The Fifty Best Debut Singles of All-Time
Part 4: #20-#11
#20 Freddy Fender, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”
Debut: January 11, 1975/Peak: #1
Fender was poised to break through as a Latino rocker, until marijuana possession charges landed him in jail for a few years. Parole came early, thanks to a sympathetic governor who was a musician himself, and Fender ended up pursuing country music with a Spanish flavor. His first single, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”, made him an instant star, and earned him the CMA Single of the Year award to boot.
#19 Billy Ray Cyrus, “Achy Breaky Heart”
Debut: April 4, 1992/Peak: #1
The one-hit wonder who never went away. Billy Ray sold nine million copies of his debut album on the strength of this hit, and in the process, became the poster child for a new marketing age in country music. He got a lot of flak for it at the time, but he was always a better artist than his critics made him out to be.
#18 Jeannie Seely, “Don’t Touch Me”
Debut: April 16, 1966/Peak: #2
Being married to Hank Cochran gains you access to some pretty fine material to record. Jeannie Seely launched her career with this Grammy-winning classic, a beautiful example of the Nashville Sound in its prime. Chances are you’ll catch her singing it at the Opry this weekend, if you’re lucky enough to be there when she’s on the bill.
#17 George Strait, “Unwound”
Debut: May 16, 1981/Peak: #6
Two young guys with something to prove: Dean Dillon, an up-and-coming songwriter, and George Strait, the man who’d prove to be Dillon’s muse. The lyric isn’t quite up to par, and Strait’s singing is a bit too eager, all of which makes it a fascinating listen today. Two of the genre’s most seasoned professionals, before they were seasoned professionals.
#16 Dolly Parton, “Dumb Blonde”
Debut: January 21, 1967/Peak: #24
There couldn’t have been a more perfect introduction to Dolly Parton than “Just because I’m blonde, don’t think I’m dumb. This dumb blonde ain’t nobody’s fool.” Arguably the most talented woman in the history of country music, Dolly’s physical appearance has led people to underestimate her over the years. She didn’t write this song, but she’s lived it to the letter.
#15 Doug Stone, “I’d Be Better Off (In a Pine Box)”
Debut: March 10, 1990/Peak: #4
If Joe Diffie undermined his credibility with redneck ditties, Doug Stone absolutely massacred his with a string of cloyingly manipulative love songs that were damn nauseating to listen to. All the potential for a more Jones-like career was there in his debut single, one of the best traditional country singles of its time. Stone convincingly sings that he’d be better off dead, rather than having to lie alone in his bed, picturing his ex with her new man.
#14 Lefty Frizzell, “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time”
Debut: October 28, 1950/Peak: #1
A fantastically arrogant song that Willie Nelson covered and took right back to the top in the 1970’s. Frizzell was one of the most influential artists in country music history, shaping the music of Nelson, Merle Haggard and George Strait, among others. His debut single was a massive hit right out of the gate, and it sounds like something you’d hear in an old saloon, yet strangely contemporary at the same time. Required listening for all country music enthusiasts.
#13 Dwight Yoakam, “Honky Tonk Man”
Debut: March 1, 1986/Peak: #3
It was a breakthrough single for Johnny Horton, and ended up launching the career of Dwight Yoakam more than thirty years later. Yoakam established his signature sound immediately, no small feat given that he was kicking things off with a cover. Listen to the next single, his self-penned “Guitars, Cadillacs”, and you’ll learn quickly that he was already a fully realized artist, able to make other’s songs his own.
#12 Mark Chesnutt, “Too Cold at Home”
Debut: August 4, 1990/Peak: #3
There was this window in the early nineties when a young man with a great country voice could launch a career with a killer traditional country song. There’s nothing about “Too Cold at Home” that is flashy or manufactured. It’s just an excellent song sung perfectly by a wonderful vocalist. Eight years later, when his label was making him cover Aerosmith and country radio was rewarding him for it, such simple pleasures were a thing of the past.
#11 Clint Black, “A Better Man”
Debut: February 18, 1989/Peak: #1
The man who made the best debut country album in history managed to lead off with a #1 single, which would become commonplace in the years after this, but was a seismic event when he pulled it off. It’s an intelligent song, sung in an understated manner. Black knew how good the lyric was, and like the best singers do, he didn’t get in the way.