Picture Of John Conlee John Conlee was one of the more robust Top Forty country stars of the late-1970s and 1980s... His gruff, low vocals brought a bunch of great songs to life, and while his music inevitably softened and got poppier, he returned decades later as a grizzled old-timer, much to the delight of his older fans. Here's a quick look at his work...

Discography - Best-Ofs

John Conlee "Twenty Greatest Hits" (MCA, 1987)

John Conlee "Classics" (RCR, 2003)
Although the album art shows an older edition of the artist himself, these tracks are actually the original radio hits -- nineteen Top 20 hits recorded for the MCA label between 1978-85, presented in chronological order, with three additional new tunes thrown in for good measure. Much of Conlee's classic work has been inexplicably out of print for quite some time; finally it took a vanity pressing on his own label to make the stuff available to his fans, another sad statement for the state of Nashville's ongoing profits-over-posterity ethic. Anyway, it's all great stuff, a slick, latter-day countrypolitan sound fronted by a phenomenally expressive voice... It's a shame Conlee couldn't also lease his later material for the Columbia and 16th Avenue labels, which also included several sizable hits, but with tunes like "Rose Colored Glasses," "Backside Of Thirty" and "Busted" back in print, there's still plenty for country fans to cheer about.

Discography - Albums

John Conlee "Rose Colored Glasses" (ABC, 1978)
(Produced by Bud Logan)

His classic breakthrough debut album, featuring the amazing title track, which may still be his finest moment. It reminds me of Charlie Rich's "Most Beautiful Girl In The World," a smash hit with an irresistible chorus but with rambling, nonstandard verses that are as difficult to sing along with as the chorus is easy. And, omigod, what a super-sad country codependency ballad! Like Rich, Conlee takes a potentially unwieldy song structure, digs into the emotional abyss of the lyrics and brings it home like few other singers could. Great stuff, with plenty of non-hit tracks that are also worth checking out.

John Conlee "Forever" (MCA, 1979)
(Produced by Bud Logan)

John Conlee "Friday Night Blues" (MCA, 1980)
(Produced by Bud Logan)

This is simply a stunning album, where every single song is of the highest calibre. Conlee's voice is perfect: he's both heartfelt and robust, with a deep, mournful maturity that speaks volumes. Plus, he's perfectly complimented by producer Bud Logan, who uses every trick in the book, but does it with such economy and skill that he puts to shame most of the studio wizards who have come in his wake... The title track is a fine example of how to mix country grit and poppy melodies, and it sets the tone for the rest of the album. There are melodramatic key changes and orchestral swells throughout the record, but they always serve a distinct purpose, never intruding on or overwhelming the song itself... Logan is in complete command of the material, and he never overplays his hand: this is countrypolitan production at it's very best, able to buoy a rugged, rural voice like Conlee's, while providing a smooth, sensuous sound that effortlessly pulls listeners along. In terms of consistency from song to song, Logan probably surpassed the style's acknowledged maestro, Billy Sherrill... On this album, at least, he never hits a false note. Plus, I love that album cover, with Conlee's hot blonde girlfriend scowling as he melts into the couch with a bag of chips and the TV antenna dominating the foreground... Great stuff!

John Conlee "With Love" (MCA, 1981) (LP)
(Produced by Bud Logan)

A solid set of romantic ballads... Most of the songs on here aren't the kind of material that leap out and live in your memory, but Conlee's performances are consistently superlative and emotionally compelling... You kind of have to sit down and listen to what he's laying down, but if you do, he proves a country crooner on near-equal footing with the great George Jones, and that ain't nothing to sneeze at. The album's first side is the strongest, and includes the album's one real gem, "Miss Emily's Picture," a forlorn, pathos-drenched weeper on a par with "He Stopped Loving Her Today." Side Two gets a little overripe, but it's still generally pretty good. Another fine album by the Conlee-Logan superteam... Worth tracking down!

John Conlee "Busted" (MCA, 1982) (LP)
(Produced by Bud Logan)

Even though it's lyrically pretty limited, "Busted" is such a great, irresistible song, one of the most memorable country hits of the early 'Eighties. Conlee's softening up on this album, going in a more poppy, ballad-y direction... He still sounds swell, though, and this is definitely worth picking up.

John Conlee "In My Eyes" (MCA, 1983) (LP)
(Produced by Bud Logan)

John Conlee "Blue Highway" (MCA, 1984)

John Conlee "Harmony" (Columbia, 1986)

John Conlee "American Faces" (Columbia, 1986)

John Conlee "Fellow Travelers" (16th Avenue, 1989)

John Conlee "Live At Billy Bob's" (Smith's Music, 1999)
An interesting retooling of an old '80s pop-country crooner. Here, he barrels through his old hits, introducing each tune in a gravel-toned voice worthy of Johnny Paycheck or David Allan Coe, and wows a crowd of loyal fans. This doesn't quite grab me the way his best old records did, but it sure puts a different spin on these songs!

John Conlee "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" (RCR, 2004)
(Produced by Bud Logan)

This is one kick-ass country gospel album! No foolin'... '80s legend John Conlee is still a powerhouse performer, with a rich, robust voice that's every bit as strong today as it was twenty years ago when he was at his peak at a Top Ten hitmaker. Conlee is still in top form -- if anything, he's singing better now than most of today's current crop of "top country" stars. The music is also quite strong: where many contemporary gospel albums tilt towards cheesy, synthy, low-budget arrangements with tinkly keyboards, etc., Conlee keeps it country with a no-nonsense cosmopolitan twang that's the perfect frame for his deep, booming voice. In addition to numerous religious standards, it includes a new tune, "They Also Serve," Conlee's contribution to the current crop of patriotic country songs, which sings the praise of military families in a time of war. This album seems very heartfelt and purposeful... one of the best country gospel releases you're likely to hear for some time to come!


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