On This Day: Alabama ‘Flows’ to the Top of the Chart for First Time in 1980

by Jim Casey

Music. Hair. State of mind. Alabama has had great flow from the beginning. And the four-piece band—Randy Owen, Jeff Cook, Teddy Gentry, and Mark Herndon—began its Hall of Fame flow on August 16, 1980, when “Tennessee River” flowed to the top of the country chart.

The tune began an unprecedented streak of 21 consecutive singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Of course, the band scored an additional dozen chart-toppers to bring their total to 33. But it all started with 1980’s “Tennessee River.”

Own the Flow

Alabama owned the country charts in the 1980s. RCA Records took a chance by signing the foursome in March 1980. Known as Wildcountry at the time, almost every major label had turned them down because vocal groups that played their own instruments were considered more suited to rock.

Rebranded as Alabama, the foursome took country music by storm.

Unlike country “vocal” groups—such as the Oak Ridge Boys and the Statler Brothers—Alabama redefined what it meant to be a country band.

Alabama Scores

Alabama recorded its first single for RCA, “Tennessee River,” on April 16, 1980. Penned by frontman Randy Owen, the fiddle-heavy tune tackled the topic of settling down with a family “on the Tennessee River” after a bout of wanderlust.

Of course, Randy, Jeff, and Teddy were from Fort Payne, Alabama. The city’s proximity to the Tennessee River helped give the song an authentic, natural flow.

The tune is also the reason Jeff Cook—who played lead guitar—began playing the fiddle in the first place.

Released on May 16, 1980, “Tennessee River” surged up the charts. On August 16, the single reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. The song began Alabama’s streak of 21 straight No. 1 singles on the chart that capped with “You’ve Got the Touch” in 1987.

Now, Alabama is widely regarded as the greatest band in country music history. The Country Music Hall of Fame inducted the band in 2005. The Academy of Country Music named Alabama the Artist of the Decade (1980s). And Jeff Cook was inducted into the National Fiddler Hall of Fame in 2018.