The best 80s country artists include groups, duos, and solo singers. Some were country music legends that had dominated the charts for years, while others were new faces that made a splash.
These country artists of the 80s had some of their biggest hits and greatest success during that decade.
1. Randy Travis
Randy Travis' album Storms of Life in 1986 put him on the country music map and made him one of the biggest 80s country musicians. His song “Forever Ever and Ever, Amen” was one of the decade's most popular country love songs.
Throughout his career, Travis sold 25 million albums and earned seven Grammy Awards.
Aside from music, Travis made several appearances on television shows like Touched by an Angel and films like National Treasure 2. He recorded and performed until a stroke sidelined him in 2013.
The Country Music Hall of Fame inducted Travis in 2016. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
2. Reba McEntire
Hailed as the “Queen of Country,” Reba McEntire's first charting songs were from the 1970s, but her breakout album was My Kind of Country in 1984. She released eight more in the 1980s, earning a Grammy Award and a dozen number one hits.
Her best-selling album, For My Broken Heart, came after she lost eight band members in a plane crash in 1991.
She remains a country music staple, with more than 75 million albums sold, three Grammy Awards, and the six-season TV sitcom Reba that aired in the 2000s.
3. Garth Brooks
Garth Brooks was so popular during the 80s and 90s that he became the only musical artist in history with nine albums that each sold 10 million copies in the US.
He has two Grammy Awards and over 170 million album sales, and by 2020, was the best-selling solo artist in any musical genre in the US. Brooks also sold more albums than any other single artist during the 20th century.
A country institution, Brooks is in three music halls of fame: Country Music, Songwriters, and Musicians. He was also the youngest musician to receive the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize.
4. The Judds
Mother and daughter duo Naomi and Wynonna Judd built a career around a traditional country sound, making them one of the biggest 80s country artists. They won five Grammy Awards and had 14 number hits during their partnership. Unfortunately, it ended in 1991 when Naomi retired because of poor health.
Tragically, after being plagued by health problems for years, Naomi died by suicide one day before the duo’s induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2022.
5. Keith Whitley
Keith Whitley's first county hit came in 1986, with a string of successful singles following in 1988. Whitley struggled with alcoholism and only released two albums before his death from alcohol intoxication in 1989 at age 34.
Reflecting his popularity, Whitley’s music continued to be released, with some performing well on the Billboard country music chart. These posthumous records gave him a total of 19 songs on the chart. The Country Music Hall of Fame inducted Whitley in 2022.
6. Don Williams
Country Music Hall of Fame member Don Williams had 17 chart-topping country hits during his career, with many during the 1970s and 1980s.
His 1980 release of “I Believe in You” was his 11th number one country hit. As one of the most famous 1980s country artists, Williams didn’t retire until 2016 and died in 2017 at age 78.
7. Dwight Yoakam
Dwight Yoakam's honky-tonk sound was a big influence in his breakthrough success in 1986 with the album Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc. His success built into the 1990s with an album, This Time, that sold over 3 million copies.
Yoakam has over 30 million album sales, two Grammy Awards, and multiple acting credits in television shows like Goliath and films like Sling Blade.
8. Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton flourished in the 1960s and 70s as a duo with Porter Wagoner. In 1980, she achieved crossover success on the pop and country charts with her iconic hit “9 to 5” from the feature film of the same name starring Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin.
Parton went from being one of the biggest country artists of the 80s to a beloved pop culture icon adored by fans worldwide.
She's had more number one country songs than any other female artist and won 11 Grammy Awards out of 50 nominations. Parton is in the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
9. Kenny Rogers
One of Parton's most famous songs, “Islands in the Stream,” happened to be the first of many collaborations with Kenny Rogers, released in 1983. The song topped Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart and propelled the duo into the hearts of many.
Rogers was a country music star in the 70s, but his 1978 album The Gambler gave him breakout and crossover success. Indeed, it led to a series of TV movies starring him as his Gambler character.
He starred in several television movies and films, won multiple Grammy Awards and other music industry awards, and sold over 165 million copies of his 65 albums. He died at 81 in March 2020.
10. Willie Nelson
Superstar Willie Nelson started as a clean-cut Grand Ole Opry singer in the 60s and 70s, then became part of “outlaw country” in the 70s. He started growing his hair into the signature braids he's recognized for today.
As one of the biggest 80s country artists, Nelson scored hits like “On the Road Again” and collaborated with other stars like Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash. The four formed The Highwaymen and released three albums over a decade.
An impressive 46 of his albums hit the top ten on the country album chart, selling millions of copies. His most recent Grammy Award was for the 2019 song “Ride Me Back Home.”
11. Waylon Jennings
Waylon Jennings was an integral part of the “outlaw country” movement in the 1970s with Willie Nelson and other artists. He sang the theme song for the TV show The Dukes of Hazzard in the late 70s and appeared in numerous shows and movies.
He was part of The Highwaymen in the 80s and released one of his best-selling albums, Will the Wolf Survive.
The Country Music Hall of Fame inducted him in 2001, a year before he died at age 64.
12. The Oak Ridge Boys
The Oak Ridge Boys became one of the most famous 80s country artists after shifting from singing gospel to country music.
Some of their biggest hits during the decade were “Elvira” and “American Made.” The Grammy-winning song “Elvira” came from their sixth album, and “American Made” appeared on their seventh.
They became members of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015.
13. George Strait
George Strait, often acclaimed as the “King of Country,” was one of the most popular country artists of the 80s and had over 120 million album sales worldwide. His first single in 1981 was a crossover success and led to seven albums dominating the country charts.
Strait has more Country Music Association (CMA) and Academy of Country Music (ACM) nominations and wins than any other musical act.
He's had 60 number hits, more than any other musical artist. Only two artists have more gold and platinum albums than George Strait: Elvis Presley and the Beatles.
14. Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard had 12 top-ten country songs between 1980 and 1985, but he had a successful recording career long before that. His first top-ten song was in 1965, and his first number-one hit was in 1967.
His string of successful singles in the 60s and 70s fueled his success as one of the top 1980s country artists. Haggard was still performing when he fell ill in 2016 and died at age 79.
15. Clint Black
Though his first album, Killin' Time, didn't appear until 1989, it shot to the top of the charts with four number songs in a row. That made him a bonafide country star and one of the best-selling 80s country artists.
Black had over 30 songs on the Billboard country chart, including 22 chart-topping hits, and released a dozen albums.
He earned several Grammy Award nominations and won for “Hold On, Partner,” his duo with Roy Rogers in 1991.
16. Johnny Cash
Country music legend Johnny Cash, famously known as the “Man in Black,” was the youngest living person inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980 when he was 48.
He remained one of the biggest musical artists of the 80s and hosted Christmas variety specials on television with several other musical guests each year.
As part of The Highwaymen with Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings, he had several more hits during the 80s and 90s. He died in 2003 at age 73.
17. Ricky Van Shelton
Between 1986 and 2006, Van Shelton had over 20 songs on the country songs chart and ten #1 tunes across nine albums, four of which went platinum.
His first chart-topping single was in 1987 called “Somebody Lied,” followed by hit songs “Life Turned Her That Way” and “From a Jack to a King.” Van Shelton’s debut album was one of the best-selling country albums of the 1980s.
He wrote several children's books and retired from performing in 2006.
Country group Alabama formed in 1969, but their breakout success came in the 1980s with 21 number one songs like “Love in the First Degree,” “The Closer You Get,” and “Mountain Music.”
Seven of their albums went multi-platinum, making them one of the best-selling bands in musical history. They've sold over 75 million albums and have won more awards than any other band in country music, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
19. Charley Pride
Country Music Hall of Fame singer Charlie Pride is one of only three Black Grand Ole Opry members and one of the few Black singers to achieve mainstream success in country.
Pride earned the CMA Entertainer of the Year award in 1971 and had several hits through 1987, including 52 top-ten songs on the country chart during his career and several number-one hits like “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'.”
20. Ronnie Milsap
Born nearly blind and abandoned by his mother, Ronnie Milsap had a rough start in life. Despite his difficult childhood, Milsap became one of the most popular 1980s country artists.
During his career, Milsap earned six Grammy Awards and had several charting hits, including 35 number one country songs. Only two country artists have had more hits than Milsap: George Strait and Conway Twitty.
The Country Music Hall of Fame inducted Milsap in 2014.
21. Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn's six-decade country music career started in 1960. She had a career total of 70 charting songs and 16 number one songs, such as “You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” and “Coal Miner's Daughter.”
In the 1970s, Lynn had a string of hits with Conway Twitty. Though she was already wildly popular by 1980, the film Coal Miner's Daughter, based on her autobiography, kept her in the spotlight.
Lynn received an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988 and was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
22. Conway Twitty
Conway Twitty started recording rock and roll in the late 1950s and switched to country in 1965. He had several hits from the late 60s onward, including a string of chart-toppers with Loretta Lynn in the 1970s.
Some of his most well-regarded hits through the 1980s included “Tight Fittin' Jeans” and “Don't Call Him a Cowboy.” Over his career, Twitty amassed an impressive 55 number one singles. That made him the most successful country singer of all time until George Strait took over the top spot.
Twitty died at age 59 in 1993 when he collapsed on his tour bus due to an aneurysm after a performance.
23. Restless Heart
Restless Heart started singing in 1984 and had multiple songs on the Billboard country songs chart. Their country-pop sound proved particularly popular with listeners, and four singles frequently appeared on country and adult contemporary radio stations in the late 1980s.
Their mainstream success carried on into the 1990s and led to multiple gold albums and six number one hits.
24. Glen Campbell
Most of Glen Campbell's hits came in the 1970s, with songs like “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights,” but he had several popular country songs in the 60s. His popularity kept him as one of the best-selling 80s country musicians.
Campbell's TV series from 1969 to 1972 featured several other country artists and helped him remain one of the most popular 80s country artists.
He continued to record in the 90s and beyond, with an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Campbell died in 2017 at age 81 after living with Alzheimer's for several years.
25. The Statler Brothers
The Statlers sang gospel as a group in 1955 and later became backup singers for Johnny Cash. They had four number one songs between 1978 and 1985 and released 40 albums during their career.
The group won three Grammy Awards and became one of the biggest 80s country artists, thanks in part to constant play on The Nashville Network (TNN). They also hosted a weekly variety show, The Statler Brothers Show, on TNN for seven years. The Staler Brothers retired as a group in 2002.
26. Crystal Gayle
Crystal Gayle released “Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” in 1978. That won a Grammy Award and helped her become one of the biggest 1980s country artists. The song also topped the easy listening chart, giving her a foundation for crossover success throughout the decade.
Gayle won several country music industry awards, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and still tours today.
27. John Denver
John Denver was one of the best-selling artists of the 70s and one of the most popular 80s country artists, with over 300 recorded songs and a genuine country sound. He had a dozen platinum and gold albums and wrote hundreds of songs for himself and other artists during his career.
In addition, Denver had multiple acting credits in several films and television shows. He died in 1997 at age 53 when the plane he was piloting crashed.
Top 80s Country Artists Final Thoughts
The 1980s was a mix of classic country from older artists and new singers that changed country music. Many of the best 80s country artists still get radio play today, and some like Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson are still as popular and well-known as ever.
Whether you prefer someone with an old-time or modern sound, there's someone on this list for you to love.