Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The 100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time Part 10: 10-1

     We've already covered 90 of the best songs in country music history.  Now, we finally have gotten to the top ten.  These ten songs, in my opinion, are the ten songs that shaped, progressed, or defined the genre in one way or another.  Hopefully, you will hear a new song for the first time through this and learn a little something about country music history.  Thank you everyone who has taken this journey with me.  This series has been the most difficult and the most rewarding thing I've ever created for this site.  Now, without further ado, Keep It Country Kids proudly presents The 100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time Part 10: 10-1.

10. Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?- Waylon Jennings

Waylon Jennings wrote and recorded this bold statement song in 1975.  Waylon was criticizing the flashy gimmicks and substance-lacking trends of Nashville and country music by comparing them to the great Hank Williams.  The song was purposefully simple and stripped down.  In all honesty, it had no business being a hit, seeing as it was so simplistic and openly critical, but it topped the country charts and stayed there for four weeks.  Waylon Jennings didn't back down to anyone, including the country music establishment, and this song proves it.

9. Blue Moon of Kentucky- Bill Monroe

In 1946, Bill Monroe wrote and recorded "Blue Moon of Kentucky", as part of a session that not only changed country music, it created its own separate sub-genre.  Bill Monroe and The Blue Grass Boys used their high lonesome vocal, banjo and mandolin picking, and fiddle sawing to create the beloved musical genre of Bluegrass.  Bill Monroe is known as the "Father of Bluegrass" and is a well loved member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.  Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt got their start in Monroe's band, and many huge stars such as Patty Loveless, Dierks Bentley, Ricky Skaggs, and Keith Whitley cited Monroe as a primary influence.

8. Crazy- Patsy Cline

"Crazy" is one of the most famous hits in country music history, and the biggest song of Patsy Cline's storied career.  It was written by the great Willie Nelson in 1961 while he was still a struggling songwriter hanging out at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge on Broadway in Nashville.  Willie pitched the song to Patsy's husband, and Patsy recorded it (of course, in her own style, not in the off rhythm, strange key that Willie likes to perform in).  The song hit number two on the country charts in 1962, but it's legacy has lasted long past its chart position,  "Crazy" is an American standard and a perfect glimpse at the aching storytelling that country music is known for.

7. I Saw The Light- Hank Williams

Hank Williams wrote this gospel standard while traveling home from a tour.  He saw the light at a local airport near his home and he told the band "we're gonna make it, boys, I saw the light".  He went back home and wrote down what was soon to be one of the most beloved gospel classics of all time.  The song was never really a commercial hit during Hank's life, but he often used it to close out his shows.  The song makes this list because it is the perfect song to showcase Hank's uncanny ability to write classics with real-life sentiments and emotions, and because it is a great portrait of the tortured soul that was Hank Williams.  Hank's life on earth was troubled to say the least, but he had a deep spiritual connection with God that showed strong in this song.  Hank Williams may be the greatest country artist of all time, and "I Saw The Light" showcases him perfectly.

6. Can The Circle Be Unbroken?- The Carter Family

Ada R. Habertson and Charles H. Gabriel wrote this gospel standard, and it was then reworked by A.P. Carter and released by The Carter Family.  Mother Maybelle and the rest of the Carters were some of the pioneers of the country sound, and "Can The Circle Be Unbroken" was one of their biggest songs.  Today, after countless covers of the song, the title looms over the top of the rotunda of the Country Music Hall of Fame.  The song was also the first song sung on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry at the reopening of the Grand Ole Opry House following the Nashville Flood of 2010.  With the shape of the Hall of Fame's rotunda and the famed Ryman floor circle of wood that is in place at the Grand Ole Opry House, circles have become quite the symbolic shape in country music.  Many have pointed out that the music itself often goes in circles, as it branches out to new sounds an ideas, but always circles back to the simple instrumentation and real-life storytelling that the genre was built upon.  The circle remains unbroken.

5. Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas)- Jimmie Rodgers

We are going way, way back for the next song on the countdown. 1928 to be exact.  That;s when Jimmie Rodgers recorded the first of the Blue Yodel series.  Jimmie Rodgers, known as the "Singing Brakeman" recorded a series of songs with very intense and dark storytelling, folksy guitar, and yodeling vocal styling.  This new innovative musical creation eventually became known as country and western music.  "Blue Yodel No. 1"  helped launch Rodgers into the very first bonafide country star on a national level.  Its a certainty that without Jimmie Rodger's influence, country music would not be where it is today.  He truly is the "Father of Country Music".

4. Mama Tried- Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard may not have done "life without parole", but the lyrics to this 1968 hit were certainly inspired by his own troubled youth.  Merle spent time in the San Quentin maximum security prison, and watched Johnny Cash perform there for one of his live albums.  Merle turned his life around and become one of country music's most prolific songwriters, helping pioneer the infamous Bakersfield Sound.  "Mama Tried" hit number one in 1968, and has always been recognized as Haggard's biggest hit.  The honesty and sincerity of the lyrics make this song a timeless treasure that is never far from the top of any historical countdown.  "I turned 21 in prison doing life without parole, no one could steer me right, but mama tried".

3. Stand By Your Man- Tammy Wynette

"Stand By Your Man" was co-written by Tammy Wynette and famed producer Billy Sherrill in about 15 minutes.  The song became not only a huge number one hit in 1968, but it became a cultural phenomenon.  Tammy's flawless performance of the soaring notes showcased her fantastic voice, and the lyrics emboldened some women, while angering others.  The song even sparked a short-lived controversy with Hillary Clinton.  All in all, "Stand By Your Man" is simply a great song.  Not just a great country song, but a great American song.  Its is still relatable and relevant to this day, and continues to be one of the proudest and most cherished pieces of country music history.

2. Folsom Prison Blues- Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash wrote the lyrics to "Folsom Prison Blues" while in the military in Germany.  He heard another popular song at the time and modified the lyrics to fit the story of an inmate in Folsom Prison after watching a documentary about the storied facility.  When Johnny traveled to Sun Studios in Memphis, it was one of the tracks that helped secure his deal.  Later in life, Johnny took the song straight to the source and recorded a live album for inmates at Folsom Prison, followed by an album at San Quentin.  It is safe to say that, without "Folsom Prison Blues", the legend of Johnny Cash just wouldn't be the same.  Johnny sang the most famous line "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die" with so much gusto that you start to believe he just may have actually done it.  He fills the rest of the song with such regret that it makes you feel for the poor souls who threw their lives away.  "Folsom Prison Blues" was tough to top on this list, as it perfectly showcases what country music is all about.  

1, He Stopped Loving Her Today- George Jones

Country Music Hall of Famer Bobby Braddock wrote this song with Curly Putnam in the late 1970's.  They pitched it to the great George Jones, who was in a bit of a career slump.  George thought it was too sad to be a big hit and originally hated the melody and content.  George finally changed his tune when it was released and became his big comeback song and a smash hit on country radio.It hit number one in 1980 and won the CMA Song of The Year Award in both 1980 and 1981.  But, more importantly than the awards, the song perfectly describes what country music is all about.  The sadness of the lyrics, the aching in the instrumentation, and the melancholy moan of George Jones' voice combine to create the truly perfect country song.  Whenever I meet someone who wants to know what country music is all about, I play them this song.  Whenever someone asks me why i enjoy the older songs more than the new, I play them this song and explain the honest truth of the lyrics.  Most importantly, when someone asks me to play them the best country song, I instantly go straight to this song.  While compiling the 100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time was incredibly difficult and time consuming, choosing number one was a no-brainer.  Ladies and gentlemen, the Keep It Country Kids Greatest Country Song of All Time is "He Stopped Loving Her Today" by George Jones.

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