Country music’s roots are in rural areas of the Southern and Western United States. Traditional Celtic and Scottish folk songs and ballads started evolving in the Appalachian Mountains. In 1923, Fiddlin’ John Carson recorded the first country music song. Also, during this time, radio stations in Midwestern and Southern cities started broadcasting country music songs. In 1924, Chicago’s National Barn Dance, a radio program, started followed a year later by Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. These programs helped launch the careers of many artists, including the Carter Family and Jimmy Rodgers, both enormous inspirations for many artists who followed. During the Great Depression, the job scarcity forced families to roam the country looking for work, helping country music spread across the united states.
Additionally, the standard lyrics of country songs like poverty, home, lost loves, and poverty were natural sources for early songs. The 30s started Gene Autry’s career and launched “singing cowboy” films, and the second subgenre began in Texas-Oklahoma. Many rural whites started hearing black and brown swing band orchestras. Bob Wills drew inspiration from the style and added steel guitars and dance rhythms. The 40s were a pivotal decade for country music. Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams took Willis’ style and added sad lyrics appealing to rural people living in big cities. Their style blazed the trail for future country music artists. In 1942, Roy Acuff made country music even more famous by opening the first publishing house, establishing Nashville as the epicenter of country music. The Grand Ole Opry was the premier performing destination.
According to Britannica, the term country music replaced hillbilly music in 1949 because record labels thought hillbilly sounded disparaging. Some of the most well-known music stars, including Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, and Patsy Cline, started recording during the 50s. Much of the recordings during this decade had sweeping instrumentation. Even with country music popularity growing, there was still a disconnect between its style and pop music. As the 70s began, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jenning started bridging the gap between the two genres. Artists like Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, and Reba McEntire furthered the country’s crossover to the pop charts during the 80s. When artists like Brad Paisley, Alan Jackson, Blake Shelton, and Carrie Underwood took the stage during the early twenty-first century, country music started to meld further into the pop genre. These days, many artists not only pop music charts but also top country charts. Even though country music has seen many evolutions over the years, many artists still record songs that embrace the traditional sound of the genre. These are the 20 best country songs of all-time.
20. Love Can Build A Bridge – The Judds
Naomi Judd, John Barlow Jarvis Paul Overstreet wrote this song. It was The Judd’s second single reaching number 5 on the country charts in 1991. Inspired by a conversation with Overstreet, Judd immediately had the melody, writing the song in 15 minutes. It won the Grammy for Song of the year in 1992. Later that year, Britney Spears sang it on Star Search.
19. I Wanna Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart – Patsy Montana
This song made history in 1934 as the first country song by a woman to sell more than two million copies worldwide. The initial title was Texas Plains, but Montana wrote the song, making several changes in the piece along the way, including changing the title. She wanted to capitalize on country music films.
18. Live Like You Were Dying – Tim McGraw
McGraw released the album by the same name in 2004, with the song debuting at number 36 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks. It didn’t take long for it to hit number one and stay there seven weeks. The song’s lyrics reflected McGraw’s personal and professional life. Tim Nichols wrote the song inspired by a conversation with Craig Weisman about not taking life for granted. The song won 2004’s Grammy Award for Best Country Song, Best Country Song, and Single of the Year from the Academy of Country Music Awards.
17. Stand By Your Man – Tammy Wynette
According to Outsider, Even though Wynette’s song topped Billboard’s Hot Country Singles, many thought the song was anti-feminist. Wynette wrote the song with Billy Sherril in about 15 minutes. The song’s lyrics reflect Wynette’s turbulent life. She married five different men, including George Jones. Her music came at the wrong time since women’s liberation had become a hot topic. Stand By Your Man was inspired by Ben E King’s song Stand By Me and written because she needed a final track on her album.
16. Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’ – Charley Pride
Pride released this song in 2003, his first number one hit—many mistake the song’s lyrics as a happy wife happy life song. Yet, the inspiration was love between a father and a daughter. Ben Peters wrote this song shortly after he had his daughter. One day, he kissed his daughter goodbye, and inspiration struck. Peter’s music went on to be Pride’s eighth number one country hit. Additionally, it peaked at number seven on the Adult Contemporary Charts.
15. She’s In Love With A Boy – Trisha Yearwood
This 1991 song was the first of five number one hits for the singer and made history as the first time a female singer topped the country charts with a number one single since Connie Smith’s song One Day at a time in 1964. Twenty-four years later, Yearwood re-recorded it for her album Prizefighter: Hit after Hit. One thing she noticed is distinct vocal differences after so many years of singing.
14. You Never Call Me By My Name – David Allan Coe
John Prine and Steve Goodman wrote the song for Coe. He assured the songwriters it would never be a hit when he heard it because there wasn’t a verse about “mama, or trains, or trucks, or prison, or getting drunk.” Goodman added the verse for him. When Coe sings the song, he adds campy impressions of Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride, and Merle Haggard.
13. Independence Day – Martina McBride
According to People, many radio stations declined to play this song because the lyrics were dicey. Even though it didn’t chart well, it was named CMA Awards video of the year. After McBride recorded it, she received many letters from women who identified with the woman in the song who takes extreme measures to leave an abusive relationship.
12. What Might Have Been – Little Texas
Little Texas’ breakthrough album, Big Time, dropped in May 1993 with this song as the lead single. It reached number two on Billboard’s Hot Country Chats. Additionally, it’s one of the group’s best-known songs.
11. Luckenbach Texas (Back to the Basics of Love) – Waylon Jennings
Released on April 11, 1977, the song was Jenning’s first crossover hit, making it to number 25 on the Billboard 200 charts. According to Rolling Stone, before Jenning’s song, Luckenbach, Texas was a small-town nobody visited. The singer never went there before writing the music. It also set records as the first song to debut on Billboard in the upper half of the country charts.
10. I Swear – John Michael Montgomery
Gary Baker and Frank J. Myers wrote this song. Not only was it a hit for Montgomery, but also two additional singers. Released in 1993, it was the first single from his second studio album, Kickin’ It Up. Swiftly, it rose to number one on the Billboard U.S. Hot Country Songs and stayed there for four weeks.
9. Jolene – Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton wrote this song for a fan. She noticed an eight-year-old girl with red hair and green eyes looking at her during a concert because she was too shy to ask for an autograph. Parton asked for the girl’s name, Jolene, and instantaneously knew the song would be a hit.
8. Should’ve Been a Cowboy – Toby Keith
During the 90s, this song received more airplay than any other country song. Additionally, it launched Keith’s career. According to American Songwriter, the singer wrote the song in minutes.
7. When You Say Nothing At All – Keith Whitley
Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz wrote this song. Even though it is a beautiful love song, it had humble roots. It started with a case of writer’s block and Overstreet and Schlitz having nothing to say.
6. On The Road Again – Willie Nelson
According to Society of Rock, Nelson felt inspired to write this song while holding a bar bag. During the flight, he approached Sydney Pollack and asked if he could write a song about life on the road for the upcoming movie, Honeysuckle Rose. Nelson went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Country Song and an Academy Academy Award nomination, and a place in the Grammy Hall of Fame. The song was also one of Nelson’s crossover hits, making the country charts and the adult contemporary charts. On the Road Again continually shows up in movies, even today.
5. Wildwood Flower – Carter Family
This song was one of ten the group recorded on May 10, 1928, receiving a 150 dollar advance. Aside from the Carter Family singing it numerous times during their career, many artists have covered it over the years, including Nana Mouskouri, who sang it in French.
4. Crazy – Patsy Cline
Willie Nelson wrote this song. Initially, he chose the title Stupid. Originally, Nelson tried to sell the music and several others to Larry Bulter. He refused, and Cline’s husband Charlie Dick and producer Owen Bradley talked her into singing the song, which became her biggest hit. Some say Cline didn’t want to record the song because her husband constantly played Willie Nelson songs. One standout on the song is the instrumentation featuring electric guitar and piano, unique for that time. Everything came together nicely during the recording; Cline only needed one take to record it.
3. He Stopped Loving Her Today – George Jones
Jones’ 1981 release won multiple awards, including CMA Song of the Year and Grammy for best male performance. Additionally, the Library of Congress National Recording chose it for a Preservation Board selection. Even though the song was an iconic song for Jones’, it almost wasn’t recorded. The singer was having substance abuse issues. He even missed so many performances he received the nickname “no show Jones.”Many times while recording the song, he kept slurring and forgetting words. Billy Sherrill spliced together several recordings to create the pieces. Jones hated the song. According to Wide Open Country, he said “nobody will buy that morbid son of a (expletive deleted). Jones was wrong. Some think He stopped Loving Her Today is the greatest country song of all time.
2. Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash started playing the guitar at 12 years old. Even during his time in the military, he continued playing the guitar. While in Germany, he saw the film Walls of Folsom prison. The movie had a lasting impact; he wrote an early draft. Cash borrowed from Folsom Prison Blues, sung by Crescent City Blues and written by Gordon Jenkins. Since the lyrics were much like the original, he went to court and settled. When Cash first wrote the song, he didn’t understand copyrights and didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. The song became famous on January 13, 1968, when he sang it live at Folsom Prison. one of the most famous lyrics, “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die,” was not borrowed but came from Cash’s masterful writing skills.
1. Coal Miner’s Daughter – Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn grew up far below the poverty line in Butcher Holler, Kentucky. Coal Miner’s daughter became her signature song, even writing an autobiography using the song’s title. According to Trad Country, Lynn was bored during a taping, so she went back to her dressing room and started a stream of consciousness writing. Within an hour, she wrote the song’s rough draft. Coal Miner’s daughter was a staggering nine verses long. Producer Owen Bradley helped edit the music, making it a number one single.