35 Of The Best Country Songs Of All Time

Written by Laura Macmillan
Last updated

Country music has a long history and a huge library of amazing songs. From love songs to party songs, it’s a versatile genre capable of exploring all aspects of life. As such, it has attracted many musicians over the years to produce memorable and heartfelt songs.

So whether you’re a longtime fan of country music or looking for some great tunes to introduce you to its charms, in this post, we’re going to learn 35 of the best country songs of all time. Let’s get started.

Table of Contents

1. ”I Walk The Line” By Johnny Cash

Many country songs have themes of love, and “I Walk the Line,” by one of the most influential country artists of all time Johnny Cash, is first on our list.

Recorded in 1956, it is a song most frequently attached to his legacy. Newly married at that time, Cash wanted to dedicate “I Walk the Line” to his then wife Vivian Liberto.

It talks of staying true to his marital responsibilities and avoiding temptations because his darling gives him “cause for love that [he] can’t hide.” For that love, he’ll walk the line.

Originally written as a ballad, producer Sam Philips convinced Cash to use a faster arrangement. The new up-tempo proved a smash hit, as “I Walk the Line” landed at the top spot of Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs.

2. “Crazy” By Patsy Cline

Any heartbroken or lonely man or woman who is missing their significant other can relate to this 1961 country classic “Crazy.” The silky, sultry voice of Patsy Cline voicing how one feels when being away from one’s beloved certainly hits the spot right in the heart.

However, despite the love theme of the song, it had a more literal meaning for writer Willie Nelson. At the time of writing, Nelson was feeling the uncertainties of having an unstable job, and frustrated in trying to finish the song, he felt he was going crazy.

We’re thankful he didn’t though, because “Crazy” became a country classic that has stood the test of time. It found massive success upon release and reached #2 on the Hot Country Charts. It has also been covered by several artists since, including Linda Ronstadt and LeAnn Rimes.

3. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” By Hank Williams

Our next song is another one about loneliness, but this time by the country legend Hank Williams. Originally released as a B-side in 1949, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” has since gone on to be an integral part of Williams’s legacy.

The lyrics expresses the story of a broken-hearted man thinking of his lost love on a sleepless night. For him, the night is long and endless, and as the darkness turns to dawn, he’s wondering where his love is. The feeling makes him so lonely he could cry.

While only reaching #43 on the Billboard Country Singles chart, “I’m so Lonely I Could Cry” inspired other country musicians to add melancholy ballads to their releases, like Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and B. J. Thomas and the Triumphs.

4. “Stand By Your Man” By Tammy Wynette

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Controversy follows our next song, “Stand by Your Man,” which is the signature classic single of the First Lady of Country Music, Tammy Wynette.

Probably because of the line “You’ll have bad times, and he’ll have good times,” some view the 1968 “Stand by Your Man” to have an anti-feminist slant. However, Wynette defends the song’s lyrics.

She claims the song is not putting women second to men. Instead, if women truly loved and are proud of their husbands, she should be supportive of him and stand by his side. Basically, it’s another way of saying you love him.

5. “Mama Tried” By Merle Haggard

After serving three years in San Quentin State Prison for armed robbery, iconic country singer Merle Haggard wrote “Mama Tried” as an apology to his mom.

Though not autobiographical, the song recalls the efforts of the narrator’s mother in raising him right. But despite her teachings and pleadings, “towards the bad, [he] kept on turnin’,” ending up instead doing life without parole.

“Mama Tried” became a hit single, and climbed up to #1 on the country charts. It also became a part of popular culture throughout the years: You can hear “Mama Tried” in many recent films and TV shows, like the Gilmore Girls and Survivors.

6. “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” By Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson

Originally written and recorded by Ed and Patsy Bruce, “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” became an international success when Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson created a cover for it in 1978.

As the title suggests, the narrator is urging mothers not to let their little boys to grow up and be cowboys. This is because “cowboys ain’t easy to love, and they’re harder to hold.” He’d rather the boys become doctors and lawyers so they wouldn’t grow up and have the lonely life of a cowboy.

The song was recorded for the duo’s album “Waylon & Willie.” Their rendition was hugely successful, reaching #1 on the country charts and #42 on the Hot 100. It also scored them a Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.

7. “Jolene” By Dolly Parton

Anyone who has heard the hand-picking guitar of this song would know immediately that it is “Jolene” by Dolly Parton. But did you know the singer had two inspirations for its creation?

The lyrics is of the narrator pleading to another woman to not take her man away, because if he’s gone from her, she could no longer love again. This “other woman” was inspired by a red-headed bank teller who flirted with Parton’s husband.

However, Parton revealed that the appearance of Jolene—”flaming locks of auburn hair, with ivory skin and eyes of emerald green”—was based on a fan who came on stage to ask her for an autograph.

“Jolene” became one of Parton’s biggest hits and peaked at number 1 on the country charts in 1973. The track was also nominated for two Grammys. Other versions also came out by artists such as Olivia Newton-John and Pentatonix.

8. “Man Of Constant Sorrow” By The Stanley Brothers

Written in 1913, “Man of Constant Sorrow” was originally titled “Farewell Song” and published in a songbook by Dick Burnett. However, the first recorded version was by Emry Arthur in 1928.

“Man of Constant Sorrow” found new life when the bluegrass duo the Stanley Brothers recorded a version in the 1950s and again in 2000 for the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The title does not lie for this song, as the lyrics are very somber. The narrator expresses the hardships he has experienced throughout his life. In the end, he bids farewell to the cruel land that brought him trouble and to his friends, stating that he’ll “meet [them] on God’s golden shore.”

9. “Wichita Lineman” By Glen Campbell

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Glen Campbell had a major hit on his hands with “Wichita Lineman.” The song found massive crossover success in 1968, hitting the top 10 on the Billboard‘s Hot Country, Hot 100, and Adult Contemporary charts.

“Wichita Lineman” is another song depicting loneliness, this time of a lineman working on a long stretch of country road. He’s away from his loved one, and he misses her so much he believes he can sometimes hear her “singin’ through the wire.”

After its initial recording, “Wichita Lineman” was also covered by Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Ray Charles, R.E.M, Guns & Roses, and many other artists. The original recording is in the Grammy Hall of Fame as well as preserved in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry.

10. “All My Ex’s Live In Texas” By George Strait

Released in 1987, “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” is often regarded as one of George Strait’s best tunes. Certified Platinum, the song was a major hit and received two Grammy nominations soon after release.

The song tells the story of a man who wants to move back to Texas but can’t because all his past loves are there. He mentions them all, and one even has officials looking for him. This resulted in the narrator moving to Tennessee.

Fun, quirky, and with the classic country twang to its tune, “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” was included in Strait’s album Ocean Front Property. A cover by Whitey Shafer has been featured in TV shows and films like Ash vs. Evil Dead and Road House.

11. “The Gambler” By Kenny Rogers

While several country music stars recorded a version of “The Gambler,” Kenny Rogers’s version is the most iconic. The song was a huge hit and crossed over onto the US pop charts.

The lyrics tells the story of a man on a train who meets a gambler. During their ride, the gambler gives the man tips on how to gamble. The gambler advices him to “know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away”—sage advice also applicable in real life.

The critics loved the song, and it won the Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance in 1980. “The Gambler” had such a big impact that it has been preserved in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry.  

12. “Walking The Floor Over You” By Ernest Tubb

Recorded by Ernest Tubb in 1941, “Walking the Floor Over You” is a song of heartbreak. Charting at #23, it is considered the first song to launch the honky-tonk genre.

Acoustic guitar strumming accompanies the lyrics describing a sad man after having his heart broken by a woman who promised to stay with him forever. But she’s left him, and now he’s just pacing the floor through endless nights, waiting in vain for her to return.

Over the years, “Walking the Floor Over You” has had many different covers by other artists, including Bing Crosby, Pat Boone, and Merle Haggard. None quite reached the level of popularity as Tubb’s original classic, and like “The Gambler,” it was added for preservation by the Library of Congress.

13. “Mean” By Taylor Swift

Modern-day musicians also make amazing country music, and pop and country icon Taylor Swift is no different with her 2011 major hit “Mean.”

The lyrics describe being picked on as a young girl, but the narrator shows the bully that all he’ll ever be is a mean person, while she will be someone big enough (figuratively and literally) that he could no longer hit her.

From the lead banjo to the fiddler, the song shows Swift’s country roots and reminds the world that newer country stars shine just as bright as their golden-age counterparts.

“Mean” won Swift two Grammys for Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance. It peaked at #2 on the Hot Country Chart and was soon certified three-times Platinum.

14. “Take This Job And Shove It” By Johnny Paycheck

Grand Ole Opry member and country singer Johnny Paycheck perfectly portrays a fed-up employee in “Take This Job and Shove It.” Recorded in 1977, it was a big hit and peaked at #1 on the US Country Charts.

The lyrics describe the bitterness of a working man who has worked long hard years with little to no reward. His love has left him, so there’s no reason for him to stay, so he does what any weary and angry workman will do: say “Take this job and shove it!”

The song was such a big hit it inspired a film. In 1981, Take This Job and Shove It, starring Robert Hays, Barbara Hershey, and Art Carney, hit theaters. The Dead Kennedys also covered the song in 1986, and it was the inspiration for “Shove This Jay-Oh-Bee” by Canibus and Biz Markie.

15. “Take Me Home, Country Roads” By John Denver

It can’t get any more country-er than the classic song “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” a 1971 song by John Denver that became West Virginia’s official state song.

“Take Me Home, Country Roads” highlights everything beautiful about the state—its majestic mountains, scenic views, and timeless country life.

The song did not initially became a hit at the time of release, but soon it reached #2 on Billboard‘s Hot 100. It has also been covered by other notable artists, like Olivia Newton-John, and found itself featured in a video game called Fallout 76.

16. “You’re Still The One” By Shania Twain

If you want to serenade your significant other after several years of being together, Shania Twain‘s “You’re Still the One” would be the perfect song to sing.

The soft country ballad sings of how the narrator’s relationship was put down by others in the past—”They said, ‘I bet they’ll never make it'”—yet the she and her love beat the odds over the years. For her, he is “still the one.”

The song was a top country hit and crossed over to become #1 in the Adult Contemporary as well as Billboard Hot 100. It also earned Twain Grammy Awards: Best Female Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Song.

17. “Breathe” By Faith Hill

Next up is the Grammy Award–winning song “Breathe” by Faith Hill. This was released in 1999 in her album of the same name.

The song’s lyrics describe the emotions going through the narrator’s mind as she’s embraced by her lover. “Caught up in his touch,” the world fades away as she feels him breathing.

Like with many songs on this list, “Breathe” was a crossover hit. Not only did it rank first on the Hot Country charts, but it was #1 on two other charts: Adult Contemporary and Adult Top 40. By the year 2000, it was #1 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 list.

18. “Bye Bye Love” By The Everly Brothers

Next up, we have another crossover hit. The classic 1957 song “Bye Bye Love” by the Everly Brothers found success on the country, pop, and R&B charts.

The rockabilly piece has the classic guitar strumming of the genre. It’s lyrics, despite its upbeat tune, is actually of heartbreak. The narrator is saying goodbye to his sweetheart, who has found someone new, and hello to emptiness and loneliness.

After finding itself #1 on the Cash Box Best Selling Record and #2 on the Billboard Pop charts, “Bye Bye Love” became a major influence for other artists as well. Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles, and George Harrison released versions of the song in the 1970s.

19. “Follow Your Arrow” By Kacey Musgraves

For our next song, we’re going to deviate away from songs about loving others to a song about loving yourself. Kacey Musgraves recorded “Follow Your Arrow” in 2013 and included in her album Same Trailer Different Park.

The song encourages people to be themselves since most people have the opinion that you’re “damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” You shouldn’t give a care what others say about you; just “follow your arrow” and be you.

While “Follow Your Arrow” did not reach #1, the song still found critical success. Billboard placed it at #2 on the 20 Best Songs of 2013 list. Musgraves also took home the award for Song of the Year at the 2014 CMA Awards.

20. “Coal Miner’s Daughter” By Loretta Lynn

“Coal Miner’s Daughter” is an autobiographical song by the country singer-songwriter Loretta Lynn. It recounts the day-to-day life of Lynn’s childhood while growing up in the rural coal-mine town of Butcher Hollow, Kentucky.

Since its release, “Coal Miner’s Daughter” has been one of Lynn’s most influential and successful recordings and has found both critical and commercial success, peaking at #1 on the Hot Country Songs chart

The Library of Congress, Rolling Stone and Time magazines, and Country Music Television all consider “Coal Miner’s Daughter” as one of the most influential songs of the century.

21. “Alcohol” By Brad Paisley

Next up is a unique piece called “Alcohol,” an ode to all the alcoholic beverages out there. The song describes experiences that occur after getting drunk. It shows all the things that alcohol does to you as well. From helping people dance to making ugly people pretty, alcohol can do it all.

Released as the lead single from Brad Paisley‘s album Time Well Wasted, “Alcohol” went on to peak at #4 on the Billboard Hot Country Chart. It also garnered the singer two Grammy nominations for Best Country Song and Best Country Male Vocal in 2005.

22. “Before He Cheats” By Carrie Underwood

Another crossover smash hit, “Before He Cheats,” dominated the country, adult top 40, and pop charts in 2006. The song topped the Hot Country Songs chart and gained singer Carrie Underwood two Grammys for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and Best Country song.

“Before He Cheats” is a song of revenge. The narrator, a scorned woman whose man is out at the bar necking with another woman, takes her anger out on the man’s car with a Louisville slugger, slashing the tires and carving her name on the leather seats—a message clearly stating “maybe next time, he’ll think before he cheats.”

23. “A Satisfied Mind” By Porter Wagoner

Originally released by Glen Campbell, Porter Wagoner’s version surpassed the original and became a part of country music history. Released in 1955, Wagoner’s “A Satisfied Mind” became popular thanks to his television show and the Grand Ole Opry.

The song has a simple but poignant message: it doesn’t matter if you’re down to your last dime, as long as you have a satisfied mind, you’re “richer by far.”

After the initial release, “A Satisfied Mind” had countless of covers by major artists like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Lee Ann Womack, and Lindsey Buckingham.

24. “Independence Day” By Martina McBride

Originally offered to Reba McEntire, Martina McBride recorded this smash hit. “Independence Day” saw instant success in 1994. Despite the title, the song is far from a patriotic one.

With lines like “Let freedom ring, let the white dove sing” and “She lit up the sky that Fourth of July,” it’s not surprising the song has been often misinterpreted. However, “Independence Day” centers on domestic violence, where a woman finally gains freedom from her abusive husband, incidentally on the Fourth of July.

While not a number 1 hit, the song has since found critical success. Country Music television added the track to its CMT’s 100 Greatest Songs of Country Music list in 2003.

25. “I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart” By Patsy Montana

Though yodeling is a staple in country music, it’s not often you hear it, especially in modern times. But this 1935 classic by Patsy Montana, “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” starts off and is interspersed with quite a few yodels.

In the song, the narrator relates why she wants to be a cowboy’s sweetheart. This includes being able to feel the wind on her face, having the moon shine down as she sleeps under the starry sky, and riding “o’er the plains and the desert.”

“I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” was a major hit for Montana. With this song, she sold over a million records, becoming the first female country artist to do so. The song is now preserved in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.

26. “Pancho And Lefty” By Townes Van Zandt

Up next we have a story in song form by Townes Van Zandt. With classic guitar strumming, “Pancho and Lefty” tells the tale of a Mexican bandit named Pancho Villa and his partner Lefty, who, in the end, betrays and kills him.

Though arguably Van Zandt’s best work, the song did not chart. However, after being covered by other country icons, like Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, it became a commercial success with Emmylou Harris’s version in 1977.

Six years later, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson also created a cover. Their version topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs list in 1983.

27. “Wabash Cannonball” By Roy Acuff

Country folk song “Wabash Cannonball” was originally titled “The Great Rock Island Route.” Recordings and sheet music of the song date back to 1882, with the first recordings done by the Carter Family. However, Roy Acuff made it popular in 1936.

Over the years, the music stayed the same, but the lyrics often changed but with the same story: it sings of the Wabash Cannonball Express train as it traversed the Great Rock Island route.

Since its original recording, “Wabash Cannonball” was also popularized by the Indiana State University Marching Band and the Perdue All-American Marching Band.

28. “Queen Of Hearts” By Juice Newton

Hank DeVito originally wrote and recorded our next song, “Queen of Hearts.” It had minimal success, and the song had to wait until Juice Newton recorded her version in 1981 to gain mainstream success, taking the #2 spot the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Using gambling terms are metaphors, “Queen of Hearts” is a story of a woman who fell in love with a man who is constantly playing with her heart. She knows this, but it’s hard for her to let go.

Newton was also nominated for Best Female Vocalist in 1982 for her version of the song. “Queen of Hearts” stayed in the pop culture consciousness with a string of movie and television appearances like Boogie Nights and South Park.

29. “Friends In Low Places” By Garth Brooks

For our penultimate song, we have one of the most iconic sing-along songs of all time, “Friends in Low Places.” Garth Brooks released the song as the lead single for his album No Fences in 1990.

A song of sad (possibly bitter) goodbye, “Friends in Low Places” tells the tale of the narrator gate-crashing his ex’s wedding. He toasts and tells her he’ll be OK, yet goes out and tries to drink his woes away.

An instant hit, the song reached the top spot of the Hot Country Songs chart. In 1991, it earned Brooks the Academy of Country Music award’s Single of the Year.

30. “Just Like That” By Bonnie Raitt

Be ready for a deluge of tears with the 2023 Song of the Year Grammy winner. Bonnie Raitt‘s “Just Like That” is a heart-wrenching, emotional story worth listening.

It retells the experience of a mother who lost her son, and after his death, she donated her heart. Having never really recovered from the loss, she lived her life in darkness until a stranger appeared at her doorway to thank her for giving life to her son and to him—the recipient of the donated heart.

“Just Like That” is the title track of Raitt’s 18th studio album. Aside from the abovementioned Grammy, the song also won the singer a Best American Roots Song award.

31. “Ring Of Fire” By Johnny Cash

Written by June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore, “Ring of Fire” is most famously associated with the iconic country singer Johnny Cash. The song was released in 1963 as a single by Johnny Cash and became one of his signature songs.

“Ring of Fire” features a unique blend of country, rockabilly, and pop sounds. Cash’s deep, resonant voice and passionate delivery added to the song’s impact.

With lyrics describing love as a burning “ring of fire,” the song remains one of Cash’s most recognized and beloved songs. It became a major hit, reaching #1 on the country charts and crossing over to the pop charts as well.

32. “He Stopped Loving Her Today” By George Jones

We have next a poignant song by George Jones, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Released in 1980, it is widely considered a signature song for country singer.

“He Stopped Loving Her Today” tells the story of a man who continues to love a woman even after their relationship has ended, all throughout his years, until the day he passes.

The song’s lyrics are deeply emotional and paint a vivid picture of the man’s heartache. It is a melancholic portrayal of love and loss, showcasing Jones’s ability to convey raw emotion through his powerful vocal delivery.

“He Stopped Loving Her Today” was a massive success for Jones, marking a career resurgence for him. It topped the country music charts in the United States, becoming his first #1 in six years. In 2008, the song was added in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.

33. “Your Cheatin’ Heart” By Hank Williams

Released in 1953, shortly after his death, “Your Cheatin’ Heart” became one of Hank William’s more famous hits. It has endured decades and remains a beloved country music standard to this day.

“Your Cheatin’ Heart” explores the theme of infidelity and the pain it causes. The song’s lyrics are deeply introspective and capture the raw emotions associated with love gone wrong.

The song was an instant success upon its release, reaching the top of the country music charts, and has been covered by numerous artists over the years, including Joni James, Ray Charles, and Patsy Cline.

Williams’s tragic and premature death added to the mystique surrounding “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” His life was marked by personal struggles and addiction, and his music often reflected his own experiences and hardships. Despite his brief career, he left a lasting legacy on country music.

34. “I Will Always Love You” By Dolly Parton

A powerful and iconic song, Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” was released in 1974 as a country ballad and has since become one of her signature songs.

Parton wrote “I Will Always Love You” as a farewell to her longtime partner and mentor, Porter Wagoner, with whom she had a successful musical partnership. The lyrics convey a heartfelt message of love and gratitude, expressing the desire to let go of a relationship while wishing the best for the other person.

After release, “I Will Always Love You” became a hit for Parton. It took the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. The song’s popularity soared yet again when it was later covered by Whitney Houston, becoming one of the best-selling singles of all time.

35. “The House That Built Me” By Miranda Lambert

We end this list with a poignant piece by country singer Miranda Lambert. “The House That Built Me” was released from her third studio album, Revolution, in 2010, and struck a chord with listeners due to its heartfelt lyrics and Lambert’s emotive delivery.

The song tells a deeply personal and nostalgic story of returning to one’s childhood home to seek solace and find a sense of belonging. It reflects on the power of a house to hold memories, shape identities, and provide a sanctuary.

“The House That Built Me” resonated with a wide audience, not only due to its universal theme of longing for a place of comfort and familiarity but also because of Lambert’s authentic and heartfelt performance.

The song earned critical acclaim and became a commercial success, topping Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs chart and earning several prestigious awards, including a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

Summing Up Our List Of The Greatest Country Songs

Country music has inspired some of the greatest singers and songwriters of all time to produce masterpieces on a broad spectrum of topics. From the above, we’ve listened to songs of love, loss, and economic changes, among many other topics.

All these are gems from every era, some with great historical and cultural impact they were preserved by the Library of Congress and listed as one of the greats.

Far from a complete songs list, we might have missed a few country hits. Which songs should be added here? Let us know, and we’ll add them in!

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Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.