It's unfair to dismiss 1980s country as the over-produced precursor to the mostly-terrible Nashville pop of the 1990s. The country & pop dalliance began long before Connie Francis & Hank Williams, Jr. It goes at least as far back as Fred Rose, who, after writing hits for Sophie Tucker and others, left Tin Pan Alley for Nashville to join forces with Roy Acuff in 1942. Acuff-Rose Music dominated country music publishing as the first Nashville-based company of its kind. Hank Williams, Felice & Boudleaux Bryant, The Louvin Brothers, and Mickey Newbury all owe their success to Acuff-Rose. And Acuff-Rose owes its success, in part, to the popularity of country music in middle of the last century. It follows then that the country music industry bent towards pop to remain relevant and profitable in the 80s and 90s.
Only a handful of country greats evolved with the genre's pop mutation. Of those, none are as enduring as Dolly Parton. Dolly kicked off the 80s with the colossal success of "9 to 5." A #1 hit on both country and pop charts, the song earned her her first Oscar nomination and two Grammys. It signaled her and the industry's mainstream shift.
Over the decade, Dolly would release eight studio albums to mixed reviews. All but one peaked in Country Album top ten.
Dolly, Dolly, Dolly, from 1980, opens with a Donna Summer ballad and finds her vocally adventurous (like in this song where she does the most delightful thing with her voice around 1:45).
1983's "Potential New Boyfriend" from Burlap and Satin peaked higher on the dance chart than country chart. (The original video was directed by the same guy who did "Money for Nothing.")
This gem from Real Love sounds exactly like 1985. Jeff Silbar co-wrote "Tie Our Love in a Double Knot." (He went on to win a Grammy for "Wind Beneath My Wings.") The song reached #17 on the country chart.
After Real Love, RCA released her from her contract after nearly 20 years. She signed with Columbia in 1987 for Rainbow, her lowest performing release of the decade. By '89 she was back at #1 with "Why You'd Come in Here Lookin' Like That."
Dolly's 80s output proved her staying power. That her pop explorations sometimes met chilly critical response had little impact on her popularity. She bookended the decade with a pair of gold records — 1980's 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs and White Limozeen from 1989. By the end of 90s she'd add two platinum album notches to her belt. Her 2014 release, Blue Smoke, hit #2 on the country chart and a career-high #6 on the Billboard 200.