A Country Music Conversation: Sirius Top 1000 Country Songs of All Time, #210-#201

We reach the End of the World before getting to the End of This List.

 

#210

The Browns, “The Three Bells”

#1 | 1959

ZK: I’ll echo what Jonathan says below and also note that it’s one of country music’s finest crossover moments. I think it’s one of those oddball picks that only historians really care about rather than your average country fans, so I’d say this is About Right

KJC: The historical significance of this one is huge, but the song itself also holds up.  A tale of life, marriage, and death and three acts.  If you’ve never heard it, check out the excellent Alison Krauss cover.   About Right

JK: Hard to overstate the importance of this record in terms of its influence on country song structure. But it’s interesting how this created a template that countless artists have used to write better songs than this one. Quality-wise, this strikes me as too high on its own merits, but it’s too low on its historical impact. Split the difference and say this is About Right.

 

#209

Merle Haggard, “Workin’ Man Blues”

#1 | 1969

KJC:  Sirius put Haggard’s two jingoistic hits in the top 100 at the expense of his greatest and most important singles.  This should be his second highest entry.  Too Low

JK: Are you fucking kidding me right now. Too Low

ZK: And yet we’ll run into several songs from the last decade that tried this theme on for show and utterly failed with it. Authenticity, right? Sirius being Sirius again. Too Low 

 

#208

Kelsea Ballerini, “Love Me Like You Mean It”

#5 | 2014

JK: Look. I will happily go to bat for some teenpop-country when it’s done well: I’d have Alecia Elliott’s “I’m Diggin’ It” in my personal top 500. But ranking this nothing of a Ballerini song ahead of “Working Man’s Blues” and “She’s Got You”? Ahead of “She Thinks I Still Care” and “Strawberry Wine”? It’s completely beyond the pale. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)

ZK: *Looks left,* *Looks right*, OK, I actually like Kelsea Ballerini as an artist, but she had work do in overcoming her early faults like … pretty much everything she’s doing here, from the delivery to the bubblegum production to the lyrics that are like female bro-country without the self-awareness to flip the script. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)

KJC:  A list released at this time should feature a rising star like Ballerini toward the beginning, as something of a wager on her long-term prospects, with the intention of replacing her entries with better songs down the road, or removing her completely if her potential doesn’t pan out.  The question then becomes, is this the best song they could choose for her? Sigh….no. It would be….”Peter Pan.”  At #998.   So Wrong (This Song)

 

#207

Oak Ridge Boys, “Elvira”

#1 | 1981

ZK: And damn it, now it’s going to be stuck in my head all day long. I’m not too mad about that, but I wouldn’t have this self-aware dose of silliness this high. Too High 

KJC: Sometimes when you find out a song is a cover, you’re horrified by earlier recordings.  Other times, you can never fully enjoy the hit version again. Ever since I’ve heard the down and dirty Rodney Crowell/Emmylou Harris recording of “Elvira,” the Oak Ridge Boys version has sounded like a theme park performance to me.  That being said, this was once the biggest-selling 45 released out of Nashville. I’d bump it up a few slots for its historical significance and overall impact. This baby was huge.  Too Low

JK: Sure, it totally loses the sex of the (superior, yes) Crowell & Harris version, but the Oaks at least had the good sense and charisma to replace it with outright levity. A classic for all the right reasons. Too Low

 

#206

Charlie Rich, “Behind Closed Doors”

#1 | 1973

KJC:  Some of his classics are missing on this list, but this is ranked correctly as his second most important single.  It’s just that Charlie Rich has been undervalued on this list in his overall significance to the genre.  Too Low

JK: Pretty sure I’ve said it before, but I cannot hear this song without thinking of the episode of Designing Women that centers on its use as a come-on. Which is a fine association that actually makes me appreciate it even more. Too Low

ZK: I have mixed feelings on Charlie Rich as an artist, but I don’t deny talent, nor do I deny that this is probably his best song. One of the best country-pop ballads ever, really. Too Low 

 

#205

Faith Hill, “Breathe”

#1 | 1999

JK: Hill scream-sings the chorus of this in a way that I’ve always found off-putting, and there’s truly nothing about the record that scans as country any more than, say, the singles from Celine Dion’s contemporaneous Let’s Talk About Love. I’d include it on impact, but way back in the 900s, and certainly below some of Hill’s hits we’ve already seen or that were left off altogether. Too High

ZK: I revisited this album recently for a certain feature we’re toying with right now, and all it did was remind me that this was the best single from an otherwise poor era for Hill. I wouldn’t have it ranked this high, but I think it’s one of her best vocal performances. Too High 

KJC: As I noted earlier, I’d swap this with “This Kiss” in the Faith Hill scheme of things, but I can live with #205 for this classic, even if I’d personally bump it up a few notches.  About Right

 

#204

Del Reeves, “Girl On the Billboard”

#1 | 1965

ZK: I’m running out of things to say for novelty cuts I’m happy to see here but not this high. You can tell we’re approaching the 100s and my mindset is switching to “all killer, no filler.” Too High 

KJC: This novelty record is considerably higher than it needs to be, entertaining as it still is. Too High

JK: Yeah, I’m not mad that they remembered this record, but the placement is indefensible. Too High

 

#203

Kenny Chesney, “American Kids”

#2 | 2014

KJC:  One of his most charming records, with a looseness to it that matches his “no shoes, no shirt, no problem” ethos better than most of his actual island-flavored songs.  I have no qualms with its inclusion.  It’s just way Too High

JK: He’s so wildly overrepresented on this list that it’s hard not to just start hacking away at most all of his entries as an overcorrection. This is one of the better iterations of his aggressively middlebrow schtick, so it’s not one I’d cut. But, as ever: “Anything But Mine,” and not this, should be ranked around here or higher. Too High

ZK: I’ve always appreciated the textured, high-end acoustic strumming mixed with banjo for something of a folk tinge here, but why is there a drum machine for the bass? It’s a decent tune that I’d have to represent Chesney, but to spin a broken record with this particular batch … Too High

 

#202

Alabama, “Song of the South”

#1 | 1988

JK: Production-wise, the only way this record could be any tackier would be if there were a key change in the literal singalong. But the melody and hook are just iconic. It has to be included, but I’m still going to say it’s Too High.

ZK: The more catchy version of “Born Country” that still wouldn’t make my personal top half, even if I’d say this is top-tier Alabama. But … they’re arguably the biggest band in all of country music, and you need the hits to represent it. And damn it, now it’s going to be stuck in my head all day alongside “Elvira.” About Right 

KJC:  Technically speaking, my favorite Alabama singles of all time are “We Can’t Love Like This Anymore” and “It Works.”  But of their truly big hits? This is their best one, for my money.  Not necessarily their most important one, but their best one.  About Right

 

#201

Skeeter Davis, “The End of the World”

#2 | 1962

ZK: One of those classics where you have to know the backstory to fully appreciate it, which Kevin delves into here and is only part of the overall story. But it’s excellent on its own merits, too – evidenced by the numerous covers over the years and the chart history it made. Plus, there’s an instrumental version Marty Stuart played at Chet Atkins’ funeral that I just adore. Too Low 

KJC: When you’re a teenager, the end of a relationship feels like the end of the world. Davis hitting with this during the height of teeny bopper records (“It’s My Party,” “Leader of the Pack,” etc.) made it easy to miss that this was really a song influenced by the death of the songwriter’s father, and recorded by a woman in her early thirties who’d already lost her sister and singing partner in a devastating car crash.  But it will forever be associated with that harrowing scene from Girl, Interrupted, where it really was the end of the world for one lonely girl.  

Oh yeah, the ranking.  Too Low

JK: Dammit, Kevin, how am I supposed to follow that up? Too Low

 

Previous: #220-#211 | Next: #200-#191

 

7 Comments

  1. I actually kind of like “Love Me Like You Mean It” as a guilty pleasure song. Shocked it’s this high but eh, I am not complaining.

    Also I actually would have “Breathe” even higher as I have loved that song for ho much passion Faith Hill puts in (also the music video helps a lot).

  2. I’m sure Paul W. Dennis is all set to mention this, but “Song of the South” was too a cover. The first version was by Bobby Bare, released on his 1980 album Drunk and Crazy. The tempo of that version was based on Bob McDill’s original demo (I wish I could provide you with a YouTube link for it, but alas, the channel it was on went kaput in the last year or so – but rest assured it was once on there and I have heard it), but for subsequent releases by Johnny Russell (single only) and Earl Scruggs and Tom T. Hall (on 1982’s The Storyteller and the Banjo Man), it went up to a faster tempo. That’s the one Alabama took on for the hit version, and it should be noted that theirs is the only one to adopt the key of the McDill demo. (Bare’s is also the only one that ends cold, whereas the others fade out. There was also a lyrical change adopted for the Alabama version: The line “But we were so poor that we couldn’t tell” was originally “So damn poor that we couldn’t even tell.”) The other official versions are as follows:

    Bobby Bare: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Gfw6o_UPfbc (yes, they even gave it a music video)
    Johnny Russell: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pSrHWgHeB98
    Earl Scruggs and Tom T. Hall: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SIA4AcjOK00

  3. Re. “Elvira”: Yes, it was definitely a kind of goofy yet good-natured novelty (written by the uber-legendary Dallas Frazier, I believe); and it got up to #5 on the Hot 100 during the pop music year of “Bette Davis Eyes” and “Endless Love”.

    Re. “Love Me Like You Mean It”: I’m afraid Kelsea just isn’t that great, given that the same hammy vocal twang I hear on “Dibs” and “Yeah Boy” is in evidence here too.

    Re. “The End Of The World”: One of those that kind of defines the Nashville Sound of the early 1960’s, and also Skeeter’s best known song at that–also a big pop hit (#3).

    Re. “Behind Closed Doors”: For all the ballyhoo about pop/country crossovers in the 1970’s (including the Silver Fox’s burning of John Denver’s CMA envelope in 1975, under whatever circumstances), C.R. did come up with a crossover winner of his own right here, being as it was a hit at the same time a piano player from England by the name of Elton John (whom you just might have heard of once or twice [LOL]) was also hitting big.

    Re. “Girl On The Billboard”: I won’t argue anyone’s “Too High” rankings here, but it is a fairly funny novelty song (especially the lyric that goes: “The sleepy-headed painter said the girl wasn’t real/and that I’d better get the **** on my way.”). And at least it is about a girl on a billboard sign, instead of as a hood ornament on some Bromeister’s Ford pickup truck.

  4. I will say @Erik North you should give some of Kelsea Ballerini’s more recent albums a shot, as her vocals have improved and she has released some really quality cuts (her whole Ballerini album that is stripped back and just her vocals is very good imo).

  5. I have the Dallas Frazier album in which he does “Elvira”. The Oak Ridge Boys version seems to owe more to his version than to Crowell’s version. Frazier’s version charted at #72 on the pop charts in 1966 (it reached #27 in Canada).

    https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-fc-1&ei=UTF-8&hsimp=yhs-1&hspart=fc&param1=7&param2=eJw1i80KgzAQhF9ljwqybkxMFR%2BjpyIeUk01GI34g6VP35XS03zzDdO7rq6a%2B0MQSVHmddLM3EUmFeM1UUYiE1zay3O6hUHfsEBBJWrJqreB3bExHoZpCh%2FnvUlzJIhON3fh3GDeQRBSBSy0quCtVQxmWbw97XN0e5rLG0oN0Tjsk0%2FAu9FCb9sxxNAOa5hsWvIflZKEpYTNvMzq%2Fi%2Fb9b%2B5EAXm%2BgvNDz6a&p=dallas+frazier+elvira+youtube&type=fc_A2EA13AD453_s58_g_e_d020121_n1234_c1#id=1&vid=e6d1c509d2f7cf855144e8a9b6687064&action=click

    I pretty much agree with the panel’s comments on this batch of songs. “The End of the World” was covered by British invasion band Herman’s Hermits as the B-side of “I’m Henery VIII, I Am”. Rather surprisingly, they did a pretty decent job on the song. The BBC occasionally played it as an oldie, although it never actually charted in the UK.

    The B-side of “Working Man Blues” was “Silver Wings”. It was ALWAYS worthwhile to play the B-side of the Hag’s singles.

    I wouldn’t regard “Behind Closed Doors” as one of Rich’s best singles, but he needs to be represented on this list somewhere and if it takes a pop hit to get him on here so be it.

  6. the Browns are a little too low. Kelsey Ballerini has a few good songs, but nothing that should even be close to this high. Merle and Elvira are also too low, but Merle more so

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