Themed Albums

kathy-mattea-coalKathy Mattea’s brilliant album released last year, Coal, reminded me of how much I love themed albums.  There is something unique and special about an album that addresses a single topic from varied angles or transports the listener on a purposeful ride.  It’s not just a random collection of singles with little to coalesce them together.  Rather, like great movies, themed albums demand that you listen from the first note to the last, lest you miss something important in between.

Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger is one of the most famous themed albums in country music history.  The entire album is based on the conceptual story of a preacher who shoots his cheating wife and her lover before going on the run. However, the theme doesn’t have to be as concrete as the one in Red Headed Stranger or as narrow as the one in Coal, which endeavors to shine a light on the coal-mining industry, to be included in this category. It can be as amorphous as “love” or “heartache.”

Just for fun, I culled through my musical catalog (and all 5 million or so country songs about love, heartache and partying on Friday night) and put together my own themed album very loosely titled: America 2009:

  • Filthy Rich (Big Kenny, John Rich, Bill McDavid, Freddy Powers, Sonny Thockmorton)
  • Workingman’s Blues #2 (Bob Dylan)
  • If We Make It Through December (Merle Haggard)
  • Dirt (Chris Knight)
  • What’s A Simple Man To Do? (Steve Earle)
  • The Ballad of Salvador & Isabelle (Dave Quanbury)
  • If You Don’t Love Jesus (Billy Joe Shaver)
  • Ellis Unit One (Steve Earle)
  • Dress Blues (Jason Isbell)
  • It’s a Different World Now (Rodney Crowell)
  • Everybody Knows (Gary Louris, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, Emily Robison)
  • Up to the Mountain (Patty Griffin)
  • Reason to Believe (Bruce Springsteen)

If you were to create your own themed album, what would it look like?


  1. It may be a cliche, but my Theme album would be related to places throughout America, and would be called “I’ve Been Everywhere”, after the Hank Snow classic of the same name.

    “I’ve Been Everywhere” (Hank Snow or Johnny Cash; you can’t go wrong with either)
    “Promised Land” (Elvis Presley)
    “Abilene” (George Hamilton IV)
    “Willing” (Linda Ronstadt)
    “Georgia On My Mind” (Ray Charles or Willie Nelson; again, can’t miss with either)
    “Tennessee Homesick Blues” (Dolly Parton)
    “Boulder To Birmingham” (Emmylou Harris)
    “Rocky Mountain High” (John Denver)
    “Viva Las Vegas” (Elvis Presley)
    “Arizona” (Mark Lindsay [lead singer of 60s garage rockers Paul Revere and the Raiders])
    “City Of New Orleans (Arlo Guthrie)
    “Memphis” (Johnny Rivers)
    “Detroit City” (Bobby Bare, or Tom Jones)
    “Galveston” (Glen Campbell)
    “Colorado” (Linda Ronstadt)
    “Kern River” (Merle Haggard)
    “I Love L.A.” (Randy Newman)
    “Take Me Home Country Roads” (John Denver)
    “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” (Glen Campbell)
    “Wild Montana Skies” (John Denver + Emmylou Harris)

    …and this is just for starters.

  2. While also pssibly cliche (or definately), this is country and the first subject that came to my mind was the ever popular murder theme. That said, I tried to at least include a few songs that are not on every list.

    Delia’s Gone – Johnny Cash
    Pretty Polly – Ralph Stanley and Patty Loveless
    Caleb Meyer – Gillian Welch
    Jesse James – Bruce Springsteen
    Time of the Preacher – Willie Nelson
    Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash
    Wind and Rain – Crooked Still
    Sittin’ on a Jury: Prologue – The Wilders
    Murderers on the Cumberland Plateau – Robin and Linda Williams
    The First Mrs. Jones – Porter Wagoner
    They’re Hanging Me Tonight – Marty Robbins
    L.A. County – Lyle Lovett

  3. Drinking Songs

    There Stands The Glass – Webb Pierce
    Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down – Merle Haggard
    Bottle, Bottle – Jim Ed Brown
    Pop a Top – Jim Ed Brown or Alan Jackson
    Joe & Mabel’s 12th Street Bar and Grill – Nat Stuckey
    A Bottle of Wine and Patsy Cline – Marsha Thornton
    Friends In Low Places – Garth Brooks
    Two Glasses, Joe – Ernest Tubb
    Set ‘Em Up Joe – Vern Gosdin
    Smoky the Bar – Hank Thompson
    On Tap, In the Can or In The Bottle – Hank Thompson
    Who’ll Buy The Wine – Charlie Walker
    Skid Row Joe – Porter Wagoner
    Sorrow On The Rocks – Porter Wagoner
    The Lord Knows I’m Drinking – Cal Smith
    I Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink – Merle Haggard

    16 songs out of the hundreds one could program – these I think are the best of the best

  4. Prison Songs

    The Prisoner’s Song – Vernon Dalhart (or MacWiseman)
    Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash
    Mama Tried – Merle Haggard
    The Wall – Freddie Hart
    I Got Stripes – Johnny Cash
    Green Green Grass of Home – Johnny Darrell
    The Chair – Marty Robbins (not the latter day George Strait song)
    Jailhouse Rock – Elvis Presley
    Life to Go – Stonewall Jackson
    In The Jailhouse Now – Jimmie Rodgers or Webb Pierce
    Tupelo County Jail – Webb Pierce
    Birmingham Jail – Slim Whitman
    Starkville City Jail – Johnny Cash
    Blackjack County Chain – Willie Nelson
    San Quentin – Johnny Cash
    Chain Gang – Sam Cooke

  5. Wow, I see these ;
    lists and they’re all missing some of my favorites!

    Erik (Places In America):
    “A Little Past Little Rock” by Lee Ann Womack
    “There Is No Arizona” by Jamie O’Neal
    “Wrong Side Of Memphis” by Trisha Yearwood

    William (Murder):
    “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia” by Reba McEntire

    Paul (Drinking):
    “Solitary Thinkin’ ” by Lee Ann Womack -Just for some representation from the ladies!

  6. How good “From The Country” songs?

    Walkin’ The Country – Keith Urban
    Anywhere But Here – Cross Canadian Ragweed
    My Hometown – Charlie Robison
    Quarry Town – Dan Colehour
    God’s Country, USA – Marcus Hummon
    Cheap Seats – Alabama (written by Marcus Hummon)
    Too Much Fun – Daryle Singletary
    Country Comfort – Elton John/Bernie Taupin
    Jewel Of The South – Rodney Crowell
    Small Town Saturday Night – Hank Devito/Pat Alger (Hal Ketchum)
    American Saint – Bleu Edmondson
    Gentile On My Mind – John Hartford
    High Low and In Between – Townes Van Zant
    Sunday Morning Coming Down – Kris Kristofferson
    Where I Come From – Alan Jackson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.