Urban Cowboy A Saturday Night Fever rewrite set on the outskirts of Houston, TX, Urban Cowboy, released in summer 1980, signaled a turning point in country music, ushering in a so-called "urban cowboy" style that would thrive from that point in time onward, until the eventual rise of new traditionalism in 1986. The film lives on as a cult favorite ("cult classic" would be too generous of a description), and while it retains some of its charm, including a tobacco-chewing John Travolta and plenty of bull riding (a mechanical bull, that is), the soundtrack of the film stands today as the more fascinating relic of its era.

This was a time when country music was crossing over into the American cultural mainstream left and right, as Urban Cowboy was accompanied by other films associated with country music, namely 9 to 5 (starring Dolly Parton), Coal Miner's Daughter (based on Loretta Lynn's biography), Honeysuckle Rose (starring Willie Nelson), The Gambler (a made-for-TV film starring Kenny Rogers), and Bronco Billy (a Clint Eastwood film with a soundtrack by Merle Haggard and Ronnie Milsap) -- amazingly, all released in 1980, which, fittingly enough, was also the year of Ronald Reagan's presidential win. These films drew large audiences (Urban Cowboy alone grossed 53 million) and turned legions of new listeners on to a new style of country music, one that was slick and modern, as well as increasingly "urban" in its themes.

The soundtrack of Urban Cowboy was a clear effort to cross over from the country market into such neighboring territory as heartland rock, soft rock, and adult contemporary. Hence the inclusion of previously unreleased songs by Bob Seger, the Eagles, Joe Walsh (of the Eagles), Dan Fogelberg, Jimmy Buffett, Anne Murray, Bonnie Raitt, Boz Scaggs, Linda Ronstadt, and J.D. Souther. While that alone would be enough music to fill a single-LP soundtrack, the soundtrack spanned two LPs, sequencing these pop/rock artists alongside country-pop crossover acts, namely the Charlie Daniels Band, Kenny Rogers, Mickey Gilley, and Johnny Lee -- who, with the exception of Rogers, make multiple soundtrack appearances apiece.

The commercial success of the Urban Cowboy soundtrack was arguably more impressive than that of the film, as it amazingly spawned eight chart hits, itself reaching number one on the country albums chart and number three on the pop chart. The herd of hit singles that sprang from the soundtrack include three country chart-toppers -- Johnny Lee's "Lookin' for Love," Anne Murray's "Could I Have This Dance," the Charlie Daniels Band's "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" -- plus Joe Walsh's "All Night Long," Bonnie Raitt's "Don't It Make Ya Wanna Dance," Mickey Gilley's "Stand by Me," Kenny Rogers' "Love the World Away," and a remix of the Eagles' "Lyin' Eyes." Some of these songs have aged better than others; in particular, the ballads are generally quite schmaltzy. But a lot of the soundtrack remains as enjoyable now as it did in 1980, particularly the Bob Seger and Bonnie Raitt inclusions, which rank alongside their best output of the era.


    Bob Seger - "Nine Tonight"
    Bonnie Raitt - "Don't It Make Ya Wanna Dance"
    Joe Walsh - "All Night Long"
    The Eagles - "Lyin' Eyes (Urban Cowboy Version)"
    Johnny Lee - "Lookin' for Love"
    The Charlie Daniels Band - "The Devil Went Down to Georgia"



Honeysuckle Rose 9 to 5 Like Urban Cowboy, the soundtracks of 9 to 5 and Honeysuckle Rose were big hits, each topping the country albums chart and, coincidentally, reaching number 11 on the pop chart. Each also spawned a pair of number one country hits -- "9 to 5" and "But You Know I Love You" from the former; "On the Road Again" and "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground" from the latter. The soundtrack of 9 to 5 is essentially a solo album by Dolly Parton, entitled 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs. It's one of her better albums of the era, also including a pair of secondary hits, "The House of the Rising Sun" and "Working Girl," along with a modernized version of the Bobby Bare classic "Detroit City." The soundtrack of Honeysuckle Rose, on the other hand, is a double-LP live album by Willie Nelson & Family (later compressed on a single CD). Willie only sings about half the songs, but the album is entertaining throughout, notably featuring Emmylou Harris on a couple songs ("Angel Eyes," "So You Think You're a Cowboy").


    Dolly Parton - "9 to 5"
    Dolly Parton - "But You Know I Love You"
    Dolly Parton - "Working Girl"
    Willie Nelson - "On the Road Again"
    Willie Nelson - "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground"
    Willie Nelson/Emmylou Harris - "Angel Eyes"


The great country music cultural boom of 1980 brought with it a variety of crossover approaches. Looking back today, a lot of what followed was clearly crap, and it's understandable why true-blue country music listeners would embrace the new traditionalists (i.e., George Strait, Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, k.d. lang, Ricky van Shelton, Patty Loveless, et al.) with open arms in the latter half of the decade. But a good amount of the so-called urban cowboy music of the 1980s is unfairly disregarded nowadays, and much of it remains hopelessly out of print. Granted, there are few truly great albums from the urban cowboy era, yet there are many wonderful singles and odd album tracks awaiting rediscovery, many of them recorded by women, who seemed better tailored for the style. Besides Dolly Parton, there were Sylvia ("Nobody"), Charly McClain ("Paradise Tonight"), Juice Newton ("Angel of the Morning"), and Janie Fricke ("He's a Heartache"). As for the men, among the best were Ronnie Milsap ("Stranger in My House"), Eddie Rabbitt ("I Love a Rainy Night"), the Gatlin Brothers ("Denver"), the Bellamy Brothers ("Dancin' Cowboys"), Ronnie McDowell ("Older Women"), and T.G. Sheppard ("Party Time").