Bryan links CMT’s list of Top 100 Songs of Country Music. This is much more likely to please country fans than the VH1 list is to please rock fans. (I mean, Smells Like Teen Spirit?!)

Apparently, the list has been released on their website even though it hasn’t shown yet on their TV network. Which is very weird. So, without introducing spoilers, I’d say:

  • The #1 song wouldn’t be in my top 50; nor would any song by that artist.
  • As usual, very recent songs are over-represented. I think I’d exclude songs from the last five years from any of these things to ensure that doesn’t happen.
  • At least the vast majority of the songs are properly country songs; a lot of the rock lists wind up with all sorts of rap and R&B mixed in to show PC.

See the rest for spoiler-rich variety.

Some brief comments on the top 5 and then just random musings on other selections.

Stand By Your Man / Tammy Wynette (#1): Certainly a major hit and very influential in the popular culture. Wynette is thought by many to be the Queen of Country Music. Still, I’ve always thought it a rather boring song.

He Stopped Loving Her Today / George Jones (#2) An instant classic from the early 1980s.

Crazy / Patsy Cline-Willie Nelson (#3): This one has stood the test of time and Cline had one of the great voices. But this song is more of a torchy ballad than a true country song.

Ring Of Fire / Johnny Cash (#4): A very good song, but not even JC’s best work.

Your Cheatin’ Heart / Hank Williams (#5): Hard to argue with this one. Indeed, I’d put it above all the songs in the top 5 except maybe HSLHT. [Actually, I got this confused with “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” which is at #29 on the list and, to me, a much better song.]

I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow / Dan Tymenski (#20) An exception to the overrated new songs rule. This one is arguably much better than several songs ahead of it. And it’s ironic–Tymenski is a backup musician for Alison Kraus and more people think George Clooney sang this one than know the truth.

Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning) / Alan Jackson (#28): Perhaps the ultimate example to the overrated new songs rule. A touching post-9/11 tribute, but not even one of Jackson’s best songs. (Really, he probably should have something in the top 25–he’s one of the very best of the past 15 years.)

Desperado / The Eagles (#46): A good choice. While the Eagles evolved into a rock band, they were pretty close to country in their early period. And this song is far more likely to be heard on country radio or a honky tonk than a rock station.

Boot Scootin’ Boogie / Brooks & Dunn (#48) Well, at least it’s not Achy Breaky Heart.

Kiss An Angel Good Morning / Charley Pride (#58): Not my favorite Pride song, but certainly his biggest. He’s really still the only black man to make it big in country music–and he did it 40-odd years ago. He had an amazing voice that was, like all the great ones, instantly recognizeable.

Family Tradition / Hank Williams, Jr. (#59) A much better song than this. Bocephus is woefully underrepresented on this list. He was Garth Brooks before there was Garth Brooks. From the late 1970s to the late 1980s, Hank Jr. was the king of country music.

Smoky Mountain Rain / Ronnie Milsap (#81) I’m surprised it made the list, but a great, great song. My favorite of Milsap’s, and he had a boatload of great ones.

Overall, this is very representative list. It’s amazingly deep in songs that people under 30 have likely never heard on the radio. While there are some new songs that probably shouldn’t be here, the list is very conscious of history. I’m sure there are some standards that have been left of the list, but there are very few inclusions that are obvious jokes. Unlike, say, the VH1 list. I mean, Smells Like Teen Spirit?!

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Eric says:

    James, you know what strikes me about this list? The relative absence of groups. The dominance of the single artist (backed, of course, by exquisitely talented musicians) has been a trend throughout the history of country music. Wonder if the list 25 years from now will still reflect that trend?

  2. James Joyner says:

    An interesting point. Alabama was very dominant during the 1980s and well into the 1990s, but there are relatively few big groups in country music. I guess the Carter Family would constitute a group. The Statler Bros., The Oak Ridge Boys. Hard to come up with a lot that had much staying power.

    I think it’s because country has always been much more about the vocals than other forms of popular music. To pick just one example off the top of my head, I can’t imagine Kurt Cobain as a solo artist since he had no discernible singing talent. But, surround him with a cacophony of screetching guitars and bad percussion, you can barely tell he sucks.

  3. Kathy K says:

    I would put Desperado in the rock category, not country. That being said, I’d also put it in my top 10 favorite songs in any category.

    As for country, ‘King of the Road’, ‘Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain’, ‘ Tennessee Waltz’, ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’ and (one that’s not on the list) ‘Put Another Log on the Fire’ (Outlaws) would be my top five. (‘King of the Road’ is also in my top ten of all categories…)

  4. jen says:

    The show has been on TV – I watched it the other night on CMT.

  5. April says:

    What do you have against Patsy Cline?!?

  6. James Joyner says:

    She had a terrific and unique voice but I just think that particular song is grossly overrated. It’s just okay. And certainly not the 2nd best of all time. There are probably a couple songs on the latest Nickel Creek album I’d rank ahead of Crazy. Even if Brother Willie did write it.

  7. Billy says:

    I can’t believe nothing on the list from Keith Whitley. “I’m No Stranger to the Rain” is one of my favorites.

  8. James Joyner says:

    Billy: Yep. Whitley’s career was very short but he had a very distinctive voice and several terrific songs. “Don’t Close Your Eyes” is another classic and I’ve always been partial to “Miami, My Amy.”