For most of us growing up, the music that we listened to when we were young was the music our parents listened to. In my household that meant that I listened to a smattering of gospel music (Doug Oldham was a big player), Elvis (my mom loved Elvis and still had a lot of old albums) and County and Western music. Both my parents grew up on farms so both grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry and stuff like that. My dad had a few Hank Williams and Bob Wills records but most of the music I listened to growing up was on Country radio stations. I grew up in the 70’s (I was born in ’71) and there was a lot of great Country music around at that time. I like the old stuff too, Hank Williams, Scruggs and Flatt and all those guys. I like some of the newer Country music but most of it is just pop songs sung with a twang. But the Country from the 70’s is what I really like the best. The following songs are my favorites from then. They’re in no particular order except for the number 1 song, which I think is probably the best Country song ever written and recorded. So without further ado…
10. “The Most Beautiful Girl”, Charlie Rich – It’s hard to decide between this one and “Behind Closed Doors” for me, but I think that Beautiful Girl edges Closed Doors out. It could probably be argued that Closed Doors has more of a Country sound to it, but I just love the feel of this song. It’s got that atmospheric reverb that makes it sound like it was sung in a cave somewhere. Very sad. Very cool.
9. “Every Which Way but Loose”, Eddie Rabbitt – I am a big Eddie Rabbitt fan and really any of his hits could have been included on this list. But there’s something about this song that puts it above the others. It has the classic country theme of the guy who doesn’t want to be tied down, but can’t bring himself to leave. The melody is exceptional and it has a killer pedal steel part which, for me, always turns a good Country song into a great Country song. This song is the title track from the movie of the same name which was…not quite as good buddy.
8. “Coward of the County”, Kenny Rogers – Once again, there are several Kenny Rogers songs that could make this list. A lot of people would probably have listed “The Gambler” instead of this one. But I always liked this song better. I love a good “story” song. Plus this one has the whole underdog theme which, to me, is always appealing. It’s also probably the only Country song in history that mentions a gang rape. I’m not saying that’s a plus for the song but still, it makes it unique.
7. “Okie from Muskogee”, Merle Haggard – You would be hard pressed to find a Country music artist whose life is more like a Country song than Merle Haggard’s. Merle spent most of his youth in juvenile detention centers and then served a 10 year sentence in San Quentin for burglary. While there, he saw Johnny Cash several times and was inspired to become a performer. I loved this song growing up. My dad was from Oklahoma and all of my family subscribed to the traditional values and patriotic spirit glorified in this song. I love the contempt in Haggard’s voice as he delivers the line:
“We don’t let our hair grow long and shaggy,
Like the hippies out in San Francisco do.”
6. “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)”, Waylon Jennings – One of the great ones. This song about getting back to the simple life has a great laid back feel to it. I love the guitar part in it because of its simplicity. It very much sets the mood of the song. Jennings has a very distinct guitar (and voice for that matter) sound and style and it is part of what make his songs sound so cool. Plus this song has the added bonus of Willie Nelson joining in towards the end.
5. “Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends”, Ronnie Milsap – Ronnie Milsap is probably my favorite country singer from this era. I had several of his albums when I was a kid. In fact, the first album I ever bought with my own money was It Was Almost Like a Song. There are so many songs I could have gone with from him, but I chose this one because most great country songs are sad ballads and this one definitely fits that bill. Milsap has a great range and often sings in a soaring style similar to Roy Orbison. When he hits the high notes, you know you’re in the presence of greatness.
4. “Family Tradition”, Hank Williams Jr. – “I have loved some ladies, and I have loved Jim Beam. And they both tried to kill me, in 1973.” Hank Williams Jr, Bocephus, has one of the greatest Country music pedigrees and lived as full throttle as the Rolling Stones in their heyday. That combination produces great music. This song is an ode to his hard drinkin’, hard livin’ daddy and proves that the apple indeed rarely falls far from the tree.
3. “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good”, Don Williams – It seems like I’ve said this a lot, but I could have gone with any number of Don Williams songs. I went with this one mainly because of the great mandolin riff in it. But also because I love the laid back, petitioning tone of the lyrics. There’s something intangible in Williams’ voice that makes it great. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you hear it when he sings. Don Williams is one of the underrated greats of Country music.
2. “Coat of Many Colors”, Dolly Parton – Man! This song is a tear-jerker! Parton’s song is about a dirt-poor young girl (I think the song is semi-autobiographical) who is so proud of the coat her mama makes her out of old scraps of cloth, likening it to Joseph’s coat of many colors. Then she goes to school and gets made fun of by all the other kids. Parton is famous for the expressiveness of her voice and you can hear the raw emotion on this one
1. “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, George Jones – A song about a man whose unrequited love didn’t die until he did, this is possibly the saddest song ever written. To paraphrase James Taylor, this song is so sad it makes your dog weep and your roof leak. I have a friend who said that this song made him want to kill himself – in a good way. It could be argued that George Jones is the greatest Country music singer ever. This is his greatest song.