When it comes to naming the greatest country bands, there is always a bit of intimidation, after all, country music never really runs out of good music from really good artists. On top of that, the genre has an undeniable collection of band icons who pioneered the classic tunes that influenced a lot of the modern songs we hear today.
In this list, we give you the best of both worlds (mix of the old and new). These are the bands whose songs you will definitely not regret listening to. If anything else, you’d find yourself new songs to get obsessed with.
Emerging in the late ‘70s, Alabama was the group that changed everything for country bands. With their pop instincts, rock edge, rich country harmonies, and songwriting indebted to the Bakersfield sounds of Merle Haggard, Alabama escaped the urban cowboy curse and made country bands popular again.
In their fifty-year career, Alabama reeled in 21 straight number one hits, including “Dixieland Delight” and “Love in the First Degree,” a record unrivaled in any genre. They also earned an impressive stack of awards and sold more records than any other artist or band in the ‘80s. And now, with 73 million albums later, they walk down the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
2. The Highwaymen
With a united visionary sound of cinematic outlaw country, The Highwaymen is perhaps the greatest supergroup in the genre’s history. Not just that, this country group pooled the four of country music’s legends – Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson.
They released three albums, including one live album with a number of hit songs under their belt, just like their posse renditions of Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind” and Guy Clark’s “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train.” And though their band was short-lived, their influence was long-living.
3. Carter Family
Alabama and The Highwaymen may have been the top-most country music groups, especially in terms of popularity, but the Carter Family is at the forefront of country music during its early commercial art form. They are the pioneers of the genre’s standard canon, and that is why all country artists somehow owe a debt to them.
They are considered the most influential group in country music history with their popularized traditional folk songs and the finger-picking style of guitar playing known as the “Carter picking,” which became the dominant technique used for decades.
4. Flatt & Scruggs
Billy Monroe may have invented bluegrass, but Flatt & Scruggs popularized the genre in ways that not even Monroe could ever do. Their virtuoso playing of the banjo and the lonesome vocals stood out in the genre, gradually putting bluegrass into the mainstream.
Their epitomized bluegrass sound found its heyday in the 1950s until the ‘60s. The duo enjoyed success as they got inducted into the Grand Ole Opry and started hitting country charts, especially with “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” which was their only number-one single. And along the road, their banjo-sparked acoustic sound also broadened their listeners to young people in the folk music revival.
5. Brooks & Dunn
With a career stretching back to 1991, Brooks & Dunn earned 20 number-one hits, bagged two Grammy awards, and went home with dozens of ACM and CMA honors. Their entire catalog recorded more album sales (over 30 million records sold) than any other country duo in history, and their influence in the genre is undeniable and unquestionable.
They drove the power-country era during the early ‘90s with their popularization of line dancing through “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.” The duo briefly went on separate ways and recently reunited with Reba McEntire for a Las Vegas residency.
When Sugarland started in the early 2000s, they set themselves apart with their upbeat, energy-packed, and infectious hits. Soon enough, they started dominating the country charts, and that style stayed with them like a signature.
But there was more to Sugarland than just that. They also impressed fans and critics with their soulful vocal performances, and in 2010, they released an unexpected steampunk album, The Incredible Machine. The record’s bold rock sound listed Sugarland as one of the country-rock bands to watch out for and kept critics interested in what they would do next.
7. Zac Brown Band
This multi-platinum and Grammy Award-winning southern band, which was formed in 2000 alongside Sugarland, only rose to stardom by the late 2000s. And a big chunk of their initial success was owed to the strength of their throwback ‘70s country-rock hits just like “Chicken Fried,” “Toes,” and “Colder Weather,”
But soon enough, they proved to be a restless jam band who continued to crank up and ride the groove. And their biggest impact in the genre is their wide range of influences that made fans out of non-fans which definitely helped reinvigorate country music.
8. Rascal Flatts
Another band that made waves during the 2000s and continues to do so years later is Rascal Flatts. The country-pop trio from Ohio was considered the biggest act in country music during their time and one of the top-selling groups as well that appealed to a wide range of demographics.
But it was their flexible music style that made them different and enabled them to be a fixture in the charts even 20 years after they released their debut single “Prayin’ for Daylight.”
9. Old Dominion
A name quite familiar to the younger generation of country music fans, Old Dominion, started their career during the decline of bro-country. And unlike most, their initial hits were softer and sweeter, bordering between contemporary pop and classic soft rock.
The band boasts top-tier modern country songwriters, and with Shane McAnally at the helm of the production, the band attracted attention. Soon enough, they established their name in the industry, and recently their summertime anthem “I Was on a Boat That Day” achieved a top ten position on both Billboard’s Country Airplay and Hot Country Songs charts.
10. Lady A
Capping off our top 10 is Lady A or previously known as Lady Antebellum. This threesome proved to be a force to be reckoned with after their 2010 leadoff single “Need You Now” topped the country charts and even scored the number two position on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Not only that, but it also went on to sell over three million copies and reached platinum status just two weeks after its release.
And years after their debut, and even with some years off the road, the multi-Platinum band continues to be a mainstream success. And they’re not going anywhere.
More Country Bands to check out and explore!
Here are male country bands as well as female country bands that didn’t make our top 10 but also deserve a listen. Make sure to check them out as well!
- Big & Rich
- Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys
- Charlie Daniels Band
- Dixie Chicks
- Johnnie & Jack
- Montgomery Gentry
- The Bellamy Brothers
- The Flying Burrito Brothers
- The Judds
- The Louvin Brothers
- The Mavericks
- The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
- The Oak Ridge Boys
- The Stanley Brothers
Alabama, brooks and dunn, Carter Family, Flatt & Scruggs, Lady A, old dominion, Rascal Flatts, Sugarland, The Highwaymen, zac brown band