Urban Cowboys

I’m a fan of Country Music, at least the old-style country music. Today, the only thing that distinguishes most country songs from pop/rock songs is the twang in the singer’s voice. Maybe they’ll throw in a fiddle or pedal steel every now and then, but that’s rare.

What I thought I’d do for you today is give you my top 10 country songs done by pop/rock acts. Each of these songs are either country in theme or style, most of them both. A couple of them are poking fun at the country genre but you can tell that the musicians have a healthy respect and love for the music. So without further ado…

10. “Hot Dog”, Led Zeppelin – You can tell they really had fun with this. From the sloppy “chicken-pickin'” style of Page’s guitar to Jones’ exuberantly played barrelhouse piano part anchored by Bonzo’s shuffle, this song is an all out honky tonk romp.

9. “Wallflower”, Bob Dylan – This one is from the The Bootleg Series Vols. 1-3 and I think it was written and recorded during the John Wesley Harding sessions. This is Dylan doing his best Hank Williams impression. The instrumentation is sparse, which highlights the tasteful, understated pedal steel playing.

8. “Act Naturally”, The Beatles – Before Ringo Starr became a musician, he actually wrote to the Houston Chamber of Commerce to get information on becoming a cowboy. Lennon and McCartney would usually let Ringo have one song per album and, as often as not, it would be a country song. From the Help! album, this is a pretty faithful cover of the Buck Owens tune. The Beatles had a deep appreciation for country music and probably could have been a decent county act themselves.

7. “She Thinks I Still Care”, James Taylor – Another cover, this time of a George Jones song. Taylor does this song slower than the original and adds lots of Floyd Cramer-style piano embellishments. This is one of the few times that I would say that the cover surpasses the original.

6. “Winona”, Matthew Sweet – This song is one of the songs on the list that isn’t an homage to the country genre. Sweet doesn’t try for any of the hokey lyrics that some of the other acts do. The theme is somewhat country as it deals with pining for an unrequited love. But the song has one of the greatest pedal steel parts that I’ve ever heard. The sound is almost angelic.

5. “Hung Up On You”, Fountains of Wayne – This band is extremely eclectic and can competently tackle almost any genre. This is a great song with a classic country tag line in the chorus, “ever since you hung up on me, I’m hung up on you.” The band sound like they would be comfortable in any San Antonio dance hall.

4. “Far Away Eyes”, Rolling Stones – The Stones definitely had an interest in country music as evidenced by songs like “Wild Horses” and “Honky Tonk Women”. This one, from the album Some Girls, finds the boys trying out the “Bakersfield Sound” popularized by Buck Owens. Jagger, singing about sending money to a radio evangelist’s program to get his prayer said over the radio, is in rare form – priceless.

3. “Cheatin'”, Gin Blossoms – Of the songs listed, this has the corniest (but greatest) chorus line; “you can’t call it cheatin’, ’cause she reminds me of you.”

2. “Folkin’ Around”, Panic at the Disco – The song is all the more amazing when considering the fact that its off of an album (Pretty. Odd.) that sounds like the love child of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper and Revolver. The song is a straight forward bluegrass number, very upbeat with great guitar and fiddle riffs.

1. “I wish I Felt Nothing”, The Wallflowers – This song is genius. The wallflowers weren’t just doing a country bit when they did this. They basically took one of the saddest songs ever written and added one of the most heart-wrenching pedal steel parts ever played. Jakob Dylan is of course Bob Dylan’s kid so he comes by his emotive singing style honestly. The chorus is as mournful as it is beautiful: “But I hear voices, and I see colors, But I wish I felt nothing. Then it might be easy for me, like it is for you.” And when he sings it, you believe he means it.

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