After the song became a No. 1 hit for Barbara Mandrell, songwriter Kye Fleming was proud of the fact that the title of one of her songs had become a key slogan among many country music artists during interviews:
“I was country when country wasn’t cool”.
Song Writer Kye Fleming came up with that idea for a title during the “Urban Cowboy” craze of the early ‘80s. During those times, she jotted down the phrase in her notebook. A few weeks later she and cohort Dennis Morgan thought it might be the right time to fit some lyrics to it. Even though they were a bit nervous about telling their idea to record producer Tom Collins, they just did that. It was a scary piece to write. The tunesmiths felt that it could be really big, or just a real joke.
Around Christmas season of 1980, Fleming and Morgan went out to California and visited with Barbara Mandrell. She was working on her NBC television show during that time. They played five or six songs for Barbara beside her swimming pool. She reacted the most strongly to “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool”. The song became the centerpiece of her album “Barbara Mandrell Live”. The album was recorded June 7, 1981, at the Roy Acuff Theater at Opryland in Nashville. Ironically, the number was actually cut in a Los Angeles studio. Released on April 16th, it was already in Billboard’s Top Five when she recorded the album.
Producer Collins flew piano player David Briggs from Nashville to L. A. for the recording session. Bassist Neil Stubenhaus couldn’t get out of an earlier session and show up at the end of their booking. Barbara Mandrell cut her lead vocal without any bass and Stubenhaus overdubbed his part during the final 20 minutes.
With George Jones’ name mentioned in the lyrics, it was decided to get another vocalist to join Barbara Mandrell on the record. The first pick was Ernest Tubb, but then a pretty sharp cookie observed, ”hey wait, why not get George himself?”. George Jones was more than happy to participate. It took George only ten minutes in Nashville’s Woodland Sound Studio to give Collins a definitive take and virtually no time at all for engineer Les Ladd to mix it in.
Collins and Ladd added one other little nifty touch to the recording. They found some old “crowd noise” tapes at Woodland and turned the record into a “live” single.
“I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” quickly became Mandrell’s biggest hit, slamming into the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s country singles chart on July 4, 1981, marking Barbara’s fourth of her six chart-toppers. Its title also became a staple of country music’s lexicon.