You don’t get to be called the “King of Country Music” without a lot of hard work and a little bit of elbow grease. Luckily, George Strait’s ranching background in the great state of Texas gave him the drive he needed to become one of the biggest stars of country music, ever. The cowboy-troubadour’s career spans over three decades, and in that timespan he’s released 60 number one singles.
If having 60 number ones wasn’t already impressive enough, that makes him the performer with the most chart-toppers in history. His music is quintessential country, and we’ve picked some of the best George Strait songs below. Giddyup!
11. Blue Clear Sky
Since George Strait is a proud Texas native, you may think his smash hit ’90s tune ‘Blue Clear Sky’ is a tribute to the wide open skies of the Lonestar State. But a small, conspicuous clue found in the title will point you in a different direction. “Blue clear sky” is a phrase the hero-protagonist Forrest uses during his famous “Life is like a box of chocolates” monologue in the popular film Forrest Gump. The songwriting team who wrote this multi. platinum hit loved the film, and wrote it in honor of Gump’s undying love for Jenny, his lifelong crush. Though Strait had misgivings about the title at first, because the saying is actually “clear blue sky,” he took a chance and it paid off big time. The album the song appears on, which goes by the same name, won Album of The Year at both the CMAs and ACMs after its ’96 release.
Recommended: Our pick of classic songs about Texas.
10. Here For A Good Time
“I ain’t here for a long time. I’m here for a good time.” This creative hook anchors one of King George’s most popular barroom tunes, a good-time, classic country hit, ‘Here For a Good Time.’ A lesson in throwing caution to the wind and letting your hair down a bit because life really is so short, his son Bubba Strait actually co-wrote the hit with fellow songwriter Dean Dillon. Dean and George are longtime friends, and this wasn’t the first tune the country singer cut that Dillon helped write. But it marked a pivotal moment for his son Bubba, who’s become an in-demand Nashville product in his own right. Debuting in the top 30 on country charts (George’s highest yet as of its release year in 2011), the jukebox toe-tapper marked George’s 89th single release. What that statistic in mind, I think Mr. Strait is indeed here for a long time.
9. I Just Want to Dance With You
A John Prine original, our Texas cowboy was originally attracted to ‘I Just Want to Dance with You’ because of its “clever” lyrics. As a genuine country artist, Strait deeply understands that it is the little things within songs that foster the biggest impact. A tried-and-true southern tale about falling in love after a honkytonk slowdance, the single scored Strait yet another top hit, his 34th to be exact. And there’d be plenty more where that came from, as they say.
A Taylor Swift favorite by the country music legend, ‘Run’ is a lyrically-driven love song that offers a roadmap back home. It was a huge hit in 2001. And the song’s story, featuring a protagonist so desperate to see his lover he’s begging her to find any way she can to make her way back to him, is the biggest driver behind its success. If country music is “three chords and the truth,” Strait’s ‘Run’ is a stirring example of that principle. During George’s ACM Artist of The Decade tribute concert in 2009, among a star-studded performance lineup, a young Swift performed the heartwarming tune as Strait proudly looked on from the audience.
7. Give It Away
Before country singer Jamey Johnson rose to country fame with his breakout hit ‘In Color’ in 2008, he helped pen a cheeky heartbreak song ‘Give It Away’ alongside fellow writer Bill Anderson. Though the track chronicles a failed relationship, the creative lyrics and lines focus on the divvying up of belongings (“That big, four poster king sized bed, where so much love was made, just give it away”), and add a lighthearted touch to it. And George’s southern drawl adds to its easygoing nature as well. This ingenious single broke country legend Conway Twitty’s record for most singles to take the top spot on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Twitty scored 40 which set the record, but Strait broke it with this one when it got him to 41. The single then moved onto the ACMs, where it took home awards for Single Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
If there was ever a country song about riding off into the sunset, this one’s it. ‘Troubadour’ remains one of George’s most poetic releases. An introspective piece that finds a cowboy-turned-country-singer looking back on his life and coming to terms with getting older, George deeply connected with the song’s story. And the music video for the single features snapshots of him throughout his career. When the troubadour headlined his farewell tour, he often sang this song alongside fellow country stars, and it quickly became a tearjerker (in true cowboy fashion, he couldn’t stay away from the limelight and eventually went back on the road for another tour). The platinum single features another country legend on the recording besides George. Vince Gill sang background vocals for the song in the studio.
5. Carrying Your Love With Me
Written by Nashville songwriters Steve Bogard and Jeff Stevens in a small Music Row office, when an A&R rep heard them rehearsing the track before recording it he immediately contacted the “King of Country Music” himself to hear the potential hit. Though the song took over six months to write, once Strait got a hold of hit, he quickly got it recorded. ‘Carrying Your Love With Me’ fit George’s sound perfectly with its pure country vibe and traditional message focusing on holding onto your one true love no matter where life takes you. And you may have already guessed it given the running theme for this playlist, he scored yet another number one with this single.
4. Check Yes Or No
A salt of the earth love story that starts in grade school is the focus on George’s ‘Check Yes Or No,’ quite possibly one of the sweetest tales of romance ever told in the country genre. The bonafide ’90s country hit was another successful product of Music Row writers. Not only was it the first time Danny Wells and Dana Hunt Black worked together, but they got to both experience their first number one at the same time thanks to Strait’s cut and release of the sweet single. George immediately fell in love with the tune the first time he heard it. But when he played it for his son while driving him to school one day and a huge smile came across the youngster’s face, he knew he had a hit on his hands.
3. Write This Down
Nashville hit songwriter Dana Hunt Black spent more time on the charts when her song ‘Write This Down,’ co-written with Kent Robbins, shot up to number one after George Strait released it on his Always Never The Same album. The sweet tune about enduring love also became a legit crossover success when it spent time in the top 30 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Because of this, Strait’s music was introduced to listeners outside of country who became big fans. This would provide ample opportunities in the future to work with artists outside his own genre, including actor and R&B singer, Jamie Foxx, who was a big George Strait fan growing up.
2. All My Ex’s Live In Texas
A lot of ’90s George Strait releases are featured on this list, so let’s take it back another decade to the ’80s, when our singing cowboy first popped up on the Nashville scene. ‘All My Ex’s Live in Texas’ was an early gold mine for George. It remains one of his most popular tunes today. Full of nostalgia and reminiscing, the Lonestar native explains in the song why he can’t reside in his beloved homestate and must live out the rest of his days in Tennessee. Songwriter Whitey Shafer penned the track. A Texas son himself, he wrote it as a cheeky, autobiographical piece. While Strait’s remains a classic country hit, Shafer also recorded the original in the studio. While George’s is more languid and polished, Shafer’s version proved to be a perfect fit on the rocking, blues-filled soundtrack to the hit Swayze film, Road House.
1. Amarillo By Morning
Another ode to his beloved homestate, ‘Amarillo By Morning’ is the single that put Strait on the map. With a rodeo theme and a recollecting cowboy thinking about all his lifestyle has won him and lost him, the essence of the laidback tune was perfectly captured by George, who is a rare real life cowboy – not just a singer who plays one on stage. Though this is a signature song recorded by King George, it was actually fellow real life singing cowboy Chris Ledoux who took a crack at it first in the ’70s. While others have covered the contemporary country western track over the years, Strait’s remains to be the standard everyone else tries to live up to.