A Country Music Conversation: Sirius Top 1000 Country Songs of All Time, #40-#31

Can we call up our 2019 selves and tell them that this feature will not go by faster than we think?

 

#40

Kenny Chesney, “Don’t Blink”

#1 | 2007

ZK: Of all the “old man gives young person life advice” tracks of the 2000s, this is my pick for one of the better ones and proof that Chesney was more than a one-trick pony living on the sand. Ain’t no way I’d have it this high, though. Too High

KJC:  When I initially reviewed this song, I was still processing my father’s death, so I fully understand how this can resonate with listeners. But it never made it into heavy rotation with me over the years, and listening to it again now, I can understand why.  It’s a retread of the superior “The Good Stuff,” right down to the bedside goodbye to the partner of many years, and it lacks the intimacy of that record.  Talking directly to a bartender after a fight feels more immediate than listening to a television interview of a centenarian. Too High

JK: I know it’s one of Chesney’s more well-regarded hits, but it honestly never really landed with me the way that it seems to have landed with a lot of people. Had this been his highest-ranked entry and it had been back in the 300s– or, as I’ve said so many times, had “Anything But Mine” been correctly ranked as his best single– I probably wouldn’t have batted an eye. But this is way Too High for Chesney, however popular he may be.

#39

Johnny Cash, “A Boy Named Sue”

#1 | 1969

KJC:  A classic, for sure, and I still get a kick out of my favorite childhood poet having also been a legendary songwriter.  In the Cash canon, and the country canon overall, this is Too High, but hearing it again still made me smile. 

JK: God, this list has made me so frustrated with Johnny Cash and his catalogue. This ranking is deranged. Too High

ZK: I wish we still sent live versions of singles to radio. I’m not old enough to remember artists doing that, but I miss it anyway. Anyway, the approach to this definitely wouldn’t fly today, but as a fun, not-the-least-bit-serious look at bullying and survival, this has always been a riot. But a fun novelty record in the top 40 just ain’t gonna fly. Too High 

 

#38

Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”

#1 | 2003

JK: If an Alan Jackson duet we’re going to be ranked this highly, it should’ve been “As She’s Walking Away” with ZBB. This is a fun single, but one of the 40 best in the genre’s history? Absolutely fucking not. Too High

ZK: A testament to Alan Jackson’s hot streak in the early 2000s. I love it. I’d have it pretty high, but No. 38 is a little much. Too High – Don’t blame me for redundant comments; blame Sirius. 

KJC: I’ll co-sign Jonathan’s suggestion above, and add that if this had been swapped with the other Greatest Hits II single “Remember When,” which was ranked at #310, I’d have been satisfied with both placements.  Too High

 

#37

Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler”

#1 | 1978

ZK: For as much as there’s room for debate for several of Kenny Rogers’ top songs, this is the consensus pick for his crowning moment, and I’m inclined to agree with it. Hell, I’d argue for its placement within the top 10. Too Low

KJC: This song was such a part of my childhood that I didn’t even know it was about something more than gambling until I was a teenager, and I didn’t realize that the gambler died in the second verse until I was in college.  I’d put “Lucille” here personally, but either one of them at #37 would be About Right

JK: The expected pick for Rogers’ highest-ranked entry, and of course it’s a classic. Personally, I’d have it as his fifth or sixth highest. But compared to some of the other nonsense that they’ve pulled, this isn’t an egregious offense. About Right

 

#36

Jason Aldean, “Big Green Tractor”

#1 | 2009

KJC:  Nashville’s been gaslighting me for twenty years about this guy, insisting that I can’t trust my own ears. I still think that he stinks.   So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)

JK: So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)

ZK: You see, when I think of the top 40 songs in country music, I think of storytelling wit, emotionally honest performances, and a generally tasteful presentation of it all. This never goes beyond the tractor ride, and Aldean’s delivery ain’t helping matters any. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)

 

#35

Brooks & Dunn, “Neon Moon”

#1 | 1992

JK: The only country single of the 90s that I’d rank ahead of this one is “Maybe It Was Memphis.” So, even though we’re in the top 40, I’m going to say that this stunning honky-tonk ballad is Too Low.

ZK: Brooks and Dunn made some damn good working-class, beer-drinking anthems. But Ronnie Dunn’s spectacular voice was always best suited for the slow-burns, including this lonely yet hopeful masterpiece that’s among the best of the decade, and in the history of country music. I might have it in the 50s or so, but I really can’t argue with it. About Right  

KJC:  It really is a perfect record. I might put it a little higher or a little lower, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s About Right.  I could stack the top fifty with nothing but perfect records. 

 

#34

Tim McGraw, “Don’t Take the Girl”

#1 | 1994

ZK: I’m not sure which song started the “multiple meanings of the hook at the end of each chorus” structure that seemed to dominate the ‘90s (Kathy Mattea’s “Where’ve You Been,” maybe?), but there’s plenty of singles that did it both right and wrong. This is one I’ve always been in the middle on: it’s cute, it’s heart-wrenching, but also kind of sappy and predictable with that ending. I kind of get why it’s one of McGraw’s biggest hits, but … So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)

KJC: Tim McGraw doesn’t even sing this song regularly in his set list, but it’s #34 of all time? Come on now.  “Indian Outlaw” and “Don’t Take the Girl” broke him big, but he used that breakthrough to get access to top drawer material.  He has too many great songs for him to be represented by this one.  So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)

JK: Hate the maudlin, preposterous songwriting. Hate McGraw’s mawkish performance of it that plays up an accent he’d very quickly try to mask. That it made him a massive star will never not be baffling to me. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)

 

#33

Merle Haggard, “Okie From Muskogee”

#1 | 1969

KJC:  It isn’t even his most interesting social commentary, let alone his best record overall.  It belongs, but it’s Too High 

JK: Tell me Sirius doesn’t understand Haggard’s artistry without telling me Sirius doesn’t understand Haggard’s artistry: This is his highest ranked entry, and his highest ranked entry is outside the top 30. Where. Even. To. Begin. Too High

ZK: Sorry, but Haggard’s material always resonated louder when he was speaking from the heart, rather than a platform. It’s a song with a complicated legacy that always shows up high on these lists, but I’d rather be talking about “Silver Wings” or “Sing Me Back Home” here. Too High 

 

#32

Randy Travis, “Forever and Ever, Amen”

#1 | 1987

JK: A marvel of construction, especially from a melodic standpoint and that just perfect “Oh, darlin’” hook, and a song that beautifully captures the banalities of aging with grace, wit, and connection. A deserved classic, and I’d say this is a bit Too Low.

ZK: I don’t remember if this ripped off “Love Without End, Amen” or if it was the other way around, but this has always been the superior version to me. Randy Travis’ delivery is always just so warm and inviting, enough to where otherwise tasteful fluff comes across as innocently sincere. It’s not the Travis song I’d have this high, but it belongs somewhere around here. Too High 

KJC: As big a record as the genre had seen at the time, especially for a pure country song that got no crossover airplay.  Back to the wall, I’d probably have his top ranking be “On the Other Hand,” but I can’t argue with this placement at all.  About Right

 

#31

Johnny Paycheck, “Take This Job and Shove it”

#1 | 1977

ZK: Yes, obvious Paycheck song to include is obvious and all, but if you want to really talk about all-time greats, give me “Old Violin.” Then again, with that stellar hook that everyone wants to likely scream regularly, there’s a reason why it’s become his most well-known song. About Right  

KJC: Speaking of not realizing things about a song, I was well into adulthood when I realized that he doesn’t actually quit and it’s all a fantasy in his mind.  A pure classic that is just a little Too High. 

JK: As with Rogers above, the obvious pick for Paycheck’s highest entry wouldn’t be my personal choice. I do love the raucous energy of this record, which few other artists could have delivered as convincingly, and it’s certainly a version of the working man’s blues that resonates. Still, I’d say this is Too High.

Previous: #50-#41 | Next: #30-#21

13 Comments

  1. Don’t Blink is a nice song, but surely not top 40. A Boy Named Sue…I’m with JK in frustration at how wrong this list has been about Johnny Cash, every single time. 5 O’Clock is way too high. Big Green Tractor? Top 40? Unbelievable. No thanks. Neon Moon is wonderful and deserving.

    Don’t Take the Girl is a typical song by Tim McGraw. Pure sap, women fall for it every time, yada, yada, yada. I am with the panel on Okie, and agree with ZK that Sing Me Back Home would be a better fit here. Hmmm, just listened to Sing Me again and I think that might be Top 10 worthy. I’ll address Forever in a different post. I can’t see straight seeing it in this list of meh songs. Take This Job is a bit high. Just a really catchy phrase and all, but that’s about it. I’ll let it slip in the top 100 maybe.

  2. Okay, Forever and Ever, Amen. Anyone at least 10 years old when it was released should be able to remember how groundbreaking it was. A DJ on WUBE, Cincinnati’s perennial award winning country station played it 5 years later and said, “This song is why I got into country music.” A Black Cincinnati Reds player busted into an after game press conference, singing this song, off key and with all gusto. Conversation after conversation, with country fans and not, “Have you heard that new song?” Man, it drove the country music renaissance that followed. If you weren’t there, you can’t imagine.

    People will point to the #1 song on this list and appeal to its historical significance, but for my money, this is THE game changing song of the last 40 years. It’s perfect. Perfectly sung, beautiful instrumentation, as JK says, that “oh darlin'” hook is magic, yeah, ZK, it does tread the line of fluff, but doesn’t fall in, and doesn’t that make it a perfect country and western record after all? Way too low, I’m a bit surprised it’s not in everyone’s top 10, but there you go.

  3. Basically agree with the consensus or the majority panel opinions for this set of songs. Since there was neither a consensus nor majority opinion on “Forever and Ever Amen”, I’ll simply say that it is a little TOO HIGH on my personal list

  4. My least favorite song in this section is actually “Don’t Blink”. The chorus is far too wordy, and I don’t even pay attention to the sentiment because I’m so bored by the time the third chorus comes around. Plus it sort of helped speed up the adult contemporary-ing of the genre into the late aughts/2010s.

  5. By now, every song in the top 40 should be stellar songs. The only 2 here are “The Gambler” and “Forever and Ever, Amen”. You can argue the other songs are good but top 40 of all time? This list is crazy.

  6. Re. “Don’t Blink”: At least it’s not one of those frat-party anthems that Chesney clogged country radio up with so much in his career; but if I could list one song (and it really would be only one) of his as even being anything close to a “favorite”, it would be “I’d Have Done A Lot Of Things Different”.

    Re. “A Boy Named Sue”: I know a lot of people consider this a mere “novelty” record from Mr. Cash (for that you must “blame” Shel Silverstein, who wrote it); but it did resonate well beyond conventional country music circles back in ’69, given his TV show, and the San Quentin album from which this song comes (recorded, as they say, before a “captive audience”). The only thing that kept it out of the #1 spot on the Hot 100 was the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women”.

    Re. “The Gambler”: A story song like this is something that country music, at least so far as I know, doesn’t even bother trying to do anymore; and Kenny knew how to do them as well as anyone else at that time. So it does belong up this high.

    Re. “Okie From Muskogee”: I love how the Political Right loves to make this one, and “The Fighting’ Side Of Me”, as an example of Merle being on “their side”, whatever the hell that means. But that’s selling The Hag catastrophically short as one of the giants of the genre, apart from putting him into a neatly defined ideological box. He’s his own Man.

  7. I think “Forever” could’ve been anywhere between 5 and 50 and I’d have said, “About Right.”

    We are at a point now, like Tom said, where everything should be of the same caliber. Sometimes things feel too low because of what’s above them on this ridiculous list, but would be fine if surrounded by other classics.

  8. “The Gambler,” “Forever And Ever, Amen” and “Neon Moon” are the only ones that really belong this high, imho.

    Like Leeann, I’d probably put “Forever And Ever, Amen” a bit higher personally, but I’m fine with it being in the top 40, overall. It’s the very first Randy Travis song I remember always loving every time it came on the radio, and no matter how many times I’ve heard it by now, it hasn’t lost the least bit of its charm. It’s a true classic. Heck, it’s probably also one of the main reasons why I grew to love the dobro so much.

    “Neon Moon” is likely also going to be showing itself soon enough in the 90’s Number Ones feature, so I won’t say as much here except that it’s yet another excellent early 90’s country record that has truly stood the test of time. It sounds just as great today as it did when I first heard it on the album, and it’s definitely one of Ronnie Dunn’s best performances of all time.

    “The Gambler” is also the first Kenny Rogers song I remember hearing regularly on the radio when I was little and getting familiar with him. It remained a steady recurrent for us all through the 90’s and into the early 00’s, and I still enjoy hearing it today. For the longest time, I also never realized the “gambling” was also used as a metaphor for life and even longer to realize that the gambler himself actually died in the song. What a slap in the face to see this true classic right behind Jason Aldean and his friggin’ big green tractor.

    “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere” is actually one of my least favorites of Alan’s singles, and it kind of pains me to see that this is one of his most remembered songs today, as there are so many other ones I personally like much better. For me, it just seemed like this was him keeping up with the beach/summer song trend that was already popular on the radio thanks to mainly Kenny Chesney. Didn’t help either that radio played it to death. That said, it’s still better than most all of Kenny’s songs of this type, and at least it was done with the original beach bum himself.

    Speaking of Kenny (for the millionth time in this list it seems) “Don’t Blink” never did too much for me either. Like Stephen H, I just found it rather boring despite the sentiments in the lyrics. Too typical AC/soccer mom mid-late 00’s country for me.

    “Don’t Take The Girl” is easily the 90’s Tim McGraw single that has aged the worst for me. Besides being played to death well into the next decade and then some, Tim’s whiny vocals and overdone accent became grating to me over the years, and the story in the lyrics just doesn’t hold up as well as other similar styled ballads that do a much better job of pulling the heartstrings. I personally would’ve much rather seen “One of These Days” on this list instead.

    I agree with the general consensus that this list focuses too much on the political side of Haggard. I would also much rather be talking about “Silver Wings” at this point in the list.

    “A Boy Named Sue” still gets a good laugh out of me today, and it’s a classic for sure, but yeah, it’s a bit too high.

    “Big Green Tractor” in the top 40….No..Just..NO.

  9. I like ‘Don’t Blink,” but its not anything close to a top 100 record. Same for Neon Moon and “Five O’clock Somewhere.”

    ‘Forever and Ever, Amen” should probably be around #15 or so.

    Like KJC, I didn’t realise until I was in my 20’s that “take This Job…” was a fantasy he was playing out in hid mind. I wonder how many people have actually quit a job using this song?

  10. I keep (naively) waiting for one of these sets of 10 songs to make sense (particularly now that we’re in the top 50). Every song now should clearly be a classic, but…here we are.

    I’ve been wondering when Neon Moon would show up, but with the way this list has gone, I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was left off completely. I think this is ranked about right.

    “Don’t Blink” is fine, but “The Good Stuff” is a much better Kenny Chesney song in the same vein (but neither belong anywhere in the Top 100).

    I really like “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” but it’s much to high.

    It’s kind of hard to argue the placement for any classic songs in the Top 50; having said that, The Gambler would be Top 20 for sure on my list (maybe Top 10).

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