40 Years Ago: How a Great Song (and a Bad Movie) Helped Make George Strait a Household Name

by Jim Casey

Let’s have a little George Strait fun today. Of course, “The King of Country” needs no introduction in 2022. However, this here story I’m about to unfold took place in the early ’80s. Yes, 40 years ago, George Strait was just a duded-up Texan, dreaming of scoring one No. 1 hit. With the release of “Fool Hearted Memory” on May 27, 1982, that dream was about to become a reality.

Coinciding with the release of the song, George made his first appearance on the big screen. No, no, Pure Country was 10 years later in 1992. I’m talking about the Cold War thriller, The Soldier, which is virtually unwatchable today, unless you’re a glutton for ’80s comedy masquerading under an action-thriller pretext. Oh, who am I kidding? The Soldier is bad badass.

Let’s dig in. Because there’s a lot to unearth with my revamped title: “How a Great Song (and a Bad Badass Movie) Helped Make George Strait a Household Name.”

George Strait: Nobody’s Fool

George Strait has scored a remarkable 44 No. 1 hits across the Billboard country charts during his Hall of Fame career. But it all started with “Fool Hearted Memory” in 1982.

Now, a year earlier George found some success on the charts with the release of his 1981 debut album, Strait Country. The album’s lead single, “Unwound” peaked at No. 6, while “Down and Out” reached No. 16 and “If You’re Thinking You Want a Stranger (There’s One Coming Home)” hit No. 3.

Nonetheless, George Strait, who was 30 years old at the time of the release of “Fool Hearted Memory,” was still not a household name. However, he was gaining traction as a forefather to the neo-traditionalist movement.

The Soldier

Let’s switch gears to The Soldier for just a moment. Back in 1981, songwriters Byron Hill and Blake Mevis (also George’s producer on Strait Country) set out to write a song for a U.S. vs. Russia spy movie called The Soldier.

“I had written a song for a movie called The Exterminator,” said Byron Hill to Country Weekly magazine in 2002. “The same company came to my publisher and wanted a song for The Soldier. But there was more to it. The studio wanted a major-label artist to record the song and perform it in the movie (more on that in a moment). And they would only commit to the song if it was released as a single.”

Once Hill and Mevis penned the tune, Mevis made a work tape of the song, “Fool Hearted Memory.” The songwriters pitched it to George and the movie company. Everybody was on board, including George’s MCA label.

George recorded “Fool Hearted Memory” in September 1981, and he released it to country radio on May 27, 1982. It served as the lead single from his sophomore album, Strait From the Heart, which was released on June 3, 1982.

Movie Magic

As for The Soldier, it was released on June 15, 1982.

Now, I can’t stress enough how unwatchable this movie is by today’s standards—unless you’re fiending for the aforementioned unintentional ’80s comedy masquerading under an action-thriller pretext. Which is to say, The Soldier is 1980s-awesome. The movie’s tagline is pure gold: “Code Name: The Soldier. You don’t assign him. You unleash him.”

As for the plot? Well, the President sends in CIA operative (Ken Wahl) after the KGB puts a plutonium bomb on half of the world’s oil in Saudi Arabia. You won’t get any spoilers from me. Just know that there is an epic scene as the titular soldier skis down the Alps while being pursued by the KGB. Does he execute a perfect 360 while firing a machine gun at the bad guys? Who knows. Like I said, no spoilers from me.

Oh yeah, George’s big-screen debut? George appeared in the film to perform “Fool Hearted Memory” in a honky-tonk that featured . . . wait for it . . . a mud wrestling/mechanical bull/fight scene. Seriously. Filmmakers in the 1980s just didn’t give a rip. It was all action.

“Fool Hearted Memory” topped the charts on Aug. 28, 1982, to become the first of King George’s 44 No. 1 singles. Now, take two minute out of your day and enjoy the trailer to The Soldier.