Top Five Country Songs

Top Five is a show where the hosts categorize, rank, compare, and stratify everything… from cars to gadgets to people and movies. From stuff that is hot, and things that are not nearly as interesting – it’s Top Five.

Is it the twang, the beat, the lyrics? What is it about the country genre that interests us enough for each of us to have five songs on our lists?

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The Author

Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher began his career writing for the Digital Media Online community of sites, including Digital Producer and Creative Mac covering all aspects of the digital content creation industry. He then moved on to consumer technology, and began the Coolness Roundup podcast. A writing fool, Stephen has freelanced for Sci-Fi Channel's Technology Blog, and Gizmodo. Still longing for the good ol' days, Stephen launched Major Spoilers in July 2006, because he is a glutton for punishment.

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12 Comments

  1. May 21, 2015 at 12:38 pm — Reply

    I like a song that tells a story, and it is where country music really shines (especially about gunfighters as my list will attest). I think a lot of Southern Rock, while incorporating country music elements might not quite qualify. Same with folk. It’s always a big fuzzy grey area when it comes to genre, influence and elements borrowed.

    5. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David and recorded by Gene Pitney. It essentially runs down the plot of the film, but it’s a great tale, and an amazing song.

    4- Convoy – CW McCall – A song so good they made a movie of it. McCall’s music skews more folk than Country, so maybe it’s more Western than it is country but what a great song. Convoy is filled with great characters, CB Slang and is a great snapshot of the Trucker/CB Culture that drove the popularity of this track.

    3. Unchained – Johnny Cash (written by Jude Johnstone) Maybe the last great classic country record from one of America’s greatest and most influential artists, Unchained is a remarkable collection of songs, including Cash’s amazing cover of Soundgarden’s Rusty Cage. Any song from that record would be fine for a list like this. The title track is it a gut punch of faith, emotion, humility and reverence. Powerful, powerful stuff.

    2. Big Iron – by Marty Robbins The Story of an Arizona Ranger tracking down an outlaw by the name of Texas Red culminating in a classic western gunfight. There are many amazing covers of this song including ones by Johnny Cash, and Social Distortion’s Mike Ness. Best gunfighter song ever.

    1. The Cattle Call – written by Tex Owens, and the signature song of Eddie Arnold. When my daughter was very young she liked the yodeling in this song, and as a two year old would try to sing along, I’d do my best two-step and we’d dance to it. It will always have a special place in my heart for that reason.

  2. Dan
    May 21, 2015 at 3:10 pm — Reply

    great episode, as a bigger fan of (older, say pre-1976) country than Zach is, i often think about what constitutes country myself. i totally consider Rambling Man a country song, though the Allman Bros. are more of a hippie/jam band that i can’t stand about 98% of the time.

    Matthew, if you want a really good sequel (or rather a parallel song) to Marty Robbins’s “El Paso”, check out “Faleena,” which is the El Paso story from the POV of Faleena. arguably a better song than El Paso since it humanizes Faleena’s character rather than have her be the “man’s ruin”/siren archetype from the original song.

    • May 22, 2015 at 8:49 am — Reply

      Thanks for the heads-up, I hadn’t heard that one…

  3. May 22, 2015 at 10:57 pm — Reply

    I’ve grown cold to modern country lately and this podcast got me thinking on why. When I was a kid one of the lines a local station used was along the lines of “songs that tell a tale” and I feel modern country has lost that.

    #5 Ballad of Jed Clampett. Something wonderful and nostalgic about this, makes me smile when it’s on. My favorite version is by John McEuen. But anyone playing it makes me smile.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcyRtgjVbFk

    #4 The night the lights went out in Georgia – Reba McEntire
    Story, passion, catchy riff and a childhood crush on Reba. I will never tire of this

    #3 Queen of Hearts – Juice Newton
    The streets of San Andreas can be a harsh place and sometimes you need that perfect tune for your widespread destruction and mayhem. This is the perfect tune for widespread mayhem. K-Rose!

    #2 Mountain Music – Alabama
    #6-20 are all Alabam and Corb Lund songs, this is just my favorite alabam song. Makes me fill with joy and energy and I want to go dance and find my little hollow in the hills to call my own

    #1 Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier! by Corb Lund
    Corb Lund started very rockabilly but has put out some amazing country. My favorite of the genre by far. There are now roads here, Time to switch to whisky, Truck got stuck blues. I want to be in the calvary, tale of the wine soaked preacher. His songs tell a tale and none make me sing along quite as hard as Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier! (trust me the exclamations are earned, it gets in your blood)

    https://youtu.be/EIWINsaEpnw

    • June 2, 2015 at 3:37 pm — Reply

      4-5-3-2 Sounds like we grew up on a lot of the same music! Nice list!

  4. May 29, 2015 at 5:46 pm — Reply

    Not a very big country band so this list is a shot in the dark involving most of the country knowledge i have

    5. Josh Turner “Your Man” good love song
    4. Brett Eldredge “She Calls Me Raymond” one of the saddest songs/ videos ive ever witnessed. good guitar sounds and a wonderful chorus.
    3. Charlie Daniels “Devil went down to Georgia” good fiddling and great cover by Guitar Hero… Beat the Devil on Expert Mode… good times
    2,Johnny Cash “Hurt” so im cheating here cause this is originally sung by a rock band but meh Johnny Cash… thats my argument. Another sad song, go figure.
    1. Bob Seger/ Metallica cover of “Turn The Page” Hey look im cheating again!!! wonderful song that tells a story and has a very country feel to it… and it mentions Omaha in the opening lyrics. thats the best i can do…

    heres a top 5 suggestion, TOP 5 Songs Sung in a Foreign language, or TOP 5 Songs From Outside the USA.

    • SteveG
      June 8, 2015 at 11:53 am — Reply

      Jesse,
      Hurt is one of my favorite Johnny Cash songs. Trent Reznor from NIN (who wrote and first performed the song) speaks about how Cash took something that was important and intimate to Reznor, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GycdWMa1eak about 4 minutes in he talks about hearing the song and watching the video. At the VMA awards the year the video came out, Justin Timberlake won for “Brining Sexy Back”. When he accepted, the first thing he said was the award should have gone to Johnny, as he grew up listening and a fan of his music. When someone that far removed from Country Music acknowledges an artist’s ability in that reverent of a tone, it really says something. The song has held up since it’s release, and IMO is one of the best videos out there. Thanks for including it on your list

  5. June 2, 2015 at 3:53 pm — Reply

    I wouldn’t really ever consider myself a country fan, but growing up on the Canadian Prairies it is kinda hard to get away from. As an adult I have a greater appreciation for alt-country and the talent of country artists, but I can quickly reach my limit with them. That said, here is my list:
    5) Randy Travis- Forever and Ever, Amen: Why? cause its an ear-bug, great love song and fun to dance to. There is a reason it is a staple at weddings.
    4) Paul Brant- Canadian Man: Full disclosure I am totally biased on this one. Not only is he referring to a lot of Canadian stereotypes but I grew up singing in the same church choir as Paul. Totally Biased. And this song is funny. https://youtu.be/osCUD9Q0UQo
    3)Stompin’ Tom Connors- The Hockey Song: I think I’ve established my Canadian-ness here. The familiarity of the song, grew up on it, the story… AND this song would play before O’Canada when TV stations would sign off at night (that or the Log Drivers Waltz which is another good one )
    2)Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins – Rise Up with Fists: This one has more to do with my obsession with the entire album, which is awesome, up to date and they don’t take themselves too seriously. Watch the vid for this one you will see what I mean. The tongue in cheek social commentary alone is worth it. https://youtu.be/-Thz2SOKkGI
    1)Tracy Chapman -Fast Car: This story will rip your heart out and you can’t stop singing with it. Fantastic road trip song. And her voice, my god, her voice.
    I have to add some also rans that I just didn’t have a good story for:
    KD Lang – Hallelujah (which is in my head right now) https://youtu.be/P_NpxTWbovE
    Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers – Islands in the Stream
    Patsy Cline – Crazy

  6. BaneDFU
    June 4, 2015 at 10:16 pm — Reply

    I have two lists one from me and one from my little brother (who is 4 by the way)
    Me (being a huge rocker especially classic rock):
    #5 Please Come To Boston. Now I know it’s a cover of Dave loggins, but Kenny Cheney’s cover leaves me with goosebumps every time I hear it.
    #4 Thunder Rolls. One of the greatest country songs I have ever heard by Garth Brooks
    #3 Boot Scootin Boogey. I am a pretty big fan of Brooks and Dunn, and this is probably one of, if not the most recognizable songs they do.
    #2 Rollin’ (Big and Rich) I absolutely love this song, it’s got an amazing beat and introduces Cowboy Troy, a rapping cowboy, which is just awesome.
    #1 The Shake. A very lesser known song, done by Neal McCoy. I had this single on a tape when I was about 7-9 and I ran this tape down and listened to it nearly all the time. I love this song and it is by far my favorite of all time.

    Now for my brother’s list (no reasons other than he likes them)
    #5-
    #4 Better Dig Two (Carrie Underwood)
    #3 Drunk on a Plane (Dierks Bently)(this is hilarious because he sings along and hearing a 4 year old say he’s gettin drunk on a plane is pretty funny)
    #2 American Kids (Kenny Chesney)
    #1 Dont go near the Indians (Rex Allen)

  7. The Mutt
    June 26, 2015 at 12:49 am — Reply

    5- Eastbound and Down Jerry Reed
    4- Amie Pure Prairie League
    3- City of New Orleans Arlo Guthrie
    2- Angel from Montgomery John Prine
    1- Jolene Dolly Parton

  8. Glenatron
    October 26, 2015 at 10:41 am — Reply

    Wait, what? How have you had four people’s top five country songs and missed out Jolene? INCONCEIVABLE!

    And now I’ve started writing, I would consider this a fair list:

    5. “Jolene” because it is one of the purest country songs ever written.
    4. “North Dakota” by Lyle Lovett – almost anything off of “Pontiac” or “…and his large band” would fit here, but this is quiet and tender and beautiful.
    3. “Time (The Revelator)” by Gillian Welch is sparse, cleverly written and beautiful. The album is a classic.
    2. “Northbound 35” by Jeffrey Foucault because it is just searingly beautiful. The Americana vibe and references to mustang horses put it firmly in the realms of country. I prefer the Richard Shindell cover to the original.
    1. “Broken Fingers” by Sam Baker. A painstaking true story told through simple music and a voice permanently damaged by the event described in the song, but all the more powerful for it.

  9. March 28, 2017 at 2:30 pm — Reply

    I was torn between yelling at my phone and laughing as I listened to this episode. And, I know it’s old, but I’m commenting anyways. I have listened to country music (among other genres) my whole life so I was extremely curious to see what path this would go down. First and foremost, having a person in the office who listens to the Folk genre, I asked her if folk is considered country and got a resounding “No” and I tend to agree. The two genres came from the same basic roots, but now they have gone their separate ways and evolved each into their own unique categories. (Just my two cents on that discussion)

    Narrowing down my favorites into 5 is dang near impossible, but here’s the ones in my head today at this moment, tomorrow the list may change. And, I am not listing any that you guys did for a couple reasons – you guys are clearly not big country fans and at the end of the episode Stephen said type other songs that we don’t know, and I wanted to give you a list of songs you may or may not know.

    Almost made the list: “I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton – a classic and forever to be tied to her. “The Chair’ by George Strait – best pick up line ever. “What I’d Say” by Earl Thomas Conley – a man envisions what he’d say if he sees his old flame again. “The Thunder Rolls” by Garth Brooks – the video that crossed him over to pop because they refused to play the video on the country video station so MTV said “well, if they’re not playing it, it’s not country, so we’ll play it!”

    5. “Fancy” by Bobbie Gentry but the version I know is by Reba, written by Bobbie Gentry. Reba released this at the height of her popularity in 1990. The video made your heart hurt and they lyrics are pure poetry. It’s a song of a woman whose mother turns her out and she becomes successful through doing favors for men. But, somehow, she holds on to her dignity. And there’s not a time that the line “You know, I might’ve been born just plain white trash, but Fancy was my name” comes on that you don’t yell it out with her. Reba sings it with such emotion that you really think she lived this life. And, in a way, we all do. We have to find our way in this world and we all, at some point, are turned out from our parents to find our way and come hell or high water, we’re gonna survive.

    4. “Addicted” by Dan Seals or Blake Shelton, written by Cheryl Wheeler. Dan Seals was the younger brother of Jim Seals from Seals and Croft and he was very big during the 80s. This song, gosh i was 6/7 when it came out in 1988 and I just remember the image of a woman alone in her bed, imaging herself standing on this ledge. It was a song that, even as a kid, I knew was just what a song should be. Even now, my younger sister will occasionally send me a text when that song comes on. Blake Shelton a cover of it that you could only buy on itunes and it’s one of those times that the cover is just as good as the original, he didn’t change it up to make it different, he knew is was good enough as it was. It’s a song that, the older you get and are finally in that kind of relationship, you realize even more what a beautifully tragic song it is and you love it that much more.

    3. “El Cerrito Place” by Keith Gattis or Charlie Robison or Kenny Chesney, written by Keith Gattis. The man can’t find her. He’s roaming around looking for her, going to the places she likes and speaking to the people she knows. It’s done in a mournful, longing way. There’s a female that does harmony on the chorus, almost like she’s haunting him in the song. It’s got beautiful imagery – “Somehow I wound up in the desert just after daylight/Where the Joshua trees grow, that little place you always liked” and it ends with him going back to where he started hoping she’ll come back. It’s so well written and so well sung by all 3 men and it’s just one of those songs that should’ve been a huge hit and just didn’t hit the mainstream.

    2. “Strawberry Wine” by Deanna Carter, written by Matraca Berg. I will never forget the first time I hear this song back in the 90s: the radio station every night would put 2 new songs against each other and callers would vote for the winner. The winner would face a new one the next night. Often times, those songs that lost were never heard again, so every night I’d sit with my cassette player and record the battles off the radio (the first mixed tape!). This song won for weeks. They finally had to just call it and move on to 2 new songs because nothing else could touch it. The song is of coming of age song for a girl and that was just so different! Women don’t sing about that!! It talks of innocence lost by a boy who faded away when he went off to school and her reflection years later (“Is it really him or the loss of my innocence I’ve been missing so much?”) Well written, well sang, well produced. A perfect country song.

    1. “The Dance” by Garth Brooks. Written by Tony Arata, who is a songwriting genius, the story goes like this: Garth was in Nashville and just got his record deal. One night, at the infamous Bluebird Cafe, Tony is singing this song. When it ends, the crowd politely claps but doesn’t really notice. Garth hears it and says he about lost his mind and wanted to jump up and yell at everybody “What’s wrong with you? Didn’t you hear what he just sang?” He begged Tony to record this song and Tony turned him down, as he was a new artist and the song meant too much to him. After much badgering, Garth got the song on his first album. The record company didn’t want to release it, but Garth pushed. He made a video with a spoken open talking about the fact that, yes, the songs words speak of lost love, but when he went to make the video, he wanted to pay tribute to those who touched our lives and made an impact on us and who, though they are gone now, lived full lives. It shows images of John Wayne, JFK, MLK and the Challenger. The little song that radio didn’t want blew up and became his signature song that he now ends every concert with. And, I can tell you, I can hear those first 5 piano notes come across my speakers or the last chorus and I’m turning the volume up and singing every word.

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