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Last updated on July 24th, 2023 at 02:21 pm
Country music has gone down many winding dirt roads since its inception over 100 years ago. Considered the music of the people, country’s down-home sound and relatable themes have helped it endure and continue to thrive.
There are many arguments about what is or isn’t country, but we cover all the bases on our list of the 50 best country songs.
The only rule? No Taylor Swift. I have to draw the line somewhere. She gets enough accolades that she doesn’t deserve already. In that she gets any.
Anyway, on to the list.
The 50 Best Country Songs
“Blue Yodel (T for Texas)” – Jimmie Rodgers
Country music begins (and some would say ends…) with Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. His songs of love, loss, and the real life of the working class resonated with people all over the country.
It doesn’t get more country than Rodger’s unique voice, especially his exceptional yodeling. Yodeling gets a bad rap, but Rodgers truly made it an art form.
Recorded during his second recording session, Rodgers’ signature song “Blue Yodel (T for Texas)” was a massive hit single in 1928.
“Wildwood Flower” – Carter Family
A.P. Carter, the leader of the Carter family, is one of the most important figures in country music. He traveled across America collecting the songs of the people, preserving and releasing hundreds of them that we still enjoy today.
Many of the best country songs, and the genre’s biggest standards, were collected by him.
Though A.P. was significant, the women of the Carter Family were its heart and soul. Mother Maybelle’s influential guitar and Sara Carter’s autoharp and earthy voice prove as much on perennial “Wildwood Flower.”
Recorded at the same time and place as Jimmie Rodgers’ early recordings, the original version of “Wildwood Flower” was also released in 1928.
“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” – Hank Williams
Nobody in the history of recorded music could write a heartbreak song like Hank Williams.
The King of Country Music wrote many of the best country songs – this won’t be the only time he appears on the list – but nothing tops the heartache of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
Amazingly, it wasn’t released as a single, appearing as the b-side of 1949 hit “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It.”
“He Stopped Loving Her Today” – George Jones
What is the #1 country song of all time? Many consider it to be “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
Like Johnny Cash, George Jones’ legacy has endured long after his death, especially with the hard and alternative country crowd.
To many, he signifies “real country,” and it doesn’t get any more real than devastating “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
“I Walk the Line” – Johnny Cash
What is there to say about Johnny Cash that hasn’t already been said? Simply, Johnny Cash is country.
“I Walk the Line,” released on legendary Sun Records in 1956, shows that the man known for his rebelliousness had a lovingly tender side.
“Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy” – Uncle Dave Macon
If I have to put a Florida Georgia Line song on here, goddamnit, I’m definitely going to find room for some Uncle Dave Macon.
The Grandfather of Country Music, Uncle Dave Macon recorded hundreds of the best old country songs in the 1920s and 30s.
He released “Keep Your Skillet Good and Greasy” way back 1924, but the minstrel song goes back a lot farther. It’s a great example of the down-home quality of the earliest country music.
“Coal Miner’s Daughter” – Loretta Lynn
Country music lost one of its most endearing legends when Loretta Lynn died in 2022.
Her autobiographical 1970 single “Coal Miner’s Daughter” gave the title to a 1980 movie about her life starring Levon Helm of the Band.
“You Never Even Called Me By My Name” – David Allan Coe
One of the best country songs to sing when you’re out doing karaoke, David Allan Coe took fun “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” to #8 on the Billboard country charts in 1975.
It was written by Steve Goodman and legendary songwriter John Prine, who went uncredited because he thought the song might offend the country music community.
“The Gambler” – Kenny Rogers
Some said that Kenny Rogers dying before the COVID pandemic was the ultimate “know when to fold ’em” moment, and I can’t argue against that.
Amazingly, Bobby Bare and Johnny Cash both recorded this Don Schlitz-penned tune but had no luck with it.
“Crazy” – Patsy Cline
When Willie Nelson writes a song for Patsy Cline, you know you can’t go wrong.
The whistful 1961 single reached #2 on the Billboard country chart and #10 on the pop chart.
“On the Road Again” – Willie Nelson
Speak of the devil, no list of the best country songs would be complete without an entry or two from the Red-Headed Stranger.
“On The Road Again” was Willie’s ninth straight #1 hit when it was released in 1980. The autobiographical song is about a favorite topic in country: traveling that long, lonesome road.
“Jolene “– Dolly Parton
More than a country music icon, Dolly Parton is a national treasure. She’s one of the only people who can bring us together in these polarizing times.
Check out how well her classic “Jolene” works when it’s slowed down.
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” – Charlie Daniels
Iconic “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” taken from Daniels’ 1979 album Million Mile Reflections, is based on a song that he played on by fiddle legend Vassar Clements.
“Folsom Prison Blues” – Johnny Cash
You had to know that Johnny Cash would have more than one song on a top 50 country songs list.
One of the coolest things about Cash is that he stood with the poor, lonely, and downtrodden, especially those in prison.
“Folsom Prison Blues” is another classic Sun single. Originally released in 1956, the live version from the 1968 album At Folsom Prison topped the country charts.
“Walking the Floor Over You” – Ernest Tubb
First off, R.I.P Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop, which graced lower Broadway in Nashville for decades. The legendary store closed in 2022, though there’s hope that it’ll open up again.
“Walking the Floor Over You” is the first and best honky tonk song.
“Blue Moon of Kentucky” – Elvis Presley
One of the first songs Elvis ever recorded was this hopped-up take on Bill Monroe’s bluegrass standard.
Rock n’ roll was born when it was released as a single with “That’s Alright Mama” in 1954. Both songs combined country and blues in a way that had never been done before.
“King of the Road” – Roger Miller
Known mostly for his novelty songs, Roger Miller is an underrated-ly versatile songwriter and performer.
Not only is effortless “King of the Road” one of the best country songs, it’s also one of the most clever. “A man of means by no means” indeed.
“Rhinestone Cowboy” – Glen Campbell
Glen Campbell began his career in the late 60s with hits like “Witchita Lineman” and “Gentle on my Mind.”
Hits from his 70s pop period, like “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights,” are as fun today as when they were released.
“Highwayman” – The Highwaymen
The Highwaymen put the super in super group. Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson came together for three albums under the name in the late 80s and early 90s.
“Highwayman” is the ultimate workingman’s song.
“Cold, Cold Heart” – Hank Williams
Another one of those heartbreak songs that nobody wrote better than Hank Williams.
“Stand by Your Man” – Tammy Wynette
Tammy Wynette’s massive hit “Stand by Your Man” reached the top spot on the Billboard country music charts and #19 on the pop side.
Written by Wynette and another famous country songwriter, Billy Sherrill, “Stand by Your Man” won the 1970 Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and in 1999 was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
“Sunday Morning Coming Down” – Kris Kristofferson
“Sunday Morning Coming Down” is so much more than a song about a hangover. It makes you feel it, something Kristofferson excelled at in his songwriting.
Johnny Cash took it to the top of the country charts in 1970.
“El Paso” – Marty Robbins
From a sound and production standpoint, country songs don’t get any more gorgeous than “El Paso.” The sound of the vocals is truly haunting.
One of those classic story songs, American Cowboy rightly called it the second-best Western song of all time.
“Kiss an Angel Good Morning” – Charley Pride
The country world lost a legend when Charley Pride died in late 2020. Luckily we’ll always have his music, like “Kiss Me An Angel Good Morning,” “Is Anybody Going to San Antone,” and so many others.
“Windfall” – Son Volt
Alternative Country was created in the late 80s and early 90s by seminal band Uncle Tupelo. Led by Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, who’d go on to found Son Volt and Wilco respectively, their influence continues to be felt.
Son Volt’s 1994 album Trace is a landmark of the Alternative Country genre, and beautiful “Windfall” is its ultimate song.
Simple and effective, Jay Farrar’s country whine fits the whistful song perfectly.
“Mama Tried” – Merle Haggard
It’s tough picking just one Merle Haggard song for a best country songs list, but we’re going with iconic “Mama Tried.”
The 1968 hit ranked #376 on Rolling Stone’s 2021 Greatest Songs of All Time list.
“Family Tradition” – Hank Williams Jr.
Ol’ Bocephus had a difficult time getting out of his father’s shadow when he first got into the country business.
He came to terms with his heritage, though, especially on fun songs like “Family Tradition.”
“Green Green Grass of Home” – Porter Wagoner
“Green Green Grass of Home” is one of those delightfully twisted country songs. The ending is just so sad…
It was tough to go with this song rather than Porter’s “Cold Hard Facts of Life,” which might be the most country song of all time, but there are lots of hard decisions like that on a best country songs list.
“Should’ve Been a Cowboy” – Toby Keith
One of the best cowboy songs, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” received over three million spins on country radio in the 90s, making it the most-played song of the decade.
“Fancy” – Reba McEntire
Bobby Gentry, known for her 1968 hit “Ode to Billy Joe,” wrote “Fancy.” It was Reba McEntire, though, that transformed it into one of the best country songs.
“Live Like You’re Dying” – Tim McGraw
Millions have resonated with the inspiring message of Tim McGraw’s signature song, 2004’s “Live Like You Were Dying.”
“The Dance” – Garth Brooks
No top country songs of all time list would be complete without Garth Brooks. Choosing just one is impossible, but you can’t go wrong with “The Dance.”
“Whiskey Lullabye” – Brad Paisley and Allison Krauss
As far as best country duets go, it doesn’t any better than Paisley and Krauss’ affecting “Whiskey Lullabye.”
“Strawberry Wine” – Deanna Carter
Though Shania Twain had bigger hits, Deanna Carter’s “Strawberry Wine” is the ultimate 90s country song by a female artist.
“Check Yes or No” – George Strait
Many people see the 90s as a golden age of country, and it isn’t hard to see why. George Strait’s “Check Yes or No” is one of what seems like endless classic songs from the decade.
“Breathe” – Faith Hill
One of the most popular country singers of the 1990s, Faith Hill had a string of some of the biggest hits of the 90s and 2000s. “Breathe” spent six weeks at #1 on the Billboard country chart.
“That Don’t Impress Me Much” – Shania Twain
Shania Twain was the Queen of Country in the 1990s. Her iconic hit “That Don’t Impress Me Much” is still played by every cover band on Lower Broadway in Nashville.
“When the Sun Goes Down” – Kenny Chesney
If you’re looking for a good time, look no further than the Ches. “When the Sun Goes Down” is our guy at his Jimmy Buffet best.
“Cruise” – Florida Georgia Line
I don’t mind Bro Country. It isn’t my style musically, but I can get behind anything that is fun and makes hot girls dance. And it isn’t as dull and contrived as so-called modern “outlaw country” and Americana.
“Cruise” is the poster child of Bro Country. I should probably look to see how popular it was to give you some statistics, but it’d just make me sad.
“Drink in My Hand” – Eric Church
We’re living in something of a golden age of country drinking songs. Well, at least there have been a lot of them lately. “Drink in My Hand” is one of many Eric Church songs that could fall in that category.
“The House That Built Me” – Miranda Lambert
Okay, twist my arm, I’ll tell you: Miranda Lambert is kind of my drinking buddy. In that she was at a hole-in-the-wall bar in Nashville I was at once. Nobody even made a big deal about it, it was kind of cool.
The 2010 hit is one of Lambert’s best-known songs and one of the best country songs period.
“Wagon Wheel” – Darius Rucker
Some people who think they’re clever think that “Wagon Wheel” was originally done by Old Crow Medicine Show. Fun fact: it’s actually a 70s Bob Dylan song that he based on an old folk tune.
I’m so happy that Darius Rucker re-vitalized his career as a country singer. Who woulda thunk that Hootie would go country? I love the way the universe works sometimes.
“Drink a Beer” – Luke Bryan
Luke Bryan’s “Drink a Beer” is perhaps second only to Eric Church’s “Drink in My Hand” as most popular contemporary country drinking song. Chris Stapleton co-wrote this 2014 hit.
“Before He Cheats” – Carrie Underwood
Before she was on the NFL’s payroll, Carrie Underwood had a string of some of the most pleasant country songs of the 2000s. “Before He Cheats” is from her 2006 debut self-titled solo album.
“Traveller” – Chris Stapleton
One of the most popular country songwriters today, Chris Stapleton is equally beloved by fans of pop country and hard country. He’s also a favorite of solo acoustic performers around Nashville.
“Traveller” is the title track from his 2015 debut album.
“Dirt Road Anthem” – Jason Aldean
Country music has always been known for songs that look back on old times. Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” is one of the newer songs in that tradition.
“Whiskey Glasses” – Morgan Wallen
I get the feeling that contemporary country singers like drinking, and their audience likes hearing about it.
Morgan Wallen’s “Whiskey Glasses” was certified triple platinum by the RIAA in 2020.
“Beer for My Horses” – Toby Keith and Willie Nelson
Fun “Beer for My Horses” saw Toby Keith teaming up with his friend and hero Willie Nelson.
The song about old-school justice was a staple of country radio in the 2000s. Both Keith and Willie still perform it.
“Ghost Train Four-Oh-Ten” – Marty Stuart
Let’s end this best country songs list on the highest of notes: a classic Marty Stuart song that you might not know, but you should.
Stuart recorded his 2010 album Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions at legendary RCA Studio B on Music Row, where Bob Dylan recorded Blonde on Blonde and Elvis and Johnny Cash had many sessions.
When I first visited Nashville before moving here in 2021, I passed by RCA Stuido B on my way to go bar hopping on Music Row. It was like half a block from where I was staying. That was the moment I knew I’d make Nashville my new hometown.
After Willie Nelson, Marty Stuart is the best and most important country musician alive. “Ghost Train Four-Oh-Ten,” from the aforementioned Ghost Train album, is one of dozens Stuart songs from the last 20 years that are better than anything they play on the radio.