Country music fans have been blessed over the past 30-plus years with some great debut albums by budding stars. Selections range from Garth Brooks and Toby Keith's opening statements to the more recent tides of change represented by Maren Morris and Luke Combs' mainstream arrivals. The standard by which those artists get judged were set in part by the June 2, 1986, release of Randy Travis' first major-label LP, Storms of Life.
Early hits "Diggin' Up Bones" and "On the Other Hand" need no introduction, and they anchor an album that's more than a chance to hear both hits on the same disc or digital playlist. From start to finish, Storms of Life is the ideal introduction to the face and voice of old-school cool.
Read on to find out how The Boot ranks one of the great debuts of its time -- an album that launched a Country Music Hall of Fame-worthy career:
“My Heart Cracked (But It Did Not Break)”
Stroll alongside Travis through this oddly upbeat fiddle tune about a man insistent that his broken heart isn’t in complete disrepair. Whether that claim represents resolve or denial depends on how a listener connects with the lyrics.
An album defined by love, loss and regret includes this tearjerker about a soon-to-be divorcee’s bittersweet thoughts while leaving the wife, kids and house behind for good. Slower numbers like this one tend to push Travis’ trademark vocal delivery to the forefront.
This story of a passing fling for a traveling musician that becomes something more has got to be the gold standard for Nashville’s aspiring country music clarinet players.
Travis lays out what you’ve expected all along: Behind every cocky womanizer, there’s the insecurities that come with a less-than-ideal life. The narrator stops short -- but just barely -- of blaming honky-tonk angels for his glaring flaws.
“There’ll Always Be a Honky-Tonk Somewhere”
Travis’ own Honky Tonk Time Machine didn’t just go back to 1982. He also travels to 2083 to foresee the downfall of the video game and automobile industries, the rise of space farmers and the survival of honky-tonk establishments.
Travis throws back to a different time for both country and Western in this tale of a criminal facing a strict judge and a likely hanging. It’s a well-conceived hat-tip to the past from an artist poised to reintroduce older sounds to commercial airwaves.
The Heaven and Hell dichotomy at the heart of country storytelling since the earliest hillbilly 78s plays out beautifully in this tale about a wayward soul with a serious case of Baptist guilt. It’s the perfect title track for an album that weighs old-fashioned values against the aftermath of love gone wrong.
Travis beat everyone to the punch when it comes to ‘80s nostalgia with this callback (pun intended) to a simpler time in his narrator’s love life. Although it’s a less obvious Travis hit than the next two selections, it remains the first taste of success for the Nashville Palace’s favorite son.
The old cliché about something arriving before its time really does apply to “On the Other Hand.” When it was released in June of 1985, Travis’ take on a song previously cut by Keith Whitley failed to crack the Top 50. Ten months later, however, it was reissued to capitalize on the success of “1982” -- and the second time around, the second-best track off one of the all-time great debut albums catapulted to No. 1.
This all-time classic about heartbreak and broken homes helps define both Travis’ initial run of success and the entire neo-traditionalist movement. The Al Gore who chose songwriting over the Senate co-wrote it with veteran singer-songwriter Nat Stuckey and one of the great country wordsmiths of the past 40 years, Paul Overstreet.