Believe it or not, 1981 was 40 years ago. On this day, Sept. 4, 1981, George Strait released his debut album, Strait Country, with MCA Records. Initially, George Strait only recorded the single “Unwound” before committing to a full-length album.
But, when the song rose steadily on the charts, MCA Records offered Strait a recording contract. The rest is history.
Strait released 3 singles from that album: “Unwound”, “Down and Out”, and “If You’re Thinking You Want a Stranger (There’s One Coming Home)”. While none of his songs reached number 1 on the charts–“Unwound” coming in at number 6 and “Down and Out” at number 16–the album is still recognized as a “new-traditionalist” hit, breaking through the usual pop-influenced country of the time.
George Strait On His First Album: “It was wild”
Some artists inherently know when their song is on the radio; others don’t even recognize their own voice, or their own song. In his biography, George Strait: The Story of Country’s Living Legend, Strait explained his reaction upon hearing his first single on the radio: “I was shocked,” he said, “I couldn’t believe it.”
According to The Boot, he said that he had a realization later, stating, “Here I was driving around the ranch there, and I’d hear it go up the chart, and I’m saying to myself, ‘What’s wrong with this picture? I’ve got a hit record. I need to go out on the road and go play some concerts.'”
And play some concerts he did. He made his first appearance in 1983 at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. There, Eddie Rabbitt, the headliner, got the flu and couldn’t perform. Strait took his place, and years later, when he was still touring, playing that venue was still one of Strait’s traditions; he’s made at least 20 appearances at the rodeo since 1983.
Strait’s Subsequent Success and Legacy
George Strait followed Strait Country with Strait From the Heart; this landed him his first number 1 single, “Fool Hearted Memory”, in 1982. He achieved his first number 1 album in 1983 with Right or Wrong, and won the Country Music Award for Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind? in 1984.
Strait’s 1987 album Ocean Front Property was the first country album to debut at number 1. The album included such hits as the titular “Ocean Front Property”, “All My Ex’s Live in Texas”, and “Famous Last Words of a Fool”. He finished out the 80s by winning the CMA Entertainer of the Year award, going on to win again in 1990.
George Strait has released 30 albums since 1981. In 2010 he was named the top country artist of the past 25 years by Billboard; past winners included Marty Robbins (60s), Loretta Lynn (70s), Alabama (80s), and Garth Brooks (90s).
In 2012, Strait announced he would no longer tour; he ended his touring career with the Cowboy Rides Away Tour, starting in January 2013 and ending in June 2014. He played his final show in Arlington in front of 104,793 fans, which, at the time, held the record for the largest ticketed concert in the United States. Since then, Strait released two more albums, Cold Beer Conversation in 2015, and Honky Tonk Time Machine in 2019. Since 2014, Strait has not toured, yet there’s still a chance to catch him at one-off shows; he plays in Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Austin.