Several signature, award-winning hits show up here, along with a couple of loud clunkers from artists not nearly in the same league as the ones that the share this section with.
Waylon Jennings, “Bob Wills is Still the King”
B-Side | 1975
KJC: It’s cool to hear Waylon Jennings sings about Bob Wills, mostly because his music doesn’t have quite the same connection to Wills as the work of Merle Haggard and George Strait. It would be like hearing Trisha Yearwood wax on record about Loretta Lynn.
Among the folks making this list, there must have been at least one person passionately advocating for Jennings, Haggard, and Strait. The list would be stronger if there was an advocate for Yearwood or Lynn in the room with them.
It’s a B-side at #360, and not a particularly notable one. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
JK: Another entry, like the last one we saw from Merle Haggard, that I genuinely did not realize was a B-side. Unlike the Haggard cut, though, this one I think is placed oddly: I’ve always appreciated the sentiment behind this record more than the actual recording itself. I’m glad it’s here, but this is Too High
ZK: Songs like this, in a pre-YouTube/streaming world, were important for bridging those generational gaps and helping introduce older acts to new fans. It’s part of the “outlaw” formula of the ’70s, and while I, like Jonathan, respect the intent more than the recording, on cultural importance alone, it’s placed About Right.
Wynonna, “No One Else On Earth”
#1 | 1992
JK: It’s her biggest solo hit and, at least around these parts, scored a massive amount of crossover airplay on Hot AC and even mainstream pop stations. Is it her best solo single? Eh. I’d still go to bat for “I Saw the Light” and “She is His Only Need” ahead of this one, but I’m thrilled to see her solo work represented this high on the list. There’s truly never been another artist like Wynonna, and I miss the fire and grit she brought into the genre’s mainstream. About Right
ZK: I think all of that firepower Jonathan mentions above was rooted in those early Judds hits, but truly exploded when Wynonna went solo. When combining quality and impact, this, to me, feels just About Right.
KJC: The best thing about this single is the radio remix that elevated an already solid track into a catchy, hook-laden classic. It’s not my favorite single of hers, either. Give me “Is it Over Yet” or “Come Some Rainy Day.” But it’s still a fantastic record from a woefully under-represented artist. About Right
Luke Bryan, “Someone Else Calling You Baby”
#1 | 2010
ZK: In which whining sounds mildly catchy. Another way of saying – It’s one of Luke Bryan’s better singles, but hardly worth a spot here. Really, give me “We Rode in Trucks” or give me nothing at all, at this point. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
KJC: Like the Jason Aldean record below, it’s just too damn loud. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
JK: One of his least egregious hits, sure, but it’s been fewer than 20 entries since we last had to write about Crest Whitestrips, and I just do not have it in me today. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
Alan Jackson, “Mercury Blues”
#2 | 1993
KJC: Any points that he’d get for ingenuity with this countrified arrangement of the blues classic are immediately rescinded when you realize he just cribbed off the Canned Heat cover. Faith Hill’s cover of “Piece of My Heart” is more innovative than this and there’s already more than enough Alan Jackson on this list. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
JK: A fun cover, but this placement is just absurd. Too High
ZK: Huge Alan Jackson fan, as evidenced by my spotlight on him from last year; but this isn’t even his best fast-paced delivery in song. And though they’re welcome, at this point, any covers have to be Earth-shattering and of an excellent song. This is fine, but, like … So Wrong (This Song)
Jamey Johnson, “In Color”
#9 | 2008
JK: A brilliant songwriter and marginal singer who was the end-all / be-all for a very specific subgroup of country fans in the late aughts: Johnson was Taylor Swift for authenticity fetishists. I like him just fine, wish we’d get new music from him, and think this placement is About Right.
ZK: Clichéd as it sounds, this is one of those songs that sparked my early obsession with country music. Even more cliché is what I love: The attention to detail in the storytelling, the pure emotive presence that’s always marked Johnson’s best releases, and the subdued – but not lacking – backdrop that strengthens the narrative. There aren’t many songs of the 2000s I’d designate as classics so far, but this is one of them. How’d we screw up so bad in the 2010s? About Right
KJC: There’s an entire doctoral thesis waiting to be written that explores why grungy dudes with guitars are called authentic and women with stylized hair in pretty dresses are inauthentic. This is a good song that’s performed reasonably well, but it isn’t much more than that. Too High
Hal Ketchum, “Small Town Saturday Night”
#2 | 1991
ZK: It stings to write this about this after his passing, especially when it’s a sneakily jubilant track. That was the appeal of Ketchum, though – a writer able to pen commercially successful songs without dumbing them down, because country music has always benefitted more when it doesn’t underestimate its audience. Yet another selection today that just feels About Right.
KJC: My favorite record of his is “Past the Point of Rescue,” but this is a close second. Another example of the momentary era of meritocracy that allowed an act like Hal Ketchum to break through. About Right
JK: When I ranked my personal picks for the best singles of the 90s a few years ago, I had this at #10. Ergo, this ranking is far Too Low, and does it ever sting to think about Ketchum right now.
Little Big Town, “Girl Crush”
#1 | 2014
KJC: A stunning performance heightened by its simple arrangement. It’s one of the best pop-flavored country records in recent years. That being said, it’s still a little Too High
JK: A terrific if not recognizably country record that, despite its virtues, has still been wildly overpraised, especially within LBT’s catalogue. No way would I have this ahead of “Boondocks” or “Little White Church.” Too High
ZK: I believe I’m one of very few writers who thinks Little Big Town is making its best music now, single choices aside. This is one of their better 2010s cuts, but I’m with Jonathan on it being wildly overpraised. One of the few times their record label actually got it right with the single choice, though … Too High
John Conlee, “Rose Colored Glasses”
#5 | 1978
JK: The placement here surprises me, in the sense that it’s actually About Right.
ZK: I believe we’ve already gone to bat for how wildly underrated John Conlee is, but I don’t mind another piece of evidence for that claim. About Right
KJC: A right-out-of-the-gate masterpiece, “Rose Colored Glasses” is beautifully written and performed by Conlee, who can rival Clint Black for the title, “Who peaked the highest and fastest with their debut album?”
Jason Aldean, “She’s Country”
#1 | 2008
ZK: She’s country! Now here’s an arena-rock song to prove it! So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
KJC: Like the Luke Bryan record above, it’s just too damn loud. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
JK: Just heinous, pandering trash that represents the last decade in country music at its worst. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
Freddy Fender, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”
#1 | 1975
KJC: This belongs in the top 100. Too Low
JK: A spectacular record that deserves its status as a genre classic. This ranking is another insult among many on this list. Too Low
ZK: You know, given that conversations of cultural representation surrounded country music last year, let’s not forget this underrated classic, or Freddy Fender, for that matter. It’s the delivery and phrasing that sells this, and it’s worth noting that this song had been covered around 30 times before Fender recorded the definitive version. Too Low
I can’t hear Mercury Blues without being reminded of the Ford truck commercials using a modified version of the song that were ubiquitous in the late ’90s, especially during football games. And how much my dad absolutely hated that song after hearing it so often.
“There’s an entire doctoral thesis waiting to be written that explores why grungy dudes with guitars are called authentic and women with stylized hair in pretty dresses are inauthentic.”
There really is much to be written, and this ridiculousness of course applies to culture as a whole. Outside of country music, Mariah Carey could be used as the prime example. She never gets credit as a writer/producer, and I’d argue it’s because of image.
Absolutely, Jess. Though it has gotten better recently for Carey, with her induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
The authenticity framework has dogged most female pop stars. Even Madonna still doesn’t get credit for her songwriting and producing, though she was one of the few to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in her first year of eligibility. With Houston and Janet Jackson now in, I expect Carey will be inducted in the near future.
I also noticed this dynamic when I did the 100 Greatest Women list the first time around. Dolly Parton has finally gotten the universal acclaim she’s always deserved in the past couple of years, but when I put that list together in 2008, there was a lot of pushback about her being #1, despite her list of accomplishments dwarfing every other country artist. (Male or female, quite frankly.)
I thought “She’s Country” was released in 2009. I actually like most of the songs hear Jason Aldean being the exception, than again I am someone who tends to like 2000s to 2010s country. Sorry
Good catch, Raymond! I made the error when researching. I’ve fixed it to reflect its December 2008 release date. It hit #1 in May 2009.
Bob Wills is a great,catchy song, but hardly indispensable. Maybe a bit high. Small Town Saturday Night manages to capture a genuine small town feel without being condescending. Rose Colored Glasses sounds better the more you listen to it. Before the Next Teardrop should be Top 50.
And for an AJ fan, I greatly dislike Mercury. A non-catchy novelty song at best. He has 20 other better songs not on this list.
Re. “Before The Next Teardrop Falls”: What was quite unique about that record is that it hit #1 on the C&W chart in March 1975; then, three months later, at the end of May, it repeated that feat on the overall Hot 100 (pop chart, in other words). I may be mistaken, but Freddy Fender may have been the first Latino artist to ever have a crossover hit of this kind.
Re. “She’s Country”: I totally agree with all three members of the panel. In fact, Aldean is one of the reasons why it isn’t a whole hell of a lot of fun to listen to modern country (or “mall crawler music”, as Linda Ronstadt calls it) these days.
With the passing of Ed Bruce I am reminded of the great male voices singing country music in the late 70’s and early 80’s. John Conlee may be the best among them.
His voice is so distinctive and unique. Try to imitate his rich twang when you sing along with “Rose Colored Glasses” and let me know if you have any success. A vocal coach needs to comment to explain where Conlee’s voice comes from.
Waylon wrote “Bob Wills Is Still The King” as a bit of a poke at Willie Nelson. Despite the Waylon & Willie hoopla, Waylon & Willie were only friends, not best friends. Waylon’s closest pal was Johnny Cash. Radio stations here in Florida gave “Bob Wills is Still The King” as much airplay as the supposed A side “Are you Sure Hank Done It This Way” While I like “Wills” better than “Hank”, I don’t think either song belongs on this list.
“Before The Next Teardrop Falls” was recorded by several artists before Freddy Fender had the hit on it. I recall Jack Greene’s version from his 1968 album YOU ARE MY TREASURE. I remember Jack in a 1969 interview saying he wanted the song released as a single. It would have made a great single – Green was much better vocalist than Freddie Fender. Greene’s version was sung entirely in English
“Small Town Saturday Night” and “Rose Colored Glasses” both belong much higher. I largely agree with the rest of the presenters’ comments
As I mentioned shortly after Hal’s passing, he’s still my favorite male country vocalist. “Small Town Saturday Night” is my 7th most frequently played Hal Ketchum song in my i-tunes library. #1 is “Daddy’s Oldsmobile” followed by “In Front of the Alamo”, “I Miss My Mary”, “She’s Still in Dallas”, “Sure Love” and “Softer Than a Whisper”.
Love Wynonna’s “No One Else on Earth” but my most frequently played Wynonna song by far is “Is It Over Yet” with twice the plays of “Come Some Rainy Day”.
I like the Freddy Fender song but I can’t recall the last time I heard it before today – probably in the 70’s.
Agree with most of the panel’s comments here.
When it comes to Alan Jackson’s A Lot About Livin’ album, I always found the two rockin’ hit smashes (“Mercury Blues” and “Chattahoochee”), as fun as they are, to be a bit overrated and heavily overplayed, while the other three singles and my favorites (“She’s Got The Rhythm,” “Tonight I Climbed The Wall,” and “(Who Says) You Can’t Have It All”) seem to be criminally underrated and overlooked today. I don’t think Alan even performs those three numbers at his shows anymore either, which is too bad. Oh yeah, I do remember that Ford Truck ad, as well. :)
I’m pretty much with Kevin when it comes to the ranking of Wynonna’s solo singles. I especially appreciate the mentions of “She Is His Only Need” and “Come Some Rainy Day.” A few years ago I pulled out some tapes I recorded off the radio around ’92 and ’93 and “She Is His Only Need” was on a couple of them. I rediscovered just what a great song that really is. I also love “My Strongest Weakness” from that album. “No One Else On Earth” is definitely still a jam, even though I’d personally rank it last of the singles from her solo debut.
“Rose Colored Glasses” is such an instant classic, and it’s hard to believe that was actually Conlee’s debut. Talk about starting with a bang! His unique vocals were simply perfect for this song. Like Paul, I wouldn’t minded seeing it a bit higher.
Seeing “Small Town Saturday Night” here is definitely a sad reminder of Hal having left us way too soon. Like Kevin, “Past The Point Of Rescue” is my all time favorite from him, but I’ve always enjoyed this one very much, as well. If more modern songs about small town living were as good as this, I definitely wouldn’t complain. I already mentioned some of these in his memoriam, but I also really enjoy “I Know Where Love Lives,” “Sure Love,” “Mama Knows The Highway,” and “Someplace Far Away” of his singles. It’s hard to imagine songs like these getting anywhere near radio today.
I’m also pretty much with Kevin when it comes to “In Color.” I enjoyed it at first, since it was certainly a breath of fresh air at the time with little traditional flavored country already being scarce on the radio then. Now, while I still think it’s a good song, I find it to be a tad overrated and I definitely wouldn’t have it this high. It’s too bad Jamey couldn’t get any follow up hits to this and ended up not quite being the “next savior of country” that everyone was predicting he’d be at the time.
As for “Bob Wills Is Still The King,” my favorite version is by Clint Black and Asleep At The Wheel on The Wheel’s second Bob Wills tribute album, Ride With Bob.
Enjoyed that famous Huey Lewis in Back To The Future quote being used for both the Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean songs, lol.
100% agree with Jamie per the 3 Allan Jackson songs being better than the big hits. One point of disagreement between us is that I really can’t even say I like Mercury and Chattahoochee.
I don’t entirely disagree with the inclusion of BWistK on here, but the live version is leaps and bounds better than the studio version, IMO. Also, Jamie, YES, that Clint Black AATW cover of that song is great. That entire album is one of the best of its kind, IMO.
Also,I love AJ as well, but if an older song by him that he didn’t write is gonna be here, it needs to be his cover of Rodney Crowell’s “Song for the Life.” Better yet, his cover of the Kendalls’ “Thank God for the Radio.” The latter was never released as a single though.
John Conlee might well have peaked commercially with RCG, but for me that was the beginning of one of the best single runs ever, up till 1987’s “Old School.”
in Color is a little too low.
Nothing like an up-tempo rocker to tell us how country she is…smh
“Past the Point of Rescue” is my favourite Hal Ketchum single, but I do love “Small Town Saturday Night” as well and I’m glad to see it here.
I also prefer “I Saw the Light” to “No One Else on Earth,” but it is good to see Wynonna’s solo work represented here.
Jamie – I agree completely about that AJ album. While I like Chattahoochee and Mercury Blues, they were overplayed (especially Chattahoochee). (Who Says) You Can’t Have it All is excellent.
Pisterolo – I recently dug into John Conlee’s catalogue and it’s incredible how strong that string of singles was.