Fantastic '80s Country Albums from the Lost and Found (Part 2): That's That

by Jeff Fiedler

Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.

Michael Johnson was always a bit more adult-contemporary pop than country, and indeed, Johnson had scored three Top 40 pop hits in the late ‘70s on EMI with “Bluer than Blue,” “This Night Won’t Last Forever,” and a cover of the standard “Almost Like Being in Love” (yes, the same one you hear Nat King Cole sing at the end of Groundhog Day.)  

The vocalist, who had got his first big break in the late ‘60s as a member of the Chad Mitchell Trio alongside future ‘70s superstar John Denver, stopped having pop hits by 1980, unfortunately, and by 1986, he had left EMI for RCA and begun concentrating entirely on the country market without actually modifying his sound much. The move paid off and Johnson’s RCA debut, Wings, would give the singer two country chart-toppers in “Give Me Wings” and “The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder,” the latter of which would also appear on the follow-up album, the delightful 1987 LP That’s That.

That’s That would yield three Top Ten country hits, including “I Will Whisper Your Name,” penned by singer-songwriter Randy VanWarmer (best known for the Top Five ballad “Just When I Needed You Most” and the lost power-pop gem “Suzi Found a Weapon”), and the rollicking “Crying Shame,” co-written by Johnson with producer Brent Maher and legendary country songwriter Don Schlitz (who co-wrote such classics as Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” and Randy Travis’ “Forever and Ever, Amen.”)

The best of the album’s hit singles, though, is the utterly brilliant Hugh Prestwood-penned title cut (arguably one of the most underrated country songs ever written), which finds Johnson going through the various stages of grief following a broken relationship (even angrily contemplating setting fire to a tree at one point that has the names of the narrator and his departed ex carved into it) and cleverly ending the song by breaking into his speaking voice and resignedly uttering the song’s title.

The entire disc is superb, though, fittingly opening with Prestwood’s “Roller Coaster Run,” and also sporting a Juice Newton duet (“It Must Be You”), a second first-rate Schlitz composition in the bouncy “Oh Rosalee,” the beautiful and wickedly catchy “Diamond Dreams” (penned by Parker McGee, best known for penning several major hits for England Dan and John Ford Coley, including “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight”), and a fine Janis Ian cover (“Some People’s Lives.”) If anything, the album’s only flaw is that it’s too short and could have used a tenth cut.

Johnson would sadly suffer the same fate as Sonnier, his run of hits coming to an end after leaving RCA following That’s That in favor of a new deal with Atlantic, but he has continued to make fine discs.