Some musicians front a wholesome public image of clean living and hard work, selling a version of the Mid-American dream with varying degrees of earnestness and success.
But no one, and I mean absolutely no one, has been as convincing, and as influential doing so as the Fort Payne quartet simply and memorably named “Alabama.” Randy Owens, Teddy Gentry, Mark Herndon, and Jeff Cook may as well have their own Mt. Rushmore in Fort Payne.
Blending elements of Southern rock and pop with blues, folk, bluegrass, Oak Ridge gospel harmonization, and even an occasional Haggard-esque crooning vibe, Alabama may not have invented crossover Southern Country Rock, but they certainly perfected it. Leaning on lyrical tropes of the genre — hard work, faith, family, love, home, regional pride, and an almost-aching sense of nostalgia — the group didn’t rely on Nashville songwriters to fine-tune their sound either. They instead wrote most of the 260+ songs in their catalogue (In fairness, Greg Fowler and Ronnie Rogers were credited as co-writers on about half of the tracks too.)
The result is a sound that is as unique as their success. You can spot an Alabama song without ever even hearing it before.
It would be a fool’s errand to rattle off all of the awards and accolades and achievements over Alabama’s now-40 year career. They are the most decorated artist in country music history, having pulled down over 200 awards, and most occurring in just the 1980s.
Among their achievements:
- 15 Academy of Country Music awards
- 18 AMA awards
- 7 CMA awards
- 1 Billboard award
- 2 Grammies
- Having sold over 75 million records worldwide, Alabama is among the best-selling acts in history. Three releases (two greatest hits albums and Mountain Music) would all sell over 5 million copies a piece. They had four more albums hit triple-platinum, and another three hit double-platinum.
- Alabama has posted an incredible 40 No. 1 hit singles on various charts
- They are already in the Vocal Group HOF, the Alabama Music Group HOF, the Country Music HOF, and have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Given their pastiche of country crossover pop/southern rock, an induction into the Rock and Roll HOF is also likely.
And Alabama leaves a very clear legacy too. In the shadows of the outlaws, Alabama was about clean living, on stability and continuity. The focus on writing their own music, playing their own instruments, and genuinely creating a product that combined all of the diverse music around them greatly helped broaden the appeal of country music in the 80s. And, along the way, they spawned and inspired many imitators. But, no one was able to recreate who and what Alabama was, and what made the act so successful.
Said the Encyclopedia of Country Music, “they’re just rebel enough for the young folks, but their parents also dig the boys’ pretty harmonies, sentimental soft spots, and old-fashioned family values.”
And that’s about as spot-on a description as you’ll ever read.
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