Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to make bad lists.
Reba McEntire, “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”
#12 | 1992
ZK: One of my favorite Reba singles, but I’m not sure what else to say other than No. 70 for this is Too High.
KJC: There’s an excellent essay by Natalie Weiner included with the 30th anniversary vinyl edition of Reba’s For My Broken Heart album, and it wrestles with the reasons why the least successful single from the album eventually became the most popular track from it. “Georgia” missed the top ten in its chart run, but was recently certified gold for its digital performance.
Perhaps the reason is the same as why it was recorded in the first place: Reba was looking to recreate the success of her “Fancy” cover. In terms of elevating the original recording, she actually eclipsed what she accomplished with “Fancy,” turning a schlocky hit from a variety series actress into a compelling southern tale of mystery and murder. “Fancy” is now seen as the definitive Reba single, and “Georgia” is the only other record she ever did in that same vein.
I can get on board with its inclusion on the list for that reason alone, but there’s a stronger case for “Is There Life Out There” or “The Greatest Man I Never Knew” being this high than there is for this admittedly entertaining record. Too High
JK: Absolutely not. I mean, I love Reba in full country-music-as-drag-revue mode, but this is an indefensible ranking for this song. They are just so, so bad at this. Too High
Glen Campbell, “Gentle On My Mind”
#30 | 1967
KJC: I agree that “Wichita Lineman” should be on this list, and would add “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” somewhere as well. This is a nice enough record. But the Campbell record that truly belongs in the top hundred, yet is somehow not on the list at all, is “Rhinestone Cowboy.” Too High
JK: I’m not a fan of Campbell’s, as a matter of principle, but I’m not going to object to this. About Right
ZK: The two Campbell singles that should be within the top 100 are “Galveston,” which of course we discussed way back when, and “Wichita Lineman,” which isn’t here at all, and … I’m tired. Let’s add to the weirdness: The Band Perry version of this is honestly really great, too. Too High
Blake Shelton, “God Gave Me You”
#1 | 2011
JK: Shelton oversings a CCM track as an attempt to justify his sudden ascent to the genre’s A-list, and it proves why that ascent never felt fully earned. It’s not a good song, and it’s not elevated by Shelton’s performance. I’d cut it. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
ZK: God also gave us Melatonin, so we don’t really need you. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
KJC: As we ponder the two Glen Campbell songs on the list and wonder why other essential recordings from him aren’t on here at all, we come to the highest ranked of Shelton’s fourteen entries. By designating this as his highest and presumably most essential hit, Sirius has only managed to reinforce what an overrated and mediocre recording artist Shelton is. So Wrong (Doesn’t Belong)
Johnny Horton, “The Battle of New Orleans”
#1 | 1959
ZK: I’ll repeat my appreciation for the saga song trend. Color me shocked that they remembered Horton’s biggest hits. About Right
KJC: Damn right. Damn About Right.
JK: I am not convinced that anyone at Sirius actually knows why they ranked this here, seeing as how it’s About Right.
Dolly Parton, “9 to 5”
#1 | 1980
KJC: I could almost sign off on Jonathan’s assertion about “9 to 5” being the best single of any genre during the 1980s, but for the fact that Madonna released singles in the 1980s! But I could make a case for three singles from Parton being in the top ten – “Jolene,” “Coat of Many Colors,” and “9 to 5.”
It’s a brilliant, nervy, and incisive indictment of how the deck is stacked against workers in general and working women in particular. The sheer energy of Parton’s performance and the adrenaline of the production works as a counterpoint to the obstacles Parton documents. The deck may be stacked, but she’s going to work her ass off anyway and be the exception to the soul-crushing rule.
Oh, and bonus points for invalidating the nonsense that pop country can’t be as relevant and authentic as traditional country, as this is every bit the peer of the best work of Hank Williams, George Jones, and Merle Haggard. Too Low
JK: My pick for the best single in any genre from the 1980s, just ahead of “Billie Jean” and “Little Red Corvette.” Parton lays down her catchiest melody over an inspired arrangement, and then reinvents “Working Man’s Blues” as an anthem for multiple generations of women in the workforce who’ve had enough of the bullshit they put up with every day. A brilliant composition and an important record, so of course it’s ranked Too Low.
ZK: I mean, I won’t top what’s above me, and while I’m not sure I’d place this joyously catchy movie soundtrack this high, its impact certainly extended far beyond its intended purpose. Too High
The Chicks, “Landslide”
#2 | 2002
JK: Love them. Would have “Long Time Gone” from the same album ranked well ahead of this. Prefer this to the Stevie Nicks original, even. But this is way Too High.
ZK: You can have all of their biggest hits on this list, but the one I was hoping to see was “Long Time Gone.” Now, that’s a timeless song. Too High
KJC: Home is the best country album of the 21st century. Every single released from it should be on this list, “Landslide” included. I co-sign the love for “Long Time Gone,” but you know what else should be up this high? “Travelin’ Soldier.” Too High
Johnny Cash, “Daddy Sang Bass”
#1 | 1968
ZK: A fun way of incorporating different ranges into the mix, and I certainly can’t argue with many Cash songs in the top 100, but this isn’t one of his all-time classics. Too High
KJC: Yet another Cash entry that seems lazily ranked based on it spending multiple weeks at #1. Too High
JK: Happy that this one is included, which it feels like I haven’t said often about Cash during the seventeen years we’ve been doing this list, but it’s clearly Too High.
Lady A, “Need You Now”
#1 | 2009
KJC: You can draw a direct line from Sammi Smith’s “Help Me Make it Through the Night” to Lee Ann Womack’s “I May Hate Myself in the Morning.” Lady A’s “drunk dial from a college dorm room” riff on the latter works quite well, and it was only the second country record to win the Grammy for Record of the Year. I don’t think top one hundred is too high, but #63 is. Too High
JK: A moment of brilliance that, in hindsight, is clearly a fluke for a deeply untalented group. Hillary Scott’s utter inability to sing on pitch wasn’t so much a stylistic choice that works in favor of the song she’s singing as it was a pervasive deficiency in her skill set, much in the way that Charles Kelley’s slurred delivery wasn’t intended to reflect the song’s booze-fueled POV so much as it’s just a constant affectation. They’ve spent the rest of their careers trying to recapture a moment that they achieved through dumb luck and that they’re far too privileged and oblivious to recognize for the accident that it is. And all that said? This is still far, far Too High.
ZK: I’ll always love this, and I can count the number of good songs they have on one hand without using every finger (actually, I’d only need one other one for “Love Don’t Live Here”). And it was a monster hit for the end of the 2000s that, sonically, reflected where the genre had been and was still heading. But an important one? C’mon. Too High
Garth Brooks, “If Tomorrow Never Comes”
#1 | 1989
JK: I’m surprised to see this ranked here in relation to his other hits we’ve already seen, but it’s a rare moment of pleasant surprise when it comes to this list. A beautiful song that Brooks, at his best, delivers with genuine emotion. About Right
ZK: Early Brooks is the best Brooks. I’ve already stated numerous times his knack for butchering dramatic stakes with overblown flair, but before all of that, we got this sincere ballad that’s among Brooks’ best. About Right
KJC: Correctly ranked among the top three Garth records and within the history of country music as a whole. About Right
Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”
#1 | 1978
ZK: One of the best buddy anthems in country music, bested only by, well, other selections by these two. But as the most well-known one, this is absolutely About Right.
KJC: I’d probably place this a few slots lower, but that’s why ‘About’ exists as a qualifier. About Right
JK: The hook does all of the heavy lifting, but what a hook, right? A classic that richly deserves its status as such. About Right