Today’s best country songs seem to revolve mostly around tractors, muddy boots and lining up shots at whiskey bars, but once upon a time the genre was synonymous with names like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and George Jones. Since it was first born out of the American South in the 1920s, country music has carried forth themes of struggle, triumph, hometown pride and heartbreak that’s right up there with the best love songs. These top tunes capture that emotion with unpretentious twang and a banjo’s whine, and they’ve broken musical barriers and provided inspiration for plenty of karaoke songs to boot. Cue it up before you head to the best country concerts in NYC.
Listen to the best country songs
Top Country Songs of All Time
“I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash
Cash’s first No. 1 hit on the Billboard chart managed to keep itself on the radar for 43 weeks. Cash said the song was his “pledge of devotion” to new wife Vivian Liberto, and, oh, it was written backstage in one night. NBD.
“Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks
Songwriting duo Dewayne Blackwell and Earl Bud Lee handed this song off to a then-unknown Brooks, who took the tune to a No. 1 chart spot and wound up making a fairly big name for himself in country.
“Choices” by George Jones
Known in the last decades of his life as the greatest living country music singer, Jones had no shortage of chart-toppers during his musical career. This 1999 cover track stands out as one of Jones’s most meaningful vocal performances.
“Concrete Angel” by Martina McBride
Telling the heart-wrenching story of a young girl living in a hellish world of abuse, McBride’s smooth and high-reaching vocals wrap this 2002 song in emotion and ferocity. It took her girl-power anthems to a new level with its sobering message, and it’s just a damn good song.
“Where Were You” by Alan Jackson
Few Americans don’t have an answer to the question Jackson poses in this song: Where were you on September 11, 2001? Jackson reportedly felt conflicted about profiting from the tragedy but wrote the song in an attempt to process his associated emotions—and survivors and listeners thanked him for doing so.
“Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw
Despite its inherently somber topic, this feel-good, hip-swaying tune finds McGraw waxing poetic over the ability to truly live life to the fullest. The track and video both cleaned up at the 2004 CMAs and ACM Awards, and it has some solid bucket list advice (just ignore the part about bull riding, maybe).
“Jolene” by Dolly Parton
This Parton hit was her second chart-topper and even crossed into mainstream music’s territory. It’s one of her most covered songs, now being sung by artists who weren’t even alive when it came out in 1973, and she’s revealed in interviews that the real Jolene is a composite of her bank teller and a fan she met at a show.
“I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack
Songwriters Mark Sanders and Tia Sillers’ heartfelt, emotional ode became the soundtrack to father-daughter dances at weddings across the country. Womack first performed the vocals in 2000 before taking home a Grammy for it.
“Take Me Home Country Roads” by John Denver
This 1971 ode to West Virginia became Denver’s best-known opus and his signature song. Nowadays, it’s the perfect Instagram caption for snapshots of any old winding road, but in its prime it reached the second spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and inspired dozens of covers in homage.
“Walkin’ After Midnight” by Patsy Cline
Ironically, Cline wasn’t a big fan of this song written by Alan Block and Donn Hecht at first, yet it went on to become her first chart-topping hit in 1956. Cline’s held-back vocal performance is a poetic complement to the sorta-somber lyrics about a lonely woman’s search for the real deal.
Need some music to set the mood?
Don’t Tell Mama
What good is singing alone in your room when you can sing along with show tunes at a Theater District cabaret? Cabaret performers often congregate in the bar area before and after their numbers, and best of all, there’s no cover charge there, just a two-drink minimum. Sip a bourbon, hum a few bars, and soak up the Art Deco chic.