A Country Music Conversation: Sirius Top 1000 Country Songs of All Time, #180-#171

The best single of the nineties appears 170+ places too soon.



Brad Paisley, “We Danced”

#1 | 2000

JK: Again, as the resident Paisley apologist, he has a couple of hits that should be ranked highly, and this single would’ve made sense back in the 800s. Too High

ZK: Brad Paisley had to grow into himself a little as a vocalist in his first year to balance charm with affable charisma. It didn’t take him long to get there, but, I don’t know, this is fine? Too High

KJC: …I’m sorry. I just nodded off.  So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)



Randy Travis, “Deeper Than the Holler”

#1 | 1988

ZK: As the last one to submit his entry for this particular entry … well, I personally prefer this to “Forever and Ever, Amen.” But considering his ’90s run never gets any love, I wouldn’t so much cut this as I would use the space to spotlight something else by him. Too High

KJC:  It’s certainly worthy of inclusion, but I’m baffled by it being this high. I’d knock it down a few hundred spots, and slot the mysteriously excluded “Three Wooden Crosses” in this spot.  Too High

JK: Love Travis. Absolutely hate this cornpone song that sounds like something Alabama would have cut and probably thrown a jaw-harp or a washboard onto. Would trade this out for something from Travis’ underrated 90s run: “Three Wooden Crosses,” sure, but maybe “The Box,” too? So Wrong (This Song)



Jim Ed Brown, “Pop a Top”

#3 | 1967

KJC:  I don’t believe for a second that they’d have included this song if Alan Jackson hadn’t covered it many years later.  A fun record, but how is it above “The Three Bells”?  Too High

JK: Agreed. And, frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t just go with the Jackson cover. Too High

ZK: Jackson’s likable personality and charisma elevates the cover version, but this is a fun drinking-to-forget song – not a standard. Too High 



The Band Perry, “If I Die Young”

#1 | 2010

JK: The imagery and wordplays of the song are as striking now as they were more than a decade ago, and the arrangement pointed toward a pop-country sensibility that, had it panned out that way, would have served radio well during the 2010s. The trio’s career derailment and self-sabotage is truly without precedent, but maybe we should have seen it coming from a group who wrote what is essentially the only pop-country song that took its entire ethos from the Hot Topic demo. About Right

ZK: Without this song, this band would have been a B-list act, at best. And hey, maybe that would have worked out better for them in the long run. As it is … look, it’s not the concept I’m quite torn on – they’d push this theme into more mature Southern-Gothic territory on “Better Dig Two” and make it work well. But a song about a teenager’s fantasies and obsession with death always came across as creepy from Kimberly Perry, who was in her 20s when she recorded this. Too High 

KJC: A tender ode to…teenage suicide?  This one makes me queasy now in a way that it didn’t eleven years ago.  Still a classic record, though.  Too High



Conway Twitty, “Linda On My Mind”

#1 | 1975

ZK: See, I’m not the biggest Twitty fan, but I love it when he goes dark. Too High 

KJC: YES! I cannot believe they included this, one of Conway’s very best cheating songs.  It can stay right here. About Right

JK: God almighty, the Thomas Rhetts and Chris Lanes and Brett Youngs could literally never pull this off. I’d say it’s maybe a little Too High, but I’m thrilled it’s on here.



Pam Tillis, “Maybe it Was Memphis”

#3 | 1991

KJC:  The best single of the 1990s, and there isn’t a ranking they could give it that I would call too high.  There should’ve been a lot more Tillis on this list – Mel and Pam – but I have no qualms saying that Mel wrote more classic songs, while Pam made more classic records.  So add to the list, for starters: “Shake the Sugar Tree,”  “Spilled Perfume,” “The River and the Highway,” and “All the Good Ones are Gone.”  Oh, and “Let That Pony Run” and “In Between Dances.”  And I can keep going.  Too Low

JK: What Kevin said. It’s been my pick for the best country single of the 90s since the first time I published such a thing back in 2001, and I would have this ranked no lower than #3. My God. Too Low

ZK: The cynic in me is surprised this is even on here at all, given this list’s track record. At any rate, the only people who might get more outraged by this ranking are the folks over at the PrimeTimer forums that have been following and discussing this list. Y’all rock, by the way. Too Low



Kenny Chesney, “I Go Back”

#2 | 2004

JK: CTRL+V/CTRL+P from what I said in the previous ten. Too High

ZK: As someone who graduated high school in the 2010s and actually did lose a friend … well, I’ll admit this didn’t carry a deeper meaning for me until much later. But it is a genuinely great song, and though Chesney is hit-or-miss with his emotive capabilities, he’s good here. Too High 

KJC:  One of his best nostalgia songs because there are actual stakes involved.  It makes more sense to feel longing for your youth when you lost a friend back in the day.  The “this song reminds me of that” setup has been done better by David Nail, Olivia Newton-John, and Trisha Yearwood. The “my friend died too young” setup was done better by Meat Loaf and by Chesney himself on “Who You’d Be Today.”  I’d love to swap “I Go Back” for that instead, but I can’t argue that this doesn’t belong here.  Too High



Johnny Cash, “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky”

#2 | 1979

ZK: Cash’s version is among my favorites, if only because you can count on him to deliver the brooding, thunderous howl it needs. Objectively, though … Too High 

KJC: Fine, but Too High

JK: This list is making me weirdly resentful of Johnny Cash, which sure is quite an accomplishment, Sirius. Too High



Ronnie Milsap, “I Wouldn’t Have Missed it For the World”

#1 | 1981

KJC:  A fantastic slice of pop country.  Just a little Too High

JK: Millsap’s sincere vocal performance is what makes this record what it is. Still, the ranking is Too High.

ZK: Millsap always elevated what was simply softer material. Not quite my thing, but well-performed enough to be here. Too High 



Ferlin Husky, “Wings of a Dove”

#1 | 1960

JK: There aren’t a ton of gospel records that can be best described as charming, but that’s the genius of Husky’s performance on this track. One of the genre’s best gospel hits. Too Low

ZK: Wings of a dove, and hot damn, a voice of an angel. Too Low

KJC:  A small act of mercy is that this entry will end this particular post, and I don’t actually have to place #170 directly below “Wings of a Dove.”  Too Low


Previous: #190-#181 | Next: #170-#161




  1. Im with y’all on Pam. “Maybe” deserves top 10. I’d also add to this list the songs y’all listed plus “Deep Down” and “Put Yourself In My place”! Have met Pam twice, what an awesome preformer who really appreciates her fans!

  2. Re. “If I Die Young”: I know this is a strange song for a vocalist who was just in her twenties to be doing; but for a lot of people, it worked, as did the neo-mountain music instrumentation. But apart from “Better Dig Two”, The Band Perry never really did anything quite as good as this. And it’s not that they “went pop/country” (as if tons of others hadn’t done this at some point or another in the preceding fifty-five years); it’s that whenever they tried to “rock out”, like on “Done”, Kimberly Perry grievously exposed how limited she was as a vocalist (IMHO).

    Re. “Ghost Riders In The Sky”: Without question, this is one of the most oft-covered songs in history; people are just suckers for Western-themed stories like this one. As so often happens, though, I think Mr. Cash delivers this song, however hoary it must seem, with the kind of brooding gravitas that I don’t think anyone else could have matched. It is what it is, from one of the undisputed ambassadors of country.

  3. “Deeper than the Holler” is a song that Randy Travis sings well, so I liked hearing him sing it, but the lyrics are so ersatz that they annoyed me at the same time. No way that song belongs on this list.

    I pretty much agree with the remaining consensus; however “Ghost Riders In the Sky” was originally a #1 pop hit for singer Vaughn Monroe in 1949 (in fact it was the #1 pop hit of 1949). Monroe sung the song with an authority even greater than that of Cash, and to this day it remains my favorite version of the song. I do agree that Cash’s version is too high on this list

    I do agree that “Maybe It Was Memphis” is too low – it probably belongs somewhere between 50 and 75

  4. I’ve always loved Deeper in the Holler too…I don’t know, I guess I go for the cornpone stuff (I also love a lot of Alabama too, so I guess it makes sense). Something about that song just makes me feel like I’m on a front porch, sipping lemonade in the country. I’ll always have a soft spot for it.

    On the Pam Tillis thing, I certainly agree that she deserves more entries (Kevin listed some great ones), and that “Maybe” should be higher. But, given she has as many entries on this list as the band Heartland, I guess I took it as a mild surprise that they ranked it as high as they did.

    • When I was scanning the list for the first time, I was startled to see “Memphis” at all, given the overall content of the list. Good that they included it, at least.

      I’m fond of “Deeper Than the Holler,” too. I wonder if it actually plays better with city folk than people with real country roots? You know, people who will genuinely believe that if you’re gonna play in Texas, you gotta have a fiddle in the band, because we’ve never been there.

  5. I was also wondering where “Memphis” would end up on this list. Way too low! Sadly, Pam Tillis doesn’t get enough recognition these days as some of the other 90’s women do, imo. Too many of her singles seem overlooked now, except for this one. I love all the songs Kevin mentioned, especially “Let That Pony Run,” “The River And The Highway,” and “All The Good Ones Are Gone.” I’d also gladly go to bat for “Put Yourself In My Place,” “One Of Those Things,” “Spilled Perfume,” “In Between Dances,” “Deep Down,” “Land Of The Living,” etc.

    I also have to agree with the majority of the commenters in that I actually really like “Deeper Than The Holler.” Sure, the lyrics may come across as too corny and cliched to some, but for me, its simplicity was always part of its charm. Plus Randy’s performance and the production has always made it irresistible. I’ll agree that it’s perhaps a bit too high.

    “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It For The World” is one of my personal favorites from Ronnie Milsap, and another one of my all time favorites from the Urban Cowboy era. I’m so glad it remained a steady recurrent on one of our stations into the late 90’s and early 00’s.

    Have to disagree with you guys on the Paisley song this time out. This was actually when I still really enjoyed Brad Paisley, and I’ll gladly take it over “She’s Everything,” “Then,” and other boring ballads he’s released after this. That being said, I would still rank “He Didn’t Have To Be,” and “Who Needs Pictures” higher than this one.

    I’m also glad to see “Linda On My Mind” here, and it’s one of my favorites of Conway’s 70’s singles. I remember this song was still getting some airplay on one of our stations in early 1992, as well. Jonathan, I wonder if any of those guys you listed have even heard this song before, let alone would attempt to cover it.

    “I Go Back” is one of my favorites of Kenny’s post “No Shoes” singles, and one that actually didn’t make me want to change the station. The nostalgic theme and rock influence really works for me here, and it’s got a certain charm to it. I agree that “Who You’d Be Today” is even better, though, and I definitely wouldn’t have minded seeing it included, as well.

    “If I Die Young” was one of the last pop country singles I enjoyed before the bro-country brigade eventually took over, even if it did get overplayed a bit. It’s too bad that they couldn’t stick to the style of their first album and made such a mess of their careers a few years later.

    I’ve always liked Jim Ed Brown’s original version of “Pop A Top,” but honestly, I like Jackson’s cover even more. Maybe because that was the first one I heard. Stacy Dean Campbell also did a good version of it on his Hurt City album.

    “Wings Of A Dove” is another all time classic that’s definitely too low.

  6. It’s great that y’all love Pam Tillis and I’m not trying to say she’s bad or anything, but this site consistently makes her out to be a much bigger deal than I ever remember her actually being.

    “Memphis” is a fine song that I enjoy hearing but would never go out of my way to seek out. The Dance is the best single of that decade.

    • If there’s a universal organizing belief among our writers – and that’s a big if – it’s that the creative significance of nineties country music centers around the efforts of the female artists of that decade. For me, “Memphis” was my gateway song for country music when I first heard it in 1991, so it will always have that nostalgic impact on its side, elevated by the song’s own sense of nostalgia that makes me long for that era three decades on. It coming in as our No. 1 song of the decade was a surprise to me, but it made perfect sense to me once it happened. I think that if we ever did a ranking of the best artists of that decade – who made the best music – Trisha Yearwood and Patty Loveless would outrank any of the men, and rightfully so, in my view. They simply made more great albums than anyone else.

      So an artist like Pam Tillis is certainly going to be recognized for the quality and impact of her work here in a way that she isn’t on other sites that tend to overlook female artists. That’s a big part of who we are and why we’re here. Quite frankly, if female artists were being given the respect that they deserve back in 2004, instead of being blacklisted from radio and erased from the media conversation, Country Universe wouldn’t exist.

  7. Oh man, panel, did you seriously compare a Randy Travis song with Alabama? I guess nobody’s perfect. Of course, Alabama would overproduce it and make it more of a weeper. I like the Pam Tillis song, but too low? Come on, we’re in the 100’s. Wings of a Dove, yeah, maybe a bit low, but still, we’re in the 100’s.

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