Johnny Lee is one of the archetypal artists of the early 1980's "Urban Cowboy" era, a Texas boy who rode the wave of hat-act trendiness to the top of the charts. His hit single, "Lookin' For Love," was featured in the film and was a huge smash, dominating the Country charts and crossing over into Pop's Top Five. For a while, Johnny Lee was everywhere, though he faded out by decade's end, although the smooth, soft-pop country sound he excelled at lives on even today. Here's a quick look at his work...
Johnny Lee "Country Party" (CEMA Special Products, 1994)
Lee's late-'70s, pre-Urban Cowboy work has been pretty much lost to the tracks of time, but this short little disc saves some it from analog-only oblivion. The title track, a goofball hillbilly remake of Ricky Nelson's "Garden Party" is pretty silly, but it was Lee's biggest hit, up until "Lookin' For Love" made his name a household word in 1980. Another remake, of Elton John's "Your Song," never even scratched the charts, but its inclusion here is quite welcome -- shorn of the clumsy rhythm tracks and haphazard backup singers that mar the other tracks on here, the song has an understated ballad quality that's kinda nice. In retrospect, that track and the Don Williams-y "Saturday's Heroes," sound like clear precursors of the confessional pop-country crossovers that swamped Nashville in the 1990s... Not as dated as the New Wave-y keyboard stylings that were fashionable in the '80s. This is not a great set of music, but it is an interesting historical document of a rootsy honkytonker on the path to huge, compromised crossover success.
Johnny Lee "Greatest Hits" (Warner Brothers, 1983)
At the open of the 1980s, during the "Urban Cowboy" era, Johnny Lee emerged as one of those comforting presences, much like Don Williams, whose approach was soft-edged and pop-friendly, but rootsy enough to offer some hope to the traditional crowd that, well, maybe this poppy phase in Nashville's history wouldn't be so bad after all. True, his glossier ballads are a bit much, but Lee's best songs, like "Lookin' For Love," "Bet Your Heart On Me" and "Pickin' Up Strangers" all stand the test of time. This sparsely programmed, 10-song best-of is in serious need of an update: the mastering is kinda muffled and a few later hits are missing. (PS - beware of the 1990 Curb label "best of," which has a so-so re-recorded version of "Looking For Love..." It's okay, but you're better off sticking with the original.)
Johnny Lee "The Best Of..." (Curb, 1990)
Johnny Lee "Country Party" (Jukebox, 2008)
Same title, a lot of the same tracks, but a lot more songs on this digital-only release.
Johnny Lee "Country Candy Store" (2006)
Johnny Lee "For Lovers Only" (JMS, 1977)
Johnny Lee "Lookin' For Love" (1980)
Johnny Lee "Bet Your Heart On Me" (1981)
Johnny Lee "Sounds Like Love" (1982)
Johnny Lee "Hey Bartender" (Warner Brothers, 1983)
(Produced by Jimmy Bowen)
Lee was always a pretty poppy country star, but he really brings all sense of vitality in his career to a screeching halt with this album's openers, a series of dreary, slick, lifeless oldies covers worthy of a Sha-Na-Na reunion album. We can forgive him his cover of "Hey Bartender" -- maybe he had just rented a VHS of The Blues Brothers or something -- but then he just keeps going with the whole Stray Cats retro thing, and while he's a decent performer, the music is just not very exciting. When he finally gets back into his usual wimpy countrypolitan ballad mode (with a cover of Jim Croce's "I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song," no less) it's actually kind of a relief. If you're really into '80s country, you can certainly check this one out, but the rock-oldies thing takes up a big chunk of time here.
Johnny Lee "Til' The Bars Burn Down" (1984)
Johnny Lee "Keep Me Hangin' On" (1985)
Johnny Lee "Workin' For A Livin" (1985)
Johnny Lee "New Directions" (1989)
Johnny Lee "Ramblin' Rose" (1996)
Johnny Lee "Live At Gilley's" (Atlantic, 1999)
Johnny Lee "At His Best" (2001)
Johnny Lee "Live At Billy Bob's Texas" (Smith Music, 2002)
Johnny Lee "The 13th Of July" (Title Tunes, 2003)
Johnny Lee "Santa Claus Is Lookin' For Love" (Title Tunes, 2005)
Hick Music Index