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A lot of people say the end of good country music was about 1981. This is about right, though there were still some good post-1981 country records. But why 1981? The main problem was the film Urban Cowboy, which came out in 1980. More precisely, the problem is the soundtrack to same, which (despite not being that bad) was a huge hit and pretty much every track on that shot up the charts. The Urban Cowboy soundtrack featured a combination of country and pop music (mirroring the film's story of a cowboy moving to the city and reflecting it in the combination of cultures in the songs). At any rate, the Nashville Music Industry saw the success of that record, noticed that country records were selling more than they ever had and decided that:
a) They liked that
So, they started the "Urban Cowboy" Movement (i.e. Lousy Pop-Country), which resulted in a lot of poppy songs, and a few songs in answer to that (including Conway Twitty's a-bit-late-but-sure "Don't Call Him A Cowboy (Until You See Him Ride)"), which were all pretty universally awful (but then, well, I hate Conway Twitty, who also embraced the pop side later -- though, it's sort of ironic that he was against it in the first place, as he actually STARTED as a rock singer).
Of course, in the 1980s, there was still enough people out there not interested in the Pop-Country side that you'd still occasionally get records that actually were Country Music. But as the Urban Cowboy movement gained in strength, it started selling more and more records, until you get stuff like Garth Brooks having one of the first million-selling country records (if not the first, can't remember) in the early 1990s, as sort of the height of the "Country Fad", which, of course, wasn't really Country Music, but Urban Cowboy stuff (though no longer called that -- now it's called "Young Country", but the only difference between the two is Young Country is way, way, way poppier than Urban Cowboy.) And those guys who actually wanted to do Country Records, like, say, Dwight Yoakam or Mary-Chapin Carpenter? They're now officially "Alternative Country", which always strikes me as funny. - Rev. Syung Myung Me