Despite being best known for novelty hits like Dang Me and Chug-a-Lug, Roger Miller was one of the finest songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s, inspiring countless other artists with his sophisticated songcraft and lyrical inventiveness. Although his recording output diminished during his last decade, his legacy remains one of the strongest in country music, scattered with timeless gems like My Uncle Used to Love Me But She Died, Husbands and Wives, and, of course, King of the Road. Here’s our pick of the 10 best Roger Miller songs of all time.
Roger Miller might have been able to do straightlaced country as well as any other artist around, but he excelled at novelty songs too. On Do-Wacka-Do, he shows off his comedy chops with a song written to an old friend he’d like to trade places with. Replacing “do-like-I-do” with Do-Wacka-Do, he tells him “I wish I had your good luck charm, and you had a do-wacka-do, wacka-do, wacka-do, wacka-do, wacka-do.” Released as a single in 1965, Do-Wacka-Do hit number 15 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart and number 31 on the Hot 100.
9. Me and Bobby McGee
Janis Joplin may have recorded the definitive version of Kris Kristofferson’s Me and Bobby McGee, but Miller got there first, scoring a top 20 hit with it in 1969. His version may be a world away from Joplin’s, but his nuanced, soulful delivery makes it exceptionally easy on the ear.
8. My Uncle Used to Love Me But She Died
After his initial attempt at straight country floundered, Miller switched tacks and began appearing regularly on “The Jimmy Dean Show” and “The Merv Griffin Show,” showcasing a new, gleefully goofy persona and a knack for nonsensical silliness. His popularity on the shows earned him a new record contract and a new audience, both of which he sustained with a clever mix of novelty songs and hardcore country. One of his most enduringly popular novelty ditties is My Uncle Used to Love Me But She Died, a deliciously witty, mildly suggestive song that took him to number 58 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 39 on the country charts on its release in September 1966.
7. Husbands and Wives
As All Music says, although he’s largely known for his novelty songs, Miller was also one of the leading country songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s, and an integral influence on the progressive country movement. His expert blend of country, jazz, blues, and pop and use of unique harmonic and rhythmic devices resulted in some of the most sophisticated offerings of the era. One of his most exquisite gems is Husbands and Wives, a mid-tempo waltz that finds him examining a broken relationship and concluding that “pride is the chief cause in the decline / In the number of husbands and wives.” Released in February 1977, it reached the top ten in the country charts and the top 40 on the pop charts.
6. Engine Engine #9
1965 was a good year for Miller. After starting the year with the massive King of the Road, he continued to dominate the charts with a succession of top ten hits, including One Dyin’ and a Buryin’, Kansas City Star, England Swings, and Engine Engine #9, a Tin Pan Alley-esque song about a man who’d been stood up at a train station by his lover. Despite the heartbreak found in the lyrics, the upbeat melody and loping rhythms had pop hit written all over them. True enough, the song became a huge crossover success, reaching the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 2 on the easy listening and country charts.
5. England Swings
By 1965, London was in full swing, the British Invasion had happened, and even country music was beginning to feel the UK’s influence. Not that you’d necessarily know it from England Swings, which, despite the title, talks more about “bobbies on bicycles” and the “dapper men with derby hats and canes” than it does about mods, miniskirts and music. But even if Miller was mocking the youth culture by blithely ignoring it, his gorgeous harmonies and jaunty whistling were too irresistible for anyone to take offense. Released in November 1965, it peaked at number one on the easy listening chart, number three on the country chart and number eight on the pop chart.
4. Kansas City Star
Among the handful of top ten hits Miller released in 1965 was Kansas City Star, a wistful novelty song about a local television children’s show personality who would rather stay a big fish in a small pond than take a risk at becoming a bigger star (or a huge failure) elsewhere. Although it didn’t prove quite as successful as some of his other hits from that year, it still managed to reach a very respectable number 7 in the country charts and number 31 in the pop charts.
3. Dang Me
Miller’s first release after signing to Smash Records in 1964 was Dang Me, a lighthearted romp that, according to Miller’s official biography, took him just four minutes to write in a Phoenix, Arizona, hotel room. Released in May 1964, it soared to number one on the Billboard country music chart and number seven on the Hot 100, becoming Miller’s first chart-topping country hit and first Top Ten hit on the pop charts. It later went on to snag the Grammy for Best Country & Western Song.
As wideopencountry.com says, when it comes to Miller’s cheeky story-songs, none can top this fast-driving ode to homemade alcoholic pleasures. Released as the follow-up to the monster hit Dang Me in August 1964, Chug-a-Lug became a top ten hit on both the country and pop charts.
1. King of the Road
No matter how big and popular the rest of his hits, few people would argue that King of the Road doesn’t top them all. Named as one of the greatest country songs of all time by Rolling Stone, this finger-snapping, bass-walking beauty about a happy-go-lucky hobo who trades “two hours of pushin’ a broom” for an “eight-by-12 four-bit room” is unquestionably Miller’s masterpiece. Released in January 1965, it spent five weeks at number one on the country charts and became his biggest pop hit, peaking at number four on the Billboard Hot 100. To date, it’s sold over 2.5 million copies.