Cheat Sheet: Urban Cowboy
Although the 1980 movie Urban Cowboy was panned by critics, the general public was attracted to something beyond the thin plot and John Travolta's fine two-step moves which, let's face it, paled in comparison to his electrifying disco moves in Saturday Night Fever. The soundtrack, which blended classic rock (Bob Seger) with countrified rock (J.D. Souther, the Eagles, etc.) and country-pop (Anne Murray), also saw former honky-tonkers Mickey Gilley and Johnny Lee soften their sound, choosing to record slow songs with lush string arrangements. Its broad appeal helped nudge country music squarely into the mainstream a trajectory set nearly a decade before, when producers such as Billy Sherrill were actively making records in Nashville.
Inspired by an article in Esquire about Houston oil-riggers who unwound in honky-tonks such as Gilley's (where the film was made), Urban Cowboy spawned a pop-culture revolution. Country music had formerly appealed mainly to blue-collar middle America, but the growing hybridization of country and rock brought young white-collar rockers into the mix. Likewise, the increasingly over-produced, middle-of-the-road sound coming from stalwarts such as Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers helped open country up to older folks, and those pesky fans of lite rock.
Before the success of Urban Cowboy, country music had never seen consistent platinum sales like it did during the first half of the 1980s. Here are some of the albums that best encompass the urban cowboy subgenre.