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Ten Greatest Country Songs of All Time

By 5 26



That's a real tease of a title, because these are my ten greatest country hits of all time. Okay, I couldn’t settle on ten, so it’s my 13 greatest country hits of all time. There is a chance that your greatest country hits are a little different from mine, a big chance – probably 13 chances, but that’s the fun of it, isn’t it, to come up with your favorites and laugh about what a moron I am.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine had a Pandora station playing on his iphone, and after listening to it for an hour, I realized that I absolutely loved every song that was playing. I asked him what channel he had entered, and he said it was David Allen Coe radio. Now, David Allen Coe isn’t for everyone, but Pandora matches up most of his contemporaries for a great playlist, and I started thinking about these wonderful old classic country songs that I hadn’t heard in years. 

Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jr.; those guys wrote the book on country. You could have a country music party and never play anyone else. And the history behind them - do you realize that Willie Nelson has been making music for seven decades! Hank Williams Jr. was nominated for Entertainer of the Year six years in a
row – he won it three years in a row! Johnny Cash just released a new album, and the guy passed away ten years ago. How great are you when you can still put out new music ten years after you die?

So, I plugged in my own "Classic Country" playlist last weekend and enjoyed songs that I haven't heard in years, and in the process started making a list of the songs that I consider the greatest country songs ever. I looked at a few sites along the way, just to jog my memory, but discovered that although I didn’t disagree with Rolling Stones’ top 100 of all time, they weren’t necessarily mine. I generally like high tempo songs where the singer has to give it all up on the vocals, like Travis Tritt’s “Here’s a Quarter” and Martina Mcbride’s “Independence Day”. But I also love those with a great melody, like Willie and Merle’s “Pancho and Lefty”. Come to think of it, I don’t know that there is a common theme to my favorites, except that they all remind me of a great place and a great time. I guess that’s exactly what country music is supposed to do.    

And so, here’s my list, with a short comment after each. I’d love to see your suggestions - you’ll probably make me up my list to 14. 


1. ‘Friends in Low Places’, Garth Brooks, 1990 

From one of the ten best-selling albums of all time – ‘No Fences’. At our annual New Year’s Eve party, my sister, brother and our spouses always ask the band play this. We dance around in a big circle, flapping our arms and singing along as loud as we can, oblivious to the old folks around us. Of course, they think we're the old folks.


2. 'Take This Job and Shove It', Johnny Paycheck, 1977  

Written by David Allen Coe, when Paycheck says “shove it”, there’s much more than words at work, and who among us hasn’t dreamed of hiring a band to play it for our boss on some bright Monday morning.


3. 'Mammas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys', Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, 1978  

Okay, if you don’t know the words to the first line of this chorus, you’ve been in a refrigerator for the last 30 years.


4. 'I Walk the Line', Johnny Cash, 1956

His music was so simple, yet so compelling. The song is basically a promise to his first wife, Vivian, that he’s staying true while he’s on the road, when he was actually in the middle of courting June Carter. Now that’s country music! Watch him sing it in his prime:


5. ‘Lukenbach, Texas’, Waylon Jennings, 1977  

This is probably not on anyone’s list but mine, but there’s something about the words and the melody that makes it the perfect tune to sing by yourself after twelve beers at 1:30 in the morning on the back porch, know what I mean?


6. ‘All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down’, Hank Williams Jr., 1981

A thoughtful party song that most of us can relate to at some point in our lives, a reflection of our early rambunctious lifestyles that are now just good memories. Being the theme song for Monday Night Football didn’t hurt either.


7. ‘You Never Even Called Me by My Name’, David Allen Coe, 1975

Yes, I know this is the third time I’ve mentioned his name, but I’m not really a big fan. He has the perfect country music voice, but many of his songs are filthy, like, wash your hands after you hear this kind of filthy. This one, however, is fantastic. At the University of Georgia, we could never leave Papa Joes bar without singing it with our hands over our hearts, while crunching the peanut shells under our feet. Here is a rare performance preserved on video:


8. ‘Red Dirt Road’, Brooks and Dunn, 2003

Written by Ronnie Dunn, the song is an homage to his life. That’s not really unusual for country music writers, but when it’s sung with such conviction, the listener feels like he’s a part of it. I put on my earbuds, go to the outdoor utility room, and sing along as hard as I can. I’ve found that as long as the music is really loud, you sound like a superstar.


9. ‘Blame it on Your (lying, cheating, cold dead beating, two-timing, double dealing, mean mistreating, loving) Heart’, Patty Loveless, 1993

This one brought me back to country. One of the younger ladies working for me changed our radio station to country one day, over my objections, and I loved this song so much that I watched CMT until the video came on, and then I fell in love with Patty Loveless, literally. I joined her fan club and started writing fan letters for the only time in my life. Something about redheads, they do me in. This song is so good, they made a movie around it – ‘The Thing Called Love’, starring River Phoenix and a nobody-newcomer named Sandra Bullock.


10. ‘Pancho and Lefty’, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, 1982

In 1982, both of these guys were at the top of their game, and this ballad of two renegades is the perfect vehicle for two guys that were always seen as outsiders to the Nashville establishment. The song's production enhances its power; it is polished without being slick, in the wrong hands, this could easily have become a bombastic, over the top performance, but with them, it’s perfect.


11. ‘Tennessee Waltz’, Patti Page, 1950

Originally stamped as the B-side to the long forgotten ‘Boogie Woogie Santa Claus’, Patti Page was number one for nine weeks. It’s the first song I sang to my son when it was my night to stay up with him, and he was mesmerized by my perfect voice. Then he heard someone else sing.


12. ‘Independence Day’, Martina McBride, 1994

How can this little woman belt this song out the way she does? A story of shame and revenge, it does what any great song should do – it makes you think.


13. ‘Drive South’, Suzy Bogguss, 1992

What is this song, you say? This is my list, remember, and I love it. It’s the biggest hit Suzy ever had, and it is a perfect vehicle for her smooth-as-silk vocals. A wonderful blend of sassy, sexy and attitude, watch the video if you’ve forgotten it.



Aug 13, 2014 5:49pm
Hi, awesome article! Keep up the great work.
Sep 5, 2014 8:50am
Thanks Dubelu.
Sep 5, 2014 6:22am
It's "Luckenbach" not "Lukenbach". Otherwise, pretty good article. I'm a huge fan of Johnny Cash, so a thumb.
Sep 5, 2014 8:51am
Ha! That'll teach me to search the web for song names. Thanks Vic.
Sep 5, 2014 9:35am
It's easy enough for you fix the spelling error. Also, I forgot to mention: I saw Patty Loveless live around 10 years ago and SHE WAS AWESOME! The woman has some SERIOUS chops: her voice is phenomenal. The venue she played was a small auditorium with a pick-up band; regardless of genre, hers was one of the most dynamic shows I've seen in decades!
Sep 5, 2014 11:04am
Yep - her voice is like honey pouring out of a pitcher. I saw her live in a big barn in Buena Vista, Georgia 1994, and she drove the bats out. She lives here in Georgia somewhere - I keep dreaming that one day I'll run into her at a seven-eleven and she'll be so enamored with my nerdness that we'll run to the Motel 6. Sounds like a good song.
Sep 5, 2014 11:19am
Lucky you having her in your back yard!! (Ya know, I should write a piece about her . . .)
Sep 5, 2014 11:27am
I would LOVE for you to write a piece about her!
Sep 11, 2014 2:37pm
It's DONE!!
Sep 5, 2014 8:00am
This country gal has thoroughly enjoyed your selections. I haven't heard that Patti Page tune in years. Great lullaby for a baby, even if he would one day think you sang out of tune.
Sep 5, 2014 8:52am
You're a sweetheart - thanks for checking it out.
Sep 5, 2014 11:48am
The original Pancho and Lefty by the guy who wrote it, Townes Van Zandt, is far superior to any cover - even by Merle and Willie.
Sep 5, 2014 11:51am
That's a pretty famous last name, I'll find it, thanks.
Sep 5, 2014 12:00pm
Hi: I love country and enjoyed your choices but, I am afraid you left a word out--The Ten Greatest Country Songs of OUR times. You neglect a tremendous count of all-time hits from "back in the day" when country was really country. (Not that I I don't like most of your choices because I do...What country fan doesn't love Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash?) Nevertheless, when you speak of ALL TIME Country hits, you have to mention songs such as Crazy by Patsy Cline (written by Willie in fact), you have to list Your Cheatin' Heart by Hank Williams and "I'm Walking the Floor over you" by Earnest Tubb, Oklahoma Hills, by Hank Thomson or the great hits by Little Jimmy Dickens, Hank Snow and T. Texas Tyler. And, you cannot list Country's great hits and leave Loretta Lynn's name out--How about Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man or Coal Miner's Daughter...I could go on but hopefully you have my point. Nevertheless, I can see you're real country fan and like real country music so regardless of your rather inadequate title, I give you two thumbs up and a rating.
Sep 5, 2014 2:59pm
Marlando - you are 100% correct. I had Coal Miner's Daughter, Your Cheatin Heart and the Carter Family on my list, but I whittled them off. I really should have titled it MY Greatest Country Hits, but that wouldn't have received the same reaction. Thanks Marlando.
Sep 5, 2014 12:14pm
Great list dude......and most I've never heard before!
Sep 5, 2014 2:51pm
Thanks Colin,
Sep 6, 2014 12:25pm
I would have to add:
"Seven Spanish Angels" - Willie Nelson & Ray Charles
"In Color" - Jamey Johnson
"Crazy" - Willie Nelson
"The Gambler" - Kenny Rogers
"He Stopped Loving Her Today" - George Jones
I think I should write an article entitled, "The 1,000 Greatest Country Songs in No Particular Order"... :-)
Sep 7, 2014 10:33am
OMG, Seven Spanish Angels should absolutely be on my list - I can't believe I left it off. I had He Stopped Loving Her but it didn't make the cut. Kenny Rogers was an as*hole to me at a McDonalds once, so he's banned forever. Great additions.
Sep 6, 2014 2:00pm
Pancho and Lefty is one of my all time favorites.

You forgot Jerry Jeff Walker and Viva Terlingua. Home with the Armadillo...

And my current all time favorite from, of all artists, Kenny Chesney - "Who You'd Be Today." Incredible song. thanks for the article, it was fun.
Sep 7, 2014 10:35am
JJW should definitely be on my list. I could write an entire article on my favorite Chesney songs. Thanks for commenting
Sep 10, 2014 9:10am
Willie is getting old! He's still got the voice, though. I also like Don Williams (he didn't make it in yur article). Good reading, and thanks for sharing your faves.
Sep 11, 2014 5:49am
You're right about Willie - we should enjoy him while we can. Thanks for commenting.
Sep 10, 2014 6:20pm
Great selections, love country songs as you can actually hear all the words not like some of the modern so called music these days. great article.
Sep 11, 2014 5:50am
Thanks Sharon. I look forward to reading some of yours.
Sep 14, 2014 9:16am
i only knew one song lol martina!
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