Nashville in the late 1980s: It was the best of times in the best of towns. TNN (The Nashville Network) and CMT through their virtual around-the-clock programming were taking country music to a constantly widening and increasingly enthusiastic audience.
The Opryland USA theme park was luring an average of 2.5 million ticket-buyers a year and entertaining them with a lineup of live shows staffed by talented young musicians, many of whom would later become stars.
Although women artists were then (as now) a minority on the country charts, such performers as Reba McEntire, the Judds, Rosanne Cash, Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker, Kathy Mattea and Patty Loveless were routinely scoring No. 1 hits.
Into this beehive of melody in 1987 came 45-year-old K.T. Oslin with a song she’d written called “80s Ladies.” More than a song, it was really a manifesto that celebrated female maturity and sisterhood. It advanced the heretical notion that older women had an abundance of wisdom and insight to contribute — and Oslin became Exhibit A.
“We were the girls of the ‘50s,” she sang, “stone rock and rollers in the ‘60s/and more than our names got changed as the ‘70s slipped on by/Now we’re ‘80s ladies/There ain’t been much we ladies ain’t tried.”
On Wednesday (May 15), this embodiment of Baby Boom moxie turns 78. Oslin had been around the music business for a while by the time Nashville took notice of her. In 1981, recording as “Kay T. Oslin,” she had slipped onto the charts momentarily with “Clean Your Own Tables,” a tune that fizzled at No. 72. The following year, Gail Davies racked up a Top 10 hit with “’Round the Clock Lovin’,” Oslin’s co-write with Rory Bourke. Oslin would not chart again until the beginning of 1987 when she reached No. 40 with “Wall of Tears.”
“80’s Ladies” topped out at No. 7, but it won Oslin a Grammy for best female country vocal performance and stamped her with the wry, brassy, feisty image that kept her a hot item into the ‘90s.
Oslin’s next single, “Do Ya,” became the first of her four No. 1s, the others being “I’ll Always Come Back,” “Hold Me” and “Come Next Monday.” The remainder of her chart career found her slipping farther and farther down the listings. Her last song country charter was “Live Close By, Visit Often.” It reached No. 53 in 1996.
Before turning to country music, Oslin had done some stage acting, and in 1993 she played a substantial role in the country music-oriented movie, The Thing Called Love, starring River Phoenix.
Oslin was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018.
Her gift for acting served her well in a series of music videos. The one for “80’s Ladies” centered on a supposed reunion of old friends. It was a mini-movie in its own right and became the first of a two-part music video story, the second part of which played out in “I’ll Always Come Back.”
To share K. T. Oslin’s glory days, check out these five videos:
1987: “80’s Ladies”
A flashback and flash forward to the “three little girls from school” who transformed into the ‘80s ladies. There’s a surprise ending.
1988: “I’ll Always Come Back”
Staying in the role she created in “80’s Ladies,” Oslin is a divorcee visiting her young son and hearing some unsettling news from her ex-husband.
1988: “Hold Me”1988
Here Oslin looks at both sides of a marriage gone stale that may yet be saved. This song netted her two more Grammys — for best female country vocal and best country song.
1989: “Didn’t Expect It to Go Down This Way”
This is a simulated live performance video.
1990: “Come Next Monday”
A takeoff on the Young Frankenstein movie, with Oslin playing the monster’s love interest.