Dwight Yoakam Starter Kit

dwight-yoakamFew artists command as much critical acclaim as Dwight Yoakam, yet he was also a stunningly successful commercial act from the start. Nine of his releases have been certified gold or better, and his biggest set to date – This Time – has sold more than three million copies.

His catalog is deep with classic cuts. Here are ten of the best, a solid introduction to one of the genre's greatest talents.

And while it's not represented on the list, I highly recommend his stellar Under the Covers, an excellent covers album that is best heard in its entirety.

“Guitars, Cadillacs” from the 1986 album Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.

It's tempting to kick off with “Honky Tonk Man”, Yoakam's effective cover of Johnny Horton's classic that was also his breakthrough hit. But what's missing from that track is Yoakam's signature heartache and pain. In Yoakam's best songs, he's not seeking out the night life because he enjoys it. It's to distract him from the loneliness and rejection that his lover has inflicted upon him.

“Streets of Bakersfield” (featuring Buck Owens) from the 1988 album Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room

Yoakam was instrumental in making the younger generations aware of the importance of Buck Owens, clearly Yoakam's strongest country influence. When he chose to revive an old Owens tune, he invited the man himself to help him out. The end result was a #1 hit that was a comeback for Owens and a signature smash for both of them.

“It Only Hurts When I Cry” from the 1990 album If There Was a Way

Yoakam's albums got considerably more ambitious in the nineties, but it's the beautiful simplicity of this hit, co-penned by Roger Miller, that's made it so timeless.

“Suspicious Minds” from the 1992 album Honeymoon in Vegas

He'd already had a hit with Elvis Presley's “Little Sister”, which he covered faithfully on his second album, Hillbilly Deluxe. But it was his rocking cover of “Suspicious Minds” that, in my mind, well surpassed Presley's original version.

“Ain't That Lonely Yet” from the 1993 album This Time

Co-writer James House had planned on keeping this one for himself, but when Yoakam heard it, he insisted that he get the chance to release it. It was a good move for both men, as the song became a radio smash and the performance earned Yoakam a Grammy.

“A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” from the 1993 album This Time

There's something hypnotic about this particular hit, which was immortalized with a split-screen video that has since become a classic.

“Nothing” from the 1995 album Gone

Gone is Yoakam's most fascinating album of self-penned material, with creative percussion arrangements and unexpected horn sections popping up here and there. There was never anything on country radio quite like it, nor has there been anything since.

“Things Change” from the 1998 album A Long Way Home

One of Yoakam's catchiest hits is also one of his most venomous, as he rejects the lover that has come crawling back to him after sending him packing earlier in the song.

“Thinking About Leaving” from the 1999 album Last Chance For a Thousand Years

Yoakam added new lyrics and changed the arrangement of this Rodney Crowell song, which had originally appeared on Crowell's Jewel of the South. He turned it into the confessional of  a man torn between a life on the road and making a home with the woman who finally has him wanting to settle down.

“The Back of Your Hand” from the 2003 album Population: Me

Yoakam knew he had to cut this song when he heard the line, “There's some things that I just know, like you take two sugars with a splash of cream.” I've always been most fond of the way he frames the choice facing the woman who wants to leave: “Pick a number from one to two.”

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22 Comments

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22 Responses to Dwight Yoakam Starter Kit

  1. I would submit “You’re The One” to this list, but other than that, bravo.

  2. Paul DennisNo Gravatar

    I’d add “Smoke Along The Track” and “She Wore Red Dresses” but its otherwise a good list

  3. Mike KNo Gravatar

    Good job on the list Kevin. I like all of Dwight’s stuff, but I don’t have the covers album, so maybe I should check that out.

    My favorite song of Dwight’s is “Two Doors Down.”

  4. Erik NorthNo Gravatar

    Dwight is very much a genuine maverick artist of our time, and I agree with all but one of those songs on the list. My one dissent is with “Suspicious Minds”, because I still feel that Elvis OWNS that song like few others, and I think Dwight would say as much.

  5. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar

    I would have added Intentional Heartache, great song,(great video too, :) ) unfarily neglected by Country radio and TV…but like others are saying here, great list!

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  7. MichaelNo Gravatar

    Great list, Kevin. You covered my four favorites (Suspicious Minds, Ain’t That Lonely Yet, Nothing, Things Change). I would have maybe swapped a few of the others with What Do You Know About Love, I Sang Dixie or Fast As You. But overall, I can’t complain. Nice job!

  8. LynnNo Gravatar

    Thanks to Dan, I purchased a used (but still new) 2-disc version of Yoakam’s “Guitars, Cadillacs” on Amazon. I love the live second disc. Check it out:
    http://tinyurl.com/dfu2nq

  9. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    I’m such a huge fan of Dwight’s that I don’t know how I’d narrow it down to ten. Great starter kit though.

  10. I wouldn’t change a thing. These are my 10 favorite Dwight Yoakam songs I believe. There’s no better introduction to his catalog than this IMO.

  11. BrendaNo Gravatar

    Love your list, and it works, but I’m glad you called it a “starter kit” because it barely scratches the surface of Dwight’s amazing catalog. Nice variety and strong selections.

  12. BrianNo Gravatar

    Dwight is great!! He made country cool in the late 1980s and continues to do so today. There’s nobody else like him.

  13. ScottNo Gravatar

    just one I’d add..I sang Dixie

  14. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar

    In the words of Sara Evans’ Radney Foster song, this list is “A Real Fine Place to Start”! ;)

  15. Jane from VirginiaNo Gravatar

    Great starter list! Dwight Yoakam is one of our finest singer/songwriters.

  16. Yep, I’d have added “I Sang Dixie” as well. To this day that’s my favorite Yoakam record. Still a great list.

  17. Kathie from VirginiaNo Gravatar

    Glad to see Dwight getting some of the press that he so deserves. He is one of the greatest singer songwriters of our time.

  18. GarodNo Gravatar

    The Heart that You Own was a huge smash hit and deservedly so… my fav Dwight track.

  19. Z-ManNo Gravatar

    If you haven’t listened to dwightyoakamacoustic.net you ain’t heard nothing yet. Get it and be amazed.

  20. Hilda RenshawNo Gravatar

    Dwight is the man! Impossible to choose 10 tracks, but I would have taken anything from This Time, Gone and Tomorrows Sounds Today. I did not like Suspicious Minds (I’m an Elvis fan), I did not think it was up to Dwight’s usual standard. “The Back of Your Hand” kills me. Dwight sings Country Music for grown ups!

  21. TomNo Gravatar

    …some singers sing great broken heart songs. his poetry is for those with shredded ones. and just before you want to jump off the bridge, you step down again because you have figured out that this might make you miss his next album.

  22. I love “What Do You Know About Love” enough I’d have found a way to squeeze it into this group. I think it’s the driving, unrelenting steel guitar that I love so much on that cut.

    Also, while it’s not Top 10 material, I thought his cover of ZZ Top’s “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” was great.

    Kudos for including “Thinking About Leaving.” I remember “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” got all the attention from that hits package, but this was the song that really did it for me.