Whether life’s got you down or you’re on the up and up, there’s a country song out there for everybody. As country songwriter Harlan Howard once said, “Country music is three chords and the truth.”
The twang-filled genre has been easing heartbreak and comforting the lonely since its inception in the early 1900s. From pioneers like Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash to modern cowboys like Hank Williams Jr. and Alan Jackson, here’s our pick of classic country songs that just get better with age.
Table of Contents
- I Walk the Line – Johnny Cash
- Crazy – Patsy Cline
- I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry – Hank Williams
- Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Cowboys – Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson
- Mama Tried – Merle Haggard
- That’s How I Got To Memphis – Tom T. Hall
- Take Me Home, Country Roads – John Denver
- American Remains – The Highwaymen
- Take This Job and Shove It – Johnny Paycheck
- Jolene – Dolly Parton
- The Golden Rocket – Hank Snow
- The Gambler – Kenny Rogers
- Stand by Your Man – Tammy Wynette
- Bye Bye Love – The Everly Brothers
- Devil Went Down to Georgia – Charlie Daniels Band
- Man of Constant Sorrow – The Stanley Brothers
- Blue Moon of Kentucky – Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys
- Standin’ On the Corner (Blue Yodel #9) – Jimmie Rodgers
- Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man – Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty
- Tennessee Whiskey – George Jones
- Sold – John Michael Montgomery
- Can the Circle Be Unbroken – The Carter Family
- Leaving Louisiana In Broad Daylight – The Oak Ridge Boys
- All My Ex’s Live in Texas – George Strait
- Jackson – Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash
- Chattahoochee – Alan Jackson
- A Country Boy Can Survive – Hank Williams Jr.
- El Paso – Marty Robbins
- Rhinestone Cowboy – Glen Campbell
- Margaritaville – Jimmy Buffett
- Achy Breaky Heart – Billy Ray Cyrus
- The Most Beautiful Girl – Charlie Rich
- East Bound and Down – Jerry Reed
- Coal Miner’s Daughter – Loretta Lynn
- Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone? – Charley Pride
- It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels – Kitty Wells
- Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford
- King Of The Road – Roger Miller
- Breathe – Faith Hill
- Goodbye Earl – The Dixie Chicks
I Walk the Line – Johnny Cash
“Because you’re mine, I walk the line.” No classic country playlist is complete without The Man In Black. Johnny Cash gave rise to a whole new style of country music with his upbeat ‘boom-chuck’ rhythm paired with lyrics often tackling taboo subjects. A single off his debut album in 1956, ‘I Walk The Line’ was written for his first wife.
Supposedly, Cash only needed 20 minutes to write the song while recording at legendary Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. It’s generally considered one of the best country songs of all time.
Crazy – Patsy Cline
Patsy Cline’s haunting vocals set a melancholy tone for ‘Crazy,’ one of the most popular country songs of all time. Cline makes the often-tackled subject of unrequited love all her own in this single. “I’m crazy for loving you. Crazy to think that my love could hold you.”
Though the lyrics paint a picture of quiet desperation, her commanding, effortless vocals create a poignant contrast. “Crazy” stands the test of time as modern listeners continue to turn to the song for comfort. Unreciprocated love never goes out of style.
Related: see unrequited love songs.
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry – Hank Williams
‘I’m So Lonesome I could Cry’ highlights Hank Williams’ signature ability to deliver chilling vocal performances. Due to its poetic nature (it was originally written as spoken word), Williams didn’t intend to put music to it until his bandmates convinced him otherwise. “Did you ever see a robin weep, when leaves begin to die?”
Many of Hank’s somber songs dealt with his tumultuous first marriage. The single’s simplistic waltz-y production is rounded out by languid yet stirring fiddle and lap steel guitar solos.
Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Cowboys – Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson
Written by Nashville songwriting couple Patsy and Ed Bruce, ‘Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys’ is a warning to mothers about the rugged and often isolated nature of the cowboy lifestyle. “Cause they’ll never stay home. And they’re always alone. Even with someone they love.”
Though Ed and Patsy released the single first, it shot to #1 on the charts when Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson re-released the song as a duet in 1978.
Mama Tried – Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard is considered to be one of country music’s greatest songwriters of all time. “One and only rebel child, from a family meek and mild.” ‘Mama Tried’ is a true story about how hard Haggard’s mother tried to keep him out of trouble.
Despite her best efforts, the hit songwriter still ended up on the wrong side of the law. He wrote ‘Mama Tried’ after doing time in the slammer when he was just 20 years old.
Related: This Haggard classic appears on our list of best songs for mom.
That’s How I Got To Memphis – Tom T. Hall
“If you love somebody enough, you’ll follow wherever they go.” This intimate, conversational song tells the story of a man who travels to Memphis looking for a lover who may not want to be tracked down. “Thank you for your precious time. Forgive me if I start to cryin’.”
Hall tackles the country music tradition of singing about love-gone-wrong with moving vocals and gentle reminders throughout the story, “That’s how I got to Memphis.”
Take Me Home, Country Roads – John Denver
“Almost heaven, West Virginia.” John Denver’s most popular hit is an ode to home written while on his way to a family reunion. Though the lyrics begin with a reference to the Mountain State, Denver had never even been to West Virginia. He just liked the way the lyrics sounded. “Country roads, take me home, to the place where I belong.”
The song is relatable for anyone who has ever been homesick and has been played at every West Virginia University football game since the early ’70s. It’s also one of the top country songs of all time.
American Remains – The Highwaymen
The Highwaymen was a supergroup featuring four of outlaw country’s biggest names, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, and Waylon Jennings. ‘American Remains’ tells the story of four different American archetypes, from the mid-west farmer to the American Indian.
Despite their various hardships, they are all connected by the rugged American spirit. Towards the end of the song they all sing, “We are all heroes of the homeland. American remains.”
Take This Job and Shove It – Johnny Paycheck
Originally written by David Allen Coe, the story goes he was inspired to write this song after turning down a position as a fireman by saying, “They can take that job and shove it!”
While Johnny Paycheck was recording an album, Coe played the song for Paycheck’s producer, and they recognized its “instant hit” potential. Through the years, people have lived out their ultimate fantasy of telling their boss off while blasting this song through their car speakers.
Related: see songs about working a job.
Jolene – Dolly Parton
“I’m begging of you please don’t take my man.” Dolly Parton’s hit song ‘Jolene’ describes a tormented woman pleading with another woman, Jolene, not to steal her lover from her.
“Your beauty is beyond compare, with flaming locks of auburn hair,” Parton sings to the strikingly beautiful Jolene. “You could have your choice of men, but I could never love again. He’s the only one for me.” Parton’s heavy use of vibrato as she sings adds to the drama of this popular tune.
Related: Jolene is an undisputed king (or queen) of the karaoke playlist!
The Golden Rocket – Hank Snow
‘The Golden Rocket’ is a nostalgic country-western single from 1950 about a traveling man “rolling” his blues away. “You triflin’ women can’t keep a good man down” he sings as the lyrics detail parallelism between the singer and a thunderous train called the ‘Golden Rocket.’
The reason he’s leaving in such a hurry? He tells the woman who betrayed him: “I got another true lover waiting in Tennessee.”
The Gambler – Kenny Rogers
“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em. Known when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away. Know when to run.” This conversational song centers around a chance encounter on a train between strangers. The lyrics relate life to the game of poker. You’ve got to take the cards you’re dealt and play them the best you can.
Stand by Your Man – Tammy Wynette
“Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman. Giving all your love to just one man.” Two lyrical lines kick off a song told from a woman’s perspective about what it takes to “stand by your man.”
Though Wynette wrote it as a simple love song, it has since found itself in occasional politico-cultural crosshairs and even inspired a musical based on Tammy’s life and marriage to five different husbands.
Bye Bye Love – The Everly Brothers
“Bye, bye love. Hello happiness.” This popular song is a cross-genre favorite. Drawing from country and rock n’ roll roots, The Everly Brothers deliver their signature clean sound for this tune featured as the theme song and title to the 1995 film, Bye Bye Love, about three men who are divorced.
Devil Went Down to Georgia – Charlie Daniels Band
Charlie Daniel’s ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia’ is one of country music’s most popular songs of all time. If you spend any time on Nashville’s broadway strip listening to live bands, you’re bound to hear it played several times.
The song details a duel between Johnny, the protagonist, and the devil who’s made his way “down to Georgia” because “he was looking for a soul to steal.” A battle between fiddles takes place with Johnny coming out on top proclaiming, “I’m the best that’s ever been!”
Man of Constant Sorrow – The Stanley Brothers
“I am a man of constant sorrow. I’ve seen trouble all my day.” Though bluegrass band The Stanley Brothers originally released ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’ in 1960, a fictional band brought this classic country tune new life in the early 2000s for the movie Coen Brothers movie, O’ Brother, Where Art Thou (which features a killer soundtrack featuring classic Appalachian-style songs).
‘Man of Constant Sorrow’ by the Soggy Bottom Boys (gotta love that name) is one of the songs that feature on the soundtrack.
Blue Moon of Kentucky – Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys
“Blue moon of Kentucky, keep on shining.” Bill Monroe is considered to be one of the founding fathers of bluegrass. In his song ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’ he talks of “the one who left and made him blue.”
He tells the blue moon to “keep on a-shinin bright. You’re gonna bring a-me back-a my baby tonight.”
Related: for more lunar-related songs, check out our songs about the moon playlist.
Standin’ On the Corner (Blue Yodel #9) – Jimmie Rodgers
Jimmie Rodgers effortlessly blended country and blues as only an artist hailing from Mississippi could do. Standin’ On The Corner tells the story of a “Tennessee hustler” who’s run into some trouble with the law in Memphis.
In between verses, Rodgers shows off his yodeling talent which became so popular he was nicknamed ‘The Blue Yodeler.’ Louis Armstrong’s trumpet is also present throughout the bluesy track.
Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man – Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty
Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man’ was the third duet recorded by Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. “If he can’t come to me, I’m gonna go to him.” In the song, two lovers talk of their devotion to each other. They share a love that not even the mighty Mississippi River can come between.
Tennessee Whiskey – George Jones
Though ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ has been recorded and performed by other country greats such as George Jones and David Allen Coe, the song has experienced a resurrection yet again with Chris Stapleton’s version. “Liquor was the only love I’d ever known.”
The ballad paints the picture of a lonely man going down a dark path until someone “as smooth as Tennessee whiskey” comes along and rescues him from “reaching for the bottle.”
Sold – John Michael Montgomery
‘Sold’ centers around a metaphorical county auction of a man’s heart to a beautiful woman he’s met. “I’m sold to the lady in the second row. She’s an eight, she’s a nine, she’s a ten I know.”
Montgomery delivers a vocal performance requiring cardiovascular prowess as most of the song is sung in auctioneer form. Sing along and try to keep up!
Can the Circle Be Unbroken – The Carter Family
Adapted from an early 1900s Christian hymn, Can the Circle Be Unbroken is another country song that transcends generations. It speaks of life, death, and ties that bind families.
With lyrics like “Undertaker please drive slow, for this woman you are taking, I hate to see her go,” the singer chronicles the heartbreak associated with watching their mother being carried away to her funeral.
Leaving Louisiana In Broad Daylight – The Oak Ridge Boys
“This is down in the swampland, anything goes.” ‘Leaving Louisiana in Broad Daylight’ chronicles the wild life of “Mary” and her questionable choices made after she imbibed a bit too much and took off “running with a travelin’ man.”
Country singer Emmylou Harris recorded this tune first in 1978 as part of her much-beloved album Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town.
All My Ex’s Live in Texas – George Strait
George Strait, sometimes admirably referred to as King George, crooned this classic early hit about a man who’s left behind a slew of ex-lovers in his home state of Texas. “All my ex’s live in Texas. Texas is a place I’d really love to be.”
As he sings about the reasons his past relationship didn’t work out, we hear the hook over and over again, “That’s why I reside in Tennessee.”
Related: see our playlist of songs about an ex.
Jackson – Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash
“We got married in a fever hotter than a pepper sprout.” Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash sing to each other in this playful duet about a couple’s feverish love.
Johnny and June trade-off verses all centered around Johnny heading into town (Jackson) to have a little fun. “Go paint the town you big talkin’ man, and go make a big fool of yourself,” June sings with Johnny replying, “When I breeze into that city, people gonna stoop and bow.”
Chattahoochee – Alan Jackson
“Way down yonder on the Chattahoochee, it gets hotter than a hoochie coochie.” Though this song has been around for decades, the debate rages on among country music lovers as to what exactly a hoochie-coochie is. While people speculate about that, there’s no debating this was one of the 90s biggest country songs.
Alan Jackson lends his cool-cowboy persona to the song as he sings, “Where I learned how to live and I learned who I was.” What all did he learn on the Chattahoochee? “A lot about living and a little ’bout love.”
A Country Boy Can Survive – Hank Williams Jr.
“I live back in the woods you see. My woman and the kids and the dogs and me.” Like his father, Hank Williams Jr. is a legendary songwriter. This particular hit continues to shape new generations of those who live the country lifestyle. The song is an anthem to self-reliance.
No matter what life throws his way, the singer’s gritty upbringing will get him through it. “And we can skin a buck, and run a trotline. And a country boy can survive.”
El Paso – Marty Robbins
“My mind is down there somewhere, as I fly above the badlands of New Mexico.” Robbins had plenty of time to write this western drama on a long car ride with his family from Texas to Arizona. The story is action-packed with romance, crime, and even a shootout between lovers.
Though it became a #1 hit, Columbia Records didn’t want to release it at first because the song runs almost five minutes long.
Rhinestone Cowboy – Glen Campbell
“I’ve been walking these streets so long. Singing the same old song.” Originally written by Larry Weiss, Rhinestone Cowboy details Weiss’ struggles trying to make it as a songwriter in the music industry.
When Campbell heard Weiss’ song, he related to it as well having spent his early years performing in the Albuquerque honkytonk scene.
Margaritaville – Jimmy Buffett
“Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville.” Jimmy Buffett’s timeless hit helped inspire a cult-like following (known as the parrotheads) and an Ameri-tropical themed chain of restaurants. ‘
‘Margaritaville’ defines Buffet’s musical style he once labeled “Gulf and Western.” The song embraces the carefree coastal southern lifestyle and is still a fan-favorite at his concerts where he performs with his Coral Reefer Band.
Achy Breaky Heart – Billy Ray Cyrus
This song is Cyrus’ most recognizable hit and it even has a line dance to go along with it! Billy Ray reached instant fame with the single which details a man who is coming to terms with his girl leaving him.
Despite the theme of heartbreak, you’ll find yourself tapping your feet along to its upbeat, easy-to-follow rhythm.
The Most Beautiful Girl – Charlie Rich
This chart-topping hit is known as Rich’s signature song. It’s about a man who is trying to find his girl after a fight. ‘The Most Beautiful Girl’ is classified as ‘countrypolitan,’ an offshoot of The Nashville Sound which challenged the honkytonk feel of country music during the 1960s.
Other countrypolitan artists include Tammy Wynette and Glen Campbell.
East Bound and Down – Jerry Reed
“We’ve got a long way to go. And a short time to get there.” ‘East Bound and Down’ was recorded for the soundtrack to the popular film, Smokey and The Bandit. Using CB Radio slang in the song, it represents the fast-paced, rowdy life of truckers.
Coal Miner’s Daughter – Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn, sometimes referred to as The First Lady of Country Music, penned Coal Miner’s Daughter in honor of her hardworking father. Lyrics like, “In the summertime we didn’t have shoes to wear, but in the wintertime we’d get a new pair,” detail the financial hardships her family faced early on in her life.
The song resonated with listeners so much it inspired the 1980s film that shares the same name and stars Sissy Spacek.
Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone? – Charley Pride
Charlie Pride revolutionized the music industry in the 60s and 70s as an African-American country singer. ‘Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone?’ was just one of his many top hits.
It tells the story of a man trying to outrun bad memories of his failed relationship. “Any place is alright as long as I can forget I’ve ever known her,” he sings as he asks people in the song where they are headed.
It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels – Kitty Wells
“Too many times married men think they’re still single. And that’s caused many a good girl to go wrong.” Kitty Wells stirred up a bit of controversy with this release. The song points out cheating men can cause cheating women, a bold statement to make in the early 1950s when the single came out.
Wells’ success as a female country artist helped pave the way for future female artists like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.
Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford
“You load sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt.” Ford’s powerful, baritone vocals gave a voice to the marginalized coal miner community when this moody tune was released in the mid-1950s.
Since then, it has been covered by many different artists and the popular animated American sitcom South Park featured it in their season 22 episode, ‘Unfulfilled.’
King Of The Road – Roger Miller
The opening lines of this classic tune inspired Miller to write ‘King of the Road.’ While taking a drive he saw a sign on a barn reading “Trailers for sale or rent” and he began contemplating the life of a vagabond.
Miller tells the story of a “man of means, by no means.” But the listener isn’t supposed to feel sorry for the character. Miller’s playful, cynical twist leaves the penniless traveler declaring he’s, “King of the road.”
Breathe – Faith Hill
“I can feel the magic floating in the air. Being with you gets me that way.” Faith Hill’s ‘Breathe’ is a timeless country song about intimate, romantic moments spent with the one you love.
Married to country crooner Tim Mcgraw for over 25 years, he served as the inspiration behind her recording the song.
Related: see our songs about breathing list.
Goodbye Earl – The Dixie Chicks
“Mary Anne and Wanda were the best of friends all through their high school days.” The Chicks’ raucous single ‘Goodbye Earl’ is a story about revenge. One of the characters’ husbands was a violent man so they decided to take matters into their own hands, “Earl had to die.”
This 1990s single is a popular karaoke tune with groups of partygoers belting out one of the song’s famous last twang-filled lines, “Goodbye, Earl!”