20. I Will Always Love You- Dolly Parton
Everybody may know it from the Whitney Houston cover, but "I Will Always Love You" was first a number one for Dolly Parton in 1974. Dolly wrote the song for Porter Wagoner when she decided to split from Porter professionally and focus on her own solo career. While Whitney made it a power ballad, Dolly's version will always be my favorite, as you hear the sadness and bittersweet feelings Dolly is wrestling with as she says goodbye. It is truly a great piece of music.
19. Golden Ring- George Jones & Tammy Wynette
After George Jones and Tammy Wynette went through a real-life marriage and divorce, they reunited in 1976 to record a song about.... a marriage and a subsequent divorce. The song was written by the prolific Bobby Braddock, and George and Tammy took it to number one on the country charts. Fans must have been enthralled by the intrigue of watching a divorced couple sing so frankly about divorce. It is a powerful story song, and two of the best voices in country music history certainly do it justice here.
18. That's All Right- Elvis Presley
On July 5th, 1954, producer Sam Phillips heard the young hotshot he was working with and his band screwing around between sessions on their instruments. Sam had them recreate their time-passer and recorded it in Sun Studios in Memphis, Tn, and music was never the same. While technically classified as rock and roll, "That's All Right" changed all genres of music forever. Elvis Presley burst onto the scene as a country boy singing blues mixed with some country influences. He had a few charting hits on country radio, and even performed once on the Grand Ole Opry. Country couldn't contain this rising superstar, but it certainly felt his influence from there on out. The rockabilly sound was mastered by artists like fellow Sun label-mate Johnny Cash and other country-rockers like Waylon Jennings. Almost everyone who is in music counts Elvis as an inspiration, and Elvis was a barrier-breaker for artists' individual expression and it all started with a little blues song meshed with country.
17. Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys- Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson
Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson recorded what seems like a million songs together, but none are as famous as "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys". The song was written by Ed and Patsy Bruce, and it hit number one in 1978. Waylon and Willie also won a Grammy in 1979 for Best Country Performance by a Group or Duo with Vocal. Waylon and Willie were best of friends off stage, and on stage shared a camaraderie on stage that few could rival.
16. The Gambler- Kenny Rogers
Don Schlitz wrote this song in the late 70's and pitched it to many country stars, including Johnny Cash. Kenny Rogers finally recorded it and took it to number one in 1979. The iconic story of the gambler on "a warm summer's eve, on a train bound for nowhere" has become a cultural phenomenon, inspiring a movie series and winning Kenny a Grammy in 1980. To this day, "The Gambler" remains on of the most instantly recognizable songs in country music.
15. It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels- Kitty Wells
Hank Thompson's smash hit "The Wild Side Of Life" blamed unfaithful women for causing so much heartache and pain. J.D. Miller wrote an answer song, turning the tables and pointed the finger at unfaithful men causing women to go bad. Kitty Wells recorded and released it in 1952 and it hit number one on the Billboard Country charts. This was a huge feat because it was the first time a woman topped the charts in country music. "It Wasn't Go Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" was revolutionary in many ways. It's frank subject matter was very controversial, as women talking back to their men publicly was very taboo, and it paved the way for the many great female country artists that followed. If you like Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, or Tammy Wynette, you have Miss Kitty Wells, the Queen of Country Music, to thank.
14. I Walk The Line- Johnny Cash
After listening to his first wife Vivian's worries about Johnny Cash going out on the road and being tempted by hordes of women, Johnny wrote this song to ease her mind. Johnny wrote "I Walk The Line" in 1956 and it became his first ever number one hit for Sun Studios. The song helped popularize the "boomchickaboom" sound that Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two developed in those days. The song is considered a standard in both rock and country, as it helped legitimize both Johnny Cash and Sun Studios.
13. Wabash Cannonball- Roy Acuff
The song "Wabash Cannonball" is a folk standard that originated sometime in the 1800's. The Carter Family recorded a country version of it, and Roy Acuff recorded his rendition in 1936. The song was a huge smash and is one of the best selling country records of all time. The song's popularity helped Acuff earn the attention of the Grand Ole Opry. Roy Acuff joined the Opry in 1938, and became one of the most beloved Opry members of all time. He helped bring country music to the mainstream in its early years, and will forever be remembered as one of the pioneers of hillbilly music.
12. Coal Miner's Daughter- Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn wrote this autobiographical ballad about growing up in a "cabin in Butcher Holler" in 1969, and it quickly became her signature hit. The song hit number one in 1970. The extremely personal nature of the song perfectly captures what country music storytelling is all about. The song became the title of both Loretta's autobiography and the biopic starring Sissy Spacek about her life. Sissy won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Loretta.
11. Hello Darlin'- Conway Twitty
All it takes is two words and Conway Twitty melted a million women's hearts. "Hello Darlin'" was written by Conway Twitty and released as a single in 1970. The song hit number one on the country charts the same year. Conway Twitty had a massively successful career, but "Hello Darlin'" is the song he is most well known for. The tender love ballad is a timeless country classic, and epitomizes the slow, sad song of regret that country music is known for.