What characteristics distinguish superb country songs? These songs tell a narrative. It draws a line in the sand. It has a twang that you can feel down to your toes.
Some make you angry, some make you cry, while some simply push you down the path. However, there are important country songs, from Hank Williams wailing at the moon to George Jones pouring one out for all the lonely lovers to Taylor Swift singing the suburban cowgirl blues.
So, here we are with our top picks for best country songs of all time
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12. Stanley Brothers, ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’ (1951)
“Man of Constant Sorrow” was resurrected by the Stanley Brothers in 1951; quickly recorded by Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Judy Collins a decade later; and began a full-fledged Americana renaissance with its significant placement in the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? in 2000.
11. Alan Jackson, ‘Where Were You’ (2002)
Few people in the United States can answer the question posed by Jackson in this song: “Where were you on September 11, 2001?” Jackson was said to be uneasy about profiting from the disaster, but he created the song to process his feelings, and victims and the audience commended him for it.
10. Lee Ann Womack, ‘I Hope You Dance’ (2000)
The song’s genuine, passionate dedication, written by Mark Sanders and Tia Sillers, became the soundtrack of father-daughter duets at marriages throughout the country. Womack delivered the vocals for the first time in 2000, winning a Grammy for it.
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9. Tammy Wynette, ‘Stand By Your Man’ (1968)
This Wynette song is as beloved as it is divisive. It topped CMT’s list of the 100 best country songs in 2003, and it was by far her most popular hit, landing at number one on Billboard’s Hot Country chart in 1968.
8. George Jones, ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’ (1980)
If there’s a bottom underneath the bottom, when laughter and sadness mix openly, Jones is aware of it. By 1980, he’d become so disoriented that he began speaking in many voices, one of whom was Jones, another was the Old Man, and a third was Dee-Doodle the Duck.
Because of his slurred speech, it took him 18 months to finish “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Jones informs us that the protagonist of the song promised to love her till the day he died, with Sherrill’s string section rising behind him like a horror-movie hand bursting out of its grave.
7. Willie Nelson, ‘Always on My Mind’ (1987)
Over the years, hundreds of versions of “Always on My Mind” have been recorded, including one by Elvis Presley. Nelson’s version, on the other hand, has long been a favorite among country music lovers. Song of the Year, Best Country Song, and Best Male Country Vocal Performance were all awarded to the rendition in 1982.
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6. John Denver, ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ (1971)
Denver’s best-known masterpiece and trademark tune is this 1971 homage to West Virginia. It’s the ideal Instagram caption for photos of any old winding road nowadays, but back when it was popular, it hit number two on Billboard’s Hot 100 list and spawned hundreds of cover versions.
5. Hank Williams, ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ (1949)
The song’s wrenchingly poetic majesty remains undiminished no matter how one first encounters it – Bob Dylan in Don’t Look Back, Sandra Bernhard in her one-woman show Without You I’m Nothing, Johnny Cash duetting with Nick Cave, even Pittsburgh Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw plodding through a 1976 effort.
4. Garth Brooks, ‘The Dance’ (1989)
Brooks is known for his heartfelt songs, but “The Dance” was one of his earliest. According to Rolling Stone, it debuted with his self-titled first album in 1989 and swiftly became his second number one hit.
According to Rolling Stone, Brooks told Playboy in 1994 that “‘The Dance’ will be the greatest hit as a song we will ever do.”
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3. Patsy Cline, ‘Crazy’ (1961)
This jukebox jackpot came to Patsy Cline through her husband Charlie Dick, a Willie Nelson friend from Nashville’s Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. Dick took Nelson home to wake up Cline after hearing Nelson’s demo (which was an approximation of Floyd Tillman’s “I Gotta Have My Baby Back”). Nelson’s song was initially too sluggish, mannered, and ugly for her, but she perfected her heart-stopping, self-inquiring vocal in a single.
2. Dolly Parton, ‘Jolene’ (1973)
This was Parton’s second number-one single, and it even went over into mainstream music. It’s become one of her most covered songs, with musicians who weren’t even alive when it was released in 1973 singing it, and she’s disclosed in interviews that the actual Jolene is a mix of her bank teller and a fan she met at a concert.
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1. Johnny Cash, ‘I Walk the Line’ (1956)
Cash’s first No. 1 success on the Billboard list remained on the charts for 43 weeks. Cash stated the song was a “promise of commitment” to his new wife Vivian Liberto, and it was written in one night backstage.