The Top 100 Country Songs of All Time - 2007, the first ten
It's so hard to write anymore that I have to do it in spurts. Yeah, I know there's a new Wilco album out. I also know that your college roommate's cousin took you to your first String Cheese Incident show at Red Rocks and got you high then did you a favor in the front seat of your hybrid, thus making the music that night the most incredible you'd ever heard. June means lists. Reading lists, listening lists, viewing lists; you need to know what to skim, sample, and lose interest in as your Ritalin wears off so that you can impress everyone with your worldliness over Blue Moons with orange wedges at the "dive" bar where no one is under 28. I don't want to disappoint you, although I probably will, so, whatever. This is my 15th Annual post of the 100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time, starting with the first ten, in the hopes that it will inspire me to finish and post the next ninety. If it doesn't, oh well. As you read this list, keep in mind my central belief that everything coming out of Nashville in the past 30 years is the product of a process designed to deliver a type of music to radio programmers so that they can then deliver a narrow demographic to advertisers and solidify their revenues. It's their P1 demographic, and they guard it jealously. Which is really a shame, because there are few cities full of musical talent like Nashville, Tennessee. The problem is that those with the talent are in the background, playing instruments and providing vocals to peacocks and peahens, who flash into the spotlight, make obscene amounts of money, and then spend the next few decades of their lives getting rehab and going through plastic surgery until they're almost unrecognizable. The whole thing is absolutely fucked, and it's the fault of men like Mick Anselmo and Gregg Swedberg. I offer this list simply as a counterpoint to this runaway train of ignorance and falsehood.
Jack's Top 100 Country Songs of All Time
1. I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, Hank
Jimmie Rodgers put Country Music on a train out in the sticks. It stepped off that train at the downtown station with Hank Williams and went to Main Street. The lyrics of this song, without accompaniment could be a 19th Century pastoral shepherd's lament. The imagery is complex while the words remain simple. I put it first for those reasons; as you strip it down, it keeps elevating, in my mind, to one of the most important American Poems ever written, forget about Country Music for a minute. If you choose not to do that, it's a stunningly tight hillbilly wail.
2. Folsom Prison Blues, Johnny
Hank handed Country Music off to Johnny on Main Street and Johnny took it down a back alley, stuck a knife in it, and took its wallet. If Williams' genius was fleshing out the clash between the pastoral and urban in 20th Century Twang, Cash's was adding the gross, straight-razor reflection qualities of it to the music. It was okay to be a Country boy lost in this environment, but there was a lot more ugly out there and it was necessary to spell it all out. This is a prison song, to be sure. But, it's a post-War, baby boom, factory madness, out-of-control-nightmare, too. The hero is no longer struggling so much with leaving mamma down on the farm, as much he is trying to prevent his own figurative rape at the hands of progress.
3. Love's Gonna Live Here, Buck Owens
That bastard in the alley with the knife wound, missing his wallet, dusted himself off, put a piece of tape on the blood, and found a girl back out on the sidewalk to buy him drinks for the rest of the night if he'd just dance with her. Buck's genius was embodying the embracing of the new, out of control modern life, and thumbing your nose at it. Hank moaned of dust-bowl migratory malaise, Johnny defended its victims, and Buck said, "Fuck it, let's make lemonade." Buck's music was simply different. It stands out because it's live, it's a product of live performance, it's living, it dives, dances and celebrates life in the face of adversity, and it leaves you breathless at the end.
4. Walking the Floor Over You, Ernest Tubb
You left me and then you went away
You said that you'd be back in just a day
You've broken your promise and
You've left me here alone
I don't know why you did dear
But I do know that you're gone
I'm walking the floor over you
I can't sleep a wink that is true
I'm hoping and I'm praying as my heart breaks right in two
Walking the floor over you
It was just that easy. If your wife grabbed the kids and took off, and you sat there pacing around trying to figure out how to get her back, you could write a song about it. On top of it all, it's a two-step, so people can dance to it. A legion of new songwriters were born from this song, it rearranged people's thinking. You could write about anything, and if you had talent, you could attach it to any kind of music.
5. Funny How Time Slips Away/Crazy/Nightlife(Live Medley), Willie Nelson & Family
The result of Tubb's breakthrough was Willie, the first Jazz singer of Country Music. Bandana, braids, tuned down, modified pickup classical guitar...its all a smokescreen for Country Jazz fusion. Singing phrased just off the beat, poly-chromatic solos, with a nod for fills from Mickey on the harp, Bobbie on the piano, or Paul on the drums, completely indistinguishable from Miles Davis pointing as he chewed his gum.
6. Dead Flowers, Rolling Stones
The reason Beat Literature is art is that people like Katherine Kersten tried desperately to pretend the Beats didn't exist; she isn't poignant or conservative as much as she's an anachronism, bemoaning an American cultural value system that never existed. That's not to say that taking heroine and banging hookers should be admired. Rather it should be given its day in the sun, as the Stones do so well here: a celebration and a kiss off. The beauty of America is our Libertine impulses, if not our actual Libertine habits. It's the idea that we are always fighting the darkness inside us, but not in a judgmental way, but rather in a "tomorrow, maybe it'll be different way." And if we can't fix it tomorrow, well then, we should just go with the flow until the next day. And, as I've told you so many times before Katherine, your sons do jerkoff and they both will smoke pot someday.
7. Together Again, Emmylou Harris
All this Devil worship needed a counterbalance. And when Alabama hit the scene and "Country" became truck rallies with slogans, someone had to stand up and preserve the substance and history of what had come before. Luckily, an angel was sent, and through it all, she inspired and helped countless people to "keep it real."
8. Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again), Tompall Glaser & the Glaser Brothers
I have seen the morning burning golden on the mountains in the skies.
Achin' with the feelin' of the freedom of an eagle when she flies.
Turnin' on the world the way she smiled upon my soul as I lay dying.
Healin' as the colours in the sunshine and the shadows of her eyes.
Little rat bastards like Kenny Chesney wouldn't even begin to know how to sing songs like this. First, at no point during this song does "senorita" rhyme with "margarita." Thus, the subject matter is beyond him from the start. The truth is that for a shining moment, a group of singers and songwriters believed that elements of free verse could be incorporated into this music like jazz riffs. Assonance was as good as rhyme, and at times, slightly better. And there didn't have to be a State Fair barbecue with your high school sweetheart in your old pickup truck to talk about love.
9. Portland, Oregon, Loretta Lynn
Greatness lies in the ability to distance yourself from your autobiography, while embracing it to feed your art. If you and a band member get drunk on Sloe Gin Fizz and have fun to the point that your husband gets jealous and pulls a gun on you in the hotel room while your band mate hides in the shower, you should wait about 30 years, and then record a song that you wrote about the experience with a weirdo from Detroit and 4 or 5 junkies from Memphis. Make it an up-tempo number, and give it the feel of a fun night with a minor disturbance at the end. Don't let anyone know you're a 70 year old lady either. This song is an 11 on a 10 scale.
10. Blue Suede Shoes, Carl Perkins
At some point, a bunch of hillbillies showed up in Memphis and started Rock N Roll. I mean really started it. They drank and popped pills and fucked with their guitars and amps until it was pissing off the crackers and scaring the shit out of everyone else. These men made the pasty little British boys want to piss off and scare their parents too. And then there was disco, cocaine, and Ronald Reagan. They never showed this episode on PBS' Connections.