(Debuted November 17, 1979, Peaked #3, 18 Weeks on the Chart)
Some critics like to ridicule country music because of its sometimes predicable subject matter: songs about the simple life, "God and mama" songs, even songs about getting drunk and committing adultery. Well, here's a song that had a prison death, a triple rape and three guys getting the stuffing beat out of them in a barroom. Somehow, a song with such implicit sex and gratuitous violence in it still managed to hit #3 and become a crossover hit without corrupting the impressionable youth of America, nor was it even brought up a few years later when the PMRC took their crusade about what they deemed "filthy" song lyrics to Capitol Hill.
Perhaps I oversimplify the song. The triple rape is implied (though it's hard to think of much else, given the lyrics), the barroom beatdown is casually mentioned, and Kenny Rogers really doesn't say what made Tommy's father die in prison but it was likely an execution. However, even though he rambles his way through the song, the story has some rather dark elements in it. And none of that could stop it from becoming a huge hit, thanks to Rogers being at his peak of popularity at the time.
In addition to reaching #3 on the pop chart, "Coward of the County" was the first new #1 single of the new decade on Billboard's country chart. It also hit #1 in the U.K. in February '80, which makes the last U.S. country single to date to reach the top there.