Write this down: George Strait will be recorded in the annals of country music history as the greatest singles artist of all-time. He already ranks third among all artists in terms of chart success, trailing only Eddy Arnold and George Jones. By the dawn of the next decade, he’ll be on top.
Now, I don’t place inordinate value on what radio decides worthy of massive spins, but I do think that Strait’s hit singles are usually much better than the album cuts that aren’t sent to radio. Even though I have all of his albums, only two of the tracks on this list weren’t released as singles.
With more than thirty albums to his credit, I’m sure that there are many songs that readers love which I haven’t included here. Here are my favorite songs by George Strait.
“Blue Clear Sky”
Blue Clear Sky, 1996
This is the type of song that Strait is perfect for. He can elevate a standard uptempo country love song into something special. When he wraps his voice around the hook – “Surprise! Your new love has arrived!” – it’s the sound of weathered experience with a shot of unrestrained joy.
“It Ain’t Cool to Be Crazy About You”
You can’t be smooth and sophisticated when you’re dealing with a heartbreak. “It ain’t suave or debonair to let you know I care.” In lesser hands, this would be delivered in a straightforward way. But Strait adopts the smooth styling of a pop balladeer throughout this record. If Frank Sinatra had ever made a country record, it would’ve sounded just like this.
Perhaps the secret to Strait’s longevity is that his image of himself hasn’t changed, despite his legendary success. He still sees himself as just getting started. “I was a young troubadour when I rode in on a song, and I’ll be an old troubadour when I’m gone.”
“I Hate Everything”
50 Number Ones, 2004
This is the kind of conversation one normally avoids at a bar, so credit where due for Strait’s character here, who is willing to listen to man who has been left for another, and now hates everything about his life. Interestingly, the only thing he doesn’t hate is the woman who left him for another man, and for a beautiful reason: “If it wasn’t for my kids, I’d hate my ex-wife.”
“Easy Come, Easy Go”
Easy Come Easy Go, 1993
George Strait has always been well-matched with Dean Dillon songs. This low-key requiem for a failed relationship is so calm and collected, it makes breaking up sound easy to do.
“Haven’t You Heard”
Something Special, 1985
A campy classic that would’ve made Porter Wagoner proud. Strait rings the doorbell of the married woman he’s been seeing on the side, the day after convincing her to leave her husband. That alone takes gumption. Add on that the man was a friend of his, and he’s just staring off in the distance.
His crying little boy answers the door: “Haven’t you heard? Daddy’s gone crazy. Haven’t you heard? Mama is gone. And either way, I am the loser. And I’ve been crying all night long.”
“I Cross My Heart”
Pure Country, 1992
This was an instant wedding standard upon its release, rivaled only by Shania Twain’s “From This Moment On” among the country songs I’ve heard at nuptials. It’s leagues above similar numbers by John Michael Montgomery and Doug Stone.
“You Can’t Make a Heart Love Somebody”
Lead On, 1994
A heartbreaker. The man pops the question at the dinner table, and the woman starts to cry. “I knew this was coming,” she says, “and I’m sorry.” She explains that she’s done everything she could to fall in love with him, but her heart refuses to comply.
It Just Comes Natural, 2006
If Strait wanted to make an entire album of Bruce Robison covers, I’d be completely on board. As charming as Robison’s original recording is, Strait’s nuanced performance infuses greater depth into the song.
If You Ain’t Lovin’, You Ain’t Livin’, 1988
This song was released not too long after Strait’s daughter perished in a car accident at the age of thirteen. While the song was clearly written as a love song, Strait’s tender performance suggests he’s coming from a paternal place on this one, especially as he sings, “Like a breath of spring she came and left, and I still don’t know why.”
“Write This Down”
Always Never the Same, 1999
A ridiculous song with great entertainment value. Strait rattles off a myriad of ways that his leaving lover can record the message, “I love you and I don’t want you to go.” My personal favorite is when he suggests, “stick it on your ‘frigerator door.”
Something Special, 1985
This might be the most well-known of Strait’s early hits, perhaps because of the song’s clever conceit. It was one of the first indications that he had a taste for unconventional song structure. As good as it is, I suspect that if he’d come across this later in his career, his performance of it would be more sophisticated.
“How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls”
It Just Comes Natural, 2006
What seems like a pedestrian celebration of cowgirls on the surface features several interesting layers underneath, including social commentary on female independence and the increasing urbanization of the American West.
“If I Know Me”
The Chill of an Early Fall, 1991
To be fair, this song is clearly derivative of K.T. Oslin’s “Hold Me”, which had topped the charts two years earlier. But that doesn’t detract from its emotional impact as a portrait of a married couple that is in it for the long haul.
“I’ve Come to Expect it From You”
Livin’ it Up, 1990
A deliciously bitter performance. Strait is all raw anger and exposed nerves here, deriding his on-again, off-again lover, but reserving his greatest anger for himself: “I wouldn’t treat a dog the way you treated me, but that’s what I get. I’ve come to expect it from you.”
“We Really Shouldn’t Be Doing This”
One Step at a Time, 1998
One of my favorite CMA moments ever involves Strait’s performance of this totally out-there Jim Lauderdale song. After he performs it with gusto and is basking in the applause, the camera cuts to a bewildered Reba McEntire, who politely claps but is unable to mask her complete confusion regarding what she’s just seen. Watch it here.
“So Much Like My Dad”
Holding My Own, 1992
Like so many of Strait’s best songs, this one takes an unexpected turn along the way. It starts off as a touching Father’s Day number, as Strait sits reminiscing with his mother about his childhood. Growing up, there were so many little things he did that reminded her of his father.
The song then switches gears: “She said she’s gonna leave me, mama.” As he confesses that the love of his life is leaving him behind, he holds on tight to the only sliver of hope that he’s been able to find. “If I’m so much like my dad, there must have been times you felt her way. So tell me, word for word, what he said that always made you stay.”
“I Met a Friend of Yours Today”
Lead On, 1994
He comes home from work late one night. “Can supper wait?” he asks. “I guess I’ve lost my appetite.” He’ll take a drink, though. He needs a strong one to get through the story of his day, which includes meeting the man who his wife has been seeing on the side. He hears the man say her name at the bar, and Strait “can tell the stranger there, he knew you much too well.”
“You Know Me Better Than That”
Chill of an Early Fall, 1991
We’re all good at putting our best foot forward when we meet someone knew, but the truth is revealed eventually. Here, Strait is telling his old flame about his new one, a woman “who is in love with an image time is bound to see through.”
Always Never the Same, 1999
This beautiful waltz begins as a tribute to the woman he’s dancing with. It’s clear that every man wishes they could take his place, but the woman wants nobody but him. He thinks to himself how lucky he is, but then the chorus reveals: “Meanwhile, back in the back of my memory, you’re still dancing with me, and I’m holding you once again.” Even as he takes his current lover home, and they make their way upstairs, it’s his former lover on his mind.
“Today My World Slipped Away”
Carrying Your Love With Me, 1997
Strait’s gorgeous reading of this song rivals Vern Gosdin’s original hit recording from 1983. A man exits the court where his divorce has been finalized, and he heads straight to church. He cries to God, “Tonight I’m alone and afraid because today my world slipped away.”
“Love Without End, Amen”
Livin’ it Up, 1990
The secret of a father’s love is passed down through the generations, as a man hears it from his own father as a child, speaks the same words to his equally rebellious son years later, and then hears the words in a dream of heaven, spoken to him by Jesus: “Daddy’s don’t just love their children every now and then. It’s a love without end, amen.”
Lead On, 1994
Two weary hearts, each hurting from their past mistakes, take cautious steps toward something new, the desire for love outweighing the fear of failing at it again. They agree to “take this matter somewhere else, and pick up right where everything went wrong. Lead on.”
“Baby’s Gotten Good at Goodbye”
Beyond the Blue Neon, 1989
When I first began listening to country music, I discovered most of it through watching CMT. This was my introduction to George Strait, and it was my favorite songs of his for many years. It’s deceptively simple. A man watches his lover pack to leave him for the umpteenth time, but this is the first time that she didn’t cry while doing it. “That’s why I’m sitting on the front step, staring down the road. Wondering if she’ll come back, this time I don’t know. After she packed, when she looked back, there were no tears in her eyes. That’s got me worried, thinking maybe my baby’s gotten good at goodbye.”
“You’ll Be There”
Somewhere Down in Texas, 2005
This one floored me upon its release, and it’s impact hasn’t lessened since. It begins as a philosophical reflection on the meaning of existence, and what you’ll need to live a meaningful life. But by the end of the first verse, he’s reflecting on what heaven will be like: “We’ll climb up on the mountain, y’all. We’ll make our voices ring. And those who’ve never tried it will be the first to sing.”
That would be enough to elevate it into one of my favorite songs, but then it’s revealed that he’s singing to a departed soul. “I’ll see you on the other side, if I make it.” He’s not certain that he will, even though he’s trying as hard as he can. So he asks the person watching over him to tell God that “I might need a hand to see you both someday.”
Strait knows that there can be as much of a life lesson in a humorous aside as there is in a long-winded treatise. “You don’t bring nothing with you here, and you can’t take nothing back. I ain’t never seen a hearse with a luggage rack.” I’ve read countless works of philosophy and theology, and have rarely come across anything as enlightening and profound as that couplet.
Great list. There is some overlap in our lists. Here’s my list, in no particular order:
You Look So Good in Love
Nobody in His Right Mind Would Have Left Her
It Ain’t Cool To Be Crazy About You
All My Exes Live in Texas
The Cowboy Rides Away
If You Ain’t Lovin’ (You Ain’t Livin’)
You Know Me Better Than That
Ace in the Hole
If I Know Me
Love Without End Amen
I’ve Come to Expect It From You
Gone As A Girl Can Get
I’d Like to Have That One Back (the first Strait song I’d ever heard)
I Cross My Heart
Easy Come, Easy Go
It Just Comes Natural
Give It Away
Blue Clear Sky
You Can’t Make A Heart Love Somebody
Any Old Love Won’t Do
troubadour (this song has grown on me, considerably, since my review of it)
PS. “Baby Blue” is my Dad’s favorite Strait song. He showed it to me when I first got into country music and I had no idea Strait had been around for over a decade before my country music beginnings.
Nice list, but I will say I was surprised not to see “Amarillo By Morning” included on this list. Many consider that to be his signature song. I really like “She’ll Leave You With A Smile” too.
Some of my favourites not on your list:
If You’re Thinking You Want A Stranger (There’s One Coming Home) – one of his best early records; I kind of miss the rawer sound he had early on
Let’s Fall To Pieces Together
Nobody In His Right Mind Would Have Left Her
Famous Last Words Of A Fool
You Sure Got This Ol’ Redneck Feeling Blue
Anything You Can Spare
Hollywood Squares – an obscure album track from 1989, but I’ve always loved it
I must admit I do prefer Vern Gosdin’s version of Today My World Slipped Away, although Strait’s is good.
Agreed about him being a better singles artist than album. His singles have been pretty killer though which is why a lot of my favorites likely didn’t make your list. Those missing include:
“Run” – great production/harmony vocals, my favorite
“Carrying Your Love With Me”
“Fool Hearted Memory”
“Ocean Front Property”
“I Can Still Make Cheyenne”
Great review Kevin, and I do like Reba’s face after George’s CMA perfomance.
I may be one of the only people who has never a George Strait album or turned up one of his songs on the radio. Im not sure why but none of his songs have ever grabbed me. He is good and of course is a legend but I have just never got it. I sometimes feel like I have heard all of his songs from him before?? Each new single kinda sounds like the last one…..
Oh and is it me, or do quite a few songs from other artists seem to be similar to Oslin’s hits of the 80’s?
I never thought of it though with “If I Know Me” but now that I think about it, its pretty obvious.
“Oh and is it me, or do quite a few songs from other artists seem to be similar to Oslin’s hits of the 80’s? ”
I think it’s just you.
I’ve always been partial to “Drinkin’ Champagne.” My dad and I love cranking that song up and singing along.
It’s not just Cory. In addition to “Hold Me” clearly being very similar to “If I Know Me”, Brad Paisley’s “Mud on the Tires” is pretty much a carbon copy of “Hey Bobby.”
I can’t think of one besides those two, though.
I can think of other songs that have a similar theme to “If I Know Me” that are a lot more closer to it than “Hold Me”. Lorrie Morgan’s “Exit 99”, Patty Loveless’ “Nothin’ But the Wheel”, and Sara Evans’ “Three Chords and the Truth” are the ones that immediately come to mind. I would never even think of any K.T. Oslin song when listening to George Strait.
I’ve never understood the whole K.T. phenomenon. A lot of people really seemed to like her back in the late 80s and early 90s. I wasn’t one of them.
Every single song that you mentioned came out after both “Hold Me” and “If I Know Me”, which were released two years apart. I could see all of them (except the Loveless track, where the protagonist doesn’t turn the car around), as derivative of both hits.
So you’re saying that there was never a song about someone who was in the process of leaving a relationship only to turn back at the last minute, prior to “Hold Me”?
I’m not sure where you got that from. I’m just saying that “If I Know Me” was very similar to “Hold Me” in its presentation of the subject matter. It’s hardly uncommon for country hits to be replicated soon after, and those two songs are a good example of this.
“Meanwhile” is probably my favorite Strait song. Always Never the Same was the very first Strait cd I bought and I loved it as a kid. This song was always the standout song for me. I love his vocals and the lyrics, though as a kid they didn’t make much sense (of course I was like 10 when I got it!). When I hear this song, it takes me back to one of his stadium shows.
Other songs I love that aren’t on your list:
“Carryin’ Your Love with Me”
“Famous Last Words of a Fool”
“Chill of an Early Fall”
“Murder on Music Row”
“She’ll Leave with You A Smile”
and of course there’s countless others!
Great list though!
George Strait isn’t one of my absolute favorite artists either, but I’m absolutely amazed by his longevity. I want to see just how long his career will go. While a lot of his music does sound similar, I can’t help but respect his career. Moreover, the songs I do like by him, I really like, even after all these years.
Great list Kevin…
But I think my favorite Strait single of all time is Carrying You Love With Me…
And true to my oddball nature, I think I like some of his album cuts even better than his singles… On Troubadour, for instance, I think “Brothers of the Highway” (I know, I know, a real minority opinion here, ) and “House of Cash”, as well “Make Her Fall in Love with Me Song” , and “West Texas Town” would have made better singles than even the title cut of this Grammy winning album. But hey, I’m still holding out hope for House of Cash to be released as a single…perhaps George’s co-Grammy nomination with Patty for this song will set off a light bulb in his head…One can only hope…
And Razor, I never thought about it, but now that you mention it I agree that Patty’s Nothing but the Wheel and Sara’s Three Chords and the Truth sound similar….But what I think is an even closer match is Sara’s Three Chords with Patty’s Thousand TImes a Day..I think both songs have similar chord progressions, tempos, as well as somewhat similar melodies…and the Mountain timbre in both their voices is especially close in tone with these two songs…Patty and early Sara are like singing sisters!
Great List so far, but there are few songs that should be on the list like:
She Leave with a Smile
Good News/Bad News
I Saw God Today
It’s Amarillo By Morning for me. And not just because I always butcher it at karaoke.
Kelly Willis did Wrapped first and having known her version before George, his just doesn’t compare.
The same with Today My World Slipped Away. Not even close to the original.
George is better at non-cover tunes IMO.
Overall, I agree with most of your selections. Of course, we could make a list of the Top 50 George Strait songs and still make too many omissions but I would like to give a few honorable mentions to some of my personal favorites:
Amarillo By Morning
Marina Del Ray
I Can Still Make Cheyenne
If You’re Thinking You Want a Srtanger
Somewhere Down In Texas
The Road Less Traveled
The Chill of an Early Fall
Props for taking on such an intimidating task. Thanks again! :)
There are so many great Strait songs, so I’ll just give my 3 favorites
1. I Just Wanna dance with You
2. Baby’s Gotten Good at Goodbye
3. Baby Blue
As I said i know I’m leaving oout some great songs, but…
I don’t know if I can narrow down all of the great George Strait songs to just a few so I’ll take the lazy way out and post the Top 20 in my iTunes library:
1. Murder on Music Row
2. House of Cash
3. Seashores of Old Mexico
4. Amarillo by Morning
5. Let’s Fall to Pieces Together
6. Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind
7. I Cross My Heart
8. King of Broken Hearts
9. I Can Still Make Cheyenne
10. Any Old Love Won’t Do
11. When Did You Stop Loving Me
12. I Saw God Today
13. Is It Already Time
14. Fool Hearted Memory
15. Ocean Front Property
16. King of the Mountain
17. Today My World Slipped Away
18. It Ain’t Cool To Be Crazy About You
20. Nobody In His Right Mind Would Have Left Her
Razor, I’m glad to see “Any Old Love Won’t Do” on your list.
Why hasn’t anyone mentioned “The Best Day?” That song always makes me think of my dad and my childhood. And my future.
Even as a child, though, I was in love with “Ocean Front Property.” I don’t know why; something about it just puts a smile on my face.
And now I’d like to list some random album cuts that I greatly enjoy and haven’t seen listed yet:
Too Much of Too Little
Which Side of the Glass
She Took the Wind From His Sails
As Far As It Goes
Is It That Time Again
A Better Rain
Don’t Tell Me You’re Not In Love
Oh, What A Perfect Day
I Ain’t Her Cowboy Anymore
He Must Have Really Hurt You Bad
Why Can’t I Leave Her Alone
Lastly, I’d like to give a shout out to the song that started it all, “Unwound,” and add “Cowboys Like Us,” because that song always makes me want to ride a motorcycle into the sunset. :)
Yea George is an artist who really impresses me on his accomplishments, he just has never drove me to get one of his albums, I’d be curious though to see George do something apart from Tony Brown….not that it will happen. There is one song I do like though I can’t think of the title but it’s being sung to his mother… “he said I’m gonna loose her momma…..” not sure the exact title…help!
Oh sry the song I mentioned is #9 on Kevins list “So much like my dad” sorry I had a brain fart
“George Strait isn’t one of my absolute favorite artists either, but I’m absolutely amazed by his longevity. I want to see just how long his career will go. While a lot of his music does sound similar, I can’t help but respect his career.”
I hadn’t seen this touched upon yet and so I will…George Strait purposely looks for songs that fit into his formula and that his audience will appreciate first and foremost and then the hardest part is going beyond that and pin-pointing songs that not only he and his audience like but will also be liked to some extent by the radio listener in general, non-fans, specifically.
In the business that is country music it’s a requirement to be commercial and the label/artist, obviously, want whatever song from an album will pull in the biggest commercial success as a single. This goes back decades…I can tell by some of the comments that a lot of posts are from people under 30? I’m 32 and am a fan of George’s…his last album to date, Troubadour, I felt needed a succession of high charting singles but in reality “I Saw God Today” was the big song, so far, from the album followed by the Top-10 finishes of the title track and “River of Love”.
But the reason for the summarization, or accusation, depending on which way one views the issue as George being a “singles artist” instead of an “album artist” is specifically designed for commercial purposes…at one time radio listeners bought the single that was on the radio at the time…hard-core fans were the ones that bought an entire album because in theory a hard-core fan will enjoy practically anything their favorite sings while the casual radio listener will only be interested in buying the song they hear right at that point in time…when commercial singles stopped being manufactured for consumer purchase the public had no choice but to buy entire CD’s from an artist, even if some of the consumers were just wanting one song and nothing more…so, while I agree that George is a “singles artist” because he has some input into what is released to radio and wants what he feels is the best being played to promote the whole album, in some circles he can be seen as an “album artist” because in his mind and in the mind of the more hard-core fans, a lot of the Texas swing and out of place songs he’s recorded have never been released as singles.
A few years back he recorded one of my favorites “You’re Stronger Than Me” but apparently it was considered too country and wasn’t released as a single…so, while I feel George deliberately looks for songs that can be potential singles, he has had quite a few albums, such as the self-titled George Strait album as well as It Just Comes Natural that contain songs the public at large, if they heard them, would not consider a ‘George Strait song’…you can’t be too risky in country music, or any form of entertainment anymore…because of nearly everyone’s heightened sensitivities toward song content.
The western swing duet with Dean Dillon on his recent Troubadour album, “West Texas Town”, I really hope would be a single…it has all the ingredients…but I fear because it’s western-swing, and it may suggest stereotypes of country singers in general being ready to dance at the drop of a cowboy hat, country radio won’t touch it…even though it’s a neat toe-tapper song and perfect for the upcoming spring/summer months.
Similarily, when he released “We Really Shouldn’t Be Doing This” I was worried that he would be laughed off radio because it was just so unusual given what people expect hearing from him but it turned out to be a big Top-5 hit…so what I see is George and company are consistent…the passive audience can often become annoyed or frustrated by songs they’re expecting from a particular artist and therefore it will affect their over-all opinion of an album because they perhaps are not wanting to hear material similar to the single being pushed at the time, like the accusation of all of his songs or albums “sounding the same”, while a hard-core fan, who generally expects certain kind of material from their favorite artist, will get enjoyment all the same.
Even better than Reba’s reaction in that clip of WRSBDT was seeing Patty Loveless in the background, looking thoroughly entertained
hey george i want to say i love all your songs all great im a singer and songwriter really i still try to sing but after a car accident in 1991
im not as good as i thought i was but,me and billy keeble has just realeased our firs single 1 of my first songs i wrote called(LEAVE THE BUDLIGHT ON) its gonna be a great jingle to the good singer that listen to it and wants just go to
(soundclick.com)under billy keeble&terry ball) single LEAVE THE BUDLIGHT ON and please let me know if you would like to sing it you would be the best thanks terry ball in cleveland tennesswee. my mothers name is hattie
HEY IF YOU SEE GEORGE TELL HIM TO CHECK OUT 5 OF MY TRUE COUNTRY SONGS @ http://WWW.DIGITALRODEO.COM under
(TERRYSONGWRITER) I HOPE YOU WOULD LIKE TO SING 1 OF MY 9 THANKS TERRY BALL IN CLEVELAND TENNESSEE
There are some great songs here. My top would be:
“Give It Away”
“Blue Clear Sky”
“Write This Down”
“I Hate Everything”
“Living And Living Well”
“Check Yes Or No”
“All My Exs Live In Texas”