“Amarillo by Morning” (1982) is probably my favorite 1980’s song. George Strait is best known for having the most #1 singles in country history, but in 1982 he was only beginning his stunning career.
George Strait inaugurated the “neo-traditional” movement. This movement decisively supplanted the pop-country of the “urban cowboy” phenomenon in the late 70’s and early 80’s. At the behest of God Almighty, I am sure, Dwight Yoakam, Keith Whitley, and Randy Travis would soon become his comrades in this traditional revolution in Nashville. At the end of the decade, we witnessed the now legendary “class of ’89” release their debut albums: Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Alan Jackson, and Travis Tritt. This solidified the traditional orientation in mainstream country, even as it explored more “clean” and “modern” sounds. It has only been within the last five years that this stronghold has broken, sad to say.
You can find “Amarillo by Morning” on Strait’s sophomore album, Strait from the Heart. Or, you can purchase his “best of” two-disc collection, George Strait: Icon, which leads with “Amarillo by Morning.” Here is a performance of the song at the Houston Astrodome in 2002:
Amarillo by morning / up from San Antone / Everything that I’ve got / is just what I’ve got on / I ain’t got a dime, but what I got is mine / I ain’t rich, but Lord I’m free.
It is hard to explain why I love this song so much. I am sure that the imagery and storytelling, simply as it may be, is foundational. It is part of the elusive formula that establishes songs like this in the canon of country music. In fact, it is the simplicity of the imagery and storytelling that makes it great. It connects and inspires.
It is escapism, of course, but it is divine escapism. Heaven is a honky tonk.