The name Oak Ridge Boys will remind many country fans of radio hits and fashion choices ready-made for the 1980s. That’s because the classic lineup of lead singer Duane Allen, baritone singer William Lee Golden, bass singer Richard Sterban and tenor Joe Bosnall dominated the years of 1977-87 with 26 Top 10 hits, including 15 No. 1 singles.

All of that success came from quartet-style singers in the same mold as sentimental favorites the Statler Brothers. And as country delved back into pop territory, some of the genre's crossover hits came from a group inspired by church singing that predates even the idea of country music.

The four-piece Oak Ridge Boys earned their gospel cred the old-fashioned way: In the early 1940s, Wally Fowler formed the Oak Ridge Quartet. The group's name came from its World War II-era performances for the troops at an Oak Ridge, Tenn., nuclear testing site. In 1945, the original group joined the Grand Ole Opry. By the time the Oak Ridge Quartet became a recording act in 1947, they strictly performed religious material.

By 1973, the rechristened Oak Ridge Boys featured their soon-to-be famous secular lineup. A slow move toward country music culminated with the 1977 single “Y’All Come Back Saloon.” From there, the group conquered a second genre until Golden’s 1987 departure and changing times ended one of the strongest 10-year runs in country music history.  There were a few hits and some fine music to come with Golden’s replacement from ’87 to ’96, Steve Sanders, but none made the cultural impact of “Elvira,” “Bobbie Sue” and other classics.

Since the ‘90s, the Oak Ridge Boys’ role as country and gospel elder statesmen led to albums and tours fueled by homespun sentimentality and a genuine love for God, country and family. The group joined the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015.

Learn more about the Oak Ridge Boys’ 70-plus year run by listening to these five select cuts, including a gospel standard and four commercial hits.

  • 5

    “Wasted Years”


    At least one selection should honor Fowler’s gospel quartet. This often-recorded classic gets cited to Fowler, but his pianist in the John Daniel Quartet, Albert Williams, deserves songwriting credit. It later became a theme song for troubled Sons of Song member Calvin Newton.

  • 4

    "Bobbie Sue"

    From 'Bobbie Sue' (1982)

    The original group would’ve considered this fun nod to Chuck Berry “the Devil’s music,” despite Sterban's incomparable, gospel-style bass singing. Record buyers in 1982 disagreed, making this clear departure from sacred themes a crossover hit.

  • 3

    “Thank God for Kids”

    From 'Christmas' (1982)

    The Oaks tapped into that sweet sentimentality country music fans have always craved with songwriter Eddy Raven's celebration of Heaven-sent babies, grandbabies, nieces and nephews. And yes, that adorable yet slightly corny music video helped secure the song’s Top 5 ranking.

  • 2

    "Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight"

    From 'The Oak Ridge Boys Have Arrived' (1979)

    Dukes of Hazzard fans might fondly remember the group performing this Cajun-flavored cut during a 1981 set at the Boar’s Nest. It’s one of the more traditional-sounding country songs from the group’s heyday. That’s because it’s co-written by Rodney Crowell.

  • 1


    From 'Fancy Free' (1981)

    This great song from the pen of 1960s star Dallas Frazier remains synonymous with the Oak Ridge Boys. Like other signature tunes recorded by Hall of Fame acts, it’s great in part for continually introducing new listeners to a deep catalog with more than five definitive songs.

    An interesting side note: Another Frazier composition, "The Baptism of Jesse Taylor," was performed by the group during its Southern gospel days.

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