Some of these are wonderful. Some’ll have to go.
Jim Reeves, “He’ll Have to Go”
#1 | 1959
JK: I mean, it’s closer to its correct ranking than “Jolene” or “When I Call Your Name” or “Galveston.” Too Low
ZK: I’ve never been wild about the sleepier stylings of hits from this era, but this is objectively Too Low.
KJC: Another obvious top 100 record. Top 50, even. Too Low
Kenny Chesney, “Beer in Mexico”
#1 | 2007
ZK: I’ll just sit right here wondering who thought this was a top tier Kenny Chesney song or a top tier song in all of country music. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
KJC: (Sheepishly raises hand) I think this is top tier Kenny Chesney, for sure. I just can’t believe there are eight more records from him after this. But I do love the beachside mid-life crisis documented here. Too High
JK: Breaking the tie by voting with Zack. “Anything But Mine” should be around here as Chesney’s highest entry, and this can be cut altogether. So Wrong (This Song)
Garth Brooks, “That Summer”
#1 | 1993
KJC: You could do an entire gender studies course on why “Strawberry Wine” was controversial and this wasn’t. (Then do a follow-up with “Papa Loved Mama” and “Independence Day.”) But it’s hard not to love this updated take on “Bed of Rose’s.” Too High
JK: One of Brooks’ very best singles, wherein his torrid vocal performance is matched to a song that’s actually worth the bluster. Love it. Too High, but not by all that much.
ZK: In which Garth Brooks gets sexy and that doesn’t backfire as much as one would think? In which it actually doesn’t backfire at all and is pretty damn great, thanks to his knack for detailed stories and dramatic appeal? Too High
Ronnie Milsap, “(I’m a) Stand By My Woman Man”
#1 | 1976
JK: I usually don’t go for these kinds of nakedly self-referential songs– “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels” set that particular bar unattainably high– but this Millsap hit is just so perfectly charming. A worthy inclusion, if ranked Too High.
ZK: A cutesy, oddball selection that’s too damn likable to axe, mostly thanks to Milsap himself. This is a hit I’d use to help maybe introduce the list, though. Too High
KJC: At least they didn’t rank it above “Stand By Your Man.” Seriously though, this is a charming record. I can’t fault this or any of their remaining three Milsap selections. About Right
Joe Nichols, “Yeah”
#1 | 2014
ZK: Nah. So Wrong (This Song)
KJC: This list can kiss my glass. So Wrong (This Song)
JK: Part of me wants to tag Joe Nichols himself on Twitter to ask him if he thinks there are only 215 songs in this history of country music better than this. So Wrong (This Song)
Hank Williams, “I Can’t Help it (If I’m Still in Love With You)”
#2 | 1951
KJC: I’ll talk about the cover that should’ve been on this list 110 entries from now, but the original classic is ranked About Right
JK: Oh, God. I don’t know if Kevin’s referring to Patsy or Willie or Linda, but now I’m mad at this list again in any case. About Right
ZK: As we’ve noted before, there’s plenty of Williams to come, and this isn’t an immediate classic like those upcoming hits. I’m fine with this placement. About Right
Toby Keith, “Who’s That Man”
#1 | 1994
JK: Early Toby is the best Toby. A good concept, well-executed, though this is ranked far Too High.
ZK: As Jonathan notes, this is Keith at his best, and to quote a song from this year, “I wish you would have been a cowboy, Toby Keith.” He had such a good run until the 2000s. Too High
KJC: Toby Keith started writing this as a variation on the country music joke, “What happens when you play a country record backwards? You get your dog back, your job back, your wife back…” Rascal Flatts eventually made that shitty record, but Keith saw the potential for something sincere and delivered one of his strongest and most heartfelt performances. About Right
Bobby Bare, “Detroit City”
#6 | 1963
ZK: Another obvious Bare pick that absolutely belongs and reminds me that there should be more of him here in general. Too Low
KJC: One of the best homesick country boy laments. Happy to see Sirius give it its due. About Right
JK: I adore Bobby Bare, so this is another ranking that really rankles me. Far Too Low.
Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This”
#1 | 2007
KJC: Definitely the best of his biggest hits, Trace Adkins topping out at #212 with this sentimental single is About Right
JK: I’d still go to bat for “Every Light in the House” over this one as his best, but it’s among the upper tier in his limited wheelhouse. Too High
ZK: The most frustratingly inconsistent artist ever. Cram his best material together and you’d have one of the best ever country albums. Cram his worst material together and … well, you get the idea. I’m glad they went with this as his highest ranking over another obvious, ahem, “asinine” pick. This is material that benefits from an artist well over a decade into his career by this point. About Right
Kenny Rogers, “She Believes in Me”
#1 | 1979
JK: A massive hit that has to be included on impact, but the schmaltz of this one… Too High
ZK: I’ve been trying to be nice with some of the Kenny Rogers picks, but come on, not again with the overblown cheese that we already discussed with “You Decorated My Life.” Too High
KJC: I think someone who made this list had that huge Kenny Rogers Twenty Greatest Hits album growing up. This is a great song, mind you. One of those “Wind Beneath My Wings” numbers, and thankfully not sung by Gary Morris. A bit overrated here. Too High
Previous: #230-#221 | Next: #210-#201
HOLD THE PHONE! There are *8* more Kenny Chesny records?!?! I’d argue no one artist should really 10% of this list, but certainly not Chesney. This is walnuts.
I’m getting confused here. In entry #282, Loretta Lynn’s take on “She’s Got You,” Kevin says “Y’all, it’s not even the most egregious and random Patsy Cline cover we’ve come across yet. Gird your loins for #105.” Here, on #215 entry “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You),” he says “I’ll talk about the cover that should’ve been on this list 110 entries from now, but the original classic is ranked About Right.” Again, chalk it up to having not seen the original forum post since this whole thing started and not wanting to blow any more surprises than I already did by re-reading it ahead of these conversation pieces, but I’m guessing Linda Ronstadt’s version of “I Can’t Help It” isn’t on here at all and Kevin’s going to suggest that for whatever #105 is, be it either Patsy or Hank. (Maybe if it’s not an “egregious and random Patsy Cline cover,” it’ll be Charley Pride’s version of “Kaw-Liga,” one of the local classic country station’s ONLY TWO acknowledgements of anything Hank Sr., along with his posthumous duet with Jr. on “There’s a Tear in My Beer.”)
I have to admit I haven’t been paying too much attention to these posts. Not because of the commentary but rather because of the awful rankings. However, I caught this one and had to laugh at Kevin’s comment on “She Believes In Me” and his mention of “Wings Beneath My Wings”. Can I add “From A Distance” to that list?
Re: Reeves’ “He’ll Have to Go” — I completely concur with KJC that this is so obviously a Top-100 pick, and I would not object to Top-50 pick either. It’s so jolting to see Kenny’s Chesney’s “Beer in Mexico” just ahead of this JR classic, to speak nothing of the bulk of the eight additional picks that follow. What were the rankers thinking?
Re: Bare’s “Detroit City” — It’s a country classic for sure, and while I agree it should be ranked higher, I suspect it’s unimpressive #6 peak placement on the radio charts in 1963 doomed it to this list’s #213 spot. Now I’m really curious as to what five songs landed higher than “Detroit City” at its peak.
Re: Milsap’s “Stand by My Woman Man” — I perceive (perhaps wrongly?) that this artist does not generally receive a lot of praise or respect on this site, but I absolutely adore the man. Milsap’s music was such a staple in my household while coming of age in the 1970s and 1980s, and he brought so much pleasure to our lives. I’m just happy to see any of his many, many hit songs take away spots from J. Aldean, L. Bryan, and their contemporaries on the list. This one is among his best.
Re: Williams’ “I Can’t Help It” — The man’s talent for brilliant country songwriting simply defies logic and accolades. I think practically ALL of his commonly recognized songs (including this one) merit spots in the Top 200, with at least a handful (including this one, again) belonging in the Top 100.
Re: All of the Other Unnamed Songs Listed — I don’t really care enough about them to comment, not to imply that they are all bad.
I, too, was not a fan of what Zack so accurately described as “the sleepier stylings” of songs like “He’ll Have To Go.” I always wondered what the likes of Ernest Tubb would sound like singing that song, and I cracked my wife right up with my impression of what I thought Ernest Tubb might have sounded like singing it. Turns out he actually did record it, and my impression wasn’t that far off…
I, too, agree that early Toby Keith is best Toby Keith, specifically pre-“How Do You Like Me Now.”
I have made the observation before that pop country isn’t bad by default; it just used to be a lot better. Ronnie Milsap is another singer that I point to as an example, and the song mentioned here has always been a favorite from him.
Re. “He’ll Have To Go”: For a lot of folks, this really is Gentleman Jim’s signature song, and rightly so. Not only was it a #1 country hit, but it just missed going to #1 on the Hot 100 during the first weeks of January 1960. It’s one of those signature songs of the Nashville Sound, and is a standard unto this day.
Re. “I Can’t Help It”: One of dozens of classic songs from Hank, one that obviously transcended its genre, given how many times it has been recorded by others, including Johnny Tillotson (in 1962) and B.J. Thomas (in 1967). In the end, though, Linda Ronstadt’s 1974 recording (where she got Emmylou Harris to do the harmony) was the one that re-introduced it to a rock audience that responded well to her left-of-center approach to country.
I like Milsap’s “Stand by My Woman Man” but I like about 15 other Milsap songs better. I saw him at Westbury (in the 80’s I think). I remember him joking about driving the band’s bus. Maybe he did that at every show?
I like some Williams songs as long as someone else is doing the singing.
Love He’ll Have to Go
I am a big Bobby Bare fan – have seen him about a dozen times (on two continents) and have 90%+ of his recordings. The song got to #2 on Record World and #4 on Cash Box and while I love Bare’s version of “Detroit City” but it original chart placements may have been damaged by the fact that the song was a cover of Billy Grammer’s top twenty hit from earlier in the year.
Billy’s record was titled “I Wanna Go Home” instead of “Detroit City” and was top twenty hit (#11 Record World / #18 Billboard). The famous guitar riff on Bare’s recording was a bit of a ripoff of the riff used (albeit less prominently) on Grammer’s excellent Decca recording.
For this group of songs, I agree with the consensus on all of them. By the way, I’m pretty sure Joe Nichols himself wouldn’t have “Yeah” in his personal top 1000 favorites
He’ll have to Go is fine, but I’d say about right. You’re Gonna Miss This is 500 spots high. I’ll stick with Every Light in the House in the top 100, but this Trace song doesn’t do it for me. Most the rest I’m pretty much in line with the panel.
For me, I’d have represented Adkins on this list maybe three times… “You’re Gonna Miss This” and “Then They Do” somewhere in the bottom half and “I’m Tryin'” up around here.
I like “Yeah.” A lot. but it simply isnt tthe 215th best song of all time. Way too High.
“I Can’t Help it if i’m Still In Love With You” would be my number 2. Behind only another legendary song which i’ll mention when it comes up.
I don’t believe I have ever met anyone – in my life – who didn’t love “She Believes In Me” (or for that matter, “You Decorated My Life”) by Kenny Rogers.
I realize that most who post on here don’t really care for late-70s, early-80s crossover country music, but artists like Kenny Rogers, Glen Campbell, Crystal Gayle, Ronnie Milsap, Eddie Rabbit, and Anne Murray sold millions of records and brought many, many new listeners over to country radio who had previously never had any regard for country music. Their music is very important (in my opinion) and their songs most definitely belong on any list of best country songs.
I quite like all of those acts you mentioned and love a good chunk of Rogers’ catalog. My personal dislike stems more from a general “cheese” factor, which has less to do with sound than it does delivery or presentation.
Agree with Caj – I like all the singers he mentions, especially Anne Murray. John Denver is another big favorite of mine. I also agree that these artists probably brought many new listeners to discover country music – me included.
“I don’t believe I have ever met anyone – in my life – who didn’t love “She Believes In Me” (or for that matter, “You Decorated My Life”) by Kenny Rogers”
I liked Kenny Rogers quite a bit BUT I didn’t like either of the above two referenced songs, both of which I regard as easy-listening schlock
Anne Murray was a class act who brought a lot to the table, probably one of the finest MOR singers ever.
caj – Although I tend to generally lean more towards the traditional side when it comes to country, I do love me some late 70’s and early 80’s pop country, as well. I love all of those artists you listed (especially Crystal), plus those two Kenny Rogers songs. From that era, I also like Johnny Lee, Sylvia, Mickey Gilley, The Oak Ridge Boys, Charly McClain, Juice Newton, The Bellamy Brothers, Janie Fricke, T.G. Sheppard, etc. I’ll gladly take that kind of pop country over the more recent pop country ’til the day I die.
“He’ll Have To Go” is another classic and another one of my mom’s personal favorites, and once again, it pains me to see it sitting this low while I’m sure there’s still some bro dreck ahead of it (no way in hell is that Joe Nichols song better). The first cd my step dad ever brought home was by Jim Reeves, so his music will always have a special place with me. Always loved his smooth style.
“Who’s That Man” is definitely still one of Toby’s best songs to date, imo. I still can’t believe he’d eventually go from singing songs like this to doing that endless string of mindless beer songs later in the next decade. I put him in that “Artists who were way better in the 90’s” group, along with Kenny Chesney (though his most recent single is a huge improvement), Trace Adkins, Tim McGraw, Martina McBride and a few others I can’t think of at the moment. Btw, the ending to this song’s video always gets to me, with Toby thinking his kid is coming out to see him, but he’s just calling the dog instead.
“That Summer” is one of those songs in which for the longest time as a kid, I never knew what it was really about, but still liked it anyway because it was just so catchy. I still enjoy it on a nice summer drive with the windows down. I also miss having more songs with a cool steel intro like this one has.
“Detroit City” is another classic ranked too low, and I agree with the general consensus here that Bobby Bare is underrepresented on this list. Believe it or not, one of our stations was still playing this one as a recurrent around early 1991, and I even have it on one of my tapes I recorded off the radio then.
I’m also in the camp who would prefer to see “Every Light” as Trace’s top ranked song, as this one never did as much for me. Still, my personal favorite of his is “The Rest Of Mine.” For me, 90’s (and some early 00’s) Trace beats post Badonkadonk Trace any day of the week.
Sorry Kevin, but I’m with the other two on Kenny’s “Beer In Mexico.”
I second all of the panel’s comments on the Joe Nichols song.
I’ll admit that “Beer in Mexico” is one of the handful of Chesney songs that I really like.