Many times the first song we hear from a new artist is the one that sticks with us the longest. It's a phenomenon. There's something about remembering how you felt the first time you heard a new song as you are introduced to a new artist that is extra special. These songs also seem to get the biggest cheers at concerts, as they mean as much to the artist as they do to us. This will be some of the BEST debut songs ever!
We will go back to 1980 and work our way forward to today, as this will be a two part series again. I'm sure there are others on your list and you can comment and add to it. So, let's look at some of the real great debut songs ever.
George Strait - Unwound (1981)
It's hard to imagine that yes, even George Strait had a first song. Strait recorded a few songs about 5 years before this that no one on the planet heard, but we all heard this one. Unwound went to #8 on the charts but this showed us that there was a new sound coming. That country was not all soft crossover Urban Cowboy that was ruling the day. Strait was new, different, and this was Texas Country, with a searing fiddle and catchy beat. It got right to the point in it's 2:23 seconds, and was so memorable that there was no way you could not, not finish listening to this song. This album, Strait Country was just that with two more songs off it. He was instantly popular and in a year or so was a huge star, and this started it all. A songwrter named Dean Dillon wrote this song, one of 70 he wrote for George Strait. This song would be the beginning of the music that would make him a legend!
Clint Black - Better Man (1989)
I've written about this song before. This was a big hit that led to a run of huge songs off his debut album, Killin' Time. The album itself is one of the best country albums of all time. Better Man was the kind of song that got you noticed. It had a great message and a great inner story. It was heartfelt, and even positive in a song about love gone wrong. At that moment too, Clint Black was the marriage of Merle Haggard and George Strait. When he arrived he was the talk of Nashville. Listeners loved this song, and instantly wanted to hear more from this young singer, and they did. He, as much as anyone from that incredible class of 1989, helped throw country into the highest gear it has ever seen, and this was the song that got him going.
Garth Brooks - Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old) (1989)
When a young talented singer showed up in 1989 singing about rodeo life, it was bound to be a big hit. This only went to #8, but, well we knew where this was going. George Strait wowed us all with Amarillo By Morning a few years earlier and this had the same lyrical kind of feel. Singing effectively about rodeo is right where the core country listener lives. They feel that the song is about them, and their lifestyle on their farm or property. No other style of music does it. Garth was singing about the rodeo life, but what fans heard was that someone understands my life and my challenges. This is a perfectly written song about all of us was we get a bit older, live more, and things aren't the same as they once were. And that we face our mistakes and accept them as a part of who we are, even when it's tough. This song understand this. Garth performance on this is still my favorite on any song he ever recorded. This was the perfect way to introduce yourself to a "country" audience. Note - Garth was a co-writer on this song.
Mark Chesnutt - Too Cold At Home (1990)
Peaking at #3, seldom has a debut song been as good as this one was. The second I heard this song in 1990, I knew this was a gigantic hit. This is traditional country that grabbed everyone and didn't let go. This story song introduced us to a guy that ran off a long line of big hits, 48 hits to be exact. For some reason, even those reluctant to embrace traditional country loved this song. There are times you have to give someone their due, and this one of them. It's tough to think of a whole lot of better debut songs than this. Chesnutt became a honky-tonk legend and his Texas brand of country was hard not to like. This song is direct to the point and about perfect. I will love this song if I live to be 100, because this is about 10 great country songs rolled into one. (My Profile On Him)
Doug Stone - I'd Be Better Off (In A Pine Box) (1990)
I get it. This #4 hit song is very hard core in every regard. Yes, it's big time traditional but that's the least of it as it has its twin fiddles, steel and insanely melancholy message. Stone rolled off a bunch of big songs - over 30 of them - in the 1990's, but none of it would have happened without this haunting, heart killing song. To listen to this song for many is too much and can really dig up some tough memories, but to me that is something we do very well in our format. This is a song of love loss, broken hearts, and its permanence. This gem was written by Johnny MacRae who wrote for every major star in Nashville for decades, some 250 recorded songs. There are times we all like a good party song, a good bonfire song, or a fun old Bro song. Then there are times that only a deep country hurtin' song will do. This is the latter - by a mile. Extraordinarily good song. (If you dare.......)
Brooks and Dunn - Brand New Man (1991)
I have felt for many years this may be the best debut song ever in country. It did go #1 as did the first 4 songs off that debut album. Very few songs have ever said, "here we are!," better than this one. This song first, is just great. And it really captured who they were and are. This fast moving, slick country song has a great message, a fiery feel, and it zings along effortlessly for its 3:00. It gets right to the point with its vocal opening and says what it needs to say. I can't imaging anyone else really singing this song. As many great hits as they had over the next 25 years, this still may be my favorite or one of them. I remember thinking, "who are these guys?" I want to hear more..much more. Above all, this song makes you happy. It introduced us to what would become the largest selling duo of all time. What an incredible song.