Rolling Stones’ 100 Greatest Country Artists of All Time

By
October 17, 2018

Rolling Stones ranked their 100 greatest artists of all time. They ranked these country artists according to their lasting impact on the genre and their recorded output, their legacy as an entertainer. Brace yourselves for you might be surprised with some of the artists included. Also, who among your favorite country artists entered the category? Find out!

100 artists is a lengthy list, and there isn’t room for everyone. With this, Rolling Stones didn’t include those who were mostly songwriters like Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard. Also, they skipped Chet Akins who is a work of art of Nashville. However, he is mainly a sideman and a producer. They also omitted Elvis Presley and Ray Charles since those artists were essential contributors of rock and roll and soul.

Nevertheless, all of the artists’ common denominator for both the legends and today’s stars was that they are all world’s most magnificent.

Here is the list of the Top 10:

10. Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks is a game changer in the world of country music. He is one of the crossover artists during the 90s. His sensibilities of the pop-country made him a superstar. Brooks’ song like “Friends in Low Places” became a standard all over the globe. Without a doubt, Brooks has had great success on the country single and album charts. He has sold platinum and multi-platinum albums all around the world. Also, his performances and concerts were never a flop.

Moreover, Brooks is the best-selling solo albums artist in the United States with 148 million domestic units sold, ahead of Elvis Presley, and is second only to The Beatles in total album sales overall. He is also one of the world's best-selling artists of all time, having sold more than 170 million records.

As of September 23, 2016, Brooks is now the only artist in music history to have released seven albums that have achieved diamond status in the United States. He was able to surpass The Beatles with six records.

Brooks’ trademarks songs include “Friends in Low Places,” “The River,” and “The Dance.”

9. George Jones

Indeed, George Jones has become the standard in the country music scene. He was able to penetrate the hearts of country music obsessives through his soulful songs. Also, he has touched everyone by creating and recording tracks that anyone could relate to.

Jones was able to reinvent melodies and stretch out words and lyrics in ways that seemed impossible. However, those are wholly natural and felt. Undoubtedly, he is one of the legends who sang songs of devotion and heartbreak at the core of country music. Those songs include “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “She Thinks I Still Care,” “We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds,” “The Grand Tour,” and “We’re Gonna Hold On.” On the other hand, he was able to rock our world with his early honky-tonk temperaments like “Why Baby Why” and “White Lightning.”

In the course of his career, Jones had more than 150 hits, both as a solo artist and in duets with other country artists. Jones was frequently referred to as the greatest living country singer.

Jones’ trademark songs include “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and “The Grand Tour.”

8. Dolly Parton

Yes, Dolly Parton is “America’s Sweetheart. Her quirky personality is the main reason why people love her so much. She is bubbly yet a great performer. Her songs define a realistic picture of real-life situations. She has risen to stardom with her great music such as “Jolene,” “Coat of Many Colors,” and her irrepressible “I Will Always Love You.”

Furthermore, Parton has a string of excellent 2000s bluegrass LPs joining a catalog of over 20 Number One hits.

Her signature songs include “Coat of Many Colors” and “9 to 5.”

7. Waylon Jennings

During the 70s, Jennings was instrumental in the inception of the Outlaw Country Movement. He released critically acclaimed albums such as “Lonesome, On'ry and Mean” and “Honky Tonk Heroes.” Then, followed by massive hit albums “Dreaming My Dreams” and “Are You Ready for the Country.” In 1976, he released the album “Wanted! The Outlaws” with Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser, and Jessi Colter. It became the first platinum country music album.

With a rich, growling voice and the twang of a leather-embossed telecaster, Jennings helped create his own incredible and unmistakable sound. It was one that resonates today in the music of artists like Sturgill Simpson and Jennings’ son, Shooter. In 1973, he gave songwriter Billy Joe Shaver his big break by cutting nine of his songs on the LP Honky Tonk Heroes, including the signature title track and the brooding “Black Rose.”

Jennings also penetrated the world of films and television series. He was the balladeer for “The Dukes of Hazzard,” composing and singing the show's theme song and providing narration. In 2001, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2007, he was posthumously awarded the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award by the Academy of Country Music.

Jennings’ trademarks songs were “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” and “Honky Tonk Heroes.”

6. Willie Nelson

One of Country’s greatest crossovers, Willie Nelson “The Red Headed Stranger” provided us his hits “Always on My Mind,” “On the Road Again” and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” These songs scored both on both the country charts and the Top 40 in the 70s and 80s.

Before becoming world’s famous and greatest country musician, Nelson wrote the country’s all-time favorite songs like Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” and Faron Young’s  “Hello Walls.”

Nelson is not just a singer but also a musician, songwriter, author, poet, actor, and activist. He is one of the leading figures of outlaw country, a subgenre of country music that developed in the late 1960s as a reaction to the conservative restrictions of the Nashville sound. Nelson has acted in over 30 films, co-authored several books, and has been involved in activism for the use of biofuels and the legalization of marijuana.

Nelson’s trademarks songs include “On the Road Again” and “Funny How Time Slips Away.”

5. The Carter Family

The trio of A.P. Carter, his wife Sara, and sister-in-law Maybelle created the sound of modern country in the late 20s. They began by singing folk songs over the guitar, autoharp, and banjo arrangements. Perhaps, it’s the band’s signature temperament among other country artists.

“Keep on the Sunny Side” and “Wildwood Flower” have become canon for the country music. The Carter style was built around the vocals and incorporated them into the instrumental background. It's usually made up of the basic three-chord structure. In essence, The Carter Family violated the main traditions of vocal and instrumental music. However, the band has created a whole new style and a whole new sound.

Despite Sarah’s divorce in 1939, they continued playing and performing together. By the time the group split in 1943, they’d recorded more than 250 songs. Maybelle carried on the group’s

tradition and name with her daughters. Above all, the original trio’s influence still ripples through the country today.

The Carter Family’s trademark songs include “Keep on the Sunny Side” and “Wildwood Flower.”

4. Loretta Lynn

A coal miner’s daughter from Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, Loretta Lynn became a wife by the age of 15 and a mother soon after. Indeed, she is forever the “Queen of Country Music.”

Her classics was yet ageless like “The Pill,” “Rated X” and “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” are as controversial as they are legendary. Lynn would often avoid attaching a feminist narrative to her music however they unfolded a whole new world for women on Music Row.

With more awards than any female in the genre and scores of partnerships with everyone from Conway Twitty to Jack, White Lynn has kept the classics coming and the naysayers guessing. Her style with distinct lyrics pierced the heart and tickled the mind.

Lynn has received a bunch of awards and other accolades for her groundbreaking contribution in country music. Some of her trophies as a duet and an individual artist are from the Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music. Also, she is the most awarded female country recording artist and the only female ACM Artist of the Decade.

Moreover, Lynn has sold more than 45 million albums worldwide, scored 24 number one hit singles, and 11 number one albums. Lynn continues to tour, appear at the Grand Ole Opry and release new albums. She is recognized by the strength and quality of her voice still today, as well as her down to earth, quick wit, and humor.

Lynn’s trademark songs include “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “The Pill,” “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man).”

3. Johnny Cash

“The Man in Black” Johnny Cash embodied outlaw country’s rebel spirit. It runs through his character as well as through his songs. Much of Cash's music contained themes of sorrow, moral tribulation, and redemption, especially in the later stages of his career. Nevertheless, it helped him rise to prominence. On the other hand, he could sing beautiful love songs with his wife, June Carter Cash. Johnny and June once lead a family-friendly concert, which he branded with the most famous salutation in the country “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.”

Cash’s impact was extraordinary and compelling. In fact, President Bill Clinton once proclaimed that Cash had made country music not just for the country, but for the entire world, too.

Although primarily remembered as a country music icon, his genre-spanning songs and sound embraced rock and roll, rockabilly, blues, folk, gospel, and even alternative rock in later recordings. This crossover appeal won Cash the rare honor of being inducted into the Country Music, Rock and Roll, and Gospel Music Halls of Fame.

Cash’s trademarks songs include “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line.”

2. Hank Williams

Although Hank Williams’ recorded output lasted only for seven years, his influence has spanned ten times as long, and it continues to flourish. In fact, he is already a standard in the world of country.

Moreover, Williams’ plainspoken songs and tales of heartbreak “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”; catchy and playful party melodies “Move It on Over,” “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)”; and charming pickup lines set to music “Hey Good Lookin’,” and “Honky Tonkin'” became a blueprint for artists like Willie Nelson and George Jones.

Many artists recorded songs that Williams wrote and recorded. He influenced Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan, George Jones, and The Rolling Stones, and others. Williams was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961, the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

1. Merle Haggard

“The Hag” Merle Haggard has a distinct story. His tale, like his music, was an American epic, shot through with improbability, struggle, sin, and redemption.

Yes, Merle Haggard has been through bad times before achieving the limelight. He faced a lot of struggles in life before becoming an ultimate star. Moreover, he has been in and out of juvenile detention center, he ran away from home, involved in a theft, fused in a robbery, has been in prison, and then a sudden struck of change hit him.

It was not a smooth beginning for Haggard’s musical career. His very first record with Tally Records entitled “Singing My Heart Out” was a whole flat. Despite Haggard’s wanting to pursue his career, he kept chasing his dreams.

He asked for a consent to record “Sing A Sad Song” which was, astonishingly, became a huge hit in 1964. The following year, he recorded “My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers” written by Liz Anderson, the mother of country singer Lynn Anderson. This made Haggard’s career skyrocket.

The Hag

In 1966, Merle Haggard recorded “I’m A Lonesome Fugitive” also written by Liz Anderson and Casey Anderson. The song was his very first No.1 single on the country charts.

At that time where his career was skyrocketing, there was one thing that was bothering Haggard. It was his pasts, the things he had done. He was worried that it would affect his career. But God is great, and it didn’t; instead, he was loved by millions of people all over the globe. His love petrified his evil deeds to music and country music enthusiasts.

While in prison, Haggard learned that his wife was expecting another man's child, which pressed him psychologically. He was fired from a series of prison jobs, and planned to escape along with another inmate named “Rabbit,” but was convinced not to escape by fellow inmates.

Haggard started gambling and brewing racket with his cellmate. After he was caught drunk, he was sent for a week to solitary confinement where he met Caryl Chessman, an author, and a death-row inmate. Meanwhile, his inmate named James “Rabbit” Kendrick has managed to escape by shooting a police officer. With this, his friend was returned to jail and was executed.

Chessman's predicament, along with the execution of "Rabbit," inspired Haggard to change his life. He soon earned a high school equivalency diploma and kept a steady job in the prison's textile plant. Haggard also played for the prison's country music band, attributing a performance by Johnny Cash at the jail on New Year's Day of 1959 as his main inspiration. And he was released from San Quentin on parole in 1960.

From 1966 to 1987, he placed 38 hits at Number One on the country charts, among them the bitterly patriotic “Okie From Muskogee” and “The Fightin’ Side of Me.”

People were just so passionate about Merle Haggard. They forgot what was in the past and embraced what Merle Haggard has to offer. Above all, Merle Haggard is still in our hearts no matter what happens.

Here are the other country artists from 11-100:

11-20

  1. Jimmie Rodgers
  2. Patsy Cline
  3. Buck Owens
  4. Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
  5. Ray Price
  6. Tammy Wynette
  7. Glenn Campbell
  8. Eddy Arnold
  9. Roger Miller
  10. George Strait

21-30

  1. Conway Twitty
  2. Lefty Frizzell
  3. Ernest Tubb
  4. The Louvin Brothers
  5. Shania Twain
  6. Tom T. Hall
  7. Bill Monroe
  8. Alan Jackson
  9. Kris Kristofferson
  10. Flatt and Scruggs

31-40

  1. Charley Pride
  2. Randy Travis
  3. Miranda Lambert
  4. Jerry Lee Lewis
  5. Stanley Brothers
  6. Reba McEntire
  7. Jerry Reed
  8. John Prine
  9. Gram Parsons
  10. Hank Snow

41-50

  1. Charlie Rich
  2. Kitty Wells
  3. Bobby Bare
  4. Porter Wagoner
  5. Dixie Chicks
  6. Gary Stewart
  7. Mel Tillis
  8. Tennessee Ernie Ford
  9. Kenny Rogers
  10. Hank Williams Jr.

51-60

  1. Keith Whitley
  2. Don Williams
  3. Ronnie Milsap
  4. Jim Reeves
  5. Don Gibson
  6. John Anderson
  7. Johnny Horton
  8. Emmylou Harris
  9. Hank Thompson
  10. Doug Sahm

61-70

  1. Webb Pierce
  2. Vince Gill
  3. Faron Young
  4. Marty Robbins
  5. Billy Joe Shaver
  6. Roy Acuff
  7. Tanya Tucker
  8. Guy Clark
  9. Connie Smith
  10. Vern Gosdin

71-80

  1. Dwight Yoakam
  2. Jessi Colter
  3. Merle Travis
  4. Lee Ann Womack
  5. Asleep at the Wheel
  6. Marty Stuart
  7. Patty Loveless
  8. Rosanne Cash
  9. Alabama
  10. Taylor Swift

80-90

  1. Statler Brothers
  2. Lynn Anderson
  3. Townes Van Zandt
  4. Steve Earle
  5. Eric Church
  6. Bill Anderson
  7. Jamey Johnson
  8. The Judds
  9. Tim McGraw
  10. Crystal Gayle

91-100

  1. Lucinda Williams
  2. Chris LeDoux
  3. Jerry Jeff Walker
  4. Alison Krauss
  5. Brooks and Dunn
  6. Toby Keith
  7. Brad Paisley
  8. Keith Urban
  9. Carrie Underwood
  10. John Denver

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