The 12 Best Country Songs of All Time
Country music is the most American of musical idioms, alongside jazz. With a longer history than rock and roll or hip-hop, country has produced a powerful pantheon of memorable artists, albums, and songs.
Growing up, I pretended not to like country music, even though it was the music I heard my dad listen to the most (while my mom turned me on to the incredible pop and rock of the ‘60s and ‘70s). Nowadays, I’ve shaken that youthful pretension and will admit to enjoying most types of country’s many subgenres.
I also have to admit that compiling a list of the best country songs of all time is a daunting task. Such a long list of classics makes it tough to narrow down what stands head and shoulders above everything else. But I’ve managed to come up with a list that captures the best that country music has to offer.
You’ll notice that modern country music doesn’t really make this list. That was a tough decision for me, partially because so much of what’s popular in country today pales in comparison to the classics. But I also wondered if even the best of modern country – the Zac Brown Bands and Chris Stapletons of the world – have endured long enough to warrant a spot on a list like this. We may think so later, but not yet. Here’s the list, and I hope you enjoy it.
12. “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.)” — Glen Campbell (1975)
I’m going to get what might be the most controversial choice on the list over with now. “Country Boy” isn’t a provocative entry on this list because of the artist, because Glen Campbell belongs on any list of the best in country music. In fact, nobody embodied that sweet spot between country and pop/adult contemporary in the ‘60s and ‘70s quite like he did.
“Country Boy” might be a strange choice because Campbell had so many great songs – “Galveston,” “Gentle on My Mind,” and of course “Rhinestone Cowboy” come to mind. I chose “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.)” because it embodies one of country music’s overriding themes: the choice between staying true to one’s country roots and giving in to the lure of modern urban life. Here, Campbell explores the tension of who he has always been versus the trappings of success, and the song sets the stage for so many other “fish out of water” songs that country music has to offer. Besides, it’s an irresistible tune!
11. “Ain’t That Lonely Yet” — Dwight Yoakam (1993)
Dwight Yoakam delivered an appealing injection of the Bakersfield sound, inspired by Buck Owens, into a stagnant country scene when he emerged in the mid-1980s. Nobody sounded like he did, and legions of fans took to the new old-fashioned style.