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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


Kenny Chesney, ‘The Good Stuff’

A newlywed couple has their first fight, so the man takes off to a bar. But instead of getting hammered and commiserating with his bartender, he gets served a glass of milk. Chesney applies multiple meanings to the title: “The Good Stuff” could be a stiff drink, but it also signifies meaningful moments in life. By the end, it’s revealed the bartender lost his wife to cancer, and the memory of her is stronger than anything whiskey can offer. Songwriters Craig Wiseman and Jim Collins wrote the track after their friend lost his spouse to illness. “We were talking about, what if you just sat there and watched your wife die?” Wiseman later recalled. “We both just sat there and were sort of stunned for a minute. We said, ‘OK, let’s get a cup of coffee and write a song!’” —A.M. 


Barbara Mandrell, ‘(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right’

This wasn’t country’s earliest adaptation of disco’s patented boom-swish beat, but aside from Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five,” it may have been the era’s canniest, with drummer Hayward Bishop utilizing those club-ready accents while sticking resolutely with a bouncy two-step rhythm. The track floats like Philly soul (the strings are more Barry White than Billy Sherrill) while remaining resolutely Nashville — but the song itself came from Memphis, a 1972 soul hit on Stax Records for Luther Ingram. Barbara Mandrell, eight albums in and ready for the big stage, took this pained, guilt-ridden, overwhelmingly horny lyric and delivered a showstopper, at once subtle and inflamed. It was her peak crossover moment, reaching the Billboard pop Top 40, her only appearance there. —M.M.


Florida Georgia Line, ‘Cruise’

There was a time, not so long ago, when combining country and hip-hop was considered blasphemous, problematic, gauche, and maybe even avant garde too. “Cruise” was all of this and more, a high-summer love song in which trucks, girls, and the FGL boys themselves all take turns as objects of affection. Like a few of the other records on this list, it initially was accused of ruining country music. (“There’s no label that can really hurt our feelings,” FGL’s Brian Kelley said when asked about “bro country” on 60 Minutes.) A decade later, however, the twangy banjo that plays during the verses almost sounds old-fashioned — just as the jacked-up Silverado in the music video almost looks small. —N.M.


Mickey Guyton, ‘Black Like Me’

Mickey Guyton delights in country music tradition; she happens to be a Black woman, and she mapped out her experience in this breakthrough ballad. “If you think we live in the land of the free/You should try to be black like me,” she sang over pedal-steel cries on the track, teasing out the strands of R&B and Black church music so integral to country’s 21st century DNA. The song sat on her shelf until the murders of Ahmaud Aubrey and George Floyd spurred her to post fragments of it to social media. The response was swift, and within a year, she’d perform it on the Grammys — remarkably, shockingly, the first Black woman ever nominated for Best Country Solo Performance. Guyton didn’t win. But her song changed the dialogue around Black country artists, and it helped open doors for a generation of new voices. —W.H.


Emmylou Harris, ‘Boulder to Birmingham’

Emmylou Harris was on the cusp of stardom and one of the most in-demand singers in Nashville when she released her sophomore album, Pieces of the Sky, in 1975, but she was weighed down by grief. Her singing partner, mentor, and close friend Gram Parsons had died a little over a year before from a drug overdose. Harris channeled that heartache into what became her signature song. “Words can be so powerful to help you express something you can’t otherwise,” she said years later. “And everyone has experienced loss.” Few people, however, could make it sound so beautiful, a raw confession of sorrow illuminated by her shimmering soprano, destined to be one of the most unmistakable voices in country music. —J. Gage


Joe Diffie, ‘John Deere Green’

The Oklahoma singer Joe Diffie sang the ultimate small-town romance in “John Deere Green,” from the legendary songwriter Dennis Linde. It’s a gem of country storytelling, where Billy Bob declares his love for Charlene by painting their names inside a 10-foot heart on the water tower. The tractor-themed color is the detail that clinches it, with the hook, “The whole town said that he should’ve used red/But it looked good to Charlene, in John Deere green.” In March 2020, Diffie tragically became one of music’s first victims of the Covid-19 pandemic, only 61, but he left a lifetime’s worth of classics like “Honky Tonk Attitude,” “Pickup Man,” and “Bigger Than the Beatles.” —R.S.


Conway Twitty, ‘You’ve Never Been This Far Before’

Conway Twitty was a rock and roller who in the Sixties and Seventies helped transition Elvis Presley-styled balladry into the country mainstream and who sang about sex as frankly and routinely as any country singer before him. “You’ve Never Been This Far Before,” where Twitty purrs that his “trembling fingers touch forbidden places,” was even boycotted, if only briefly, by a few major stations. What makes this record work is how understated, even naked, it all sounds — the only instrument that registers most of the way is throbbing electric bass — and the way Twitty’s repeated “buh-buh-buh” doubles as heartbeat and hook. —D.C.