Few groups in any genre of music have achieved the level of success earned by Alabama. This year Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook celebrate four decades since they left Fort Payne, Ala., to spend the summer playing in a Myrtle Beach, S.C., bar called the Bowery.
The band has come a long way since those early days playing for tips. Three-time winners of the CMA entertainer of the year honor, Alabama changed the landscape of country music and paved the way for the current crop of groups enjoying success.
Alabama’s musical legacy is celebrated on the new project Alabama & Friends, which features Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney and more contemporary stars delivering covers of some of Alabama’s classic hits. With dozens of No. 1 singles to their credit, it’s hard to narrow it down to 10 prime hits, but here’s a look at some of the most memorable tunes in Alabama’s amazing career.
“My Home’s in Alabama”
Prior to signing with RCA Records in 1980, Alabama released three independent albums, but it was this heartfelt homage to their home state that finally put the boys from Fort Payne on the map. The song was written by Owen and Gentry, and though it peaked at No. 17 in Billboard, it became the band’s signature song. The conversational lyric combined with Owen’s warm, earnest delivery resonated strongly with country fans. The song extols the virtues of the band’s home state while also acknowledging the personal struggles they faced as aspiring musicians. Yet in the iconic chorus, the boys pledge to stay connected to their roots as Owen sings: “My home’s in Alabama, no matter where I lay my head/My home’s in Alabama, Southern born and Southern bred.”
Another song with a geographical hook proved to be Alabama’s first No. 1 single. Penned by Randy Owen and released in 1980, “Tennessee River” is heavily laced with fiddle and boasts a catchy lyric about the joys of rural life. In the song, Owen sings of having left there and wondering why he ever roamed. In the second verse, he declares he’s making his future there as he sings: “Me and my woman’s done made our plans/On the Tennessee River, walkin’ hand in hand/Gonna raise a family, Lord, settle down/Where peace and love can still be found.”
Written by Donny Lowery and Mac McAnally, this Alabama hit is one of country music’s most enduring classics. The lyric paints a picture of a couple who run into the woman’s ex and the guy can tell she’s still carrying a torch for her former lover. Fear tinged with heartache is palatable in Owen’s skilled delivery. The song was the first single from Alabama’s Feels So Right album and became the group’s third No. 1.
The well-loved classic was released in 1982 and served as the lead single and title track of Alabama’s third album. According to Owen’s book, Born Country, it took him three years to write “Mountain Music.” The song features a spoken word intro by an old man declaring he’s going to climb that mountain over there someday. Though the voice sounded like actor Walter Brennan, it was actually Alabama’s roadie/guitar tech Bob Martin. The lyric features memories from Owen’s youth like swimming across the river, climbing a hickory tree and playing baseball. “Mountain Music” became Alabama’s sixth No. 1 hit in Billboard and was revived in 2011 when Brad Paisley brought in Owen, Gentry and Cook sing a bit of “Mountain Music” on the hit, “Old Alabama.”
“The Closer You Get”
Written by Exile members J.P. Pennington and Mark Gray, this country love song was the title track to Alabama’s fourth studio album, released in 1983. The Closer You Get spawned three classic No. 1 singles — the title track, “Lady Down on Love” and “Dixieland Delight” — and was named album of the year at the 1983 CMA Awards. “The Closer You Get” has an infectious melody and the lyric captures the exhilaration of falling in love as Owen sings, “The closer you get, the further I fall/I’ll be over the edge now in no time at all.” Though the song was recorded by Exile, Don King and Rita Coolidge, Alabama’s distinctive take on the tune became the definitive version and earned the band their 10th No. 1 hit.
“Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)”
No self-respecting country act’s career would be complete without at least one great trucking song and this up-tempo tune is among Alabama’s most memorable hits. Written by Dave Loggins, the lyric tells the story of a truck driver, a beloved family man, who is driving through the Midwest when he has a wreck. The highway patrol calls his wife to say they’ve found “a jack-knifed rig in a snow bank in Illinois” and the driver is missing. She hangs up the phone and sings a little song he’d taught her and the kids while she worries, prays and waits. It’s a great story song, filled with suspense, hope and a happy outcome. The song was the title track to the band’s 1984 album Roll On and became Alabama’s 12th consecutive No. 1 hit.
“40 Hour Week (For a Livin’)”
In this tribute to the American worker, the guys send shout-outs to different hard-working professionals in lines such as “Hello Kansas wheat field farmer, let me thank you for your time/You work a forty hour week for a livin’, just to send it on down the line.” Dave Loggins, Lisa Silver and Don Schlitz penned the song, which was the title track to the band’s ninth studio album. Released in 1985, it became Alabama’s 17th No. 1 hit. Directed by David Hogan, the “40 Hour Week” music video paid homage to blue collar workers by spotlighting Americans on the job.
“Forever’s as Far as I’ll Go”
This gorgeous ballad was written by Mike Reid, a former defensive lineman for the Cincinnati Bengals, who became one of Nashville’s most respected singer-songwriters. (His credits include “Stranger in My House,” “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and his own No. 1 hit, “Walk on Faith.”) “Forever’s as Far as I’ll Go” appeared on Alabama’s Pass It On Down album. Released in 1990, the single became the band’s 29th No. 1 hit. One of the most beautiful ballads Alabama ever recorded, the lyric speaks of never-ending devotion in such lines as “I will give you my heart faithful and true/And all the love it can hold, that’s all I can do/’Cause I’ve thought about how long I’ll love you/And it’s only fair that you know, forever’s as far as I’ll go.” Trisha Yearwood turns in a lovely performance of “Forever’s as Far as I’ll Go” on Alabama & Friends.
“I’m in a Hurry (And Don’t Know Why)”
This upbeat anthem about the complexity of modern life was the second single from Alabama’s American Pride. Released in 1992, the song was written by Roger Murrah and the late Randy VanWarmer and soared to No. 1 in Billboard. The video featured the band delivering an energetic performance on a large stage out in the middle of an open field with the wind whipping all around. The song is a clever assessment of society and how most people are always rushing around overscheduled and overstressed. The song remains a favorite with fans. After all, who can’t relate to the opening lines? “I’m in a hurry to get things done/Oh I rush and rush until life’s no fun/All I really gotta do is live and die/But I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.”
“Angels Among Us”
Sometimes a song’s impact isn’t necessarily reflected in its chart position. Included on Alabama’s 1993 album Cheap Seats, “Angels Among Us” peaked at No. 51 in Billboard in January 1994, garnering airplay from country radio stations mostly around Christmas time. It entered the chart again next year during the holidays and peaked at No. 28. Written by Don Goodman and Becky Hobbs, the song has generated tremendous response from fans who believe in the lyric about guardian angels. In the chorus, Owens sings, “I believe there are angels among us/Sent down to us from somewhere up above/They come to you and me in our darkest hours/To show us how to live, to teach us how to give/To guide us with the light of love.” Owen says the song is one of his favorites and it’s been especially gratifying to read the letters from fans over the years telling how the song has blessed them and their families. That’s what a truly great song always does.