Chart Week: June 20, 1981
Song: “Angel of the Morning” – Juice Newton
Chart Position: #38, 18th week on the chart. Peaked at #4 for four weeks in May.

Juice Newton was a classic Right Artist at the Right Time success. Although she came up in the world of folk music, by the early 1980s she had slid into a country-rock hybrid that was well suited to the moment. As we’ve discussed before, there was that little window in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when many country artists were able to have mainstream, pop success. Think Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, The Oak Ridge Boys, and so on.

I don’t really hear much country in this song, or most of Newton’s other early ‘80s hits. Here there is the slightest whine in the guitars, and just a hint of Smoky Mountain twang in her voice. In other songs (“Queen of Hearts,” for example) there is a loping bass line that recalls the earliest days of rock music, when country and pop shared a lot of DNA. To my ears, though, her songs come across as very mainstream, adult pop. If the record companies and radio stations hadn’t labeled her as a country artist, I never would have taken her for one.

Perhaps that explains her success. Her straight-forward sound brought in the pop audience, being cast as a country artist roped in those listeners. Combine them and an artist who had not produced a charting pop single before 1981 suddenly spun off four-straight Top 10’s, three more Top 40 singles, and three Adult Contemporary chart number ones (including this song).

In time Newton did drift towards more recognizably country music, and eventually landed seven country Top 10s and three number ones.

But in 1981, she was one of the hottest artists on the pop chart thanks to songs like this.

This may surprise you, but I think this song is fantastic. I hear common ground with late 1960s artists like the Righteous Brothers. Although her voice isn’t as soulful as Bill Medley’s, there’s a similar vibe in there. There’s a grandness to the music that sounds like those big, blue-eyed soul hits of a decade earlier.

That soulfulness gives the song an emotional honesty and vulnerability I’ve always liked a lot. You really feel Newton’s resignation that she has gotten herself into a relationship that has no good outcomes.

Newton’s delivery is nicely reserved right up until she finally cuts loose and wails “Bay-ay-ay-by…” and then takes the final chorus a level higher than the first two. Stretching out that final “Dar-ar-ling” for a full 10 seconds (before the producers double-track it and stretch it out another 20 seconds) is a perfect, dramatic closure.

I also love those melodramatic fills where the drums crash and the guitars chime, which build tension that doesn’t break until Newton’s climactic lines.

In some ways, this song reminds me of The Long Blondes’ terrific 2007 song “You Could Have Both.”[1] In each song a female singer is acknowledging that she is the other woman, but accepting that role and the heartbreak that comes with it. Newton isn’t begging her lover to stay, but rather a confirmation that their union meant something before they part.

I’m not a huge fan of any kind of country music, even that watered-down country pop that made the Top 40 in the early ‘80s. This song is the one exception. 8/10

By the way, I always love countdowns that fall on important dates. This one landed on my tenth birthday. It is probably for another post to talk about how several teammates from my YMCA baseball team and I huddled in our laundry room as tornado sirens blared…

  1. Or I guess “You Could Have Both” reminds me of
    “Angel of the Morning.”  ↩