If we are to put a theme over the past year, Taylor Swift’s folklore album and the rustic, cottage-core aesthetic of escapism is a natural top-ranker. The songs invite so much comfort like a fuzzy blanket that warmly wraps around you while you sip on coffee or hot chocolate. The lyrics intertwined with good storytelling create that idyllic feeling we all long for even until now.
While this is everything that brings both a pause and somehow peace into our lives, it’s not the whole story. On the other side of the spectrum, there are no chilly nights and fuzzy blankets. There is no coffee or hot chocolate.
What’s left is grief accompanied by death and lost love. And a long list of other emotions we try not to be engulfed in. These feelings are best described in music with dark country songs.
What is dark country music?
Dark country or also more commonly known as gothic country, is a subgenre of alternative country credited to have started in Denver during the late 1990s and early 2000s. The sound of dark country combines alternative country, gospel, and blues. In terms of storytelling, it touches on death, ghosts, lost love, alcohol, murder, betrayal, the devil, and other religious imageries.
Top 10 Dark Country Songs
Imagine yourself in a lonesome cabin in the deepest woods with only the sound of the crisp wind and occasional scrunching of dead leaves. You have a glass of bourbon in one hand as you let the darkest place of your soul be consumed with haunting stories. Stories that pierce you in a place that no other music genre can.
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.
Dark Country Songs
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