Country music is often associated with happy, uplifting tunes. But it turns out there are plenty of dark country songs that tell a different story. If you’re feeling down and want to listen to some lyrics about heartbreak or loss – we’ve got you covered!
Here’s our list of favorite dark country songs, from old classics like “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones, all the way up through today’s hits like Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss’ “Whiskey Lullaby.” From tearjerker ballads to stormy rockers, this song playlist has something for everyone!
1. ‘A Boy Named Sue’ by Johnny Cash
Popularized by Johnny Cash, known in the industry for his innovative mixing of influences, this song was written by humorist and poet Shel Silverstein. It was recorded live in concert on February 24, 1969. What’s more interesting is that Cash performed it at California’s San Quentin State Prison. And with a story that tells of an outraged son who vowed to kill his absent father for his name, it’s definitely fitting.
2. ‘The Thunder Rolls’ by Garth Brooks
This dark country song released in 1991 was Brooks’ fourth and final single from his album No Fences. Crafted from a lyric that Brooks had been repeatedly listening to, this song used thunder rolling as sort of an onomatopoeia to a husband cheating on his wife. The dark madness and the violent music video had certainly earned the song the number 1 spot on the country charts that year.
3. ‘Whiskey Lullaby’ by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss
A story perfectly depicting both love and loss, Whiskey Lullaby tells the story of a man who came home from war only to find his wife sleeping with another man. He then succumbed to a life of drinking himself to death to hide his pain. And like in a Romeo and Juliet story in a madness spin-off, she also started drinking her pain away. And then, she ended up dying as well.
4. ‘She Thinks His Name Was John’ by Reba McEntire
This is a piano-built ballad that is designed to torture you emotionally and psychologically. It was definitely a stunner and a groundbreaking entry into the dark country music catalogue. And it can even rival the greatest songs in music history. It’s a dark country song that unravels the final thoughts of a woman who is trying to come to terms with the fact that she’ll never get married.
5. ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’ by George Jones
Considered the greatest country song, this song was released in April 1980 as the lead single from the album I Am What I Am. This dark country song put Jones back into the top-ranking map as this was his first solo no.1 single in six years. This sad song revolved around the idea of a love that was so powerful that only death could end it. Since 2008, this song has been preserved by the Library of Congress.
6. ‘Go To The Light by Murder’ by Death
Murder by Death’s brand is gothic, old West Tunes which they described as “dark whiskey devil music.” And Go To The Light, which straightforwardly talks about death, does not stray from that branding. Even more fitting with such a topic is the low baritone voice of frontman Adam Turla breathing “life” (ironically) into the song. Turla’s voice is also almost always compared to Johnny Cash.
7. ‘Evil Ways’ by Blues Saraceno
A gifted guitar virtuoso and musician, Blues Saraceno is an American rock guitarist, composer, and music producer. His song, Evil Ways, tells the story of a woman who thought her faith in God would change the ways of her man. But ultimately deciding to leave him when she saw that nothing had changed. The man fought to change alone to get his woman back, only to find her sleeping with another man. There he resorted back to his “Evil Ways.”
8. ‘Hang ‘Em High’ by Nick Nolan
Nick Nolan is a film score composer. He was nominated for Daytime Creative Arts Emmy award for Outstanding Music Direction And Composition in 2012. Nolan has an arsenal of really dark country songs with Hang’ Em High as one of his most popular songs. The song talks about the acceptance of death and a trade with the devil. His lyrics said, “Cause I’ll kill you where you stand and I won’t go down without a fight. Cause I know I’m gonna die. Hang em high.”
9. Jeannie’s Afraid Of The Dark’ by Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner
This song definitely deserves to be on this list as it spoke of an unsettling message that Jeannie was destined to die. It was a creepy take on death with an even more unsettling tone as the listeners never learn why the girl just drops dead. And if that doesn’t creep you out, Jeannie also asked earlier in the song to never be buried. Dolly Parton surely does write dark country songs in a manner that you will never forget.
10. ‘One Last Time’ by Dusty Drake
Dusty Drake does not have a collection of dark country songs to remember him by. But this song definitely made a lasting impression. One Last Time released in March 2003, reached #26 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. It talked about an inevitable separation in an increasingly urgent dialogue with a final revelation of death.
What is Dark Country music?
Dark Country Music is a term for the more somber side of country, which features songs about death, dying, or even murder. It’s not all bad though. Some songs are just about the struggles that we face on this earth and how we have to make it through them together.
Imagine a music genre that’s dark, but not in the same way as metal or punk. A music genre that has its roots in country and folk, with all of the sadness and loneliness that those genres have always held. Imagine a sound where artists are able to be vulnerable without being too afraid of what people might think about their vulnerability.
This is Dark Country Music – it’s honest, raw, deep, emotional, and beautifully melodic at times. It’s for fans who grew up on Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline; it’s for people who grew up listening to bands like The Civil Wars or Mumford & Sons; it’s also for folks who want something new to listen to when they’re feeling low or lonely.
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