Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time — 80-71

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Inspired by a girl who “could party and rock harder than anyone I’d known,” John Scott Sherrill wrote this song while separating from his wife. The first country chart-topper for both singer John Anderson and Sherrill, “Wild and Blue” is a hauntingly beautiful account of a cheating woman, told from the POV of her cuckolded man. Anderson’s syrupy drawl and mournful wail is intensified by sister Donna’s Hill Country harmonizing. Lloyd Green’s pedal steel and twin fiddles paint a long, bleak evening of waiting for honey to come home, but in the end the singer’s resigned forgiveness is hardly cause for celebration. Big-voiced Sally Timms gave Anderson’s 1982 hit a straight, strong reading when British country-punks the Mekons covered it on 1991’s Curse of the Mekons. 

The second Number One single off Garth Brooks’ debut LP, “The Dance” is a better-to-have-loved-and-lost slow jam that co-writer Tony Arata had been playing to open mic nights since he had moved to Nashville a few years earlier. “The only folks listening, however, were other songwriters,” remembers Arata. When Brooks first heard him play “The Dance,” he swore he would record the song if he ever got signed.

78. Roger Miller, ‘King of the Road’ (1964)

Inspired by a sign in Chicago that read “Trailers for Sale or Rent,” Roger Miller’s finger-snapping, bass-walking 1965 hit sold 2.5 million copies and became the Texas-born songwriter’s signature tune. Miller’s deliciously detailed masterpiece describes a happy-go-lucky vagrant’s existential tradeoff: “Two hours of pushin’ a broom / Buys an eight-by-12 four-bit room.” A perfectly modulated chorus sketches the hobo’s sunny familiarity with train engineers’ families before sneakily adding his similar acquaintance with “every door that ain’t locked when no one’s around.” Later in ’65, singer Jody Miller (no relation) answered with “Queen of the House,” a similarly ironic ode to domestic royalty. Roger released his own sequel of sorts in 1970 when he opened Nashville’s King of the Road Motor Inn.

Songwriter Gretchen Peters wrote “Independence Day” from the point of view of an eight-year-old girl who watched her mother get abused by her alcoholic father, until her mother burns down their house. Its popularity – intrinsically tied to its subject matter – helped McBride become a spokesperson for domestic abuse awareness and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity. But conservative host Sean Hannity wasn’t in on the track’s deeper meaning, using it as the theme song for his 2001 political radio show. “I know he [was] completely disregarding what the song’s about,” said Peters, “but… as long as they pay me, that gives me the wherewithal to support causes I believe in, and it all works out.”

Addiction, divorce, despair: Jamey Johnson spilled his demons on 2008’s, That Lonesome Song, an album that positioned the Alabamian as an able heir to the outlaw country throne. “I was trying to reach that dude at the bar going through what I was going through,” he told Rolling Stone. But where he truly shines is on “In Color,” a bittersweet ballad about man trying to convince his grandson that his photos – and his life – were more vibrant than just black and white, displaying a delicate sense for narrative and an emotive voice that’s both calloused and vulnerable. Written with James Otto and Lee Thomas Miller, the song was originally cut by Trace Adkins, for whom Johnson had earlier penned the American-as-apple-bottom anthem “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.” “Trace was gracious,” Miller later explained. “He told me, ‘The guy wrote the song. What am I gonna do?'”

Charlie Rich had been struggling to find a niche between his rocking, jazz-picker roots and the Music Row mainstream for two decades. Then “Behind Closed Doors” gave the so-called Silver Fox the biggest hit of his career. “The jocks had been complaining that [Rich] was too bluesy for country,” producer Billy Sherill explained toBillboard in September of 1974. “Others said he was too country for anything else. We just needed the right song.” To create that right song, Sherill and Co. started with a riff that writer Kevin O’Dell had been humming for years, and then balanced traditional country flourishes with the dramatic orchestral instrumentation of an 11-piece string section. Rich won two Grammys and his only CMA Entertainer of the Year award.

After recording a pair of acoustic blues albums for Folkways, Lucinda Williams found her rightful audience with her eponymous 1988 Rough Trade debut. It contained this hoarse-voiced pop-rock anthem about not only wanting but deserving a comfortable bed, bath, and emotional beyond. Williams was broke and turning 40 when Mary Chapin Carpenter softened the song’s edges, added a stirring guitar arrangement and took “Passionate Kisses” close to the top of the Billboard country chart in 1993, winning Grammys for both herself and its author.

73. Dolly Parton, ‘Coat of Many Colors’ (1971)

Parton’s most homespun hit (and her frequently avowed favorite) effortlessly transplants the biblical story of Joseph to the postwar Tennessee of Dolly’s girlhood, celebrating the unselfconscious pride in a patchwork garment her mama fashioned out of rags. Parton wrote the song on Porter Wagoner’s tour bus – and on Porter Wagoner’s dry cleaning receipt, the only paper handy when inspiration struck. Wagoner later framed that receipt. The coat itself (or, as Coat Truthers insist, a latter-day recreation) hangs in the Chasing Rainbows Museum at Parton’s theme park, Dollywood.

72. D.L. Menard, ‘The Back Door (La Porte en Arrière)’ (1962)

Born into a Cajun farming family in Erath, Louisiana, in 1932, Doris Leon Menard based this regional hit on “Honky Tonk Blues” by Hank Williams, to whom he always bore a musical resemblance. Written during his shift at a service station, and recorded with Elias Badeaux and the Louisiana Aces, Menard’s catchy two-step satirizes a Cajun stereotype, the hard-drinking spendthrift whose late-night escapades lead to an early-morning return through the back door (and ultimately prison). “La Porte d’en Arrière” sold out its initial 300-copy run within days, then sold half a million more while becoming Cajun music’s most frequently covered song not titled “Jole Blon.” Although Menard soon “came to where I couldn’t bear to even hear the name of that song, I got so tired of it,” he still manages to perform “La Porte” to this day.

Years before his band become the most successful country group of the 1980s, Randy Owen spent his childhood days on Lookout Mountain, where his family ran a small cotton farm. 1982’s “Mountain Music” paid tribute to those southern roots, setting Owen’s adolescent hobbies – river-swimming, tree-climbing, raft-building – to a soundtrack of classic-rock guitar riffs, country harmonies and fiddle-fueled breakdowns. “We did ‘Mountain Music’ in two cuts,” he told CMT. “Back when we had a chance to rehearse and arrange stuff, we just went in and did the song like we’d rehearsed it.” Released during a time when country stars rarely played on their own records, “Mountain Music” was the work of a true band, and was proof that no one has to rely on the Nashville hit machine.

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