Country Music In 20 Songs

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If it was country music in two hundred songs, this would still be a daunting selection decision. But here to whet your appetite is uDiscover Music’s sampler of 20 classic tunes that have helped to define one of America’s greatest indigenous music genres. Our goal is simply to highlight some of the tracks and artists who have shaped the destiny of this endlessly creative and constantly developing art form.

We’ve also decided not to extend the list too far in the modern iteration of country, partly because there just isn’t room and partly because the genre now embraces so many elements of pop, rock and even hip-hop culture. The 21st century country stylings of Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood, Luke Combs and other current heroes are reflected extensively as part of our continuing country coverage.

We begin with some of the true pioneers who made the very first music that we came to call country, such as the Virginia collective who became known as the First Family of Country Music, the Carter Family. Bob Wills, the man who popularised the Western Swing sound, takes his place alongside the Tennessee Plowboy, Eddy Arnold, who in terms of chart achievements, was named in Joel Whitburn’s 2002 Top Country Singles volume as the No. 1 country artist of all time.

Arnold’s ‘I’ll Hold You In My Heart (Till I Can Hold You In My Arms)’ and Hank Snow’s ‘I’m Moving On’ both earn their place by having spent an astonishing 21 weeks each atop the country charts, in 1947 and 1950 respectively. Two huge heroes who died far too soon, Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, are of course automatic choices, as are Kitty Wells and Loretta Lynn, who did more than most to advance the cause of women in country music and to inspire later female stars. Also here are signature hits by stars of the 1950s and ’60s such as Webb Pierce, Marty Robbins, Leroy Van Dyke and Buck Owens.

No country playlist would be complete without Johnny Cash, represented here by his seminal Sun Records hit of 1956, ‘I Walk The Line,’ while outlaw country takes its place on the list with the Man In Black’s old friends Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings.

Massive pop-country crossovers by Glen Campbell and Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton sit alongside a landmark 1980 hit by the Possum, George Jones, and one of the 60 (yes, sixty) No. 1 singles amassed so far by the modern king of country, George Strait. Don your stetson, press play and then hit the comments box!

Listen to Country Music In 20 Songs on Spotify

Format: Union Jack flagUK English


  1. DebSC

    October 25, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    Great list! (I might have chosen a different King George song….)
    Thanks for not including the “noise” trying to pass as country music
    for the past 10 years or so.

  2. John

    October 26, 2015 at 12:00 am

    The early greats like Jimmie Rogers , Delmore Brothers , Louvin Brothers and Rose Maddox not on the list ?

  3. Stephen Watts

    October 26, 2015 at 12:13 am

    Welcome To My World Jim Reeves or any other great song he did!

    • DeannaDL

      October 26, 2015 at 2:36 am

      Without Jim Reeves, this is not a complete list.

      • RayC

        April 16, 2016 at 3:05 pm

        also…wheres Gene Watson………one or 2 on list not too sure about…countrys …country…#16&19

  4. Benjamin Fitzgerald

    October 26, 2015 at 12:45 am

    A good, strong list, but not *quite* perfect. I know Rhinestone Cowboy was a major hit, but it’s not really an emblem of country music so much as it is a pop country crossover. It would be better to have included “Crazy Arms” by Ray Price, whose country shuffle redefined the genre. I would also pick different songs for Kenny Rogers (The Gambler) and George Strait (Amarillo by Morning).

    Still, this list is pretty thorough. You touched on almost all the greats of country music. It’s a shame there wasn’t room for a song by Dwight Yoakam or Alan Jackson, as they worked with Strait to bring a major breath of fresh air to the genre. I personally would have left off LeRoy van Dyke and included “Don’t Rock the Jukebox.” But that’s a pretty minor complaint. Good job guys.

  5. Barbara Walker

    October 26, 2015 at 2:11 am

    Early Randy Travis!

  6. Rhonda

    October 26, 2015 at 2:24 am

    I’m only in my early 50’s and I just cannot stand to listen to county music anymore. It’s all junk and more pop than country. I like all the early, early singers and songs. They are the epitome of COUNTRY MUSIC! !!!

    • John Fields

      October 26, 2015 at 8:48 am


    • M kerr

      October 26, 2015 at 1:53 pm

      I totally agree, especially girl country singers. But the older the better as far as I’m concerned. I would have picked some different artists, but not too bad.

  7. Ron Nagle

    October 26, 2015 at 2:31 am

    OK, I am aware that ignorance runs rampant throughout the music industry but there is no excuse if someone just does a little research when attempting a project such as this.
    Leroy Van Dyke? Glen Campbell? Kenny Rogers?
    How about one of the most important country music icons of all time, the King of Country Music himself, Mr. Roy Acuff. There is no excuse, do your research folks.

  8. Brian

    October 26, 2015 at 3:41 am

    Only one Hank Williams, Sr. song on the top 20? An argument could be made all of the top 20 country songs are by him. Anyway, El Paso deserves to be there, The Grateful Dead version was terrific too and Your Cheatin’ Heart has to be there. Willie Nelson deserves a couple more. Ah, it is all fun to talk about.

  9. Gary B.Born

    October 26, 2015 at 6:20 am

    Where is Lefty Frizzell ? no list can be complete without him so many greats left out Wynn Stewart,Ernest Tubb

  10. Ella

    October 26, 2015 at 11:26 am


  11. Ella Geisick

    October 26, 2015 at 11:28 am

    JIM REEVES just had to be here to be the top 20. Such a wonderful voice.

  12. Lucy Rodgers

    October 26, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    need Jean Shepard & Stonewall Jackson forget Kenny Rogers

  13. Leah

    October 26, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    I would have added “Flowers on the Wall”

  14. Neville Pellitt

    November 12, 2015 at 3:41 am

    I was Jim Reeves rep in Australia and can’t understand why my good
    friend isn’t in your list!!

  15. Marilyn

    November 17, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    I’m one of those who think that country music these days is junk. My favorite is Marty Robbins and Conway Twitty, any of the singers back in those days are people who you can understand what they are saying, not like the stuff of today.

  16. Tess Ailshire

    December 9, 2015 at 10:59 pm

    I’d add:
    – Connie Smith’s Once A Day
    – Wanda Jackson’s Right or Wrong

    If I had to remove to to make room, it would be Islands in the Stream and Rhinestone Cowboy

    • Tony Gardner

      October 17, 2017 at 7:34 pm

      Yes Both of those are easily more deserving. I never rated “Islands” as a country song, and
      most of Kenny Rodgers stuff is 90% pop. Exceptions may be Coward of the County and Lucille, but he was never 100% country

  17. Gary Jenkins

    December 10, 2015 at 1:45 am

    don’t leave out Carl Smith Hey Joe and lets live a little.

  18. David Pickel

    December 10, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    Many say the #1 Country song of all time is “Stand by your man” by Tammy Wynette. Top 20 for sure. John Anderson is my personal favorite.

  19. Roger Estill

    December 10, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    Pretty good list. I know it’s hard to name everyone. But you only mentioned individual singers and not any groups like the Oak Ridge Boys, the Statler Brothers, or Alabama.

  20. James

    December 10, 2015 at 5:28 pm

    Hank Williams Cold Cold Heart Should have been on the List, & Hank Thompson Honky Tonk Angels

  21. James Lioyd Moser

    December 10, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    Hank Williams Cold, cold Heart should have been on the list ,Hank Thompson Honky, Tonk, Angels is another one

  22. Suzanne

    April 3, 2016 at 1:51 am

    If you’re looking for a brief history of country music, I don’t think you need Eddy Arnold, Hank Snow, and Webb Pierce on the list- Hank Snow would’ve sufficed to represent that period and type of singer. For me, you can’t have a discussion of country music history that doesn’t include Alabama and Ronny Milsap. I think Islands in the Stream was a great pick to represent the 70/80’s crossover period and honor both Kenny and Dolly at the same time. The Hank Williams pick should’ve been I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry and King George’s song should’ve been Amarillo by Morning.

    • Barcus

      December 9, 2017 at 10:47 pm

      Then you have no concept of what Country music was really all about at that time

  23. Harvey Thompson

    July 16, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    At my age I’ve heard all those you named plus the ones you missed.Threre’s not enough room to list them all.The county artist are great.Not so much the crossovers.Hank Williams SR. was to country music that Arnold Palmer is to golf.At 81 years old the change is too much

  24. David Pascoe

    July 16, 2016 at 11:39 pm

    No Gram Parsons?

  25. John

    July 17, 2016 at 4:13 am

    i like Lefty F. hank Sr. and most of the older singers. and have disks of them

  26. Roger Hill

    July 17, 2016 at 8:19 am

    If Patsy Cline is on the list : where is Jim. Reeves , Bobby Bare (who won the first country music Grammy award) Don Williams . Is this list stuck in a time zone? Is country music just fiddles, steel guitars and banjos?

  27. Tony Gardner

    July 17, 2016 at 10:03 am

    Islands in the stream ? ? ? Suddendly this list loses all credibility

  28. mike

    July 17, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    “Coal Miner’s Daughter” is the epitome of country, about country, by country. No coal mining songs? Railroad songs? You’ve got to include “Orange Blossom Special”. Come to think of it, there were no Bluegrass songs of any kind.

    • Wayne

      October 15, 2016 at 12:51 am

      Conway Twitty is also missing from the list. ( Conway Twitty held the record for having the most songs go to #1 on the charts then any other artist. I doubt George Strait would have been able to surpass him if he’d hadn’t died in 1993)

  29. Wayne

    October 15, 2016 at 12:22 am

    Conway Twitty is also missing from the list ( Conway held the lead with the most songs to reach #1 on the charts, long before George Strait was able to break his record and probably wouldn’t have surpassed Conway if Conway hadn’t died in 1993 )

  30. Cyril byrne

    February 5, 2017 at 3:45 pm

    Conway twitty not on the list one of the greatest of all time

  31. Bruc Carriker

    October 13, 2017 at 8:07 pm

    Pretty good list. Things I’d change:

    1) For Kenny Rogers duet, should’ve gone with “Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer” with Kim Carnes or “Every Time Two Fools Collide” with Dotty West. I know Dolly is a big name, but that doesn’t make it the best of KR’s duets.

    2) Putting Jim Reeves and Patsy Cline together on a duet mastered after their deaths doesn’t cut it. They both need to be there – Jim Reeves with “Four Walls” or “He’ll Have to Go”; Patsy Cline with “Crazy”, obviously. Loved me some Glen Campbell, but if he has to go to include these two separately, so be it.

    3) Different song for George Strait – “This Is Where the Cowboy Rides Away”, “Amarillo by Morning”, or “The Chair”

    4) Different song for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys – “San Antonio Rose”

    5) Different song for Hank Williams, “Cold Cold Heart” or “You’re Cheatin’ Heart”

    6) Loved Leroy Van Dyke and Buck Owens but they can’t be on the list if Conway Twitty, Alan Jackson, Dolly Parton (on her own, not duet with KR), the Statler Brothers, Alabama, Don Williams aren’t on the list.


  32. Chrisatopher Nowak BFA MLIS

    July 7, 2021 at 1:01 pm


  33. Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS

    July 7, 2021 at 1:08 pm

    Michelle shows off her acting talents in DUE SOUTH!!
    Here is NOBODY’S GIRL!!

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