Saturday, January 5, 1980

Kenny Rogers topped the country chart with “Coward of the County”

Coward of the County

Kenny Rogers

Writer(s):Roger Bowling/Billy Ed Wheeler (see lyrics here)

First Charted: November 16, 1979

Peak: 3 US, 11 CB, 11 GR, 11 HR, 6 RR, 5 AC, 13 CW, 12 UK, 13 CN, 6 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 1.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 2.0 radio, 44.8 video, 54.27 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Kenny Rogers became the quintessential crossover artist in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s as he landed multiple hits on the country, pop, and adult contemporary charts. “Coward of the County” was his seventh #1 country hit and fourth top ten pop hit. Its #3 peak was his highest on that chart yet. It also topped the Cash Box singles chart in America and landed at #1 in the UK, Canada, and Ireland. WK

Rogers assumes the role of narrator in the song, telling the fictional story of his nephew Tommy. His father’s violent behavior lands him in prison, where he dies, but first he makes his son promise not to make the same mistakes, informing him, “Son, you don’t have to fight to be a man.” Tommy’s pacifism earns him the nickname of “Coward of the Country.”

As a young man, however, he unleashes his anger when the Gatlin boys gang rape his girlfriend, Becky. He approaches them in a barroom and takes all three out. At the end of the song, he makes a plea to his later father to understand that he tried to stay out of trouble, but that “Sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man.”

The reference to the Gatlin boys stirred controversy because of its possible reference to the country group The Gatlin Brothers. Rogers said he didn’t make the connection or would have asked for the lyric to be changed. Both songwriters denied the reference, claiming they tried other names that “just didn’t have the grit.” SF Larry Gatlin claimed that writer Roger Bowling had a personal grudge against him, although he didn’t know why. WK After the song came out, Larry said “we started getting accused of being rapists…I think they could have showed a little good taste and used somebody else’s name.” SF


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First posted 1/4/2020; last updated 12/27/2022.

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