100 Greatest Men: #59. John Anderson

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

As one of the finest new traditionalists of the eighties and nineties, John Anderson pushed the boundaries of country music without sacrificing its distinctive heritage.

Like many of his contemporaries, Anderson grew up on both country and rock and roll.  He was a teenager when Merle Haggard led him to the genre, and what he heard was enough to motivate him to move to Nashville.  He did construction work around town, including putting the roof on the new Grand Ole Opry in the early seventies.  Over the next few years, he made a name on the club scene, which soon earned him a recording contract with Warner Brothers.

The label patiently worked him as a singles act, and as he gained traction at radio, they released his self-titled debut in 1980.  Its honky-tonk, traditional sound stood in stark contrast to the pop-flavored country that dominated the day.  With his second album, John Anderson 2, he solidified himself as a leader of the nascent new traditionalist movement, covering Lefty Frizzell and Billy Joe Shaver alongside original songs.

Still, it was the pop-flavored “Swingin'” which earned Anderson his greatest notoriety in the eighties.  The million-selling single earned Anderson the CMA award for Single of the Year, and was the peak of his years with Warner Brothers.  By the time he left the label in the late eighties, he’d scored twelve top ten hits.  But despite the fact that the sound he’d brought back to the forefront was all over country radio, he struggled for airplay and the critical acclaim of his early years faded away.

Then, a stunning second act.  Anderson signed with BNA Records in 1991, and staged a major comeback with the #1 hit, “Straight Tequila Night.”  It served as the anchor to the 1992 album Seminole Wind, which earned rave reviews and double-platinum sales.   Anderson was nominated for every major industry award, with the most attention going to the title track,  a poignant environmental plea for the protection of the Florida Everglades.

Anderson maintained momentum with the follow-up album, Solid Ground, which sold gold and included three big hits.  For the rest of the nineties, his success at radio was less consistent, and he scored his last significant chart action with “Somebody Slap Me”, a top thirty hit that was his first release for Mercury Records.

The new millenium brought a well-received collaboration with John Rich, with the resulting album, Easy Money, earning Anderson’s strongest reviews since Seminole Wind.   More recently, Anderson co-wrote Rich’s single, “Shuttin’ Detroit Down.”  In addition to maintaining a hectic touring schedule, Anderson is currently preparing a new studio album, slated to include guest appearances by Haggard and Willie Nelson.

Essential Singles:

  • I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Someday), 1981
  • Wild and Blue, 1982
  • Swingin’, 1983
  • Straight Tequila Night, 1991
  • Seminole Wind, 1992
  • I Wish I Could Have Been There, 1994

Essential Albums:

  • John Anderson 2, 1981
  • Wild & Blue, 1982
  • All the People are Talkin’, 1983
  • Seminole Wind, 1992
  • Solid Ground, 1993
  • Easy Money, 2007

Next: #58. Carl Smith

Previous: #60. Don Gibson


  1. I love his style. I’m not as well-versed in John Anderson’s discography as I would like to be, but he has a lot of songs that I love, including “Wild and Blue,” “Swingin’,” “Seminole Wind,” and “Straight Tequila Night.” Right now the only album of his I have is an old vinyl copy of ‘Wild & Blue,’ but this post made me want to get it back and listen to it again :)

  2. John Anderson has been one of my very favorites ever since I got into country music. The first song of his that I heard was “I’ve Got It Made”, since it was the song that was going up the charts at the time of my country music listening beginnings. I’ve since dug as far into his catalog as I’ve been able, but “Seminole Wind” is my favorite song of his, though “I’ve Got It Made” holds a special place in my heart.:)

  3. Terrific write-up yet again.

    I think John Anderson 2 is my favorite album title of all time. Like he’s a movie. The album cover is wicked, too:

  4. I’m not sure if you have John ranked too high, or the likes of Red Foley, Jerry Reed, Gene Watson, Don Gibson etc ranked too low. In any event Anderson belongs behind quite a few of the artists you’ve already listed

  5. John Anderson played a fairly large role in bringing back country music post Urban-Cowboy era. He certainly wasn’t Randy Travis but I think given that he was significant in bringing an entire genre back from the brink, his ranking is fine!

  6. I’m sure there’s no one set of rankings that will please everyone, but I don’t really see any need to debate the ranking order extensively (I’m sure Kevin’s done his homework on this). I just think it’s great that each artist gets a generous spotlight, while the rest of us maybe learn a thing or two about country music that we didn’t know before, and find some great new music to check out at the same time. Plus I just have to say props to Kevin for taking on such a heavy project to begin with.

  7. his song “Country till I Die” is so much better at celebrating being a country boy in a humorous way than anything anyone else has released to mainstream country in forever.

  8. Ben

    Obviously Kevin believes the ranking order to be important (see his Top 100 Women articles), or he would just give his list alphabetically. By doing the list in countdown order he definitely opens the subject for debate and by accepting comments, invites the discussion

  9. John Anderson has one of the more unique voices in country music. I think of Lorrie Morgan as his female equivalent. You know you are listening to one of their songs as soon as they open their mouths. I just love “Seminole Wind”, but I can’t stand “Swingin'”.

  10. Nearly 30 years later, I still cannot stand “Swingin'” (which I always thought was spelled “Swangin'” according to how Anderson sings it in the song). Like “Seminole Wind” and many of his other hits.

    Anyone see him drop in on “Superfreak” during the Bruce Hornsby/Ricky Skaggs’ CMT special? :-P
    (I caught Hornsby & Skaggs two years ago in Atlanta; what an incredible show!)

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