25 country music songs everyone should listen to in their lifetime

  • If you’re new to country music but don’t know where to start, or don’t typically enjoy country music overall, there are several essential songs that will introduce you to the genre and give you a newfound respect for it.
  • “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus is a song that was passed on by many artists, until Cyrus made it a huge hit in 1992.
  • While Elvis Presley is a rock ‘n’ roll icon, he had some incredible country hits, like “Don’t Be Cruel.”
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

While country music is a genre loved by many across the United States and the world, a lot of people haven’t given it the chance it deserves.

They should though, because there are many country songs that everyone should listen to in their lifetime: not only are these songs appropriately catchy, but they also tell stories, evoke emotions, and invite listeners into their worlds.

Whether you’re new to country and don’t know where to start, or already a fan but looking for new tunes, we’ve got you covered.

Here’s a list of 25 of the best country music songs that everyone should hear.

“Hurt” by Johnny Cash

YouTube/lordheffaJohnny Cash in his music video for ‘Hurt.’

Johnny Cash’s cover of the Nine Inch Nail’s song “Hurt” is a heart-wrenching take on the famous song, reinventing it for a genre that’s completely different than the original. When he first heard it, Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor said, “[I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore‚Ķ It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form.”

“Jolene” by Dolly Parton

YouTube/Dolly PartonDolly Parton performing ‘Jolene.’

Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” is one of her most popular songs, inspired by the relationship between her husband and a bank teller who had a crush on him. The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2014.

“Fancy” by Reba McEntire

YouTube/Reba McEntireReba McEntire in her 1991 music video for ‘Fancy.’

“Fancy” by Reba McEntire has some expert-level storytelling, which is further illustrated in its six-minute music video. The story, about a woman named Fancy who was turned into a prostitute by her mother, was highly controversial when it was first released.

“Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus

YouTube/BillyRayCyrusVEVOBilly Ray Cyrus in his 1993 music video for ‘Achy Breaky Heart.’

“Achy Breaky Heart” was passed on by several artists before Billy Ray Cyrus took it in 1992 and made it a huge hit, complete with an entertaining dance number as seen in the music video.

“Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood

YouTube/Carrie UnderwoodCarrie Underwood in her music video for ‘Before He Cheats.’

“Before He Cheats” showcased a whole new side of the usually sweet and innocent Carrie Underwood, and fans loved it. It’s empowering, and makes anyone feel like they could take down a cheating significant other.

“Follow Your Arrow” by Kacey Musgraves

YouTube/Kacey MusgravesKacey Musgraves in her 2013 music video for ‘Follow Your Arrow.’

Kacey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow” tells listeners to be whoever they want to be, and ignore the constant flood of criticism that bombards every aspect of their lives. It’s uplifting and its positive message is something that needs to be heard on a daily basis. Good thing it’s also catchy.

“Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” by Shania Twain

YouTube/Shania TwainShania Twain in her 2003 music video for ‘Man! I Feel Like a Woman!’

“Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” by Shania Twain is a Grammy-winning feminist anthem and instant classic that has permeated many a wedding, karaoke bar, and DJ booth.

“All My Ex’s Live In Texas” by George Strait

YouTube/outlawblues1George Strait performing ‘All My Ex’s Live In Texas.’

Country heartthrob George Strait’s “All My Ex’s Live In Texas” is pretty self-explanatory; he’s breaking hearts all over Texas. The song also includes many a Texan geographical reference, which must be why it’s the state’s favourite George Strait song.

“Strawberry Wine” by Deana Carter

YouTube/DeanaCarterVEVODeana Carter in her music video for ‘Strawberry Wine.’

“Strawberry Wine” by Deana Carter tells the perfect coming-of-age tale about a first love, and remains Deana Carter’s most popular song to date.

“Don’t Be Cruel” by Elvis Presley

YouTube/32JRCashElvis Presley performing ‘Don’t Be Cruel.’

Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” is a multi-genre hit that was #1 on the pop, country, and R&B charts. There’s something in this song for everyone, plus, it’s Elvis.

“This Kiss” by Faith Hill

YouTube/Faith HillFaith Hill in her music video for ‘This Kiss.’

Faith Hill’s Grammy-nominated song “This Kiss” is about finding an irresistible connection with someone, set to a catchy beat and killer vocals. Add in the wild visuals of the music video, and it becomes one of the most enjoyable songs the genre has to offer.

“Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line

YouTube/Florida Georgia LineFlorida Georgia Line in their music video for ‘Cruise.’

Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” is an easy-going, “listen to it with the windows rolled down on a highway” type song that’s just the right amount of catchy.

“Life Is a Highway” by Rascal Flatts

YouTube/Rascal FlattsRascal Flatts in their music video for ‘Life is a Highway.’

“Life is a Highway” is a fun song for anyone to listen to. It’s catchy, positive, and was featured in the beloved Pixar movie “Cars.” What’s not to love?

“Independence Day” by Martina McBride

YouTube/Martina McBrideMartina McBride in her music video for ‘Independence Day.’

“Independence Day” by Martina McBride deals with themes of domestic violence. The music video provided visuals that made the song even more powerful, which is why CMT ranked it as one of the best country music videos of all time.

“Workin’ Man Blues” by Merle Haggard

YouTube/Joe JabonMerle Haggard performing ‘Workin’ Man Blues.’

Merle Haggard’s “Workin’ Man Blues” resonated with blue collar listeners when it came out in 1985, and still remains relevant today.

“Austin” by Blake Shelton

YouTube/Blake SheltonBlake Shelton in his music video for ‘Austin.’

Blake Shelton’s “Austin” tells a love story classic to the country music genre, but told through a series of voicemails. This emotional song ended up propelling Blake Shelton’s career to stardom.

“There Goes My Everything” by Jack Greene

YouTube/Old CountryJack Greene performing ‘There Goes My Everything’ on ‘The Ernest Tubb Show.’

“There Goes My Everything” by Jack Greene is a sad but easy-listening song that was featured on the Billboard 100 when Jack Greene’s version came out in 1966, though it was later covered by Elvis Presley.

“Tim McGraw” by Taylor Swift

YouTube/Taylor SwiftTaylor Swift in her music video for ‘Tim McGraw.’

Taylor Swift’s first single “Tim McGraw” was an ode to Tim McGraw as well as country music overall, with a small-town love story mixed in. The song showed her expertise in the country music genre, before she made the switch to pop.

“I Walk the Line (Revisited)” by Rodney Crowell

YouTube/Johnny Cash InfocenterRodney Crowell performing ‘I Walk the Line (Revisited).’

Rodney Crowell’s version of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” is not so much a cover of the hit song as it is a retelling of Crowell’s experience when he first heard the song. Cash’s chorus is placed intermittently throughout the song, making it a fun reuse of the renowned classic as well as a great song that stands on its own.

“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” by Willie Nelson

YouTube/WillieNelsonVEVOWillie Nelson in his music video for ‘Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.’

While many popular country singers have recorded their own versions of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” Willie Nelson’s was the one that hit most for music charts and audiences alike, arguably becoming one of his best songs amidst his long and continually successful career.

“Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw

Youtube/Tim McGrawTim McGraw in his music video for ‘Live Like You Were Dying.’

The writers behind Tim McGraw’s popular single “Live Like You Were Dying,” Craig Wiseman and Tim Nichols, opened up about the 2013 hit in the book “Nashville Songwriter.” They were inspired to write it after a close friend was misdiagnosed with a potentially life-threatening disease.

Wiseman said, “At some point, we knew there was a song there, like ‘dying to live.’ I think I mumbled ‘live like you were dying,’ and Tim said, ‘Yeah!'”

“Blue” by LeAnn Rimes

Youtube/Leann RimesLeAnn Rimes in her music video for ‘Blue.’

Another song that’s been covered by several country artists is Bill Mack’s classic “Blue,” recorded in 1958. LeAnn Rimes’ 1996 rendition in particular became a hit and made the 13-year-old an instant star. Rimes became the youngest winner to take home the Grammy for Best New Artist and also scored a trophy for Best Female Country Vocal.

“Mama’s Broken Heart” by Miranda Lambert

Youtube/Miranda LambertMiranda Lambert all dolled up in her music video for ‘Mama’s Broken Heart.’

Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” is a modern breakup anthem that was penned by fellow artists Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, and Shane McAnally.

“The reason I love this song is because it’s about how sometimes when you get your heart broken, you kinda go a little bit crazy,” Lambert said.“You drink too much, you smoke too much, you cut your hair… you find a rebound. Sometimes your mama, if she’s like my mama, has to slap you around and say, ‘Straighten up, girl!'”

“Lovesick Blues” by Hank Williams

Hank Williams’ 1949 cover of “Lovesick Blues” was his first hit and topped the Billboard country charts for 16 weeks. Despite passing away at 29 years old in 1953, the singer’s legacy lives on with viral sensation Mason Ramsey’s own rendition of the classic.

“Not Ready To Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks

Youtube/Dixie ChicksThe Dixie Chicks in their music video for ‘Not Ready to Make Nice.’

This powerful anthem by the Dixie Chicks was in response to the backlash the country trio faced after lead singer Natalie Maines said she was ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas,” referring to former President George W. Bush.

Despite the controversy, the 2006 single led to three Grammy Awards for the group, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal.

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