Country music is a varied beast, which dips its toe in a vast array of styles and sub-genres like rockabilly, bluegrass and Nashville to name a few. Its songs also have the magical ability to tell the most amazing stories, evoking emotions which range from love, to rage, to elation.
Ahead of the return of pop-up station BBC Radio 2 Country, which you can find more about here, we’ve managed to chart this diverse genre's history down into an essential list of its finest tunes. So, without further ado, it’s time to say howdy partner to the best country songs of all time. Yeehaw!
Dolly Parton - Jolene
No ‘best of’ list would be complete without this timeless classic from the undisputed queen of country, Dolly Parton. Throughout the track, the forlorn singer begs the stunning Jolene “please don’t take my man.” Originally released in 1973, the song has since been covered by the likes of Ellie Goulding and The White Stripes.
Hank Williams - I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
Once described by Elvis Presley as the “saddest song I’ve ever heard”, this evocative track recalls the despair felt by the legendary Hank Williams during his acrimonious relationship with wife Audrey Sheppard. One of the genre’s first artists to express intense personal emotions through music, the song captures William’s heartache to a tee.
Willie Nelson - Always On My Mind
Superstars like Elvis and the Pet Shop Boys have all covered this love song, but no version has more heart and sincerity than Willie Nelson’s. Full of the things you wish you could say before it’s too late, this tear-inducing song bagged three Grammy Awards for the country veteran.
Patsy Cline - Crazy
Originally penned by Willie Nelson, fellow country superstar Patsy Cline truly made the song her own thanks to a sumptuous vocal talent which lends itself impeccably to the ballad’s alluring melody. An immediate chart hit upon release, the single hugely widened Cline’s crossover audience.
Nancy Sinatra - These Boots Are Made For Walkin’
Following daddy’s footsteps, Frank Sinatra’s girl hit the top of the charts with this honky-tonk inspired tune, which melds the best of swinging 1960s pop with a traditional country sound. The song’s distinctive double bass line also remains one of the most iconic in music history.
Neil Young - Heart of Gold
Throughout his illustrious career, Neil Young has flirted with country music but never been considered a fully-fledged country artist. This however, his only US number 1 song, is as Nashville as it gets. Funnily enough, the track only came about due to a back injury. Unable to stand for long periods of time, Young could not play his electric guitar and so returned to his faithful acoustic, which he could play sitting down.
Taylor Swift - Mean
Before conquering global charts with sugary pop tunes like Shake It Off and Blank Space, a young Swift was regarded as one of the brightest starlets of the country scene. Mean is her finest moment from this era. It’s packed with roots-y goodness and sees her tackle critics with lyrical themes of self-empowerment and anti-bullying.
Brad Paisley - Whiskey Lullaby
Country music and the imbibing of booze has always gone hand in hand, but what is arguably Paisley’s biggest ever song bravely explores the darker side of drinking. Featuring the vocal talents of Alison Krauss, the track narrates a couple’s painful separation which leads both to alcoholism and eventually drinking themselves to death.
Reba McEntire - Fancy
Another example of a cover becoming bigger than the original, McEntire made this feisty country track her trademark and still regularly encores with it when she’s on the road. The song’s rags-to-riches story depicts its heroine overcome poverty by earning a living on the streets.
Johnny Cash - I Walk The Line
The daddy of all country music songs; it actually took three attempts with moderate chart ratings before finally becoming a number one hit for Cash. Johnny’s gruff vocals coupled with the simplistic, yet unmistakeable, opening riff helped lay the foundations of rock’n’roll music and is considered one of the most influential songs of all time.
If you're a fan of our choices, then you can listen over and over again with our convenient Spotify playlist. We've even chucked in a bunch of other great country songs for good measure! Play music from any device through Bluetooth and Spotify Connect on loads of our digital radios, or take your favourite playlists on the road with a Highway in-car adapter.