Together with Merle Haggard, Buck Owens pioneered the Bakersfield sound (or, as he preferred to call it “American Music”), an electrified, rock-influenced style of honky tonk that came to dominate the charts in the ’60s. By the time the decade ended, he’d become one of country’s most popular artists, with a staggering 15 consecutive number ones under his belt. A major influence on everyone from Gram Parsons to Dwight Yoakam, his edgy alternative to the string-laden, pop-influenced sounds coming out of Nashville at the time helped change the face of contemporary country for good. Here’s our pick of the 10 best Buck Owens songs of all time.
10. Streets of Bakersfield (featuring Dwight Yoakam)
Owens first tackled this song by Homer Joy in 1972. That time around, it didn’t really go anywhere. In 1988, he revisited it with country singer Dwight Yoakam. This time, the bouncy accordion and Mexican influences of the song connected in a big way with audiences, resulting in the first No.1 single of Yoakam’s career, and Owens’ first of the decade. It also scooped the pair a Grammy nomination for Best Country Collaboration With Vocals.
9. How Long Will My Baby Be Gone
If you’ve ever joined in the festivities at the Country Bear Jamboree at Disney, you might have found yourself nodding along to this tender little ditty from Owens’ 1968 album Sweet Rosie Jones. Released as a single in January 1968, it spent thirteen weeks on the country charts, peaking at number 1 to become Owens’ eighth consecutive chart-topper.
8. My Heart Skips a Beat
In 1964, Owens earned his second Grammy nomination in the category of Best Country and Western Vocal Performance for the single My Heart Skips a Beat. The song also gave him his third number one on the country charts, where, as countrythangdaily.com notes, it spent several weeks battling it with its B side, Together Again, for chart supremacy.
7. Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass
Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass proved a huge hit for the singer in 1969. Written about a man who tries to win the heart of his fickle lover by reminding her of all the boring chores he does for her, it spent a total of fourteen weeks hanging around the country charts, peaking at number 1.
6. Hot Dog
By the mid-1950s, Owens, like just about everyone else on the planet, had fallen under the spell of Elvis Presley. Keen on pushing his songwriting in a new direction but loath to damage his growing status in the country community, he decided to write and record a series of Presley-inspired rockabilly numbers under the pseudonym Corky Jones. One of them is the terrific Hot Dog, a song whose limited distribution stopped it from becoming a national hit, but that’s rightly remembered as one of Owens’ most enjoyable efforts.
5. I Don’t Care (Just as Long as You Love Me)
By 1964, it seemed like Buck Owens could do no wrong. After closing out the previous year with three consecutive number one hits, he continued his white-hot steak with the easy-going country gem, I Don’t Care (Just as Long as You Love Me). Released in August 1964, the song became his fourth number one on the county chart, spending 6 weeks at number one and 27 weeks on the chart in total. With its laid-back charm and carefree strut, it’s classic Buck.
4. Love’s Gonna Live Here
In at number 4 on our list of the best Buck Owens songs of all time is Love’s Gonna Live Here. Released in August 1963, the song became Owens’ second country number 1, spending a stonking sixteen weeks at the top and hanging around the chart for thirty weeks in total. It would take another 49 years before anyone (in this case, Tayor Swift) would spend more than 10 weeks at number one.
3. Act Naturally
Up next is this little gem from 1963. When songwriter Johnny Russell played Act Naturally to Voni Morrison, she suggested it would be a good match for Owens, who she was working with at the time. Owens didn’t think as much of the song as Morrison, but after the Buckaroo’s Don Rich heard the demo, he convinced Owens to record it. Released on March 11, 1963, the song hit number one on the Billboard Country Singles chart, becoming the first of what would be many chart-toppers for Owens. Two years later, The Beatles recorded their own version of the song, and in 1989, Ringo Starr and Owens received a Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Collaboration after they recorded it as a duet.
2. Together Again
Tom Brumley’s astonishing steel guitar would make this song from 1964 essential listening, with or without Owens’ contribution. Widely considered one the best steel guitar solos in country music history, it’s even said to have inspired the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia to learn how to play. The song’s been covered by everyone from Emmylou Harris to Glen Campbell over the years, but no one has yet to come close to bettering the original.
1. I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail
In at number one on our list of the ten best Buck Owens songs of all time is I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail, a signature song for Owens and one of his most enduringly popular tunes to this day. In the liner notes to The Buck Owens Collection: 1959-1990, Owens explained the song’s inspiration, describing how he and songwriter Harlan Howard were trying to write some songs but were running short on ideas. Then, Owens spotted an Esso gas station sign with the company’s logo, “Put a tiger in your tank,” on prominent display. A short time and a small amount of poetic license later, he was sat on his and the Buckaroos’ biggest ever hit.