The Top 20 Most Covered Country Songs of all time (#6-10)

6. “Riders in the Sky” was written by Stan Jones. He had a Masters Degree in Zoology and was working as a Park guide in Death Valley in 1948. Based on a Native American story, in his own words he put it to the tune of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” but in a different tempo. He sang it as a campfire song for some Hollywood Scouts looking for film shooting locations, this led to a career in the movie business. First as a technical adviser and later composing music for John Ford in his movies like The Searchers and Rio Grande. Jones did the Rodeo circuit in his younger days so writing a Cowboy Song came naturally. Jones recorded it himself in 1948 but it was not released until later in 1949. So the first released version, recorded later in 1948 was by Bob Geddins, who was actually an R&B singer/songwriter as well as the founder of several independent record labels. Geddins was a pretty versatile singer so he did the song in what might be described as a Country Blues style and it was titled “Ghost Riders”. The first cover was by Burl Ives, he was another singer with songs in a range of genre. The third time was the charm as Vaughn Munroe‘s 1949 version became a hit song. It was now titled “Riders in the Sky (A Cowboy Legend)”. It was later recorded by Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, Gene Autry and other well known artists all in that same year for a total of thirteen recordings in 1949 alone. Under several different titles but most often as “Ghost Riders In the Sky” the song now has 356 versions.

7. “Always on My Mind” was written by Johnny Christopher, Wayne Carson, Mark James and the first recording was by Brenda Lee in 1971 but her June release was trumped by Gwen McCrae’s that came out in March. The third release of the song was by Elvis Presley, it reached #16 on Billboards Country chart. There are currently 353 versions of this song but none of them has done any better than Willie Nelson’s 1982 released that went to #1 on the Country chart in Canada and the US as well as #5 on the Hot 100. He would win a Grammy Award and so would the Song and the Songwriters. It also won CMA awards in both 1982 and 1983. “Always on My Mind” would be a huge hit for The Pet Shop Boys in 1987, hitting #1 on at least seven International charts including the UK and #4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

8. “I’m Nine Hundred Miles from Home” is a traditional song first recorded by the legendary Fiddlin’ John Carson in 1924. The song was not recorded again until 1942 when Wade Mainer and Sons of the Mountaineers did and titled it “Old Ruben” this is one of the several alternate names of the song. It is also know in the Bluegrass world as “Train 45”. All variations also have many instrumental versions and it was adapted by Hedy West when she wrote “500 Miles”, which was first released by The Journeymen in 1961. That version has more of Folk feel to it, however there is another popular adaptation that Country star Bobby Bare did in 1963 titled “500 Miles Away from Home“. Staying true to the original melody, folky versions all tolled this song has 353 versions. In case you were curious, The Proclaimers song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) is not related to this song but perhaps the Hedy West “500 Miles” may have inspired the number.

9. “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” was written by one of the more evocative Songwriters I have ever heard or seen. Jimmy Webb is also the author of “MacArthur Park”, “Galveston”, “Up, Up and Away” and another very big hit to be mentioned later. The song was first recorded by Johnny Rivers who at that time had already posted many top ten hits, however it was not released as a single and only appeared on his 1966 album Changes. This opened the door for Glen Campbell and the best known version with his single which hit #1 in Canada and #2 on the US Country charts. In 1967 he took home three Grammy Awards for this song, this on the same day he earned two for “Gentle on My Mind”. Coincidently Glen Campbell also covered Bobby Bare’s “500 Miles Away from Home” and the #3 song in the previous post “Help Me Make It Through the Night”. Currently there are 351 documented version of this song. There are a large number of instrumentals of this song, and the first one was by the great pianist Floyd Cramer.

10. “I’m So Lonesome” was written by Hank Williams. He charted eight songs in 1949 but this was not one of them. It was the ‘B’ side to “My Bucket’s Got s Hole in it” which peaked at #2. Based on the popularity of a cover by B.J. Thomas that reached #8 on The Hot 100, Williams original was re-released in 1966 and reached #43. As we know many of the most iconic and most covered song were never hits when first released. Hank poured his heart out when he performed this poignant and beautifully sad song. It’s not a surprise to me that it ranks so highly on the list. This woeful tear jerker set the standard for heartbreaking songs. It was first covered by The Jordanaires as The Foggy River Boys in 1950, but not again until Marty Robbins in 1957. Using their usual name this time The Jordanaires were the first of 14 versions in 1966. The song currently has 335 versions in nine languages.

Some other notable covers include; Andy Williams, Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson, Tanya Tucker, The Cowboys Junkies and more recently Sara Evans featuring Old Crow Medicine Show in 2020. Terry Bradshaw (yes the Steelers Quarterback) covered it in 1976 and went to #17 on the Country Singles Chart.

Numbers 11-15 to follow soon, Thanks for reading.

References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

4 thoughts on “The Top 20 Most Covered Country Songs of all time (#6-10)

  1. I like all of these songs and for my personal tastes…number 10 still amazes me. The silence of a falling star, Lights up a purple sky… is as good as anything that has been written by Dylan. You can’t beat that imagery.
    Great post as always Randy.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s