Discussion: Greatest Country Songs

hornbyBoys like me and Nick Hornby love lists. (I mean, Nick Hornby and I. Whatever.) Hornby, the author of A Long Way Down, How to Be Good and, most famously, High Fidelity, is known for his staunch organizational skills. The narrator in High Fidelity, Rob Fleming (John Cusack for all you moviegoers), is obsessed with creating lists on almost any occasion. He counts down his top five ex-girlfriends, his top five favorite films and his top five dream jobs—the only stable aspect of a life that’s filled with business troubles (the record store he owns sees little traffic) and romantic entanglements (he’s a commitment-phobe who struggles with his past).

CMT introduced its 100 Greatest Country Songs list in 2003, and it’s awfully fun to debate the inclusion (and the rankings) of many entries. Since I’m in the process of establishing my own list of best country albums, songs, men, women, ex-girlfriends, I’m asking for your help. Which country song is missed from CMT’s list? Which ranking is least justified? Which will it be: The Whopper or The Big Mac? Also, please stay tuned throughout 2009; the lists ain’t over here. Plus, Country Universe is a perfect space to express my adoration for the master of lists, Casey Kasem. Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars, folks. And debate, debate, debate!


  1. Well since K.T. Oslin is the highlight here this week I have to point out that all of her songs are missing from the list and if one was to make it then it would be predictable that ’80’s Ladies’ would have made it. But in my opinion the one really cheated here is “Hold Me” it stands in a class of its own from a writing standpoint in my opinion. Noone has accomplished anything similar to this song since K.T., then again noone has come around quite like K.T. again.

    Also where is Trisha Yearwood?? Shes In Love with the Boy made it but I would gladly traded it in for “Walkaway Joe”, “Song Remembers When” or “Real Live Woman” actually alot of her songs deserved it over SILWTB.
    Why is “Friends In Low Places” in the top 10? Is that just from a success stand point? Its a fun song but why in the top 10???

  2. Wow, this is an impossible task. I was looking over the 2003 list (and thankfully, am very familiar with nearly all of them), and found it hard to criticize without my personal preferences, and that weird age bias that comes into play when putting together “greatest” of anything lists, factoring in. However, random thoughts:

    Are “It’s Your Love” and “Please Remember Me” really the best Tim McGraw songs? Or “The Chair” and “Amarillo by Morning” really the best George Strait songs? Is “I Hope You Dance” really better than “I Walk the Line”? Should “Amazed” by Lonestar be on that list? (ick)

    It was strange to see so many Garth Brooks songs near the top or Faith Hill’s “Breathe” so high, but I guess you simply cannot discount the massive impact those songs had on country music and popular culture in general.

    Occasionally, I felt like the list skewed towards an artist’s most popular hit, rather than their best. (ahem, Alan Jackson.) Anyone else?

  3. “It was compiled, according to Country Music Television, by members of the Country Music Association, which includes record producers, singers and music historians and journalists.”

    I assume the selections were based on popularity, creativity and historical significance; there was no clear-cut formula, as with most best-of lists.

  4. “’80s Ladies” or “Hold Me”….tough to decide between the two. Both unique well-written songs. Especially surprised that “Ladies” missed the list.

    “Amazed”—a “popularity” decision. It’d spent eight weeks at No. 1 just four years prior (1999). I think the “recency” effect helped it, along with “Breathe,” “It’s Your Love,” and “I Hope You Dance.”

    A few folks contested the inclusion of “Dance” when I wrote a Classic Singles post on it, but I think it’s a better record than many suggest (although probably not better than “I Walk the Line”). It’s a little denser, a little darker in its underground than the hopeful lyric up top. Womack’s tone is slightly melancholic (Heck, she’d even lace “Happy Birthday” with a little pathos.), her faith seems hard-won yet fully aware of the troubles of life and love. When she sings, “I hope you dance,” you can just see her doing mental calculations of the times she’s sat it out and not followed her own rich advice. Plus, Sons of the Desert provide an immediate harmony about seizing the moment. Killer.

  5. @ Lynn, couldn’t agree with you more “One thing I can say about Lee Ann Womack is that her voice always sounds like there’s a tinge of sadness in it.”

    “Friends in Low Places” really Garth has better.

    “Goodbye Earl” was a better song with more substance, but not as popular as “Wide Open Spaces.”

    Also “Breathe” ahead of “Coat of Many Colors”, “Boy Named Sue”, and “Desperado” come on really.

    Blake way to frusturate us just before the weekend my brain was beginning to wind down till now. “THANKS”

  6. What I can remember of the list is that it didn’t have any Patty Loveless on it, (except for her backing vocals on VInce GIll’s “Go Rest Hiigh On That Mountain”) and that is, or should be, a crime punishable by banishment and exile, at the very least…

    I really think Nothing but the Wheel is the perfect Country song by the perfect Country singer, and should have been included.

    Also, “You Don’t Seem to Miss Me”, for POSSUM’s sake if not for Patty’s!

    And “Keep Your Distance” granted it started out as kind of a British/ Scottish folk-style song by Richard Thompson, but Patty and Emory gave it the Appalachian treatment, and made it a perfect Mountain Country-Rock song.

    These oversights are inexcusable, and cry out for corrective action! ;)

    Just a humble opinion from one of Patty’s partisans.

  7. It’s shocking that “The Dance” was ranked behind “Friends In Low Places”. And if anything replace FILP with “The Thunder Rolls.”

    I also find it funny that Shania’s “You’re Still The One” ranked lower and that her massive hit “Any Man Of Mine” wasn’t even on there?!

  8. I Will Always Love You
    Chisled In stone
    He Stopped Loving Her Today
    She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy

    Just kidding on the last one, folks.

  9. As with other people, I see artists that I like, but not their best songs…

    I think “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout The Good Old Days)” is better than “Mama He’s Crazy”, or “Travelin’ Soldier” or “Landslide” are both better than “Wide Open Spaces”.

  10. Yeah, I think it seems to be the theme with a lot of this list, the right artists but not necessarily their best songs. Steve, I’m surprised that Patty didn’t get at least one song on the list too.

  11. Ah, I missed that one. I really like that song, though I wonder why that one made it over others. I guess watching the show’s commentary might help with some of the justifications of the choices.

  12. Hmmm….

    If they were to include a Lonestar song, I’d think “I’m Already There”.
    Maybe “American Girl” by Trisha Yearwood, of COURSE “The Dance” by Garth Brooks, “Goodbye Earl” by Dixie Chicks, “A Boy Named Sue”, “Ring of Fire” possibly “Strawberry Wine” by Deana Carter and “When You Say Nothing At All”…either Alison or Keith version…and DEFINITELY “I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton.

    Now if we’re going for best contemporary country songs?
    I think the only songs you’d see on best contemporary (according to radio plays, etc.) would be Garth Brook and Shania in the low numbers…and then Taylor Swift (whoo-hoo!), Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Toby Keith, Brad Paisley and Kenny Chesney (yeah…no) and Rascal Flatts (no way) in the top. Hell, maybe even Kellie Pickler might weasel her way in (Go Kellie!). But yes, I think there’s a big difference between today’s best country songs, and best country songs in general.

  13. That’s right, I forgot about Don’t Toss Us Away, …but wherever it was on the countdown, it wasn’t high enough! ;)

    I love the song too, but it wouldn’t be one that I would have put on the countdown from Patty, at least not ahead of some of her other great songs….(see above)

  14. These lists are tricky. There are so many great country songs, and what exactly is the criteria for naming one among the greatest? The writing? The performance? The popularity? The relevance of the artist?

    Looking back at CMT’s list, I could name many songs I think should be on there, but they reveal my own biases in the end. If I was going to pick just one, I’d add Kathy Mattea’s “Where’ve You Been.”

    I’d also swap out Chapin’s “Passionate Kisses” for “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” and Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” for “9 to 5.” I truly believe that if Whitney Houston hadn’t covered “I Will Always Love You”, it wouldn’t keep popping up on all of these country lists. That it’s listed higher than “Coat of Many Colors” is amazing to me.

    I also think that “He Stopped Loving Her Today” should be #1, with no disrespect meant toward Tammy Wynette. I just think that that song should be lower, but also joined by “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and “Til I Can Make it On My Own.”

    Good call in including “You’re Still the One”, but “Any Man of Mine” was one of the few country hits that actually changed the course of the genre, and should be on there, too.

    Strangely missing: “The Three Bells” by the Browns, and “Lucille” by Kenny Rogers.

  15. From what I remember about the list, “Seven Year Ache” was there but in the eighties (I think). That song was revolutionary, as far as its sound and attitude. I think it should have been in the top ten. Also, I don’t remember if “Guitar Town” was on there, but it belongs high on any such list. Those two groundbreaking songs are rare examples of great art meeting commercial success.

  16. I’d like to throw this one in as being list-worthy:

    “You Never Even Call Me By My Name” by David Allen Coe, a big hit for him in 1975, written by the late Steve Goodman (of “City Of New Orleans” fame), also known as “The Perfect Country-And-Western Song”

  17. A more interesting question may be…What songs of this decade would you add to the Top 100? (This list was compiled in 2002-2003.) I’d consider “Before He Cheats,” “Whiskey Lullaby” and “Long Time Gone.” Anyone else?

  18. I don’t think you can consider this a serious list. Didn’t CMT create a bunch of Greatest lists like love songs, duets, etc. which might take away songs that should be included. Where would you put “Does He Love You”, “Islands In The Stream”, “Golden Ring”, “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man”,”After the Fire is Gone”, and others like, “She thinks I still Care”, “Who’s Going to Fill their Shoes”, “Twenty Years Ago” by Kenny Rogers, “Once a Day” by Connie Smith and many, many more. Where is “Linda on my Mind” and “You’ve Never Been This Far Before” and “Hello Darlin'” needs to be in the top ten at the very least. Cmt’s list is awful.

  19. McRib all the way. Not that I eat a whole lot of Mickey D’s or BK.

    “All the Good Ones Are Gone” is one of the best Tillis songs—torchy, twangy fireball of a vocal, shot-for-the-heart subject matter, sociological reflection (?).

    “Seven Year Ache”—top ten might be a stretch, but it’s a perfect example of a song growing in stature through the years. Cash called it a “gift” to have the inspiration to create “Ache” at just age 24. (Believe me, I’m 24 now and I haven’t had that kind of bright idea yet.) I’d definitely place it much higher than CMT (#81). There’s a cool, aloof bitterness at work in her voice and it’s just a sharply-written little number.

    “Don’t Toss Us Away” isn’t the Loveless song I would include, though I understand its charms. I think having even one song on the list would be an achievement. Some artists have terrific catalogs, but maybe not one standout single. (Emmylou Harris is one that springs to mind.) Loveless guested on “Go Rest,” “When I Call Your Name” and “Please Remember Me,” all of which made the list, btw.

    I’d take “Grandpa” or “Why Not Me” over “Mama, He’s Crazy.” I’d nix “You’re Still the One” and toss in “Any Man of Mine.” No “Breathe.” No “Amazed.”

  20. I could never name just one all time favorite because it depends on my mood. But these are near the top.

    “Unanswered Prayers”
    “After All This time”
    “Im no Stranger to the Rain”
    “The three Bells”
    “An American Girl”
    “Rocky Top”
    “Forever and Ever Amen”
    “Travelin Soldier”
    “18 Wheels and a Dozen Roses”
    “Tennesee Flat Top Box”

  21. Another country standard that springs to mind is the immortal Hank Williams favorite “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You”, which has seen its share of covers throughout the years, both from the country and the pop spectrum (Elvis Presley; B.J. Thomas; Linda Ronstadt; Al Martino, etc.).

  22. I think the greatest country songs are the ones that keep getting performed and recorded over not just the years but the decades, and Hank Sr.’s have had a lot of performances and recordings in cover versions–maybe more than anybody else, because his material is universal, and goes beyond the confines of country.

    To continue this thread:

    “I’m Movin’ On”–no, not the Rascal Flatts one, but the Hank Snow classic (covered by, among others, Emmylou Harris and, on his landmark 1969 Memphis sessions, Elvis himself).

    “Break My Mind”–the John D. Loudermilk standard that I mentioned in my Favorite Artists thread on Linda, who did the song in 1969. People like George Hamilton IV, Jerry Lee Lewis, Vern Gosdin, and the Flying Burrito Brothers, to name just a few, have recorded it.

  23. First off, I think it’s a crime that ‘Seven Year Ache’ is all the way up there at #90.

    I think ‘Is There Life Out There’, ‘Coat of Many Colors’, and ‘Always On My Mind’ should have been a lot higher.

    Songs that ranked too high: ‘The Chair’ – personally, I don’t even like that song. And it’s allegedly the 23rd best country song ever. No. It’s not even the 23rd best George Strait song. Also, ‘Breathe’, ‘I Hope You Dance’, and ‘Wide Open Spaces’ didn’t belong anywhere near the top 40 either.

Leave a Reply

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