' Hank Williams didn't make long players per se, but over the decades since Luke the Drifter cranked out cuts of genuine genius, there has been an illustrious handful who have not only carved out country classics, but have been driven to greatness by voices hand picked by God. They are few and far between, but Randy Travis and his perfect gem Storms of Life stands on the shoulders of giants."
To commemorate 35 years of Storms of Life, Wide Open Country ranked the triple platinum classic's 10 original tracks. There's no dud in the bunch, as Travis and producer Kyle Lehning had plenty of material to work with at a time when there were only so many traditional country voices on the radio yet a wealth of past-honoring material being written by the likes of Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet. Indeed, the three unreleased songs ("Ain't No Use," "Carryin' Fire" and "The Wall") added to the remastered edition prove that there were more than 10 potential album tracks in consideration that suited Travis' musical vision. Better yet, what ended up on the cutting room floor sounds better than a lot of artists from that time period's hit singles. So think of the lower-ranked songs here as the least amazing of the most amazing, not the worst selections from a near-flawless collection.
10. "Storms of Life"
The title track's a Max D. Barnes and Troy Seals co-write addressing interconnected themes Travis revisited often during his Country Music Hall of Fame career: the wages of sin ("always getting high when I get low") and the triumph of redemption.
9. "My Heart Cracked (But It Did Not Break)"
The storytelling and fiddle playing traditions on display here scream Texas, making this Donald Singleton, Phil Thomas and Ronny Scaife composition as much a missed opportunity for George Strait as a solid Travis deep cut.
8. "Messin' With My Mind"
Charlie Williams and Joseph Allen's "Messin' With My Mind" stays out of the rankings cellar, if only because of Mark O'Connor's mandolin accompaniment.
7. "Send My Body"
The first sign that Travis would excel as a songwriter and not just an interpreter of others' stories also teased his ability to fully embody the sorts of free spirits and woebegone characters he'd later play in westerns.
6. "There'll Always be a Honky Tonk Somewhere"
How exactly did co-writers Steve Clark and Johnny MacRae's prediction that the need for honky tonk bars might outlast popular demand for the Super Bowl and video games slide under the radars of Moe Bandy and other roots-bound hitmakers?
5. "No Place Like Home"
This Overstreet original captures both the conversational style and raw emotion of a Bill Anderson standard. Travis took it to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.
4. "Reasons I Cheat"
Travis wrote this admission of guilt with Clark and MacRae. It's the sort of emotionally vulnerable song that attracted Travis in the first place to the classic country sounds and stories he upheld.
The throwback tale of heartbreak that started it all became Travis' first Top 10 single in late 1985, earning our top pick a second shot at chart success. It's a Buddy Blackmon and Vip Vipperman co-write.
2. "Diggin' Up Bones"
"Diggin' Up Bones" became one of two No. 1s from Storms of Life. It remains one of Travis' signature songs, in part because of Overstreet, Al Gore and Nat Stuckey's all-too-relatable lyrics about how easy it is to fall down a rabbit hole of regret.
1. "On the Other Hand"
One of Travis' signature songs peaked at a disappointing No. 67 when released in 1985 as his debut single. After "1982's" runaway success, Warner Bros. strayed from the norm and rereleased "On the Other Hand" as a single less than a year after it failed to crack the Top 50. The second time around, an audience and business that finally recognized Travis as a generational talent pushed the song to its rightful spot atop Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart.