The International Country Music Day is upon us, so naturally, it’s time to delve into some country classics. Established in the 1950s and held annually on September 17, this is a day usually marked by country music festivals held worldwide. Amidst a global pandemic and an ongoing lockdown, this is certainly not the year for celebration, but nonetheless, country lovers are finding their own ways to come together virtually and partake in the joy of the genre. And as the 55th Academy of Country Music Awards give both country musicians and fans a reason to tune in and sing along, we’re going through our list of five of the greatest country songs ever written.
Johnny Cash – ‘I Walk the Line’
Written by Cash in 1956, ‘I Walk the Line’ became the singer’s first number-one hit on the Billboard charts. Cash was originally inspired to craft the unique chord progression of this track by the backwards playback of guitar runs he heard on his tape recorder while he was in the Air Force stationed in Germany. He would later pen the track in one night while backstage in Gladewater, Texas, in honor of his new bride, Vivian Liberto. ‘I Walk the Line’ would go on to become one of the ‘500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll’, as per the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rolling Stones additionally counts the track as one of the greatest country songs of all time.
Dolly Parton – ‘Jolene’
Parton penned this historic number back in 1973 and released it as the first single and title track from her album of the same name. It went on to become her second chart-topper, helping her crossover into mainstream music territory. ‘Jolene’ remains one of the most covered songs in music history, with Olivie Newton-John’s version being arguably one of the most popular renditions. More recently, Miley Cyrus was hailed for performing the track in one of her backyard sessions, and a decade before her, the White Stripes earned praise for their version.
‘Jolene’ told the tale of a woman begging another to not steal her man, a fear that kept her up at night as she desperately clung on to her relationship. Parton would later reveal that the titular character was actually a composite of her bank teller and a fan she encountered at one of her shows. While it may not be the greatest story ever told, it’s certainly something to have been immortalized in a song from one of country music’s reigning queens!
John Denver – ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’
Whether you refer to it by its whole title or simply ‘Take Me Home’ or ‘Country Roads’, it’s hard to deny the impact this Denver song had on country music. Written in collaboration with Bill Danoff and Taffy Niver, the song epitomizes West Virginia as “almost heaven”. The track, released in 1971, peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100, eventually going on to be certified Gold in 1971 and Platinum in 2017. The song’s popularity as well as it’s distinct country roots lead to it becoming an iconic symbol of West Virginia, so much so that it was declared one of the four official state anthems of the State in 2014. And outside of its prominence to the land it praised, it also remains Denver’s signature song.
Carrie Underwood – ‘Before He Cheats’
This list might be populated entirely by classics from a slightly older time, but it wouldn’t be complete without a tune from Underwood, one of the most prolific and beloved contemporary country artistes. And ‘Before He Cheats’ sits up there as one of her greatest songs ever, so much so that even folks who do not count country music as their preferred genre can’t help but turn the volume up when this one comes on. The song, penned by Chris Tompkins and Josh Kear, was the third single off Underwood’s debut studio album, 2005’s ‘Some Hearts’, and told the tale of a woman so overcome with anger over her partner’s cheating ways, she takes a “Louisville slugger to both headlights” of his car, among other things. The revenge plot-themed song turned out to be so cathartic for listeners, it shot Underwood to global fame and sealed her position as one of country’s greatest.
Kenny Rogers – ‘The Gambler’
Penned by Don Schlitz in 1976, ‘The Gambler’ saw several unsuccessful iterations before it finally made its way into Rogers’ recording booth. And this version would go on to change the course of both artistes lives, in addition to becoming a genre-defining moment for country music. Rogers’ vocals provide the perfect outlet for Schlitz’s bittersweet tribute to his father, one that beautifully conveys the lesson of learning how to handle whatever life throws as you as well as knowing when you’re fighting a losing battle. ‘The Gambler’, released as part of Rogers’ album of the same name, would go on to be a massive hit, the album itself becoming the singer’s biggest-selling. It additionally spawned a TV movie starring Rogers, the highest-rated TV film to come out in 1980, in addition to a string of made-for-TV movies with the last one releasing in 1994. Additionally, the franchise spawned ‘The Gambler’ slot machine, one of the most popular casino fixtures of the era. Schlitz went on to quit his day job and began working as a songwriter full-time.
Destination Jam is a daily list of songs that will keep you entertained and grooving up top in lieu of feeling drained and losing the plot. Look out for a fresh selection of great tunes from MEAWW to refresh your mood every day!