In honor of the CMA Awards on November 10th, here are my personal choices for the best country songs of all time. I was going to stop at the Top 10, but couldn't whittle it down that far, so you're getting the Top 22. There's really no rhyme or reason for these, just songs that I crank way up when they come on the radio, or play them over and over on the MP3 player. I first wrote this in 2006 but the list stays the same.
1) RING OF FIRE
Co-written by June Carter-Cash to describe the feeling of the controversial love she had for Johnny Cash. Then the idea of adding the famous horns came to Johnny in a dream. The record company didn't want to release it as a single because "there had never been a country song with horns on before." Finally, it goes on to become one of the biggest and most recognizable country songs of all time. And most importantly it's just a great song!
2) GOOD HEARTED WOMAN
The consummate country party song! The Outlaws were the first platinum selling country act. How can you miss with Willie & Waylon? And thanks to former NewsChannel 7 videographer Jess Omdahl for reminding me about the song, because quite frankly I almost forgot about it. (What kind of a country fan am I?)
3) WHEN I CALL YOUR NAME
It's the song that turned Vince Gill from a well respected musician in Nashville to one of the biggest country stars of the 90's. Love the opening piano rift! Love the Patty Loveless harmonies! Love the song!
4) THE GRAND TOUR
A lot of critics say George Jones' song "He Stopped Loving Her Today" is one of the best of all time. I say it's this one. The final line "Oh, she left me without mercy, taking nothing but our baby and my heart" sung by the king of all country voices and crying in your beer music doesn't get any better.
5) HE'LL HAVE TO GO
"Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone." I hear that line in that smooth Jim Reeves voice and just wish I could write a song like that just once.
6) I HOPE YOU DANCE
Love what the song says, love the harmony and love Leaane Womack's "throwback" voice. And I use the term throwback as a compliment to mean REAL COUNTRY like Dolly Parton.
7) EL PASO
Another song (just like Ring of Fire) that I think even people who don't like country music say they like. It's one of Marty Robbins' best. The "love that is stronger than death" story song that sets the standard.
8) IF LOVIN' YOU IS WRONG, I DON'T WANNA BE RIGHT
Barbara Mandrell was the queen of country in the late 70's and early 80's. Songs like this are the reason why. A steamy, smoldering song of forbidden love.
9) YOU'VE NEVER BEEN THIS FAR BEFORE
Speaking of steamy and smoldering, just listen closely to Conway Twitty in this song. The pitch, the words, the crescendo and then the relaxation. You know what he's singing about.
10) BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
They called him the "Silver Fox." I remember my Mom and Aunts talking about how the name fit Charlie Rich perfectly. The piano, which I believe Rich played himself, on this song is great. I'll hit the replay on it at least 3 times when I pop the Charlie Rich's Greatest Hits CD in.
11) MOUNTAIN MUSIC/DIXIELAND DELIGHT
Before Garth Brooks came along, it was Alabama in the 80's showing young people it was OK to like country music. I saw them in concert at the old MECCA in Milwaukee in 1982 and they rocked the house with songs like this. These two best exemplify what they did to expand the genre. And more importantly, the songs are great!
12) COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER
I really believe the reason people love Loretta Lynn is because the songs she wrote and sang were her REAL LIFE. And this one is the best examples of that. Great song and movie, too.
13) SWEET DREAMS/I FALL TO PIECES
To this day, Patsy Cline is the voice by which other female performer's voices are measured. Love the violins that start "Sweet Dreams" and her voice makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
14) LET'S FALL TO PIECES TOGETHER
Of the 2+ decades of George Strait hits, I like this on the best. "Pardon me, you left your tears on the jukebox and I'm afraid they got mixed up with mine..." Now, that's a country song lyric. And kudos to my friend Lee Peek from the morning show at Great County, WDEZ who reminded me that I overlooked Strait and another superstar when I gave him an early look at the list.
15) IT WASN'T GOD WHO MADE HONKY-TONK ANGELS.
Kitty Wells was the first queen of country music. I believe this was the first song by a woman to hit number one on the country charts. It was written as an answer song to one called "I Didn't Know God Made Honky-Tonk Angels" and for that era it's got
some real female empowerment.
16) THE LORD'S PRAYER/HOW GREAT THOU ART
If someone were to put me on a desert island and tell me I could only have one CD, it would be the Statler Brother's "New Testament." It's a REALLY GOOD gospel album. The Bros always have great harmonies. These two songs get me misty every time I play the CD. I know they've been done a lot and may not be classic country songs, but the Bros put a country arrangement on them. Absolutely Beautiful!
17) WHERE WERE YOU WHEN THE WORLD STOPPED TURNING
A song written by one of country's best writers, Alan Jackson. It helped a nation heal a little after we were attacked. And kudos again to Lee. It's the other one I overlooked on the orginal list.
18) YOUNG LOVE
I have an extremely personal reason for putting this song on the list. My Mom sang it to me as a baby. Her and Dad started dating when they were very young and I think the Sonny James work was sort of their theme song, which was passed on to me when I came along.
19) DON'T LET ME CROSS OVER LOVES CHEATING LINES
I know this song was done twice. I think Carl & Pearl Butler sang it the first time, but it was re-released by Jim Reeves and Debra Allen in the early 80's years after Reeves died. I believe they just dubbed her voice onto it from a library of stuff he recorded. It's a beautiful country song.
20) SAFE IN THE ARMS OF LOVE
If you ever see Martina McBride in concert, count how many times you say to yourself "gosh, can this woman sing!" This song is one of her best. And of all the country songs ever released, it has one of the most unique sounds you'll ever hear on country radio.
21) IS ANYBODY GOING TO SAN ANTONE/KISS AN ANGEL GOOD MORNING
The great Charlie Pride! He was the second biggest selling artist on RCA records in the 70's after Elvis. Plus, it must have taken GREAT COURAGE to be an African American country singer in front of small town, mostly white crowds in the late 60's and early 70's. More importantly, they're great songs.
If I ever have a daughter this will be her name. It is hands down, Don Williams' best. Plus, former NewsChannel 7 reporter Amanda Lutz loves it when I sing it to her in the newsroom.
What's in your top 10 or 22?