Rolling Stone's Ridiculous Top 100 Country Songs: The Second Half
Leon Payne, Hank Williams, Jerry Irby at the Studewood Club, Houston, circa 1950. Payne wrote Williams' hit, "Lost Highway"; Irby wrote "Driving Nails In My Coffin."
Given the spread and the appeal-to-all-age-groups nature of Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time," the possibility that the list was computer-generated seems more and more likely.
Either that, or Rolling Stone is farming out its country blog to Best in Texas magazine? There are those ever-present, pesky concerns about advertising revenues generated via record labels that need constant cultivation, you know?
How else can the inclusion of Eric Church, Taylor Swift and Kacey Musgraves be rationally explained? In particular, Musgraves' track is so new, how can anyone have had the time and reflective distance to pronounce it a classic on par with tunes like "Night Life" or "Mama Tried" yet?
Actually, it looks like a hook in the water -- or an olive branch? -- for the Americana Music Association crowd. But be it human- or cyber-generated, the list has other glaring problems, not the least of which is that a reader has to click on 100 different pages to view it all.
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But first, some leavening regarding our previously published comments. My compadre Arty Hill took me to task over the assertion that there haven't been any worthy classics in country music since the 1980s.
The only tunes since 1990 that I'd put on the list off the top of my head would be "Here In The Real World" by Alan Jackson (far and away his best recorded song); George Jones' "Choices" and/or "The Cold Hard Truth'"; Merle's "Wishing All These Old Things Were New'"; [and] Vern Gosdin, "Is It Raining At Your House" in 1990. It's possible there's a George Strait tune that would pass the giggle test -- "I Can Still Make Cheyenne" is a good one -- but they're all pretty pop-oriented.
I'm more a fan of '80s country than you probably. The Gosdin stuff that he and Max T. Barnes wrote -- "Chiseled In Stone," etc. Bob McDill wrote a bunch of good ones. Keith Whitley cut a bunch of good songs, died in 1989.
Then it all really went in the shitter. When everybody started listening to Clint Black, saying he was the better alternative to Garth, I thought they were nuts and I quit listening to country radio altogether right about then.
Noted and approved, Mr. Hill. Set 'em up, Joe, and play walkin' the floor.
Further observations from this cynic:
No Hank Snow? No "I've Been Everywhere," no "I Don't Hurt Any More," no "Ninety Miles An Hour Down a Dead End Street?" Bah, humbug. Get off my lawn.
No truckers songs? None? Zilch? No "Six Days on the Road," but we have C.W. McCall's "Convoy?" No "Freight Liner Fever" by Dave Dudley, but we have Gram Parsons' "$1,000 Wedding?" What is this foul odor?
No Maddox Brothers and Rose but Kacey Musgraves and Taylor Swift are in? Say what? No Jean Shepard, no Connie Smith? Numb-chucks.
No Gene Watson? No Freddie Fender or Vern Gosdin? No Moe Bandy, Johnny Bush, or Charlie Walker? Blasphemy. Jim Reeves, Don Gibson? No "He'll Have to Go?" David Allan Coe would like to have a word with you in the alley. Bring a knife.
No Webb Pierce? No Wynn Stewart? No Conway Twitty? No Vince Gill? What kind of communist conspiracy do we have going on here?
Kitty Wells and Hank Thomspon should have been declared a tie for "Wild Side of Life" and "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels."
Ignoring "You Never Even Called Me By My Name," "Sunday Morning Coming Down," "Night Life," "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down," "Pop a Top," "For The Good Times," "One Six Pack To Go?" No "Today I Started Loving You Again", no "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down," no "I'll Be There (If You Ever Want Me)"? The horror. May you be sentenced to an eternity of nothing but Mac Davis Muzak.
By the way, Rolling Stoners, you realize you left out Pat Green, right?
The Rolling Stone country Top 50:
The knives come out on the next page.
One deafening shot in the Great Nashville Credibility Scare, 1986
50. Steve Earle,"Guitar Town": Except for his bluegrass efforts, I doubt Steve ever consciously cuts a track with "country" in mind, but glad this one made the list. I'd bet he was as surprised as the rest of us that country radio actually "got" this and kept spinning it.
49.Louvin Brothers, "The Christian Life": No way to have a list like this without the Louvins. We might've picked a different tune, but this works.
48. Willie Nelson, "Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain": No-brainer due to its widespread exposure and popularity. Still, not my go-to Willie song by miles.
47. Bobby Gentry, "Ode To Billie Joe": No quarrel with this.
46. Roy Acuff, "Wabash Cannonball": Iconic. Too bad it forces us to leave out "The Great Titanic," "Great Speckled Bird," and "Birmingham Jail," all drop-dead classics by the King of Country Music.
45. Lefty Frizzell, "Long Black Veil": Can't argue against a tune and performance like this, but Lefty has a half dozen of equal caliber. "I Never Go Around Mirrors" came on the iPod at Poison Girl last week and the crowd actually shut up and listened.
44. George Jones, "The Grand Tour": No quarrel here, although this could just as easily have been No. 4.
43. Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, "Act Naturally": Great song, but Buck has half a dozen that top this. And a 100 greatest list without "Together Again" is sacrilege. "Close Up the Honky Tonks," kids.
42. Loretta Lynn, "Coal Miner's Daughter": This seems a bit obvious. I really doubt the kids at the Stone are all that fond of this one. Political correctness?
41. Townes van Zandt, "Pancho and Lefty": Of course, Townes couldn't sell eight copies of this, but fortunately someone got the tune in front of Willie Nelson, who brought Merle into the equation and, voila, international hit and some mailbox money for a guy who needed it. Showing their hipster cred by listing Townes? Probably. But no one in Texas thinks of Townes as "country."
40. Gram Parsons, "$1,000 Wedding": OK, swerving into absurdity once again. Great song, but you have to ask yourself, "What are these people thinking rating this in the Top 40 country songs of all time? If this one is in, where's 'Dead Flowers'?" I'm just going to say this is probably not the list this song needs to be included in and move along.
39. Kacey Musgraves, "Follow Your Arrow": I'd like to know the thought process that went on where a group of full-grown (we assume) music scribes reached a consensus that this is the 39th greatest country song of all time. Lobotomy time. This destroys any credibility this list ever hoped to have; Alan Jackson on line one.
38. Patsy Montana, "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart": Stone classic with a lot of historical significance, given that it was the first million-seller country hit by a female, but I'm not sure this tops some women left entirely off the list.
37. George Jones and Tammy Wynette, "Golden Rings": Classic. Nothing else to say. The utter definition of a country duet, although Conway and Loretta could hang right with the Possum and Miss Tammy.
36. Hank Williams, "Lost Highway": OK, Rolling Stone, make up your damn mind. You list Ray Wylie Hubbard, Emmett Miller and Townes van Zandt as artists even though the songs were actually made famous by others. But here you've listed Hank instead of Leon Payne. So you're ready to admit there really was no plan? Fair enough. (Spoiler: like Lomax said, listing "Settin' the Woods on Fire" above this is terminally dumb.)
35. Everly Brothers, "Bye, Bye Love": Great song, wrong list. If this is on the list, Carl Perkins should be on the list. Technical foul.
34. Carter Family, "Wildwood Flower": I doubt a single RS writer has ever heard this. At least the computer argued successfully to put a Carters tune on the list.
33. Porter Wagoner, "A Satisfied Mind": Killer. Could be in the Top 10. This one wins out by a nose over "I'll Go Down Swingin'" or "Cold Hard Facts of Life."
32. Mississippi Sheiks, "Sittin' On Top of the World": Of course Bob Wills took this to the stratosphere, but nice to see the Rolling Stone kiddos giving the Sheiks a nod. Of course, they probably have never even seen the beautifully recorded homage to the Sheiks by Steve Satterwhite and the Great Recession Orchestra.
31. Hank Williams, "Your Cheating Heart": Arbitrary placement, most likely. This could just as easily have been in the Top 5. Every element of a killer country song.
30. Faron Young, "Hello, Walls": No-brainer, although Faron could have scored with any of a half dozen of his biggest hits.Should probably be ranked higher. Another vote for Willie as a songwriter extraordinaire.
29. Jimmie Rodgers, "Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas)": Bullseye. This could easily be in the top 10.
28. Hank Williams, "I Saw the Light":: Another of our sainted Hank's masterpieces. "Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life."
27. Johnny Cash, "Ring of Fire": Hell yeah. Big Bad John at the height of his powers
26. Dixie Chicks, "Goodbye Earl": Enough already. Love the Chicks, but this pick is just plain dumb. "Traveling Soldier," anyone?
List continues on the next page.
25. Johnny Paycheck, "Take This Job and Shove It": Another one of those tossups from a monster artist. Flip it over to "Colorado Kool-Aid" and I'd be just as happy. And then there's "A-11," "Someone to Give My Love to," "Pardon Me, I've Got Someone To Kill," "The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised" and "Slide Off Your Satin Sheets." Hell, Paycheck probably should just have his own separate list.
24. Taylor Swift, "Mean": This is about as country as Mumford or Lumineers. Kiddie candy. The juxtaposition of this between Paycheck and Frizzell should be cause for a hillbilly jihad on Rolling Stone.
23. Lefty Frizzell, "If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time": Pure gold. The essence of all things country music.
22. Ernest Tubb, Walkin' the Floor Over You": More pure essence. As Texas as rattlesnakes and mesquite.
21. Carter Family, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken": Iconic, full of Appalachian purity and hard-scrabble. I'd still bet the computer said to put this one in.
20. Kenny Rogers, "The Gambler": Massive popularity, and "know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em" is one of the all-time country witticisms, but I don't think this even makes my Top 100. If I start including this, I'm opening this up for the Gatlin Brothers. Ain't gonna happen.
19. Loretta Lynn, "Don't Come Home a-Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind)": The motherlode.
18. George Strait, "All My Exes Live In Texas": I know, I know, every person who's ever been taken a two-step lesson at Broken Spoke knows this one by heart. Personally, I always thought it was trite and a bit contrived; I'll take George's Jim Lauderdale cuts over this one. "King of Broken Hearts," anyone?
17. Bob Wills, "New San Antonio Rose": Can't argue against this one, but for my money I'd pick "Faded Love," "Big Ball's in Cowtown," "The Yellow Rose of Texas" or "Deep In the Heart of Texas."
16. Glen Campbell, "Wichita Lineman": Okay, I'm one of those people who objected to calling Glen Campbell's poppy hits "country." And I'll take "By the Time I Get To Phoenix" over "Wichita Lineman" every time. (Note to Rolling Stone editors: It's Wichita, not Witchita).
15. Kitty Wells, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels": Should be in the Bible of country music.
14. Hank Williams, "Settin' the Woods on Fire": This is ridiculous. Hank has dozens of tunes that top this one. "Kaw-Liga," anyone? "Jambalya," "Move It On Over," "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It," "You Win Again"? This is one they got very, very wrong.
13. Bill Monroe, "Blue Moon of Kentucky": Another tossup, Monroe had so many great cuts. We can live with this pick, since Elvis could too.
12. Buck Owens, "I've Got a Tiger By the Tail": Another egregious screw-up. "Under Your Spell Again," "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke," "Together Again," "Buckaroo"...
11. Stanley Brothers, "Man of Constant Sorrow": Someone saw O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Great.
10. Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys": Tragically uninformed pick. Versus either man's output, this one doesn't even belong in the Top 100.
9. Dolly Parton, "Jolene": Kind of obvious, but can't quibble about it.
8. Merle Haggard, "Mama Tried": Merle has been so prolific, picking his best is impossible. I can't quibble with this pick, either, but there are at least a dozen Merle's qualified to be near or at the top of this list. Any of his prison-related tunes -- "Lonesome Fugitive," "Branded Man," "Sing Me Back Home," and the universally revered "Today I Started Loving You Again." But there are dozens.
7. Ray Charles, "You Don't Know Me": Glad that Brother Ray is included here, but it's hard to rate these heavily orchestrated, almost jazzy pieces up against the stone-cold country of Merle, Ray Price and Willie. This one wouldn't make my list.
6. Tammy Wynette, "Stand By Your Man": I probably wouldn't rate this one this highly, but it's fine by me anyway.
5. Jimmie Rodgers, "Standing on the Corner (Blue Yodel No. 9)": I seriously doubt Rolling Stone hipsters are sitting around the Victrola listening to Jimmie Rodgers on raspy 78s. I'm glad that it's in the last and rated highly, but I'd bet the computer gets credit for this placement.
4. George Jones, "He Stopped Loving Her Today": This tune has been so overplayed, I never want to hear it again. Seriously. I'll take "Take Me" or "Things Have Gone to Pieces" or "Why, Baby Why."
3. Hank Williams, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry": -- My favorite song as a child. The hillbilly Shakespeare.
2. Patsy Cline, "Crazy": The most played jukebox song of all time. Willie, you done us proud.
1. Johnny Cash, "I Walk the Line": As I wrote in the first half of this exercise, I'd probably pick a different No. 1, but this one is hard to argue against. But for me, it is somewhere behind Hank, "Crazy," and Ray Price.
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