Here are covers of some of the best Country songs ever recorded. I’ve touched on a few of the great songs but there are more to talk about as theses originals have inspired country legends and many others to keep the songs alive.
“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” written and performed by Hank Williams (1949). Certainly near the top of any list of the best of all time. There is some small controversy that the lyrics were written by someone else, I’m in no position to debate this but this song seems to be in the same style and consistency as Williams other songs and he still maintains official writing credit. It’s little wonder the song resonates with so many people, the lyrics are poetic and paint a vivid picture of the heartache being portrayed. Released as a ‘B’ side this song peaked at #4 in 1949. Covered some 220 times, Johnny Cash, Tommy James and The Shondells, B.J. Thomas, Inger Marie Gundersen, and Wonder Woman-Lynda Carter.
The ‘blues’ and ‘country’ music have the sad song category cornered. “He Stopped Loving Her Today” is one of the saddest. This song written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman went unreleased the first time it was recorded. The very talented Johnny Russell did an album in 1979 and the record company did not have any confidence in it, this left it open for George Jones to be the first to release it in 1980, the then struggling Jones hit #1 in the US and #2 in Canada. This recording is clearly one of the best Country songs ever performed. Alan Jackson sang it at George Jones’ funeral. Only covered 20 times as it’s one of those songs that artists shy away from as it is so connected to Jones who won a Grammy for Best Male Country Performance and AMA and CMA (1980 & 81) awards for song of the year. Johnny Cash (2011), LeAnn Rimes (2011).
|Tammy and George|
“Stand by Your Man” (1968) written by Tammy Wynette and Billy Sherrill. This song was a #1 smash hit and it became her signature song even though she has had an amazing 19 other number #1 songs in her career, including “D.I.V.O.R.C.E.“(1968) written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman, the same pair that wrote George Jones song mentioned previously. “Stand by Your Man”also became a #1 hit in the UK when released in 1975. As is often the case some take songs a little too literally and for that matter too seriously so there was criticism from some in the ‘feminist’ movement, but Wynette sang herself to super stardom on a song she co-wrote so there is that…Tina Turner, Dixie Chicks, Georgette Jones (daughter of Tammy Wynette and George Jones), Lyle Lovett and Carla Bruni.
“Blue Yodel No. 9 (Standin’ on the Corner)“(1931) written and performed by Jimmie Rodgers. He has been referred to as “the Father of Country Music” by Johnny Cash among many others and has also influenced artists in the Blues, Folk and Rock genres. This song was part of a series of 13 “Blue Yodel” numbered songs. The musicians on this song were the great Louis Armstrong on trumpet and on piano his then wife Lil Hardin Armstrong. I’ve found no artist to come close to this accomplishment, in only 7 years of recording 93 of his songs have been covered, many he wrote himself or with his sister-in-law Elsie McWilliams. Other versions of Blue Yodel # 9; Merle Haggard (1981). Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash, and Steve Earle and The Dukes. Among his many songs is another Classic, the original “Blue Yodel” better known if you call it “T for Texas”. Lynyrd Skynyrd (1976).
Rodgers (September 8, 1897 – May 26, 1933) was born in Mississippi and spent most of his life working on railroads in one capacity or another and music was his sideline. He contracted Tuberculosis at the age of 27, know as ‘T.B.’ this infectious lung disease was pretty much a death sentence and it cost him his job, thankfully he turned to music (as one is want to do when you can hardly breathe) full time before his death at age 35. “Blue Yodel No. 8 (Mule Skinner Blues)” (1931) written by Vaughan Horton and Jimmie Rodgers. Bill Monroe, Dolly Parton . BTW a “mule skinner” in this context is a ‘mule driver’, like a “cattle driver” not meant quite literally however the whips they used would break the skin of the poor beasts if used too aggressively.
“Mama Tried” written and performed by Merle Haggard (and The Strangers) and it went to #1 in Canada and the US in 1968. The song was inspired by Haggard’s mothers’ suffering after he was was sentenced to two and half years for burglary and attempted escape from a county jail. While in the famed San Quentin State Prison the 20 year old played in the prison country band and took high school equivalency classes. Haggard was in the audience when Johnny Cash played his second of two shows at San Quentin in 1950 on New Year’s Day. Haggard took inspiration and became a country superstar in his own right and is credited along with Buck Owens for creating the ‘Bakersfield Sound‘. Covers by Grateful Dead , David Allan Coe, Jim Croce from his ‘I want to sound like Gordon Lightfoot’ phase and Reba McEntire.
“I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” is consider to be based on a traditional folk song, credited to Dick Burnett who published it in 1915 as the ‘Farewell Song’. Burnett himself, as it says in the lyrics was “blinded 6 long years” before the song was written so little doubt he wrote the words but he said he may have picked the tune up from somebody. First recorded by Emry Arthur in 1928. The Stanley Brothers & The Clinch Mountain Boys (1951), Bonnie Dobson (1962) – ‘Girl Of Constant Sorrow’, Bob Dylan (1962), Joan Baez sang this in concert from the early 1960’s but released it officially in 1982. Intentionally based on the Stanley Brothers, this version from the Movie O’ Brother Where Art Thou? “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” (shortened version) by Soggy Bottom Boys feat. Dan Tyminski on lead vocals with Harley Allen and Pat Enright. See the post on Dock Boggs for more ‘O’ Brother Where Art Thou?’.
When talking about Country Classics it’s easy to mention Garth Brooks, but this somewhat overlooked rendition of a Bob Dylan song which was not intended to be ‘country’ is one of the best. “Make you Feel My Love” (1998), (written by Bob Dylan (1997). A foreshadowing perhaps Trisha Yearwood also in 1998. First released by Billy Joel in 1997, covered over 140 times, most famously by Adele in 2008. This song today is dedicated to my lovely daughter and her new husband, congratulations.
A playlist of all the videos.
Music Trivia. The songwriter Curly Putman (Claude Putman Jr.) mentioned above as the co-writer of two massive hit songs, wrote dozens of other songs including “Green, Green Grass of Home” Tom Jones (1966), the original song was by Johnny Darrell, but was a big hit for Porter Wagoner (1965). Covered close to 200 times. In 1974 Paul and Linda McCartney rented Putnam’s farm in rural Wilson County, Tennessee and that stay inspired the song “Junior’s Farm” (1974) written by Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney.
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