What do country musicians listen to when they want to be inspired? We asked a handful of artists (and a few record execs for good measure) to create a list of their top 5 favorite country songs – and they compiled the perfect playlist.
Top Five ‘80s Country Hits
“My Baby’s Got Good Timing” – Dan Seals
“Holding Her And Loving You” – Earl Thomas Conley
“Shine, Shine, Shine” – Eddy Raven
“Slow Hand” – Conway Twitty
“Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her” – George Strait
“I Never Go Around Mirrors” – Keith Whitley
My grandfather used to say, “If you really know how to write a great country song, you don’t have to put the word ‘love’ in the song, anywhere.” And ‘I Never Go Around Mirrors” is the epitome of that. It’s one of my favorites to perform.
“Sing Me Back Home” – Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard is one of my favorite singer-songwriters in the world. I just don’t think anybody can tell a story of something they’ve been through in their own life better than Merle. I’ve always liked that lonesome vibe he creates in this song.
“Set ‘Em Up Joe” – Vern Gosdin
Aw man, when it first came on the radio I just listened to it over and over again. I loved that “‘Cause every night I run a needle through ‘Walking The Floor.’” A lot of people probably wouldn’t even know what the hell that meant these days.
“I’ve Got Mexico” – Eddy Raven
Eddy Raven is one of my favorites because he always had a little ocean or beach theme going. “I’ve Got Mexico” is about a guy who figured he’d just pack it in, move to Mexico, and get rid of all his heartache. It’s one of those songs I always thought was really cool.
Favorite Train Songs
“Waiting For A Train” – Jimmie Rodgers
“Lonesome Whistle Blues” – Hank Williams
“Mystery Train” – Elvis Presley
“Hobo’s Prayer” – Marty Stuart
“Ghost Train Four-Oh-Ten” – Marty Stuart
Scott Borchetta (CEO Of Big Machine)
Top 5 Johnny Cash Songs
“Ring Of Fire”
I was so young when I first heard this, I didn’t know what it meant, I just loved the sound of this amazing, commanding voice raining down. When I was old enough to understand what the song was all about it was even more amazing. Real heroes don’t let you down.
If you haven’t been engulfed by this, shame on you. Stop what you are doing right now and go and steal this song if you don’t have $1.29 to buy it and shoot this into your veins.
“A Boy Named Sue”
There was always a serious and biting sense of humor underneath what he was doing. This song smacked everyone upside the head. There was nothing like it then on the radio and there’s nothing like it now.
If you ever have to try to explain the South to someone who doesn’t know, start with this song. It’s hot, it’s sweaty, it’s sexy, it’s challenging and ultimately rekindling. The fire ain’t out…
“The Man Comes Around”
The amazing command of this vocal freezes me in my tracks. I once heard Vince Gill say he always imagined Johnny’s voice as “the voice of God.” I am of the same religion.
Mike Gossin of Gloriana
Top 5 Drinking Songs
“Whiskey River” – Willie Nelson
“Friends In Low Places” – Garth Brooks
“Sunday Morning Coming Down” – Johnny Cash
“Alcohol” – Brad Paisley
“Drink In My Hand” – Eric Church
“Holding Her And Loving You” – Earl Thomas Conley
It’s a love song to a mistress. He’s going, my wife’s done nothing wrong, she made my days long but you made my night. “The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do/Is holdin’ her and lovin’ you.” How can you write a cheating song better than that?
“Help Me Make It Through The Night” – Willie Nelson
I play it probably every other night; it’s just one of my favorite things in the world. Kris Kristofferson wrote it, and it’s an old school, sexy, truthful love song. I’ve always been in love with the way that lyric wraps around the melody of that song.
“Major Moves” – Hank Williams, Jr.
He’s talking about how he’s always been this wild child on the road, but he’s finally met the person important enough for him to change his life around. “I’m making some major moves honey just to get to you.”
“Lady Down On Love” – Alabama
It’s about a girl who’s been hurt and she’s afraid as hell to move forward and to do it again. That was one of those special songs vocally. Man, when they start singing with four parts going, it’s unbelievable.
“Old Violin” – Johnny Paycheck
This is one of the first things I ever learned on guitar. It’s about a man who’s down in the dumps, he “been played and put away like an old violin.” Sometimes, even when you’re sad, you just want to hear a sad song, you know? That song meant a lot to me.
“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” Hank Williams
“I Never Go Around Mirrors,” Lefty Frizzell
“My Favorite Memory of All,” Merle Haggard
“She Believes In Me,” Kenny Rogers
“Til I Can Make It On My Own,” Tammy Wynette
“Crazy” – Patsy Cline
Patsy Cline made this a soundtrack for the lives of millions. I’m convinced she took the song to its fullest potential.
“I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You” – Hank Williams
There’s an incredible video of this song in circulation being sung as a duet by Hank Williams and Anita Carter. Two of the greatly voices in Country Music.
“Hello Walls” – Willie Nelson
The introduction of my father’s writing style to the world. Inimitable and open to endless interpretation.
“Folsom Prison Blues” – Johnny Cash
A huge part of country music is its ability to empathize with different demographics and audiences. Much like the blues, it can be an emotional outlet for both members of society and outcasts alike.
“I’ve Always Been Crazy” – Waylon Jennings
It showcases Waylon’s versatility. He was a genius who moved my father and millions of others. I only have a few memories of him but they are very strong.
The Civil Wars’ John Paul White:
Songs About Mama
“I Dreamed About Mama Last Night” – Hank Williams
Always makes me think of each of my long suffering, strong, God-fearing grandmothers. They can finally lay their burdens down. But I have a feeling they’re in Heaven still saying, “John, are you sure you’re eating enough?”
“Mama’s Hungry Eyes” – Merle Haggard
I always imagine a character from a Steinbeck novel when I listen to this one. “She only wanted things she really needed/One more reason for my mama’s hungry eyes.” Only song on the list with an honorable daddy. Hmm.
“Don’t Take Your Guns To Town” – Johnny Cash
The best part of this song is what isn’t written. The epilogue is what I always dwell on. Mama’s gonna get the news – news she already knows is coming. News she knew she’d get when Billy walked out the door. That breaks my heart.
“Pancho And Lefty” – Townes Van Zandt
Not usually thought of as a mama song, but when I hear “You weren’t your mama’s only boy /But her favorite one it seems /She began to cry when you said goodbye/And sank into your dreams,” it sticks with me long after the song ends.
“To Daddy” – Dolly Parton
If you don’t know this one, don’t let the title throw you. It’s no love letter to pa. And with Dolly’s incomparable gift for emoting, you feel every second that mama lived without his love.
Come back tomorrow for This Is Country Music: Bonus Tracks, with picks from Oak Ridge Boys, Hunter Hayes, Jana Kramer, and many more.