Country rock as a genre is fairly simple to describe: it is a combination of classic country music and rock and roll. First popularized by Elvis, country rock has continued to develop until the modern day, often incorporating other genres such as blues and country folk. These 21 best country rock songs will have you tapping your toes (or maybe your cowboy boots).
1. Long Haired Country Boy – The Charlie Daniels Band
The Charlie Daniels Band premiered Long Haired Country Boy on their 1974 album Fire on the Mountain. The country/southern rock anthem peaked at No. 56 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The song was praised for its lyrics, which describe the life of a country boy who faces criticism for his lifestyle, which includes alcohol, drugs, and doing whatever he pleases. Though others call him lazy and good-for-nothing, he ignores their insults because his life makes him happy enough.
2. Ramblin’ Man – Allman Brothers Band
The Allman Brothers Band debuted Ramblin’ Man in 1973 as the lead single for their album Brothers and Sisters. The song was inspired by a 1951 track of the same name by country legend Hank Williams. The band members were initially hesitant to record it, as they felt it was too “pure country” for their style. Nevertheless, their decision to do so paid off; it became their first and only top 10 single. Ramblin’ Man was a marked departure from their usual classic rock sound.
3. A Good Year For The Roses – George Jones
A Good Year For The Roses was originally popularized by country singer George Jones, whose version rose to No. 2 on the top country singles chart in 1970. Eleven years later, the song was covered by Elvis Costello & The Attractions. Their version was popular on the UK Singles chart; the song follows the thought process of a man who feels disillusioned and heartbroken after his wife leaves him. Jones recorded the song once again in the 1990s alongside Alan Jackson; their duet won Vocal Collaboration Of The Year at the Music City News Country Awards.
4. Luxury Liner – Emmylou Harris
Emmylou Harris’ 1976 album Luxury Liner was her second consecutive album to reach No. 1 on Billboard Top Country Album chart. Though none of the album’s tracks charted, both Luxury Liner and the LP as a whole are remembered as some of Harris’ best early work. The title song is an upbeat track noted for its unique fusion of rock and honky tonk. It tells the story of a trucker traveling across the country as he transports “40 tons of steel” (the largest approved weight for a cargo truck).
5. Bad Moon Rising – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Bad Moon Rising was the lead single for Creedence Clearwater Revival’s album Green River. Released in 1969, the song peaked at No. 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100; meanwhile, in the UK, it vaulted to No. 1 on the Singles chart. The song paints an image of apocalyptic weather as an omen of something evil approaching. It has been extensively covered by artists of all genres and is often cited as one of the best songs of all time (and also became famous for having one of the most widely misheard lines in the music industry).
6. Take It Easy – The Eagles
The American rock band, The Eagles, made their debut with Take It Easy in 1972. The song hit No. 12 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Take It Easy was the opening track of their eponymous debut album and became one of The Eagles’ signature songs, becoming a regular feature at their live performances. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame lists it as one of its 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
7. Are You Ready For The Country – Neil Young
Are You Ready For The Country is a blues-inspired country rock song popularized by Neil Young. The song was first released on Young’s 1972 album, Harvest. But Young isn’t the only country star to release a hit version of the song; it has also famously been recorded by Waylon Jennings and Shooter Jennings. Waylon Jennings’ 1976 cover climbed to No. 7 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. The song focuses on existential questions in a variety of scenarios, such as a preacher who believes God is on his side and a hangman preparing for an execution.
8. Copperhead Road – Steve Earle
Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road debuted on his third studio album of the same name in 1988. Earle described it as a “rock record” incorporating bluegrass and heavy metal elements. Copperhead Road attacks the War on Drugs, telling the story of a Vietnam War veteran returning home. The veteran returns to Tennessee and begins selling marijuana. Entering into illegal trades is a tradition in his family, as his grandfather and father sold homemade moonshine in their day.
9. Flirtin’ With Disaster – Molly Hatchet
Molly Hatchet’s southern rock song Flirtin’ With Disaster is the only single from the band’s second album of the same name. Flirtin’ With Disaster peaked at No. 42 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and remained on the charts for 10 weeks. It remains Molly Hatchet’s most popular song, appearing in many films and TV shows. Some of the most notable include The Dukes of Hazzard film and shows King of the Hill, Supernatural, and My Name Is Earl.
10. Take The Money & Run – Steve Miller Band
Take the Money and Run is the Steve Miller Band’s hit 1976 single. The song centers on two young bandits and the detective on their trail. The bandits, who are implied to be teenagers, kill a man during a robbery and hit the road to avoid arrest. The song was one of the band’s many singles released in the 1970s. Take the Money & Run peaked on the US Billboard Hot 100 at No 11. Miller wrote the song from inspiration from his childhood listening to the radio on long road trips.
11. Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s legendary Sweet Home Alabama debuted on their second album in 1974, Second Helping. The song was written as a response to Neil Young’s Southern Man from four years prior. The members of Lynyrd Skynyrd felt that Young’s song blamed the entire US South for the travesties of slavery; they specifically namecheck Young in the lyrics. The track reached No. 8 on the US Billboard Hot 100, the band’s highest-charting single. It has become a southern and classic rock staple.
12. Willin’ – Linda Ronstadt
Linda Ronstadt released her cover of Willin’ by Little Feat for her 1974 breakthrough album, Heart Like a Wheel. This album was listed in the National Recording Registry in 2013 and is listed on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The lyrics depict a truck driver who has smuggled “smokes and folks from Mexico” and gone on many long adventures. It has become adapted as an informal anthem by truckers around the US, particularly because it acknowledges the unique challenges of their line of work.
13. Wichita Lineman – Glen Campbell
Written by songwriter Jimmy Webb, Glen Campbell recorded Wichita Lineman with backing from The Wrecking Crew in 1968. Campbell’s version appeared on his album that year of the same name and peaked at No. 3 on the US Pop Chart.
It stayed in the Top 100 for 15 weeks, topping the country music and adult contemporary charts also. Rolling Stone lists it as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Wichita Lineman has been described as one of the first country songs to wrestle with existential questions, telling the story of the deeply vital but lonely job of maintaining electrical lines in the rural country.
14. Drunken Angel – Lucinda Williams
Lucinda Williams premiered Drunken Angel on her fifth studio album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, in 1998. The acclaimed album has been called one of the best country albums ever released (in part because of Williams’ legendary perfectionist standards). The title track tells the story of Blaze Foley, an Austin songwriter who was killed in 1989. Williams has said that it is the one song that consistently features in her live shows no matter what venue she is playing.
15. Please Read The Letter – Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
Please Read The Letter was originally recorded by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant on the 1998 album, Walking Into Clarksdale. In 2007, Plant rerecorded the song with Alison Krauss on their acclaimed collaborative album, Raising Sand. Initially, the song did not chart; however, after Raising Sand won a Grammy Award for Record Of The Year, it entered the Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart. The song fuses elements of country rock and folk rock; it describes yearning for a lost lover.
16. Dead Flowers – The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones recorded Dead Flowers for their 1971 album, Sticky Fingers, which featured the band’s foray into country music. Like much of the Stones’ music, it features dark themes such as drug use, death, and income disparity. It was noted for its distinct honky-tonk style used by the lead guitar, making it a unique fusion of country rock, blues, and other styles. Dead Flowers has been widely covered by other country artists, including Jerry Lee Lewis and Willie Nelson.
17. One Hundred Years From Now – The Byrds
The Byrds premiered this song as the eighth track on their 1968 album Sweetheart of the Rodeo. The lyrics ask existential questions about what people will do and say, “one hundred years from this day.” It asks if people will still feel the same way and say the same things. These questions frame the survival of a relationship that seems troubled. Since “people are always talking” but “everybody’s so wrong,” the singer concludes, “it’s gonna work out right.”
18. Ballad Of a Southern Man – Whiskey Myers
Ballad of a Southern Man debuted in 2011 on Whiskey Myers’ album, Firewater. The song describes the life of a typical man in the American south, referencing the rifle handed down by his grandfather, moonshine, and fishing. The song also references traditional Southern political and social beliefs, forming a narrative of joy and good times mixed with defiance, pain, and struggle. It was noted for its seamless blending of traditional country music with Southern rock and the Red Dirt movement.
19. Gunpowder & Lead – Miranda Lambert
Miranda Lambert debuted Gunpowder & Lead as the third single on her 2008 album, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It was Lambert’s first Top 10 track on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. The singer describes her plans to shoot her abusive husband when he gets out of jail. The song begins with the sound of a door slowly creaking open and ends with a gunshot. It is often compared to Independence Day by Martina McBride and Goodbye Earl by the Dixie Chicks, which feature similar themes.
20. Somethin’ Bout a Truck – Kip Moore
Kip Moore recorded Somethin Bout a Truck as the first single for his debut album Up All Night. He received praise for his vocal performance, which critics described as elevating the song to something great. The song became Moore’s only No. 1 hit on the Hot Country Songs chart, also placing in the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100. Moore has described the song as an ode to the youthful spirit that he believes everyone has within them.
21. A Country Boy Can Survive – Hank Williams, Jr.
Hank Williams Jr. released A Country Boy Can Survive as a single in 1982. It peaked at No. 2 on the US Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. The song is now considered one of Williams’ signature songs despite never reaching No. 1. Williams rewrote and rerecorded the song soon after the September 11, 2001 attacks as America Will Survive. The song lyrics reflect on changes to American lifestyles and social life, as well as rural worries about increased urbanization.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
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