Sure, in all things, change is inevitable. But when it comes to country music, you can always bet on a few sure things. And if you look at the latter half of the 20th century, you’ll quickly spot a common thread. For starters, there are bound to be songs of love (both unrequited and requited), themes of nostalgia for a simple life, and Dolly Parton are all major mainstays. Willie Nelson, too.
Of course, each of these songs has its own unique pizzazz that makes it worthy of being considered the best song of its year. So, without further ado, saddle up for some of the greatest country music hits of the latter half of the twentieth century—and find out which song everyone was singing along to in the year you were born. To see if you’re a true country fan, check out 15 Signs You’re a Country Person.
1950: “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy” by Red Foley
Snappy and upbeat, Red Foley’s “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy” spent 13 weeks in the top spot on the country singles chart, as well as an impressive eight weeks in the #1 spot on the pop chart. And for more amazing musical trivia, meet the 23 “Despised” Bands That Are Crazy Successful.
1951: “Slow Poke” by Pee Wee King and His Golden West Cowboys
Poking fun at a sweetheart’s leisureliness in taking her time to get ready, “Slow Poke” was evidently something many people could relate to in 1951, as it held the coveted #1 position on the pop chart for 14 weeks.
1952: “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” by Hank Williams
Still relatively popular today, this twangy song about the merits of Cajun country, including, but not limited to, “jambalaya, and a crawfish pie, and a fillet gumbo,” spent 14 weeks in the #1 spot on the country charts in 1952. And for more music trivia, check out the 30 Funniest Jokes in Popular Songs.
1953: “A Dear John Letter” by Jean Shepard
That’s right, folks, “Dear John” was a phrase common in popular culture far before Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum starred in the film adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ Dear John. When “A Dear John Letter” peaked on the country singles chart, Jean Shepard, at 19 years old, became the youngest female artist to have a song gain that distinction.
1954: “Slowly” by Webb Pierce
A wistful love ballad, Webb Pierce’s “Slowly” ran away with America’s hearts, contributing to the singer’s immense popularity. Within a couple years of his release of “Slowly,” Webb had more than 200,000 pre-orders being placed for his upcoming singles. Next, hear the 50 Cover Songs Way Better Than the Original.
1955: “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford
Tennessee Ernie Ford made waves with his performance of “Sixteen Tons,” a coal mining song with lyrics originally written by his friend, Merle Travis. The song was so popular that it received radio air time almost immediately after Ford released it, and it even made its way to #1 on the United Kingdom’s pop chart.
1956: “Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis Presley
No, you probably don’t typically think of the King of Rock and Roll as a country singer, but his “Heartbreak Hotel” (arguably the single that solidified his stardom) was actually in the #1 slot for the pop, R&B, and country charts in 1956—all at once!
1957: “Young Love” by Sonny James
Sonny James’ first single to crest the top of the country charts, the earnest “Young Love” spent nearly six months on both the country and pop charts.
1958: “Bird Dog” by The Everly Brothers
A slightly comedic, lighthearted song, “Bird Dog” earned a position on the country music chart for 18 weeks in 1958.
1959: “The Three Bells” by The Browns
Adapted from a song originally written in French, this slow song spent 10 weeks at the top of the country chart in 1959.
1960: “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” by Elvis Presley
Making yet another country appearance, Elvis’ crooning “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” seemed to lay his soul bare, especially with the inclusion of the spoken lines in the song. The song spent 11 weeks in the Top 10 songs of the “Hot 100.”
1961: “Walk On By” by Leroy Van Dyke
Leroy Van Dyke’s upbeat, yet somewhat sad song about how he must say goodbye to a former lover seemed to really resonate with people, spending an incredible 19 weeks at the #1 spot on the country chart.
1962: “From a Jack to a King” by Ned Miller
Revolving around a man’s sudden upturn in fortune (namely, landing the girl of his dreams), Ned Miller’s hit held a spot on the country music chart for 19 weeks.
1963: “Still” by Bill Anderson
Bill Anderson’s “Still,” an earnest piece about unrequited love, pulled at many a heartstring. The song remained on the country chart for 27 weeks, and spent seven of those weeks at the very top of the chart.
1964: “See the Funny Little Clown” by Bobby Goldsboro
Much more serious than its title might suggest, “See the Funny Little Clown” held the top spot on the “Hot 100” chart for nine weeks in 1964.
1965: “King of the Road” by Roger Miller
With its quirky lyrics glorifying the hobo life, Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” was easily a favorite, earning 11 Grammys over the span of two years.
1966: “There Goes My Everything” by Jack Greene
A heartrending song, “There Goes My Everything” spent just under half a year (23 weeks, to be exact) on the country chart, holding the very top position for seven of those weeks.
1967: “By the Time I get to Phoenix” by Glen Campbell
Years before his still-iconic “Rhinestone Cowboy,” Glen Campbell was already making a name for himself in country music. “By the Time I get to Phoenix” is among his most popular songs, spending two weeks in the #2 slot, amidst a total of 18 weeks on the country chart.
1968: “Skip a Rope” by Henson Cargill
Earning a nomination for the Country Music Association’s song of the year, Henson Cargill’s “Skip a Rope” gives a fairly stark portrayal of life from a jump-roping child’s point of view.
1969: “Daddy Sang Bass” by Johnny Cash
Reminiscent of family sing-alongs, Johnny Cash’s “Daddy Sang Bass” spent 20 weeks on the country music chart, holding down the lead position for six weeks.
1970: “Rose Garden” by Lynn Anderson
Lynn Anderson’s matter-of-fact “Rose Garden” was extremely well-received, garnering her a Grammy and the 1971 Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year Award.
1971: “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” by Jerry Reed
A song about a man’s enviable dice-rolling abilities, Jerry Reed’s “When You’re Hot You’re Hot,” spent five weeks at the top of the country chart in 1971.
1972: “Carolyn” by Merle Haggard and The Strangers
A return to soulful country music, “Carolyn” became one of Merle Haggard’s remarkable 38 claims to the number one spot on the country chart.
1973: “The Most Beautiful Girl” by Charlie Rich
Another song about a lost love, Charlie Rich’s “The Most Beautiful Girl” spurred Rich along to win the Country Music Association’s award for Best Male Vocalist in 1973.
1974: “I Love” by Tom T. Hall
This simplistic yet sweet-natured song easily became one of the nation’s favorites, spending 18 weeks on the country music chart in 1974.
1975: “Rhinestone Cowboy” by Glen Campbell
A song still covered by several of today’s country artists, Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” was beloved in the year of its release, too, earning the artist his first ever #1 hit, a position the song held for three weeks.
1976: “Convoy” by C.W. McCall
C.W. McCall started 1976 off with a bang with his late-December release of “Convoy,” a song telling the previously unsung story of truck drivers’ protests against government regulations. “Convoy” held the #1 spot at the top of the country music chart for six consecutive weeks.
1977: “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” by Crystal Gayle
Ironically enough, Crystal Gayle’s eyes are, in fact, blue. But that discrepancy didn’t stop her “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” from gaining acclaim (Rolling Stone dubbed it a “country-pop classic”) and spending 26 weeks (exactly half the year) on the Hot 100 chart in 1977.
1978: “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” by Waylon & Willie
Though the song had already been written and performed by plenty of other artists, the heartfelt rendition by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson of “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” is what finally gained traction, winning the pair the Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 1979.
1979: “Coward of the County” by Kenny Rogers
The story-like quality of Tommy’s tale in “Coward of the County,” as well as the lesson it taught—featuring lyrics like, “It won’t mean you’re weak, if you turn the other cheek”—was immensely popular in 1979. It quickly climbed to #1 on the country chart, where it remained in the top spot for 3 weeks, and was even the basis for made-for-television movie.
1980: “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton
One of country music’s most well-renowned country singers, Dolly Parton wrote the theme song for the 1980 film 9 to 5 about the injustices of the workplace, in which she co-starred. The song became one of the biggest hits of Parton’s career, earning the #1 place on both country and pop charts in 1980.
1981: “No Gettin’ Over Me” by Ronnie Milsap
The cocky assertions of Ronnie Milsap’s “No Gettin’ Over Me” really struck a chord—securing the #1 position on the country chart for two of its 15 weeks on the country chart in 1981.
1982: “Always on My Mind” by Willie Nelson
“Always on My Mind” joined the list of Willie Nelson’s #1 hits in 1982, earning a spot at the top of the country chart for two weeks. The song also propelled Nelson to win the Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance of the Year.
1983: “Islands in the Stream” by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton
By the early ’80s, both Rogers and Parton were country chart-topping regular; their upbeat duo was beloved, spending two weeks at the top of both the country and “Hot 100” charts, while also earning the duo the distinction from Country Music Television as the Number One “Greatest Country Duet of All Time.”
1984: “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” by Julio Iglesias & Willie Nelson
To hear Willie Nelson tell it, he heard Spanish singer Julio Iglesias’ voice on the radio and knew he had to record a duet with him. The result, “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before,” won the hearts of many, earning the Academy of Country Music’s “Single of the Year.”
1985: “Lost In The Fifties Tonight” by Ronnie Milsap
Perhaps better known as “In the Still,” Ronnie Milsap’s soulful song was a shoo-in for success, earning the top spot for two of its 23 weeks on the country chart.
1986: “At This Moment” by Billy Vera
Originally released in 1981, Billy Vera’s “At This Moment” didn’t earn true national attention until his live performance of the song for the season premiere of the Family Ties TV show in 1986. After that performance, the song climbed the charts, and the broken-hearted, poignant lyrics of “At This Moment” won Billy Vera two weeks at the peak of the “Hot 100” chart in early 1987.
1987: “Forever and Ever, Amen” by Randy Travis
The resolute manner in which Randy Travis promises his love in “Forever and Ever, Amen” caused many Americans to swoon—including the country music critics. Travis won the 1987 Grammy for Best Country & Western Song and would go on to later earn the “gold” distinction for the song from the Recording Industry Association of America, meaning it sold 500,000 copies.
1988: “When You Say Nothing At All” by Keith Whitley
Keith Whitley’s twangy, heartfelt “When You Say Nothing At All” seemed to speak right to the heart of the American public, spending 22 weeks on the country music chart, including two weeks in the #1 spot. That’s right, folks: This song did not begin on the soundtrack of Notting Hill.
1989: “Nobody’s Home” by Clint Black
Released in October of 1989, Clint Black’s “Nobody’s Home” steadily climbed the charts in the months following its release, eventually claiming the title of #1 country song for three weeks in January of 1990.
1990: “The Dance” by Garth Brooks
Garth Brooks’ “The Dance,” laying out the beauty of love even in the midst of heartbreak, spent 21 weeks on the country chart, including three weeks at the very top.
1991: “Down Home” by Alabama
Alabama churned out yet another top hit in 1991 with “Down Home,” a nostalgic song about the endearing qualities of a good ‘ole Southern lifestyle that spent three weeks at the peak of the country chart.
1992: “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” by Brooks & Dunn
A throaty, fun song about the excitement of the honky-tonk, Brooks & Dunn’s “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” remains popular today, reminiscent of its 1992 success on both the country and “Hot 100” charts.
1993: “Heartland” by George Strait
Needless to say, the “King of Country” has earned his rightful place in country music history, particularly with one of his #1 hits in 1993, “Heartland.” The song appeared in the 1992 musical drama Strait starred in, Pure Country.
1994: “I Swear” by John Michael Montgomery
The sentimentality of John Michael Montgomery’s “I Swear” lodged the ballad in the hearts of many and won Montgomery multiple awards, including Single of the Year from both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.
1995:”I Like It, I Love It” by Tim McGraw
Featuring an easy-to-remember chorus with lines like “I like it, I love it, I want some more of it,” you can’t help but sing along to Tim McGraw’s 1995 hit. Evidently, people in 1995 felt the same way. All I Want, McGraw’s album featuring the #1 single, sold over 3 million copies that year.
1996: “My Maria” by Brooks & Dunn
A catchy song professing love for a girl named Maria, Brooks and Dunn’s duet spent 20 weeks on the country chart in 1996, including three weeks at the very top of the list.
1997: “It’s Your Love” by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill
This timeless duet between everyone’s favorite country music couple, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, was easily the favorite of 1997. The couple performed the song at that year’s Grammy Awards, and the music video went on to win Video of the Year at the 1997 Academy of Country Music Awards.
1998: “Just to See You Smile” by Tim McGraw
The hopelessly-in-love quality of Tim McGraw’s bittersweet yet upbeat “Just to See You Smile” made for an enormous success, spending 42 weeks (just 10 weeks shy of an entire year, by the way) on the country chart—and six of those weeks were spent in the #1 spot.
1999: “Breathe” by Faith Hill
Faith Hill’s vulnerable, earnest “Breathe” was incredibly well-received in 1999, dominating the top of the country chart for six weeks.
2000: “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack
Though a close call between her and Faith Hill’s “The Way You Love Me,” the emotional draw of Lee Ann Womack’s song ultimately won out, launching “I Hope You Dance” to #1 on both the country and adult contemporary charts. Womack also won a Grammy with “I Hope You Dance” for Best Country Song. And for a more humorous look at country music, check out 30 Funniest Lines From Country Songs.
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