Some artists spend their careers releasing albums that are simply good. Other musicians churn out an endless stream of either fantastic or awful work. Then there are the professionals who only release masterpieces, works so beautiful they become part of the musical lexicon and stay there long after the artist has died. Steve Earle falls into that latter category. For 33 years, he’s been releasing albums that start strong and end with a bang, records full of songs so unforgettable they become part of your life. Steve Earle has crafted one classic after another from his earliest days as a hardcore country rocker to his wildest experiments with blues and folk. But which is the very best? To answer that question, we asked one of rock’s most respected critics to put aside his feelings for Earle’s solo work and rank his ten finest songs from across his career (and even a few he recorded with the Dukes). Here are the results.
10. Exit 0 1987
It’s hard to believe this song is almost 30 years old. Written by Kent Robbins and John Barlow Jarvis, it captures the sense of alienation from being a transplant in a big city so well it could have been written yesterday. “People ask me why I stay here,” Earle says as he begins giving up on New York. “I tell ’em it’s the air.”
9. The Hard Way (1990)
In the title track from his second album, Earle sets up a classic theme — sin and redemption — with the stunning economy. “If you loved me half as much as I love you/ Would it be enough?” he asks. “Or would you still want more? If I gave everything away to save your life/ Would you be the man I love? Or just another thief?”
8. Train a Comin (1995)
Earle’s songwriting can be divided into two periods: before prison and after. Before he was forced to face the reality of his addiction, Earle seemed more concerned with making records that captured the sound of the country than with writing songs that had something important to say. But after his arrest in 1994, he began to come back as a songwriter, and his work turned over a new leaf.
7. Guitar Town (1986)
Earle’s debut album drew praise in the US and in the UK, where it was released in 1987 and led to an appearance on “Top of the Pops,” but it didn’t make a big commercial splash at the time. “I was opening for Hüsker Dü,” Earle recalled to Paste in 2011, “and I had a gold record in America, and I had never been arrested.” But all of that changed with Guitar Town, which reached No.5 on the Billboard album chart and put him at the vanguard of the emerging new-traditionalist movement.
6. Copperhead Road (1988)
Earle was riding high off the success of his debut, but he began to have issues with his label, MCA. He went from being a priority act who recorded albums quickly and toured to just another country artist churning out music at a steady clip. After recording two albums for MCA that didn’t sell as well as expected – 1986’s Guitar Town and 1988’s Copperhead Road – Earle decided to take a break from the music business, moving to Texas. His third album was finished by the time he took off for Texas, so MCA put it out under the Steve Earle name instead of his own. The result was a hit: Not only did “Copperhead Road” go to No.1 on the country chart, but it also cracked the pop Top 40, which put Earle back into the spotlight.
5. El Corazón (1997)
In the mid-’90s, Earle became a problem patient to a model citizen. His 1995 album with The Del McCoury Band, The Mountain, was a critical and commercial success, reaching No.3 on the country chart and earning him a Grammy nomination for Best Bluegrass Album. At that point, Earle was clean and sober, having kicked his drug habits that had derailed his career.
4. I Feel Alright (1996)
After being clean for years, Earle’s substance abuse began to creep back into his life. It wasn’t long before he relapsed into addiction, which put him in a very dark place. “I was not exactly suicidal,” he said in the liner notes of his retrospective box set Washington Square Serenade (2007). “But I was very, very depressed. I was just a mess. And it turns out for me, the only thing that works is to go right back to the way things were when I stopped.” He also found himself in a legal bind after he assaulted an airport employee trying to stop him from boarding a plane while drunk.
3. The Mountain (1999)
In 1997, Earle met singer-songwriter Allison Moorer, through their mutual publisher. One year later, the two were married and moved to Nashville to work on their music together. They signed with New West Records and released an album of duets in 2000 called The Way We Fall Out. Even though Earle was off drugs for two years, his relationship with Moorer brought back some of his past problems. “When I met my ex-wife Allison, it was like somebody gave me an injection of speed,” he told American Songwriter in 2011.
2. I Ain’t Ever Satisfied (1996)
This song has to be in the top ten of Steve Earle’s best songs because of how much it reflects his personal life. He wrote this song while married to his second wife, Allison Moorer. They were together for over seven years before they got divorced. The lyrics directly reflect the feelings he had during their marriage and what he felt like when they split up. This song may not have had much success on the charts, but it speaks volumes to people who have heard it or have heard it before.
1. So You Wannabe an Outlaw (2017)
This song by Steve Earle is the best because it’s just a great song. The song is just an incredible country-rock song with an exciting story. Steve Earle and his wife, Carla, were out of town when their son was born. While they were away, Carla gave birth to their son, Jack. Upon returning home after the birth of their son, Earle and his wife received some disturbing news. Their 7-year-old daughter was missing from the house and kidnapped by a man named James Stinson. Stinson had been living with the Earle family before he decided to abduct their daughter at gunpoint. The police later found Stinson dead in his car from a self-inflicted gunshot.
The best of Steve Earle’s songs is “So You Wannabe an Outlaw.” I think this song was chosen as the best one because it has a great story behind it. This song will always be remembered. Over the years, Steve Earle has been a highly acclaimed singer-songwriter. He opened doors for artists to express themselves creatively and unapologetically with his songs that convey emotion and are about personal stories in real life which people can relate to. Songwriter Steve Earle grew up on an Arkansas farm where he was raised by parents who were fervent supporters of President John F Kennedy’s “New Frontier.”