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The 200 Greatest Country Songs of All Time

From Hank to Shania, from George Strait to Beyoncé

Greatest country songs of all time


WHAT MAKES A great country song? It tells a story. It draws a line. It has a twang you can feel down to the soles of your feet. Some get mad, some get weepy, some just get you down the road. And these are the songs that map out the story of country music — from Hank Williams howling at the moon to Ray Charles giving “hillbilly” music an R&B makeover to Shania Twain taking her karaoke-cowgirl feminism worldwide, and much more.

In 2014, Rolling Stone launched Rolling Stone Country and inaugurated the new site with a list of the 100 Greatest Country Songs. Now, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of RS Country, we’re expanding the list to 200 songs. The new list gave us more room to go deeper into the music’s rich history, including some aspects that didn’t get enough attention the first time around. We’re publishing our updated list at a time when a classic Tracy Chapman folk song can become a country Number One, and Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter is shining a light on the legacies of Black country artists like Linda Martell. Nearly a century after artists like the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and DeFord Bailey helped get the story started, the tradition keeps growing.

CONTRIBUTORS: Joseph Hudak, Jon Freeman, Christopher Weingarten, David Cantwell, Brittney McKenna, Angie Martoccio, Michaelangelo Matos, Joe Gross, Jeff Gage, Rob Sheffield, Nick Murray, Will Hermes, Keith Harris, Jon Dolan, Maya Georgi, Richard Gehr, Reed Fischer, Jonathan Bernstein, Beville Dunkerley, Cady Drell, Marissa R. Moss, David Menconi, Linda Ryan, Andrew Leahey, Mike Powell, Charles Aaron, Rob Harvilla, Amanda Petrusich

From Rolling Stone US


C.W. McCall, ‘Convoy’

This loving, jargon-filled novelty song took the insular world of trucker culture to the tops of both the country and pop charts in 1976. “Convoy,” an ode to CB radio, gave Iowa singer C.W. McCall the only Number One hit of his career, sold 2 million copies, started a CB radio fad, and even spawned a successful action movie of the same name. “The truckers were forming things called convoys, and they were talking to each other on CB radios,” explained McCall, who co-wrote the song with Chip Davis. “They had a wonderful jargon. Chip and I bought ourselves a CB radio and went out to hear them talk.” That’s a 10-4, good buddy. —J.B.


Merle Travis, ‘Sixteen Tons’

This classic labor song began when Capitol Records tasked singer-songwriter Merle Travis to hop on the folk boom of the mid-1940s. Travis rapidly cooked up the darkly humored original “Sixteen Tons,” inspired by his upbringing in the coal-mining hub of Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. Though its corresponding 1947 concept album Folk Songs of the Hills would not prove to be a chart success, songs like “Sixteen Tons” and “Dark as a Dungeon” would become standards, and Travis returned as a hero when the next folk boom peaked in the 1960s. According to Travis’ son, Tom Bresh, the songwriter would regularly quip, “[I] never did like that tune till Tennessee Ernie Ford sold about 5 million copies. Then, I got to where I loved it.” —C.W.


Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, ‘Islands in the Stream’

Written by the Bee Gees, the country crossover event of 1983 was originally a Motown-style R&B song intended for Diana Ross. It ultimately landed with Kenny Rogers, who spent four fruitless days in an L.A. session attempting the tune on his own. To salvage the song, the Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb suggested some assistance from Dolly Parton who, coincidentally, Rogers’ manager spotted nearby. The spontaneous collaboration yielded a creative relationship that lasted decades — and romantic rumors that seemed to have lasted just as long. “Dolly and I have been accused of having an affair for the last 30 years,” Rogers told CBS This Morning. “And we never did. What we’ve done is we’ve flirted with each other for 30 years. I do it in front of my wife because I know it’s harmless.” —C.W.  


Billy Joe Shaver, ‘Old Five and Dimers Like Me’

Of all the artists who got labeled outlaws during the Seventies, none came close to the real thing than Billy Joe Shaver, a former mill worker from Waco, Texas, who lost a couple of fingers on the job, survived an onstage heart attack, and shot a man in the face during a bar fight. But for all that reckless living, he had a knack for deep, introspective songwriting that changed the vernacular of the genre. On his signature tune, Shaver’s warbling, brittle voice has the perfect plainspoken quality for his tale of a two-bit hustler who couldn’t help but dream of bigger things. “I’ve spent a lifetime making up my mind to be/More than the measure of what I thought others could see,” he sings, and you know he lived that, too. —J. Gage


Juice Newton, ‘Queen of Hearts’

Originally a member of the short-lived band Silver Spur, Juice Newton had been releasing a steady output of solo pop and rock material for two years — to decent reviews but few sales. When she shifted to a more country sound for 1981’s Juice, she scored three Top 10 hits. The breakout track was “Queen of Hearts,” the irresistibly catchy, Fleetwood Mac-esque country-pop cut written by Hank DeVito. Newton had been playing the song at her live shows for a year before Richard Landis produced it for the album. It was all up from there: The LP went platinum in the U.S. and triple platinum in Canada, and it earned her two Grammy nominations that year. —C.D.


Jerry Jeff Walker, ‘Desperados Waiting for a Train’

Even back in 1970, Austin, Texas, was getting weird, and Jerry Jeff Walker — a New York transplant backed by a band called the Lost Gonzos — was leading the transition. On his 1973 live-in-Luckenbach ¡Viva Terlingua! LP, he became the first to record “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” a track that another Austin transplant, Guy Clark, wrote while working at a dobro factory in California. Moonlighting as a songwriter, he came up with the title phrase and built around it the story of a grandfather figure to whom he had once been close. “He ended up in west Texas working for Gulf Oil,” recalled Clark. “To me, as a kid, he was a real desperado, the real deal. You can’t make this shit up.” —M.R.M.