A Country Music Conversation: Sirius Top 1000 Country Songs of All Time, #260-#251

The ratio of classics to clunkers is getting better.

#260

Waylon Jennings, “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line”

#2 | 1968

KJC:  This is embryonic Waylon Jennings, where he’s laying the foundation for what his signature sound will be but hasn’t completely fleshed it out yet.  I think that this list is way too Outlaws heavy, but this inclusion is About Right.

JK: It’s far from my favorite hit of Waylon’s, but on impact, this placement strikes me as About Right.

ZK: I’ve gone to bat for Jennings and the like more than my colleagues have, and while this does feel About Right on impact and placement, I must admit – it’s not a personal favorite of mine.

 

#259

Mary Chapin Carpenter, “Down at the Twist and Shout”

#2 | 1991

JK: It’s strange to me that this became her recurrent staple at radio, but it’s also a perfectly constructed bit of escapism, so… It still sounds fantastic today, and I wouldn’t question this placement if “You Win Again” and “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” were still ahead of us. But they aren’t, obviously. Too High

ZK: See, the beauty of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s work is that, you go and listen to her absolute best songs more reflective of her softer, folk-oriented style, and you don’t think uptempo numbers would really suit her style. But they do anyway, and her performances on them were among the most charismatic of the entire decade. She had it all. This is likely one of my lesser favorites of those cuts, but still pretty damn good. Too High 

KJC:  The first indication that Chapin had a playful side, she’d go on to win the first of four consecutive Grammys for her uptempo hits with this classic.  Folks, she namedropped BeauSoleil in the lyrics, then went ahead and had them back her up on the track and every high profile television appearance in the year that followed.  Those performances helped Chapin connect straight with her audience despite resistance from radio, and set the groundwork for the multi-platinum Come On Come On and Stones in the Road.  “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” is a top 100 record shamefully excluded from the list entirely, but I think this placement is About Right.

 

#258

Luke Bryan, “Drunk On You”

#1 | 2012

ZK: I look at “Girl, you make my speakers go ‘boom, boom’ ” as a bit of foreshadowing for what mainstream country music would become in the 2010s. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)

KJC: This is, for me, the perfect distillation of what Luke Bryan is about, right down to the “boom boom”/”mmm hmm” rhyme. I don’t know that mainstream country had a weaker decade than the 2010s.  I’d argue the current decade is already a big improvement.  But this is about as good as this particular variant of bro country love song gets, and the understated production is appreciated.  It belongs here, but not in the top 260.  Too High

JK: I said I’d go to bat, reluctantly, for “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” and for “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” alone. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)

 

#257

David Frizzell & Shelly West, “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma”

#1 | 1981

KJC:  If I was crafting this list from scratch, I’d include as many of these late seventies/early eighties collaborations as possible.  You know, where two B-list stars came together for a B+ record.  Two birds, one stone.  Too High

JK: I agree with Zack’s point below about their parents’ relative absences on this list, and I’ll add that West’s “Jose Cuervo” is also an obvious sin of omission. This is overranked in terms of some classics we’ve already covered, but I wouldn’t bump it back too far. Too High

ZK: A great (but inessential) song that reminds me these two have more songs here than their parents, and that’s a little sad. Too High

 

#256

Alan Jackson, “Who’s Cheatin’ Who”

#2 | 1997

JK: Clever in its construction, yes, but absolutely no way it should be ranked here. Too High

ZK: A very fun ditty that’s clever enough to transcend that marker, thanks to Jackson’s wry delivery and the lyrical construction, but No. 256? I’m sorry, I can’t. Too High 

KJC:  This inclusion annoys me.  The Charly McClain original, which actually went to #1, was so ahead of its time in 1980, and it has a…down and dirtiness to it that is lost completely when it goes through the “Alan Jackson uptempo record” filter.  McClain’s original sounded like nothing else when it came out, like they were recording it in the garage while the clandestine affair was going on right next door.  Jackson’s cover sounds like twenty other of his uptempo hits. Swap it out for the original.  So Wrong (This Version of This Song)

 

#255

Claude King, “Wolverton Mountain”

#1 | 1962

ZK: A classic to those in the know; a rare inclusion for the casual country fan. Either way, I can’t object to this placement. About Right

KJC: This would sound hopelessly paternalistic if released even a decade later, but it’s a fine slice of backwoods mountain woo in 1962. But what elevates it to classic status is leaving it open-ended.  We hear about what keeps men away from the mountain, and we hear him decide to climb it anyway.  Then the record fades…did he marry his love? Did he get killed? Pick your own adventure ending.  About Right

JK: King’s is the classic, of course, but my favorite version of this is actually by Southern Culture On The Skids. Argument to be made that this is Too Low.

 

#254

Rodney Atkins, “These are My People”

#1 | 2007

KJC:  Rodney Atkins. God bless him.  So earnest. He’s channeling one part Mellencamp, two parts McGraw on this hit.  I wouldn’t have it in the top 300.  But there aren’t many songs that have captured the disintegration of young man’s fantasy into life’s harsh reality better than the first verse here:  “Got some discount knowledge at the junior college where we majored in beer and girls/It was all real funny till we ran out of money and they threw us out into the world/Yeah, the kids that thought they’d run this town ain’t a-runnin’ much of anything/Just lovin’ and laughin’ and bustin’ our asses, and we call it all livin’ the dream.”  Too High

JK: As we’ve said every time his name has popped up: One song of his would’ve been plenty to tell the story of country music, and it wouldn’t be this song. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)

ZK: I’ll give him this – Rodney Atkins was always a likable presence in his heyday, enough to where I sort of buy this whole southern pride thing coming from him. “It’s not insufferable” is a compliment for these kinds of tracks. With that said, it’s also fairly generic and doesn’t need to be here. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)

 

#253

Marty Robbins, “Singing the Blues”

#1 | 1956

JK: One of the finest vocalists in the genre’s rich history, Robbins is under-represented on this list. This isn’t my favorite single of his, but I think this ranking is About Right.

ZK: His catalog is versatile to the point of being scattershot, and I admit I’m the basic fan who worships Gunfighter Ballads and merely respects a lot of his other material, “Don’t Worry” not included. But he is one hell of a vocalist, and I won’t complain about seeing this here. Too High 

KJC: Good Lord, that voice. Even over a rockabilly meets western saloon arrangement, it soars, seamlessly integrating a lonesome yodel into a pure pop melody.  About Right

 

#252

John Michael Montgomery, “Life’s a Dance”

#4 | 1992

ZK: “Sold” aside, I’ve never gotten much from Montgomery as an interpreter. This is the cheesy side of the ’90s.  So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)

KJC: Deciding that John Michael Montgomery deserved six songs on this list, and four of them should be in the top 300, results in the overly high placement of this worthy inclusion.  This came out when I was fully immersing myself in the ‘round-the-clock CMT music video cycle, and I remember it vividly as being the first time a debut video left me saying, “Well, that’s gonna be a hit.”  His music went in the direction of his second single, and I have a fantasy career arc for him where the third, “Beer and Bones,” didn’t stall in the twenties and he went full blown honky tonk for the rest of his career.  But this one still holds up.  Too High

JK: In terms of 90s “advice songs” that actually have a narrative behind them, I’d have David Lee Murphy’s “Dust On The Bottle” ranked well ahead of this one, and we covered that hit a while back. Too High

 

#251

Jason Aldean, “Tattoos On This Town”

#2 | 2011

KJC:  I mean, Jason Aldean kind of is the tacky lower back tattoo that country music gave itself in the 2010s. I look forward to the day when country music never goes out in public again without a long shirt to cover it up, but the bad decision it made during its teens will always be there.  So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)

JK: A decent central image that the songwriters didn’t actually bother to develop and that Aldean certainly didn’t bother to elevate with his performance. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)

ZK: Jason Aldean: Phoning it in since ’05 –  ’07 if I’m being completely fair. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)

Previous: #270-#261 | Next:  #250-#241

 

9 Comments

  1. A lot of great songs here, including “Life’s a Dance,” which is a little too low, “Down at theTwist and Shout,” and “Singing The Blues.”

    Jason aldean’s song is deserving of the list, but is at least 500 spots too high.

  2. I like Oklahoma a lot more than the panel and rate it About Right. I love AJ, but Who’s Cheating is the epitome of nonessential. He has 20 better songs not on this list. JMM…shudder. Saccharine.

  3. I always liked the Rodney Atkins song. Not real sure if it belongs on this list, but if anything from him does, it’d be this.

    It kinda pains me to say this, but for me, with the exception of Under the Influence, AJ’s album output between Who I Am and Drive was just kinda…there. Not bad at all, but not particularly worth revisiting. WCW was a favorite single for me from that period, and the video as a NASCAR fan was fun, but I agree with the assessment of Too High.

    Kevin, I really like that alternate career arc for JMM! “Beer and Bones” was a favorite of mine as well.

    Also, seconded on all the great collaborations from the late ’70s & early ’80s! Besides the obvious ones, the ones that come to mind for me are Bocephus & Waylon’s “The Conversation” and Waylon & Cash’s “Ain’t No Good Chain Gang.”

  4. “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line” was the first Waylon song to catch my attention, and has remained one of my favorites – I think it is positioned correctly.

    I have the Southern Culture On The Skids with ‘Wolverton Mountain” – it is interesting but I’ll stick the Claude King version, which I think is only slightly too low.

    I also think “Down at the Twist and Shout” is a little too low.

    I agree that Charly McClain’s version of “Who’s Cheatin’ Who” belongs here instead of AJ’s version, but neither of them belongs this high – I’d have it in the 500s. There are a couple of her other songs that I think belong on the list. interestingly , when she and her husband, actor Wayne Massey retired, they really meant it and seemingly have dropped off the face of the earth.

    The Marty Robbins catalogue can seem scattershot until you really dig into it and discover what a master craftsman he was as a vocalist. There are a lot of gems buried on his albums – I have no idea how many original albums he issued (although it is at least 40 (judging from my own collection) and all of them are at least good.

    As I noted previously, Marty was probably the most versatile vocalist the genre ever saw and if rock and roll hadn’t wiped out the classic pop market, Marty likely would have sought a career more in line with the careers of Sinatra, Martin, Bennett, Cole and other pop crooners.

    Probably my favorite Robbins songs were “Begging To You” and “Twentieth Century Drifter” but my list of Marty Robbins favorites is very deep as there was nothing Robbins couldn’t sing well – had it been around at the time he could probably done hip-hop (shudder)

  5. Re. “The Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line”: This one has A Man Called Hoss going in something like a Bakersfield-type direction, and rather inventively. And while it didn’t “cross over” like a couple of his later ones did, the song did seep into the country-rock arena the following year in 1969, when Linda Ronstadt pulled a gender change of sorts on it (as “The Only Mama”), and added her own growling voice to it.

    Re. “Wolverton Mountain”: This is one of those from the time when no one was particularly bothered that country songs found their way onto the pop charts. Getting to #6 on the Hot 100 wasn’t too shabby for Claude King to accomplish, especially with such a good story song.

    Re. “Singing The Blues”: I agree that Marty’s version is one of the best in his hugely distinguished career. It would have been an even bigger one on the pop charts at the time (1956) had Guy Mitchell not beaten him to the punch.

    Re. “Down At The Twist And Shout”: One of the many shining examples of the female country music explosion of the 1990’s…which makes it a little bit sick that we now have to deal with Bromeisters like Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan, whose records objectify women as hood ornaments on Ford pick-ups.

  6. “West’s ‘Jose Cuervo’ is also an obvious sin of omission”

    Forgetting that it was actually included on here, at #848?

  7. To paraphrase Ripley in Alien 3: I can’t even remember my life without this list in it.

    So yes. I did totally forget that “Jose Cuervo” was covered sometime in like 1964, when we began this project! Good catch.

  8. “Down At The Twist And Shout” was one of my early favorites as a kid back in the early 90’s, and it’s still such a fun jam today! It’s actually the reason my step dad brought home the Shooting Straight In The Dark album, as well. While it was her catchier, upbeat songs that I enjoyed the most as a kid, I really came to also enjoy and appreciate her deeper, more folk influenced songs, as I got older. There is way too little MCC on this list, and it’s a crying shame that they completely omitted “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,” especially. Also love “Going Out Tonight,” “You Win Again,” and “Halley Came To Jackson,” from the album mentioned earlier, plus “Never Had It So Good,” “Something Of A Dreamer,” “Quittin’ Time,” “This Shirt,” “The Hard Way,” “I Take My Chances,” “Not Too Much To Ask,” etc. At least “Passionate Kisses” also made it here, which is another all time favorite of mine.

    “Life’s A Dance” and JMM’s entire first album will always have a special place in my heart. Again, the song was one of my favorites when it came out, and my step dad got the cd for me. One of our old home videos even features seven year old me sitting by the stereo recording that cd onto a blank tape. I’m with Kevin on wishing his career went in a more traditional direction than it ended up going, though I do enjoy some of those love ballads, including “I Love The Way You Love Me.” “Beer And Bones” is an underrated tune and another favorite for sure, but that album also had other great neo-traditional cuts like “A Great Memory,” “Dream On Texas Ladies,” “Everytime I Fall (It Breaks Her Heart), and “Nickels And Dimes And Love.” It’s still actually my favorite record of his.

    “You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma” is one of my all time favorite early 80’s country records. It was still a steady recurrent on the radio for us up to the mid 00’s, and I always enjoyed it whenever it came on. I actually enjoy this one more than the solo signature hits from both artists.

    “Singin’ The Blues” is actually one of my all time favorite Marty Robbins songs, and for the longest time, his was the only version I was aware of before finding out about the more popular Guy Mitchell version. I personally still prefer Marty’s recording of the song. Love the 50’s country style, especially the yodeling and the steel guitar.

    “Wolverton Mountain” is one of the first songs that I loved immediately when I started exploring more country from the 50’s and early 60’s. I love many of the story songs that came out during that era, and this was definitely one of the more fun ones. I’d actually have it a little higher.

    I’m in complete agreement with preferring the Charly McClain version of “Who’s Cheatin’ Who,” and that’s coming from a big AJ fan. I absolutely love the arrangement of McClain’s recording, especially the bass backup vocals, and I just love her overall vocal performance on it. I did like AJ’s when it first came out, but yeah you guessed it, radio ran it into the ground. The Pistolero, how you feel about AJ’s output from the mid-late 90’s is actually how I feel about most of his output from around 2004-2009. It wasn’t until 2010 with the Freight Train album that I felt he got back on track, but unfortunately radio was just starting to cool on him by then.

    The Aldean, Bryan, and Atkins songs are actually some of the more tolerable ones for me (though the speakers go boom boom line still makes me cringe every now and then) but they certainly don’t belong anywhere in or around the top 300.

  9. I like MCC’s “Down at the Twist and Shout” but there are about a dozen of her songs I like better, most of which I mentioned in my comment on song # 607, “I Feel Lucky”.

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