A Country Music Conversation: Sirius Top 1000 Country Songs of All Time, #70-#61

Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to make bad lists.

 

#70

Reba McEntire, “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”

#12 | 1992

ZK: One of my favorite Reba singles, but I’m not sure what else to say other than No. 70 for this is Too High. 

KJC: There’s an excellent essay by Natalie Weiner included with the 30th anniversary vinyl edition of Reba’s For My Broken Heart album, and it wrestles with the reasons why the least successful single from the album eventually became the most popular track from it.  “Georgia” missed the top ten in its chart run, but was recently certified gold for its digital performance.

Perhaps the reason is the same as why it was recorded in the first place: Reba was looking to recreate the success of her “Fancy” cover.  In terms of elevating the original recording, she actually eclipsed what she accomplished with “Fancy,” turning a schlocky hit from a variety series actress into a compelling southern tale of mystery and murder.   “Fancy” is now seen as the definitive Reba single, and “Georgia” is the only other record she ever did in that same vein. 

I can get on board with its inclusion on the list for that reason alone, but there’s a stronger case for “Is There Life Out There” or “The Greatest Man I Never Knew” being this high than there is for this admittedly entertaining record.  Too High

JK: Absolutely not. I mean, I love Reba in full country-music-as-drag-revue mode, but this is an indefensible ranking for this song. They are just so, so bad at this. Too High

 

#69

Glen Campbell, “Gentle On My Mind”

#30 | 1967

KJC:  I agree that “Wichita Lineman” should be on this list, and would add “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” somewhere as well.  This is a nice enough record.  But the Campbell record that truly belongs in the top hundred, yet is somehow not on the list at all, is “Rhinestone Cowboy.”  Too High

JK: I’m not a fan of Campbell’s, as a matter of principle, but I’m not going to object to this. About Right

ZK: The two Campbell singles that should be within the top 100 are “Galveston,” which of course we discussed way back when, and “Wichita Lineman,” which isn’t here at all, and … I’m tired. Let’s add to the weirdness: The Band Perry version of this is honestly really great, too.  Too High 

 

#68

Blake Shelton, “God Gave Me You”

#1 | 2011

JK: Shelton oversings a CCM track as an attempt to justify his sudden ascent to the genre’s A-list, and it proves why that ascent never felt fully earned. It’s not a good song, and it’s not elevated by Shelton’s performance. I’d cut it. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)

ZK: God also gave us Melatonin, so we don’t really need you. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)

KJC:   As we ponder the two Glen Campbell songs on the list and wonder why other essential recordings from him aren’t on here at all, we come to the highest ranked of Shelton’s fourteen entries.  By designating this as his highest and presumably most essential hit, Sirius has only managed to reinforce what an overrated and mediocre recording artist Shelton is.  So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)

 

#67

Johnny Horton, “The Battle of New Orleans”

#1 | 1959

ZK: I’ll repeat my appreciation for the saga song trend. Color me shocked that they remembered Horton’s biggest hits. About Right 

KJC: Damn right.  Damn About Right. 

JK: I am not convinced that anyone at Sirius actually knows why they ranked this here, seeing as how it’s About Right.

 

#66

Dolly Parton, “9 to 5”

#1 | 1980

KJC: I could almost sign off on Jonathan’s assertion about “9 to 5” being the best single of any genre during the 1980s, but for the fact that Madonna released singles in the 1980s! But I could make a case for three singles from Parton being in the top ten – “Jolene,” “Coat of Many Colors,” and “9 to 5.” 

It’s a brilliant, nervy, and incisive indictment of how the deck is stacked against workers in general and working women in particular. The sheer energy of Parton’s performance and the adrenaline of the production works as a counterpoint to the obstacles Parton documents.  The deck may be stacked, but she’s going to work her ass off anyway and be the exception to the soul-crushing rule.

Oh, and bonus points for invalidating the nonsense that pop country can’t be as relevant and authentic as traditional country, as this is every bit the peer of the best work of Hank Williams, George Jones, and Merle Haggard.  Too Low

JK: My pick for the best single in any genre from the 1980s, just ahead of “Billie Jean” and “Little Red Corvette.” Parton lays down her catchiest melody over an inspired arrangement, and then reinvents “Working Man’s Blues” as an anthem for multiple generations of women in the workforce who’ve had enough of the bullshit they put up with every day. A brilliant composition and an important record, so of course it’s ranked Too Low.

ZK: I mean, I won’t top what’s above me, and while I’m not sure I’d place this joyously catchy movie soundtrack this high, its impact certainly extended far beyond its intended purpose. Too High

 

#65

The Chicks, “Landslide”

#2 | 2002

JK: Love them. Would have “Long Time Gone” from the same album ranked well ahead of this. Prefer this to the Stevie Nicks original, even. But this is way Too High.

ZK: You can have all of their biggest hits on this list, but the one I was hoping to see was “Long Time Gone.” Now, that’s a timeless song. Too High 

KJC: Home is the best country album of the 21st century.  Every single released from it should be on this list, “Landslide” included.  I co-sign the love for “Long Time Gone,” but you know what else should be up this high? “Travelin’ Soldier.”  Too High

 

#64

Johnny Cash, “Daddy Sang Bass”

#1 | 1968

ZK: A fun way of incorporating different ranges into the mix, and I certainly can’t argue with many Cash songs in the top 100, but this isn’t one of his all-time classics. Too High 

KJC: Yet another Cash entry that seems lazily ranked based on it spending multiple weeks at #1.   Too High

JK: Happy that this one is included, which it feels like I haven’t said often about Cash during the seventeen years we’ve been doing this list, but it’s clearly Too High.

 

#63

Lady A, “Need You Now”

#1 | 2009

KJC:  You can draw a direct line from Sammi Smith’s “Help Me Make it Through the Night” to Lee Ann Womack’s “I May Hate Myself in the Morning.”  Lady A’s “drunk dial from a college dorm room” riff on the latter works quite well, and it was only the second country record to win the Grammy for Record of the Year.  I don’t think top one hundred is too high, but #63 is.  Too High

JK: A moment of brilliance that, in hindsight, is clearly a fluke for a deeply untalented group. Hillary Scott’s utter inability to sing on pitch wasn’t so much a stylistic choice that works in favor of the song she’s singing as it was a pervasive deficiency in her skill set, much in the way that Charles Kelley’s slurred delivery wasn’t intended to reflect the song’s booze-fueled POV so much as it’s just a constant affectation. They’ve spent the rest of their careers trying to recapture a moment that they achieved through dumb luck and that they’re far too privileged and oblivious to recognize for the accident that it is. And all that said? This is still far, far Too High.

ZK: I’ll always love this, and I can count the number of good songs they have on one hand without using every finger (actually, I’d only need one other one for “Love Don’t Live Here”). And it was a monster hit for the end of the 2000s that, sonically, reflected where the genre had been and was still heading. But an important one? C’mon. Too High 

 

#62

Garth Brooks, “If Tomorrow Never Comes”

#1 | 1989

JK: I’m surprised to see this ranked here in relation to his other hits we’ve already seen, but it’s a rare moment of pleasant surprise when it comes to this list. A beautiful song that Brooks, at his best, delivers with genuine emotion. About Right

ZK: Early Brooks is the best Brooks. I’ve already stated numerous times his knack for butchering dramatic stakes with overblown flair, but before all of that, we got this sincere ballad that’s among Brooks’ best. About Right 

KJC:   Correctly ranked among the top three Garth records and within the history of country music as a whole.  About Right

 

#61

Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”

#1 | 1978

ZK: One of the best buddy anthems in country music, bested only by, well, other selections by these two. But as the most well-known one, this is absolutely About Right

KJC: I’d probably place this a few slots lower, but that’s why ‘About’ exists as a qualifier.  About Right

JK: The hook does all of the heavy lifting, but what a hook, right? A classic that richly deserves its status as such. About Right

 

Previous: #80-#71 | Next: #60-#51

16 Comments

  1. More about rights than we’ve seen.

    As an aside “Little Red Corvette” has maybe the best opening line to a song ever.

  2. As a combat veteran of Vietnam, Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division (the Big Red One) I heartily agree with KJC’s suggestion to have the Chicks’ “Travelin’ Soldier” on this list. Re Glen Campbell, maybe switch “Galveston” with “Gentle on My Mind”. A favorite song in Nam was by a rock group, Eric Burdon & the Animals “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”.

    Other favorite songs in this group:
    Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans”
    Garth’s “If Tomorrow Never Comes” (Agree that Early Brooks is the best Brooks)
    Dolly’s “9 to 5”
    Lady A’s “Need You Now”
    W&W’s Cowboys

  3. Re. “Gentle On My Mind”: Despite the fact that it didn’t chart all that high, this was the record that really made GC a big name with the public in 1967, even though he had already been recording since 1962 and, on the side, was a part of L.A.’s famed Wrecking Crew and subbed for Brian Wilson in the Beach Boys in 1964-65. I don’t dispute that a lot of Glen’s other hits ought to have been on the list too, but this song, given its bluegrass origins (John Hartford wrote it; Doug Dillard plays banjo on it), is authentically country and very essential in my opinion; and since a lot of other folks went on to cover it (Elvis in 1969, for starters), it is an absolute standard of any stripe as well.

    Re. “The Battle Of New Orleans”: Monstrous crossover hit (it topped the Hot 100 as well), showing how far JH would likely have gone had he not perished a year and a half later in that horrible car crash.

    Re. “Landslide”: I’m not necessarily fond of the Chicks’ ‘grassy’ version of this, but I’ve heard far worse. And most of that “far worse” has come from the industry that would turn them into pariahs for the most chickens**t of reasons.

    Re. “9 To 5”: Vintage Dolly, which is not meant in any way to discount what she had done before, or what she has done since.

    Re. “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia”: I must admit that I’m in the minority here. I suppose Reba’s should be here, but I prefer the 1973 original by Vicki Lawrence, as I also preferred Bobbie Gentry’s original 1969 recording of “Fancy”, where she sounds uncannily like Dusty In Memphis-era Dusty Springfield.

  4. …”god gave me you”, siriusly? they sure didn’t make it easy on themselves at sirius to come up with the not quite so obvious, when compiling this rather entertaining (to take apart) epitome of hit and miss.

    the chicks and reba deserved to be in the top 100 with orginal material – not with covers. having said that, these covers are really well done, yet still not quite top 100 material.

  5. Glen Campbell is a little too low for my teaste, but its not, at this ranking, a hill i want to die on.
    Where is “Travelin Soldier,” and “Rhinestone Cowboy,” and any Suzy Bogguss (although thb, I wouldnt have anything by her this high.

  6. Largely agree with the consensus on these selections although I think “9 To 5″ (which bears no resemblance to country music) is too high (I’d say ‘So Wrong – Does Not Belong’ except KJC would strip my posting privileges) and ‘Gentle on My Mind” is a trifle too low

    I agree with Erik North in preferring Vicki Lawrence’s original of “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia” and Bobbie Gentry’s original recording of “Fancy”

  7. I agree with Kevin that 9 to 5 should be much higher and that Reba improved upon “Fancy” and “The Night the lights Went Out in Georgia.” The Shelton song this high is ridiculous/silly! I’ve never gotten into “land Slide”, but I like The Chicks version better than the original if I had to choose. I agree that “Travelin Soldier” should be in this section instead. “Gentle on My Mind” is one of my personal favorite Campbell songs, but I won’t argue that “Rhinestone” technically belongs in the spont instead.

  8. Count me among the minority of commentators who prefer the original versions of “The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia” (recorded by Vicki Lawrence) and “Fancy” (recorded by Bobbi Genty) to Reba’s covers. This is not to imply that she did a bad job with them. It’s just that I feel Reba is more deserving of acclaim for her original country material, particularly from her early years of chart-topping success. It bothers me to this day that given all of her true original country hits, these two covers from the pop music genre are treated as her signature songs.

    As for Glen Campbell, I think “Gentle on My Mind” is his best of several classic songs, yet I agree that “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” are also deserving of prominent places on this Top-1000 list. I’m not aware of, though, how most of these pop-crossover(?) songs performed specifically on the country charts, if at all (other than “Rhinestone Cowboy,” of course, which I clearly recall being a massive country hit).

  9. I was living in England when “Wichita lineman”, “Galveston” and “Honey, Come Back” were issued – the BBC had them at #7, #14, & #4 respectively, but some of the trade papers such as Melody Maker, Record Mirror and/or New Musical Express had “Wichita Lineman” and Galveston charting higher

  10. For me, “9 to 5” is the ultimate country song. It’s like the girl version of “A Country Boy Can Survive,” except the country girl actually perseveres in the big city instead of slumping back to his podunk piece of land with his tail between his legs and hiding like the little chickenshit that country boy is!

  11. Regarding 9 to 5: First I do love it. As for being country it is how you look at it. Production – no it’s not country. Lyrically – VERY country. I think if you listen to the brilliant lyrics I don’t think any other song in any genre has captured such truthfulness about working people. I understand traditionalist do not like the production but there is no denying what a songwriting masterpiece it is

  12. Maybe it’s because of Dolly’s voice or maybe it’s the lyrics or maybe it’s both, but I’ve never had an issue with the production and its non-country-ness. It has always just felt like a country song to me, even as a person who can get stuck on how non-country country radio sounds.

  13. Reba is simply too high. The original was better anyway. I’ll trade it for Is there Life Out There? which should be an easy Top 100. Gentle on My Mind might be one of my Top 10 songs, but it’s not quite country enough to rate there on this list. I’d say it’s about right. God gave me heartburn to see Blake Shelton with a top 100. I’d trade any of 10 Moe Bandy songs for this stuff. I really don’t get Johnny Horton. No way in the world do I have him in the top 100. 9 to 5 is a bit poppy, but it’s really good. Maybe top 200. Landslide is a bit high, but not much. Ditto Daddy Sang Bass. Lady A……aughhh! I’ve always thought singers should be able to, you know, sing. If Tomorrow and Mamas are both solid top 100.

  14. “9 To 5” is another one of my all time favorites from the Urban Cowboy era. I fell in love with it back in 2000 when my step dad bought a compilation cd of 80’s country hits at the mall in York, PA and we played it in the car (Ironically, it also includes “A Country Boy Can Survive”). I’ve also never had an issue with its overall sound/production as far as it being considered country. It’s contemporary for sure, but then again, there were dozens of other country songs from the same era that were also very poppy sounding with saxophones. Like Leeann, it’s Dolly’s voice and the lyrics that still make it country for me.

    Speaking of good pop country, while I’ve always loved “Gentle On My Mind,” why in the hell were “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Wichita Lineman,” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” not included at all? The whole “they’re too pop to be on the list” argument doesn’t fly with me since they still had room for “Margaritaville,” “All Summer Long,” and Sam friggin’ Hunt.

    “Battle Of New Orleans” has been one of my all time favorites ever since my step dad introduced me to Johnny Horton in the Christmas of 1992. It’s still such a fun record to hear and always makes me laugh. Surprisingly, they got this one right!

    As iconic of a record “Fancy” is, I’m in the camp who wishes Reba got more recognition for her original songs than her two popular covers, though she did do a great job on them, imo. Like Kevin and Steve, I definitely would’ve loved seeing “Is There Life Out There” in this spot instead.

    As much as I love the Chicks’ cover of “Landslide” (even more than the original, actually), I’m with Kevin on “Travelin’ Soldier” being in this spot instead.

    “If Tomorrow Never Comes” has always been one of my all time favorites from Garth. It’s still one of his very best songs, imo, and it would probably be my top pick for Garth, overall. I’ll simply never get tired of it, no matter how many times I hear it. Again, they surprisingly they got this one about right.

    For me, nothing by Blake Shelton or Lady A belongs in the top 100, though I always did like “Need You Now.” Blake is, by far, one of the most overrated artists to ever be labeled as a superstar in the country genre, imo. That said, “God Gave Me You” is far from being one of his worst offenders. Still, it’s in no way shape or form a top 100 country record.

  15. Kevin – I would regard “9 to 5′ as being more comparable with “Take This Job and Shove It” than with “A Country Boy Can Survive”

    Both “Take This Job and Shove it” and “9 to 5” have rather whiny but pseudo-defiant lyrics and neither song is particularly triumphant in tone. Both are good songs (“Shove It” will show up in the 30s on this list) but both songs are much too high)

    “If Tomorrow Never Comes” has always been one of my two favorites from Garth Brooks, along with “Unanswered Prayers”

  16. I have found no impulse served by listening to Lady A’s “Need You Now” that is not better served by listening to Alan Parson Project’s “Eye in the Sky”. The central musical idea in the latter is nearly identical, and far better expressed.

    I don’t necessarily enjoy the aspects of the country genre that “Wichita Lineman” represents, musically speaking, but I very much enjoy the *song*, if that makes sense. It is a sublime representation of its period and its niche, and Glen Campbell’s performance is pristine. Its absence from this list is glaring.

    Probably more glaring than the absence of Suzy Bogguss’s “Aces”, if I’m honest. :-p

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