Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time — 60-51

Click here to see 100-91, 90-81, 80-71, 70-61

With its theatrical vocal, finger-snapping rhythm and a haunting clarinet hook seemingly borrowed from a Brecht/Weill musical, Tennessee Ernie Ford’s excoriation of the evils of debt bondage was an unlikely country-pop smash. Although folksinger George Davis claimed to have written an original “Nine-to-Ten Tons” in the Thirties, Merle Travis countered that he wrote the more productive “Sixteen Tons” about his father’s life in the coalmines of Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. The opening lines, meanwhile, came from a letter Travis’s soldier brother wrote during World War II, and the Sisyphean refrain – “I owe my soul to the company store” – from his father’s experience being paid in store tokens rather than cash. A blend of machismo and melancholy, “Sixteen Tons” has been covered by Elvis Presley, the Weavers, Stevie Wonder, Tom Morello and countless others.

Arizona native Marty Robbins’ unusually long (4 minutes, 40 seconds) story-song is a barreling Greek tragedy adapted from the Mexican waltz-time ranchera country style. In what might be country’s most cinematic hit, a narrator enamored of “wicked” Feleena shoots down a “dashing and daring” young cowboy who’s hitting on her. Past tense becomes present as the narrator returns to El Paso, is shot himself by a vengeful posse and dies in Feleena’s arms. Grady Martin’s nylon-stringed guitar provides eloquent, flamenco-influenced instrumental commentary. A longtime staple of the Grateful Dead’s cover repertoire, “El Paso” caught another cultural wave decades later when Feleena was transformed into “Felina,” the anagrammatically allusive title of Breaking Bad’s 2013 finale.

“That song was my novel,” songwriter Tom T. Hall once said of the epic “Harper Valley P.T.A.” In this sassy 1968 takedown of small-town hypocrisy, a mini-skirted widow “socks it to” the titular busybodies – in its way, it was as innocence-ending as Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” the previous year. Indeed, when singer Margie Singleton asked Hall to write her a similar song, the aspiring novelist took note of the Harpeth Valley Elementary School in Bellevue, Tennessee and found artistic inspiration in Sinclair Lewis’s religion-mocking novel Elmer Gantry. Jeannie C. Riley’s recording, however, made her the first woman to top both Billboard’s Hot 100 and country-singles charts. Barbara Eden starred in both the 1978 comedy based on the song and in a 1981-82 TV show spun off the flick.

It’s not really about Bruce Springsteen, first of all. Though stadium-filling bad boy Eric Church’s iPhone-lighter-app-waving triumph details “a love affair that takes place in an amphitheater between two people,” the Boss was not the performer in question. Church politely but firmly declines to reveal the actual inspiration, which means the best country song of the 2010s thus far might have more accurately been titled “Nugent” or “Anka” or “Fogelberg.” Cowritten by Church with Jeff Hyde and Ryan Tyndell, it’s a dreamy, nostalgic weeper (tough as our man talks, he’s a softie at heart) and drove 2011’s Chief to dizzying heights. It even earned Church a handwritten thank-you note from Springsteen himself – scrawled on the back of a Fenway Park set list.

This crossover smash emerged from circumstances as prefabricated as country music gets – written and produced by men whose credits include Lady Antebellum and Rascal Flatts, sung by an American Idol winner and sporting a literal-interpretation video. And yet the popcraft of “Before He Cheats,” as rendered by Carrie Underwood in the key of frosty rage, is nearly perfect. Even a certified alt-country critical darling like Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards is not immune to its seductive charms. “The rhythm of it, the metric of the lyrics, the chord changes, the play on words and unconventional patterns, the way she says ‘Shania karaoke’ – it’s genius,” Edwards said in 2009. “Fuck, I wish I’d written that!”

Perpetually unsung, the Flatlanders were a Lubbock trio who sounded like – well, there was Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s flat, twangy voice; the warble of a singing saw; the lyrics that made sutras of psychedelic complexity sound like they were something Grandma crocheted into a throw pillow. Small-town, but more importantly, sensitive enough to address even the most routine insults of life in the 20th century, the big city didn’t repulse them, but it did give them the willies. And yet in song, they are somehow always the eye of a storm: unchanging, know-nothing, happy to breathe deeply and just watch the show unfold. Would you be surprised to learn that they sank like a stone?

He rarely touches the stuff himself, but Brad Paisley’s way with a booze anthem is unparalleled, and such range, too: “Whiskey Lullaby,” a grim, suicide-haunted duet he cut with Alison Krauss in 2004, is basically Leaving Las Vegas in miniature, whereas this bawdy, self-penned waltz unleashed just a year later comes on like Animal House. A boastful first-person rundown of hooch’s seductive powers – “I can make anybody pretty,” it begins – that claims credit for everyone from Hemingway to the thoroughly soused best man at your wedding. It’s a longtime live-show staple that inspires superfans to bring their own lampshades (seriously). “The song somehow seems to make the entire audience feel something in common,” Paisley has marveled. “We’re all out there together. We’ve all done it. We’re all one big collective idiot. And there’s nothing better than feeling that way.”

Charley Pride’s 1971 recording of Ben Peters’ “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'” remains the definitive version of this a slightly naughty love song attempted by Conway Twitty, George Jones and Alan Jackson. The piano-driven arrangement here is classic early-Seventies countrypolitan, propelling the singer’s only crossover Top 40 pop hit. Pride’s métier has always been an easygoing effortlessness, which perfectly suits this ode to the pleasures and virtues of “Drunk in Love”-style domesticity.

If sparks flying off metal could sound sophisticated, they’d sound like Earl Scruggs’ three-finger, five-string, five-alarm-fire banjo picking on this instrumental classic, which enshrined the banjo as a lead instrument in bluegrass. A stoic virtuoso from the western North Carolina boonies, Scruggs peppered the air with rippling eighth-note ragtime rolls on “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” (a song derived from an earlier track, “Bluegrass Breakdown,” that he wrote for Bill Monroe), trading solo breaks with fiddler Benny Sims. Despite its innovative panache, the song only hit the country (and pop) charts after appearing as accompaniment to the car-chase scenes in Arthur Penn’s scintillating, taboo-flaunting 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde.

California’s second oldest state prison was a brutal place before the state implemented much-need penal reforms in 1944. Johnny Cash learned of that dark period at a screening of the 1951 film Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison, while serving with the U.S. Air Force, stationed in Germany. Cash initially recorded the song for Sun Records in 1956, but the version he performed 12 years later for Folsom’s inmates became the iconic hit. It’s said that the raucous cheers following, “I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die” were actually added in post-production, but who really wants to believe that?

Advertisements

Rolling Stone’s Booting Ass and Taking Names: Country’s 20 Best Revenge Songs

From Carrie Underwood’s tire slashing to Johnny Cash’s sucker punches, count down the best tunes about getting even.
Carrie Underwood Before He Cheats
(Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic)

Country music may be the genre of the Bible Belt, but when it comes to avenging sins, its lyrical weapons are plenty and potent. Carrie Underwood swings a baseball bat, Johnny Cash uses fists, Miranda Lambert loads a gun and Toby Keith fires up footwear. Forget looking good as the best revenge; it’s all about a good aim. Here are the 20 country songs that prove best that what comes around goes around.

20. Miranda Lambert, “White Liar”

Maybe it’s because her father was a private detective, but Lambert takes no prisoners when it comes to cheating hearts. From the first line of this 2009 hit, she puts her man on notice that he’s not nearly as clever as he thinks, as he spreads his “charms” all over town. But what we don’t find out until the end of the song is that what’s good for the goose is even better for the gander. “Here’s a bombshell just for you/Turns out I’ve been lying, too,” she sings, revealing that she’s been spreading a few things of her own.

19. Johnny Cash, “A Boy Named Sue”

Thanks, Dad. . . for nothing. It’s hard to be grateful when you’re a dude whose name is Sue. In this At San Quentin classic written by Shel Silverstein, the Man in Black tells the tale of a boy whose deadbeat father gave him the feminine moniker before he skipped town. Though he later learns this was a gesture to get his son to toughen up in his absence, it’s difficult to shake off years of bullying, and the whole thing ends in an old-school scuffle – complete with a severed ear – set to a chugging Cash-ian beat and plenty of tongue-in-cheek. Though they settle it all in the end, one thing’s clear: there will be no Sue Jr. “If I ever have a son, I think I’m gonna name him Bill or George! Anything but Sue!”

18. Taylor Swift, “Better Than Revenge”

Taylor Swift has made a multi-million dollar career out of getting lyrical revenge, with this track from 2010’s Speak Now perhaps packing the strongest punch. “There’s nothing I do better than revenge,” she sings, though she never details just what exactly she’s going to do to the man-stealing actress who’s “better known for things she does on the mattress.” But in that line lies the real-life karma. See, Swift’s revenge comes in the form of all those rumors about celebrities who inspire her songs. This one was allegedly about actress Camilla Belle, who dated pop prince Joe Jonas just after he dumped the singer-songwriter, and thus had her dirty laundry aired on pop and country stations worldwide.

17. Porter Wagoner, “The Cold Hard Facts of Life”

Bill Anderson wrote this Number Two country hit, the title cut of a 1966 Wagoner album that served up infidelity, divorce, drunkenness and murder. Arriving back in town early, our narrator hopes to surprise the missus. Figuring that pink champagne makes a nice welcome-home gift, the unsuspecting hubby encounters a guy at the liquor store who’s also buying booze for his lady. He’s still clueless when the guy tells the cashier “her husband’s out of town,” but wises up when he sees that the dude has driven right to his house. After downing the entire bottle, he decides it’s time to make his move — a move that doesn’t end well.

16. Kathleen Edwards, “In State”

Kathleen Edwards has gotten herself mixed up with the wrong man. “You talk so sweet until the going gets tough/The last job you pulled was never big enough,” she laments, knowing he’s unlikely to clean himself up. Although we’re never told the exact nature of her dude’s dirty dealings — drug running? bank robbing? — Edwards does let us in on a little secret: she’s gearing up to call the cops and tip them off. If her love isn’t enough to scare the guy straight, maybe 20 years in a state penitentiary will do the trick.

15. Nancy Sinatra, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'”

Nancy Sinatra was about to be dropped from her famous father’s record label in 1966 when producer Lee Hazlewood had her record “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” a jangly song he’d originally written for himself before realizing Sinatra’s sinewy, nubile delivery was just what his tune needed to take off. The distinctive, walking double bass line helped make the singer’s rendition the definitive take on this revenge classic, sounding just like a ravishing ladylove sliding on a slick pair of high-heeled boots before giving a sultry “so long” and strutting out the door. It’s the musical encompassment of having the power to exalt or the power to destroy. . . coupled with the power of sexy footwear.

14. Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats”

Since the release of this feisty number nearly a decade ago, not a single day has passed where it hasn’t blasted over the speakers of a football field, a Buffalo Wild Wings or a crappy sound system at happy hour karaoke, fearlessly unleashed from the lungs of any woman ever done wrong. Written by Chris Tompkins and Josh Kear, “Before He Cheats” was first unleashed in 2006, on the same album that catapulted Underwood from small-town Oklahoma shy girl to pop-country starlet in four singles flat. Because letting go and moving on never feels as good as property damage, the song’s crossover success received endless accolades and crashed the Billboard charts Louisville Slugger-style, just like the way Underwood smashes her cheating lover’s 4×4 truck in the cutthroat recording.

13. Drive By Truckers, “Decoration Day”

Jason Isbell brought this song about a raging war between Southern families to the Drive-By Truckers, and it went on to become the title track to the group’s 2003 album. The bitter, fatal feud he depicts in the lyrics — between the Hill and Lawson clans — makes the Hatfield and McCoys’ beef look like a game of tag. But it’s the unwillingness of the narrator, a Lawson, to continue the conflict that elevates the song to higher art. As he sings, “I got dead brothers in East Tennessee,” you can hear him deciding, “This ends with me.” Because while blood may be thicker than water, a son doesn’t have to defend his dad’s legacy if the father is himself a son of a bitch.

12. Pistol Annies, “Trailer for Rent”

Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, otherwise known as Pistol Annies, never sounded so pissed as they do in this song about kicking a no-good dude to the curb. Tired of her husband’s “shit”, a put-upon wife leaves food on the stove and splits, but not before putting an ad in the paper advertising that the titular trailer is in need of a new tenant. Fast forward a decade, and the self-consumed ex-husband is still sprawled out on the couch — drinking beers and, likely, not even realizing his pistol of a lady up and left.

11. Bobby Bare, “Marie Laveau”

Don’t piss off the voodoo queen. This 1974 single was Hall of Famer Bare’s only Number One hit, and shows how revenge can be so much more fun when you have Creole witchcraft in your pocket of evil tools. In this virtually verse-less story-song written by Shel Silverstein and folk singer Baxter Taylor, Marie unleashes her wrath when a suitor swindles her for some cash and tries to leave before the wedding bells ring – a tale Bare tells in his smooth twang and country-blues boogie. “Oooooo-we! Another man done gone,” he sings, after warning future beaus to either seal the deal or just steer clear.

10. Jason Isbell, “Yvette”

A murder ballad about a literal family affair, “Yvette” spins the story of a teenaged boy who admires a quiet, glassy-eyed schoolmate from across the classroom. He follows her home one night and watches through the window, horrified, as her father walks into her bedroom and inflicts some unspeakable acts of abuse. “He won’t hold you that way anymore, Yvette,” Isbell promises, returning to the scene of the crime later that evening with a Weatherby rifle in his arms and revenge on his mind. Although the song wraps up before he pulls the trigger, we’re guessing this story ends with a bang.

9. John Prine, “Sweet Revenge”

Sometimes, revenge isn’t just in the lyrics – it’s the actual song itself. After his second album failed to resonate as powerfully as his debut, and he’d literally quit his day job, Prine was suffering from a bit of an existential crisis. He chose to respond with a third LP, Sweet Revenge, full of stunners like “Mexican Home” and “Please Don’t Bury Me,” along with the title track. With lyrics ripped from Hunter S. Thompson (“The milkman left me a note yesterday/’Get out of this town by noon/You’re coming on way too soon/And besides that, we never liked you anyway'”), he hits back at the detractors with a priceless melody that said this Chicagoan wasn’t going anywhere, no matter what the milkman demands.

8. Waylon Jennings, “Mental Revenge”

This 1968 hit — later covered by both Jamey Johnson and Linda Ronstadt — shows how to get some vengeance without getting your hands dirty. “Hope” is the operative word in the Mel Tillis-penned song, which shows a scorned lover wishing a variety of devious outcomes upon his former lady. “Well, I hope that the friend you’ve thrown yourself with/Gets drunk and loses his job,” Jennings sings to a steadfast shuffle. This is a kiss-off with no need for a minor key.

7. Justin Townes Earle, “Someone Will Pay”

Justin Townes Earle has never avoided an association with his famous country singer father, Steve Earle, and the younger Earle has certainly never held back on wearing his daddy issues on his sleeves. “I don’t get angry; I get even,” he sings on the opening line of the deceptively cheery sounding, country-blues ditty “Someone Will Pay.” The song is off the singer’s 2015 LP Absent Fathers, which is the companion album to its 2014 predecessor, Single Mothers. And it’s no great mystery who Justin is singing about (or rather, who he’s singing to) when he croons, “On my mama’s life, someone will pay for the way you lied.” The song does leave one question unanswered, though: Who is that “someone?” Father, or son?

6. Miranda Lambert, “Gunpowder and Lead”

Lambert’s first shot at the Top 10 arrived thanks to this nasty bit of rough justice (or is it premeditated murder?) that opens and closes with the groans of a guy whose fate is sealed after he slaps her face and shakes her “like a rag doll.” Waiting for the dude to post bail and show up on her doorstep, Lambert’s all liquored up and ready to send them both straight to hell. The singer, who had already laid waste (in song) to another ex in “Kerosene” by burning the cheating bastard’s house down, has since softened her image a bit, but anyone foolish enough to tangle with this Texan probably deserves every damn thing he gets. While she may have gained a reputation for a high body count in her songs, the inspiration for this tune came from a real place. When she was a teenager, Lambert’s parents took in women and children who had been abused.

5. Garth Brooks, “The Thunder Rolls”

The cheating protagonist in Garth Brooks’ 1991 hit makes one fatal mistake: he returns home from a sordid tryst still smelling like his lover’s perfume. Whoops. While the country singer wanted to end the song with a bang — literally, with the wife pulling a pistol on her philandering husband — the album version leaves things a little cleaner. Networks even banned the video, which depicted scenes of domestic violence. But no one tells Garth what to do: live, he plays the whole shebang, telling the ill-fated tale in its entirely to a wicked melody that sounds like a devious storm rolling into to a dusty saloon. And that video? It won a CMA Award. Talk about the best revenge.

4. Maggie Rose, “Looking Back Now”

Maggie Rose is full of regret but shows little remorse in the role of a love-scorned death row killer who’s moments away from a lethal injection in this wrenching, modern murder ballad. While the once whiskey-swigging, gun-toting Rose, now scared and begging for God’s forgiveness, cowers at the prick of the needle, the song is unflinching. “Looking back now, I should have probably let him run,” the singer intones as she feels the sodium thiopental drip into her veins, but “paybacks are hell where I come from.” And not just where she comes from, but where she bets she’s going, too. In the tradition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” Rose offers her famous last words in the final verse of a song about letting love take you all the way down to the depths of hell.

3. Dixie Chicks, “Goodbye Earl”

Songwriter Dennis Linde, who penned “Burnin’ Love” for Elvis and such irreverent hits as “Bubba Shot the Jukebox” and “Queen of My Double-Wide Trailer,” wrote this Thelma and Louise-inspired revenge fantasy. Dixie Chick Natalie Maines unfolds the tale with extra grit in her voice as she sings that “Earl had to die” — as retribution for abusing wife, Wanda, before the ink on their marriage certificate was dry. With help from best friend Mary Anne, the battered bride poisons Earl’s black eyed peas, wraps him up in a tarp and hides the body without a trace. . . of evidence or regret, that is. Besides, “it turns out he was a missing person who nobody missed at all.” “Goodbye Earl” wasn’t the last controversial thing the Chicks ever did – but it was certainly the funniest.

2. Toby Keith, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (the Angry American)”

We’ll put a boot in your ass/It’s the American way.” No other lyric more completely defined the patriotic (or, as many argued, jingoistic) sentiments that dominated country airwaves in the wake of 9/11, running up to the invasion of Iraq. Like many hawkish Americans, the unapologetic Keith, firm in the belief that justice and vengeance were one in the same, wasn’t just angry — he was enraged. And he didn’t mince words on what prevailed as his signature song (at least until “Red Solo Cup” came along). The de facto soundtrack to the Bush Doctrine, the song — much like the war — was polarizing in its promise to blow axis of evil inhabitants back to the Stone Age. The song itself made good on that promise, its titled famously scrawled across some of the bombs that dropped over Baghdad.

1. Carrie Underwood, “Two Black Cadillacs”

Underwood is great when she’s playing the good girl, but she’s even better at being bad. In the delicious “Two Black Cadillacs,” a woman spots her husband’s mistress at his funeral.  It turns out this is not the first time the two have met, and their actions have been far more diabolical than their man’s infidelity. The pair make unlikely bedfellows as they plot to do in the guy who has done them both wrong. If “Before He Cheats” is Adultery 101,  then “Two Black Cadillacs” is a graduate course that makes taking a bat to someone’s car seem like child’s play.

Jimmy Fallon Sings ‘We Are The Champions’ With Every Music Superstar


In honor of his Patriots winning Super Bowl XLIX, Jimmy Fallon brought together an all-star cast of musicians to help him sing an awesome version of “We Are The Champions.”  Stars include Carrie Underwood, Sam Smith, Ariana Grande, Blake Shelton, Usher, Meghan Trainor, One Direction and even Christina Aguilera.

Watch below.

This Day in Music History — January 7

1968 : The influential San Francisco radio station KMPX asks listeners to select their choices for the upcoming elections. They choose Bob Dylan for President, Paul Butterfield as Vice-President, and George Harrison ambassador to the UN.

1980 : Led Zeppelin’s In Through The Out Door is certified platinum; it will be the last Zep album issued while drummer John Bonham is alive.

2006 : Pink marries the motocross rider Carey Hart in Costa Rica.

2009 : At the 35th Annual People’s Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, Carrie Underwood is the night’s big winner, taking home the Favorite Female Singer, Country Song (“Last Name”) and Favorite Star Under 35 Awards. Rascal Flatts also picks up an award for Favorite Group.

2012 : Katy Perry’s album Teenage Dream becomes the first album in history to have 7 songs from the same album reach #1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart. This was official as soon as the single “The One That Got Away” hit #1.

The best mass musician sing-a-longs EVER

from Hello Giggles

by Sophia Elias

Before Tuesday night, mass musician sing-a-longs were few and far between. Thankfully, BBC Music pulled out all the stops with their star-studded cover of the Beach Boys 1996 hit, “God Only Knows”. In light of the BBC Music launch, the network got everyone (and by everyone, I mean 29 world class musicians) to participate in the promo. With the likes of Elton John, Florence Welch, Pharrell, Lorde, Chris Martin, Dave Grohl and Sam Smith, it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Much like its all-star predecessors, “God Only Knows” will contribute to a good cause. The song is set to be released as a single in order to raise money for the BBC’s Children in Need appeal. I have to say, I haven’t been one to seek out celebrity sing-a-longs, but there is something powerful about world class artists collaborating on a single project. I think we ought take a trip down memory lane and give a nod to all those great musical collabs from the past. There are more than you probably know:

1. We Are The World (1985)

“We Are The World” is the mother of all mass musician sing-a-longs. Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, “We Are The World” was released in an effort to raise awareness and bring relief to the famine in Africa between 1983-1985. The song raised over $10 million in record sales from the United States alone. The song included performances from over 44 world class musicians—including Cyndi Lauper, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and Ray Charles—who operated under the name of USA for Africa. Fun fact: When the musicians entered the studio, they were met with a sign that read: “Check your egos at the door.” Continue reading