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20

Johnny Cash

“Folsom Prison Blues”

There were plenty of songs about being sent TO prison, but when Cash performed “Folsom Prison Blues,” outsiders could finally grasp the frustration and boredom of those who were IN prison.


 

19

David Allen Coe

“You Never Even Called Me by My Name”

And now for something completely different—Coe’s masterpiece of irreverence is a song-within-a-song that still has all of country music laughing at itself (and at mama, trains, prison and gettin’ drunk ...).


 

18

Dolly Parton

“Coat of Many Colors”

This homespun country tale of a loving but impoverished childhood introduced fans to Parton’s warmth and storytelling capabilities.


 

17

Emmylou Harris

“Making Believe”

Harris’ sadly eloquent voice made this song of self-deception more than a tear-jerker du jour.


 

16

Tammy Wynette

“Stand By Your Man”

The country woman’s anthem, presented with loyalty and resignation, though somehow we all knew Wynette really wouldn’t put up with all that funny business. One bad marriage to George Jones later, she didn’t.


 

15

Ray Charles

“I Can’t Stop Loving You”

Another Charles classic from his country years that continues to find appreciative audiences and willing vocalists.


 

14

Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys

“San Antonio Rose”

Another Western Swing classic that put Wills and company on every jukebox shortlist in the `40s and keeps cheerfully scooting boots even today.


 

13

Waylon Jennings

“Luckenbach, Texas”

“Baby, let’s sell your diamond ring, buy some boots and faded jeans and go away,” sang grizzled ol’ Jennings, drawing country fans away from slick Nashville and “back to the basics of love.”


 

12

Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys

“Blue Moon of Kentucky”

Often covered, never imitated, “Blue Moon” helped the Father of Bluegrass introduce a new American music form to commercial audiences.


 

11

The Charlie Daniels Band

“The Devil Went Down to Georgia”

The drama, the sizzle of an irresistible melody paired with a good-versus-evil morality tale, all delivered with lightning-fast licks.


 

10

Ray Charles

“Cryin’ Time”

Another vintage 1960s song that gave people something to slow-dance to, as Charles’ wistful voice transformed the mournful tune into a crossover hit.


 

9

Roger Miller

“King of the Road”

A quirky, laid-back singalong song that was novel enough in the `60s to draw rock-crazed crowds back into country music. Miller was the perfect foil for the British popsters of the day.


 

8

Johnny Cash

“Orange Blossom Special”

Of the many versions of this fiddler’s classic, anyone can sing along with Johnny Cash’s cover of THE best train song ever.


 

7

Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys

“Faded Love”

If the twin fiddles of this Texas dancehall favorite don’t get you, move somewhere else. Quickly.


 

6

Hank Williams Sr.

“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”

He had bigger hits, but Williams’ elemental ode to sadness has been covered by dozens of artists and taken to heart by millions of fans.


Elvis Presley version


 

5

Willie Nelson

“Whiskey River”

How many concerts have you attended that started with TWANG, TWANG, TWANG, TWANG, then these two words? We thought so.


 

4

George Jones

“He Stopped Loving Her Today”

Death, unrequited love, third-party gossip, it’s all here—along with Jones’ hangdog baritone.


 

3

Merle Haggard

“Mama Tried”

Haggard was still a handsome rebel himself when this tale of misspent youth made us all a little restless.


 

2

Patsy Cline

“Sweet Dreams”

The gold standard of songs for Cline wannabes—it takes pluck to attempt her triumph of vocal range and emotion.


 

1

Johnny Cash

“Ring of Fire”

The horns, the tempo, Cash’s smoldering voice and June Carter’s dead-on songwriting remain as exciting now as in the 1960s.


 
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