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?

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Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Songwriters 50-41

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See Part 1Part 2,Part 3Part 4 and Part 5

50- Billy Joel

From a town known as Oyster Bay, Long Island, rode a boy with a six-pack in his hand — Billy Joel, in real life a piano man from Hicksville. Joel started out playing in rock & roll bands before returning to the piano at the beginning of the Seventies. “After seven years of trying to make it as a rock star, I decided to do what I always wanted to do — write about my own experiences,” he said in 1971, around the time of his debut album, Cold Spring Harbor. Joel has always had a heart in Tin Pan Alley, first hitting it big in the Seventies with the semi-confessional tale of wasting away as a lounge performer, “Piano Man.” But he’s applied his old-school craft to a host of rock styles, scoring hits as a blue-collar balladeer (“She’s Always a Woman”) or a doo-wop soul man (“The Longest Time”), trying out jazzy Scorcese-like streetlife serenades (“Zanzibar,” “Stiletto”). His signature song, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” is an epic seven-minute tale of suburban dreams biting the dust down at the Parkway Diner. Happy 50th anniversary, Brenda and Eddie.

49- Don Henley and Glenn Frey

The two future Eagles were lucky to meet up in L.A. in the early Seventies, but in their hunger for success, they were even more fortunate to have formidable competition. “In the beginning, we were the underdogs,” Frey once said. “Being in close proximity to Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, and Crosby, Stills and Nash, this unspoken thing was created between Henley and me, which said, ‘If we want to be up here with the big boys, we’d better write some fucking good songs.'” They proceeded to do just that: Whether composing together (“Desperado,” “One of These Nights,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “Lyin’ Eyes”) or with other band members (“Hotel California,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” “New Kid in Town”), Henley and Frey knew that songs — and fastidiously produced recordings of them— would be the key to their success far more so than their harmonies or lack of flashy showmanship. And those songs, soaked in world-weariness, cynicism, resentment and the occasional happy ending, were so precisely crafted that, decades later, they keep people returning to the records and seeing the band’s seemingly endless reunion tour.

48- Elton John and Bernie Taupin

In 1967, a clever record company executive paired lyricist Bernie Taupin and a young piano player named Reginald Kenneth Dwight. Their partnership has endured for nearly 50 years, putting 57 songs in the Top 40. “Without [Bernie] the journey would not have been possible,” Elton said in 1994. “I let all my expressions and my love and my pain and my anger come out with my melodies. I had someone to write my words for me. Without him, the journey would not have been possible.” Their process has remained nearly identical from day one: Bernie writes a lyric and sends it to Elton, who sits down at a piano and turns it into a song. They first hit it big in the Seventies with “Your Song,” a tune that Taupin now calls “one of the most naïve and childish lyrics in the entire repertoire of music.” But it quickly lead to more advanced work like “Madman Across the Water,” “Levon” and “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” along with goofy fun tunes like “Bennie and the Jets” and “Crocodile Rock.” “Andy Warhol never explained what his paintings were about,” Taupin said said in 2013. “He’d just say, ‘What does it mean to you?’ That’s how I feel about songs.”

47- Neil Diamond

There’s a reason Diamond’s songs have been covered by everyone from the Monkees and Smash Mouth to Sinatra. First are the meaty, hooky melodies, dating back to early Diamond sing-alongs like “Cherry, Cherry” and “Sweet Caroline” and extending into later, more brooding angst-a-thons like “I Am. . .I Said” and “Song Sung Blue.” The all-ages appeal of his music also has to do with the way Diamond has sketched out his life — and the lives of many of his fans. From his early, frisky Brill Building pop (“I’m a Believer”) to the later-life love songs about his latest wife, few singers brood and contemplate life in song the way Diamond has. And let’s not forget the ebullient “Cracklin’ Rosie,” the vaguely salacious “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” just two of the more than 50 songs he’s placed in the Billboard Top 100 during his half-century-plus career. “I’m motivated to find myself,” he told Rolling Stone in 1976. “I do it in a very silly way. I write these little songs and go and sing them. . .It seems like an odd way to gain an inner sense of acceptance of the self. But it’s what I do.”

46- Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong

Barrett Strong sang Motown’s first big hit, 1959’s “Money (That’s What I Want),” but found an even greater success as a lyricist. For a six-year stretch beginning with 1967’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” he and composer/producer Norman Whitfield were a mighty songwriting team at Motown. Working most famously with the Temptations, they created “psychedelic soul,” built on Whitfield’s expansively experimental production and Strong’s downbeat, socially conscious lyrics. As far away from pop convention as Whitfield and Strong’s music could be — several of the artists they worked with grew frustrated with their freakiness — their sound found its audience: the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion,” the Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes” and Edwin Starr’s vehement protest diatribe “War” were all huge hits. “Norman Whitfield was the visionary,” Motown guitarist Dennis Coffey recalled. “He was always building up layers, making breakdowns, creating this searing funk with amazing dynamic changes.”

45- Robbie Robertson

At a time when many rock songwriters were interested in psychedelic escapism, the Band’s Robbie Robertson looked for inspiration in America — its history, its myths and its music. Songs like “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Up on Cripple Creek,” “The Weight” and “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” were, as Greil Marcus wrote in Mystery Train, “committed to the very idea of America: complicated, dangerous and alive.” Robinson’s songwriting grounded the Band, influencing generations of back-to-the-land rockers. Yet, he was content to play a kind of behind-the-scenes role, passing out songs for the Band’s three distinct vocalists — Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel — in an act of generosity that enhanced the Band’s theme of communal progress and spirit. “I had almost like a theater workshop,” he said, “where you’re casting people in these parts, and that’s what my job was then.” Since the Band ended its run, Robinson has only released albums sporadically; his most recent, 2013’s How to Become Clairvoyant, delivered vintage American idioms with a 21st Century feel.

44- Jimmy Webb

“[Songwriting] is hell on Earth,” Jimmy Webb wrote in his book, Tunesmith. “If it isn’t, then you’re doing it wrong.” Born in Oklahoma in 1946, Webb is an heir to the Great American Songbook. Sixties hits like “Up, Up and Away,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” and “Wichita Lineman” marked him as an MOR master, a pigeonhole that irked him no end: According to Linda Ronstadt, Webb “was shunned and castigated for what was perceived as his lack of hipness.” While he’s recognized today for his unique explorations themes of loneliness and individuality in the American landscape, his most popular song remains an abiding enigma. “I don’t think it’s a very good song,” he said of “MacArthur Park,” the much-covered 1968 hit he penned for singer Richard Harris. “But the American people appear to have developed an incredible fascination with the one image of the cake out in the rain.”

43- Johnny Cash

His voice had the authority of experience, and so did his songs. In them, he was the man who taught the weeping willow how to cry, the solitary figure who wore black for the poor and beaten-down, the stone-cold killer who boasted he’d “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.” At Sun Records and later at Columbia — in songs like “I Walk the Line,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Big River,” “Five Feet High and Rising” and “I Still Miss Someone” — he married the language of country, blues and gospel to the emerging snap of rock & roll. He recognized emerging talent, recording Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” and one of his signature songs was written by his future wife, June Carter, about their emerging love. And he never stopped, recording “The Wanderer” with U2 in 1993, and a series of albums with Rick Rubin in his final years as he battled the effects of Shy-Dragger Syndrome. “Blessed with a profound imagination, he used the gift to express all the various lost causes of the human soul,” Dylan wrote after Cash’s death in 2003. “This is a miraculous and humbling thing. Listen to him, and he always brings you to your senses.”

42- Sly Stone

“My only weapon is my pen/And the frame of mind I’m in,” Sly Stone muttered on “Poet,” his clearest public statement on the art of songwriting. In his late-Sixties/early-Seventies prime, it was a potent combination: composer/producer David Axelrod called him “the greatest talent in pop music history.” Born Sylvester Stewart, Sly was a DJ and record producer with an equal love for soul music ands the Beatles. When he convened Sly and the Family Stone in the late Sixties, he deployed a fast-talking radio jock’s ear for aphorism (“different strokes for different folks,” “I want to take you higher”) and an ability to make tricky arrangements seem natural (“Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin” builds raw funk out of everyone in the band playing radically different parts). From the optimism of “Everyday People” to the funky angst of 1971’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On, his music mapped the flower-power era’s journey from utopian promise to catastrophic meltdown as well as anyone, and his grooves and riffs have been endlessly sampled by the hip-hop artists to arrive in his wake. “I have no doubt about my music,” Sly said in 1970. “The truth sustains.”

41- Max Martin

Every pop era has at least one songwriter who effortlessly taps into the zeitgeist, and for the last roughly 15 years, that person has been this Swedish writer-producer. Starting in the Nineties with the Backstreet Boy’s “I Want It That Way” and Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time,” among others, Martin helped create the whooshing, hyper-energized sound of modern pop — a talent that has extended to a mind-boggling list of recent collaborations that include Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” and “Teenage Dream,” Ariana Grande’s “Problem,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” and Adam Lambert’s “Whataya Want from Me.” “I try to make the songs as good as I can — the way I like it, you know?” Martin has said. “And I guess my taste sometimes happens to be what other people, particularly radio programmers, like, too. As you know, a lot of the stuff that was once considered rubbish or ‘for kids’ is now considered classic.”

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.

This Day in Music History — December 4

1956 : At Sun Studio in Memphis, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis jam together on a few tunes. Johnny Cash shows up later to get in the picture and complete what will become known as the “Million Dollar Quartet.”

1969 : Jay-Z is born in housing projects in Brooklyn – something he will remind us of many times in his raps.

1971 : During a Frank Zappa concert, the Montreaux Casino in Switzerland catches fire when someone fires a flare gun, inspiring Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water.” Deep Purple were there to record their album Machine Head the following day, but ended up using the Grand Hotel and including the song as a last-minute addition.

1980 : Led Zeppelin makes it official: they will not continue after the death of their drummer John Bonham. They never fully reform, but do play some shows with Jason Bonham filling in for his father.

1993 : Frank Zappa dies of terminal prostate cancer at age 52 in Los Angeles, California.

This Day in Music History — November 10

1958 : Lou Rawls, who is fronting a group called the Travelers, is badly injured in a car accident in Marion, Arkansas that also involves Sam Cooke, who is headlining the tour. The driver, Edward Cunningham, dies in the accident.

1975 : Queen shoots the video for Bohemian Rhapsody, which according to director Bruce Gowers, takes about four hours. It airs repeatedly on the British show Top Of The Pops and helps the song become one of the most popular in UK history.

2002 : Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, Lenny Kravitz, and Brian Setzer guest star on The Simpsons in an episode where they run a rock and roll fantasy camp. The first rule of the camp: There are no rules! Second rule: No outside food.

2003 : An emotional tribute to the recently-deceased Johnny Cash is held at Nashville’s famous Ryman Auditorium, featuring classic Cash songs performed by Sheryl Crow, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Kid Rock, and Steve Earle, among others.

This Day in Music History — October 26

1935 : The NBC Radio show Lux Radio Theatre presents its newest find — a 12-year-old girl singer named Judy Garland.

1965 : The Beatles are awarded Members of the British Empire (MBE) medals from Queen Elizabeth II in a ceremony held at Buckingham Palace. John Lennon claims they smoked marijuana in the bathroom before receiving the awards, although George Harrison said it was just tobacco. Harrison and Paul McCartney put the awards on their jackets for the Sgt. Pepper album cover; Lennon sent his back in 1969.

1980 : Paul Kantner of Jefferson Starship is taken to LA’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after he (correctly) suspects he’s having a brain hemorrhage. His wife initially doesn’t believe him, but eventually calls the hospital’s front desk, requesting “would you please get an ambulance for this asshole?”

1993 : Michael Jackson is awarded a patent for the system that allows him to lean in unnatural angles during performances of “Smooth Criminal.” To recreate the video on stage, Jackson and his dancers wore special shoes that they could insert into pegs set up on stage for the famous lean.

2010 : Keith Richards releases his autobiography, which is called Life. His drug use is a big topic – here’s a quote: “I loved a good high. And if you stay up, you get the songs that everyone else misses because they’re asleep.”

This Day in Music History — October 25

1983 : “Islands in the Stream,” written by The Bee Gees, becomes a #1 Pop hit in a duet by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton.

1996 : The first Ozzfest is held as a two-day festival in Phoenix, Arizona and Devore, California.

1997 : During a concert in Flint, Michigan, Johnny Cash tells the crowd he has Parkinson’s Disease after he falls over trying to pick up a guitar pick. The crowd thinks he’s joking, but Cash’s manager confirms it in a statement two days later.

2000 : Billy Ray Cyrus lends his support to two causes when his tour bus stops in 16 different locations on Nashville’s Music Row throughout the day to collect food for Second Harvest Food Bank’s Harvest 2000; and later the same night, headlines a concert benefiting the charity

2006 : Forbes announces that Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain is now the Top-Earning Dead Celebrity, beating out Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Johnny Cash, George Harrison, Ray Charles, and Bob Marley.

This Day in Music History — October 20

1950 : Tom Petty is born in Gainesville, Florida. Formed The Heartbreakers in Los Angeles, California. Member of The Traveling Wilburys.

1969 : John Lennon and Yoko Ono release their Wedding Album LP (with a photo of their own wedding cake and a copy of their marriage certificate included.)

1977 : Lynyrd Skynyrd members Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines die in a plane crash in Mississippi. Gaines’ sister, Cassie, who was a backup singer with the group, is also killed along with 2 pilots and the band’s manager. Other members of the group are badly injured.

1999 : A year after nearly dying from pneumonia, Johnny Cash finds himself battling the condition again. Cash is listed in serious condition at Baptist Hospital in Nashville.

2001 : Raising money for victims of the September 11th attacks, Paul McCartney leads “The Concert For New York” in Madison Square Garden. Elton John, Billy Joel, David Bowie, The Who, and Eric Clapton all participate

This Day in Music History — October 3

1965 : Johnny Cash is stopped by US Customs officials at the Mexican border on suspicion of heroin smuggling and found to be holding over 1,000 prescription narcotics and amphetamines. He receives a suspended sentence.

1969 : Gwen Stefani was born.

1992 : Sinead O’Connor, who is the musical guest on Saturday Night Live, tears up a photo of Pope John Paul II, saying, “Fight the real enemy.” She is banned from the show and later becomes a priest, although the Catholic church does not recognize her Order.

2001 : Keith Urban goes home to Australia to accept a special Aria Award – roughly the equivalent to a Grammy in the U.S. Urban receives the Outstanding Achievement Award in recognition of sales and chart success in the U.S.

2004 : VH1 holds its first Hip Hop Honors, giving awards to DJ Hollywood, DJ Kool Herc,KRS-One, Public Enemy (who also perform), Rock Steady Crew, Run-DMC, Tupac and Sugarhill Gang.

This Day in Music History — September 19

1960 : Chubby Checker’s version of “The Twist” goes to #1 while the original version by Hank Ballard & The Midnighters reaches its peak chart position of #28. Checker’s version of the song would top the charts again in 1962.

2003 : A week after his death at the age of 71, country legend Johnny Cash is bestowed with artist, song and album of the year awards at the Americana Music Awards ceremony in Nashville. Cash wins song of the year for his cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt and album of the Year for American IV: The Man Comes Around, the fourth in a series produced by Rick Rubin.

2003 : No one is injured when a chartered plane carrying Dixie Chicks clips a building at Glasgow Airport. The group is en route from Dublin for a concert at Glasgow’s Exhibition and Conference Center. The show goes on as planned.

2008 : Former Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker and DJ AM are seriously injured in a jet crash that killed four people. The plane hurtled off the end of a runway in South Carolina when a tire blew, engulfing the plane in flames. DJ AM died of an accidental drug overdose less than a year later.