Even a city slicker can appreciate the power of a good country song. It can be a boot stompin’ honky-tonk number or a vivid, confessional ballad, but whatever the case, country music is guaranteed to tell a story packed with plenty of heart and just a little more twang than any other genre.
Not a country music fan? Give these top five classic records (as chosen by Country Music Television) a spin and then get back to us.
5. Hank Williams, “Your Cheatin’ Heart” (1953)
Maybe you’ve heard this record before. After all it’s been covered by Elvis, Van Morrison, Ray Charles, and most recently by LeAnn Rimes. But for all the scorn and sorrow that those singers muster up in their renditions, it’s hard to surpass or forget the original.
Inspired by his first wife (who presumably cheated on him), Hank Williams wrote this hit, which held the number one spot for six weeks and became a genre standard. Though listening to the unique mix of melancholy and disdain in Williams’ voice, it’s hard to say that even he is convinced that he really got the last laugh.
4. Johnny Cash, “Ring of Fire” (1963)
Johnny Cash’s relationship with June Carter Cash is one of the great love stories in country music, and this song, inspired by their newfound, head-over-heels affection, is everything that’s great about it. Or maybe it’s just about sex. Whatever the case may be, this certified gold record is undeniably exuberant, passionate, and just plain fun.
Must be the mariachi horns that put it over the edge.
3. Patsy Cline, “Crazy” (1962)
Simple and sweet, “Crazy” is an instantly relatable song that captures the truly unique feeling of falling in love. Consequently, it’s one of those songs that everyone loves to sing along to. Or rather, it would be if it weren’t for the transcendent and captivating lead vocal by Patsy Cline that makes it difficult to listen to anything else.
Perhaps the greatest song by a true country great, “Crazy” is a perfect blend of Cline’s pop, jazz, and country sensibilities and stands at the apex of a long, pioneering career.
2. George Jones, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” (1980)
A lot of country songs are known for their lyrics of love, loss, and lessons learned. And this song is no exception. With its starkly spoken interlude and heartfelt lyrics told from the perspective of a hopeless romantic whose affection goes unrequited, this song is guaranteed to make you a little blue. In fact, singer George Jones was initially put off from learning the song, calling it too long, slow, and sad.
It’s a good thing he changed his mind. The song garnered Jones a Grammy Award and is credited with reviving his slowly declining career. Besides, who couldn’t use a good cry every now and then?
1. Tammy Wynette, “Stand by Your Man” (1968)
Pretty frequently, country music is tied with conservative values and an old-fashioned way of thinking. Released in the midst of the feminist movement of the late 60s, Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man” would be easy enough to dismiss as typical moralizing. And some critics have. But with hits like the groundbreaking “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” Wynette’s perspective is a bit more complex than that outlook gives credit for.
“Stand by Your Man” was an instant hit in the US when it was released in 1968 and then a hit again when it reached the UK in 1975. The song strikes a chord with all kinds of listeners both for its honesty about the pain and hard work of love and for the beautifully straightforward performance turned in by Wynette. And if you can’t get a dose of frank sincerity from a country song, then where can you expect it?
Scorned? Infatuated? Blue? Whatever you’re feeling, it’s guaranteed there’s a perfect country song for you. Have a favorite that didn’t make the list? Tell us in the comments.