Living in the South, especially close to Nashville, means that country music is everywhere. Yet I know so many people who say they hate country music. My parents change the radio station if even a hint of twang pops up through the speakers. My best friend likes a grand total of one country song: “Good Directions” by Billy Currington. Somehow, even with everyone close to me avoiding the genre, I managed to hear a song by George Strait on the radio during my senior year of high school. From that point on I was hooked.
Everyone is entitled to dislike a genre of music. Personally, the only genre I can’t stand is jazz, which makes working in a coffee shop pretty hard sometimes. But I’ll say this for country music: it’s rare to find one genre with so much heart. Sure, there are plenty of terrible country songs and singers, just like there are in any genre. But when you find a good country song, it sticks with you: whether it’s about family, love, or just daily living.
Here’s a list of some of the best country songs that have stuck with me over the years:
- Entire discography, George Strait.
All right, so I’ve already cheated and included all of George Strait’s songs. But that’s only because I wanted to start with the undisputed King of Country. I’ll only leave one example of his work below, but his strong, soothing voice, relatable and usually touching lyrics, and old-country sound should make him essential to any fan of music. “Amarillo by Morning” tells the story of a young bull-riding cowboy. It’s one of Strait’s most famous early songs.
2. “Broken Wing” by Martina McBride.
Martina can sing like no other, but besides that, this song’s lyrics tell a story of hope even in pain. It’s been covered a million times by a million fans, but the original really captures a staple of good country music: pure, simple storytelling.
3. “Watching You” by Rodney Atkins.
You wanna cry? You came straight to the right genre. “Watching You” won’t bring tears of sadness, but nostalgic tears? Happy tears? Father-son tears? Check, check, and double check. I can’t listen to this song unless I want both my heart and tears to well up. It’s just that good.
4. “Roll With It” by Easton Corbin.
This song sums up a lot of what country music is about: an escape from the everyday hustle on a fun, sunny day; romance; trucks; and pig skins. Easton Corbin also sounds a little bit like a young George Strait, so he had me hooked on his music from the start. “Roll With It” was one of my first favorite country songs.
5. “My List” by Toby Keith.
Today, Toby Keith is more widely known for his sillier songs, like “Red Solo Cup,” but he’s been in the business for a long time. Keith doesn’t sugarcoat anything and owns his tough-guy image most of the time (which, hey, I love), but some of his songs show a more thoughtful side to the Oklahoma-raised artist. “My List” talks about what’s truly important in life, with lyrics like “I won’t break my back for a million bucks I can’t take to my grave” and “Start living: that’s the next thing on my list.”
6. “Everything But the Wings” by Alan Jackson.
Alan Jackson commands respect and adoration just being who he is, but then he went and wrote this song for his wife and went over into personal hero territory. I’ve loved Jackson almost as long as I’ve loved George Strait, and I can’t recommend two more genuine and talented country singers than the pair of them.
7. “Rhinestone Cowboy” by Glen Campbell.
It’s the classic story of a young man trying to make it big, cowboy-style. Glen Campbell is a true legend, and this song is what first put him down in the history books. I used to sing this song on the way to a job I didn’t like, dreaming of bigger and better things. Or of just moving to Texas.
8. “Mama Tried” by Merle Haggard.
Today, the great Merle Haggard died on his 79th birthday. RIP, Merle, and thank you for all of your wonderful stories and songs. “Mama Tried” paved the way for outlaw country, told a darkly humorous story of a young criminal, and showed just how catchy a Merle song could be.
I could go on forever about my favorite country songs, and I have two full playlists of them that aren’t even mentioned here. I barely even touched on the old country greats, and I didn’t even get a chance to plug Chris Stapleton (but seriously, he’s a stunning lyricist with a voice like thunder). But what I’m really trying to say is, if you think you hate country music, give it a chance. It’s not all bro-meets-girl, let’s-drink-until-we-fall-off-the-truckbed stuff. Mostly, country music is about family, friends, small-town culture, working hard, and being proud of who you are. I think there’s something for everyone in country.