The 1960s were a golden era for country music, with the traditional sounds evolving into much more diverse styles. There were honky-tonk tunes and Nashville’s countrypolitan sound that blended country with pop elements.
Iconic artists like Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, and Merle Haggard were leading the change and dominated the scene, bringing raw emotion and storytelling to their songs.
So, to celebrate this decade, let’s go through some of the best country songs of the 1960s. These songs reflected societal changes and embraced broader themes beyond heartbreak and love – which, without a doubt, continues to resonate with audiences across America. Keep on scrolling below for these iconic hits.
1. Ring of Fire
From: Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash (1963)
One of the most iconic songs in history came to life when June Carter fell so deeply in love with Johnny Cash that she felt like she was falling into a blazing “Ring of Fire.” The song was then recorded by June’s sister, Anita Carter, but it failed to be a hit. Cash took the song, added his own flair, and turned it into a massive success.
“Ring of Fire” ranked No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, where it stayed for seven weeks. Rolling Stone also hailed it as the number one Greatest Country Song of All Time. In 1999, Cash’s 1963 recording of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
2. Mama Tried
From: Merle Haggard’s Mama Tried (1968)
One of the classic country tunes that stands out is Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.” It came out in July 1968 as the lead single from his album of the same name.
Haggard penned the entire song, inspired by his incarceration in San Quentin in 1957. While he didn’t actually face a life sentence, Haggard conveys the pain and distress he caused his mother following his sentencing.
The song became a big hit, topping the country music charts in the United States and Canada. Over time, it earned recognition as one of Haggard’s defining songs, solidifying its place among the greatest in country music history.
3. I Fall to Pieces
From: Patsy Cline’s Showcase (1961)
“I Fall to Pieces” has been considered a standard in the genre. It earned several recognitions from major music associations such as RIAA and Rolling Stone. It’s also been covered by various artists in various musical styles, including Aaron Neville and Trisha Yearwood, whose version won the Grammy Award for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals.
The iconic tune was written by legendary songwriters Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard. It was originally recorded by Patsy Cline, who is one of the defining artists in country music history.
4. Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line
From: Waylon Jennings’ Only the Greatest (1968)
Amazingly, the song spent eighteen weeks on the Hot Country Singles charts – where it peaked at No. 2 and held that position for five weeks.
Written by Nashville session guitarist Jimmy Bryant and produced by Chet Atkins, “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line” tells the story of a man who embraces his own independence and refuses to conform to societal norms or expectations, especially in relationships. It became one of Waylon Jennings’ signature songs.
5. Harper Valley PTA
From: Jeannie C. Riley’s Harper Valley P.T.A. (1968)
“Harper Valley PTA” gained immense popularity upon its release, topping the Billboard Hot 100 and country charts – not only in the United States but also in Australia and Canada. Its success led to a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and a CMA Award for Single of the Year in 1968. The song’s popularity endured over the years, becoming an iconic country music classic, and remains today as a well-known and cherished piece of country music history.
6. Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)
From: Loretta Lynn’s Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind) (1966)
The song has become one of Loretta Lynn’s signature tunes and a significant hit in her career. It topped the country charts in the United States, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. It also crossed over to the pop charts, peaking within the top 70. Its themes and Lynn’s powerful delivery have solidified its place among the most iconic songs in history.
From: Tammy Wynette’s D-I-V-O-R-C-E (1968)
The song’s emotionally charged lyrics and Tammy Wynette’s heartfelt delivery struck a chord with the audience, making it a commercial success and a memorable piece of music. It also helped cement Wynette’s reputation for catering to the female perspective in country music.
8. She Thinks I Still Care
From: George Jones’ Hits by George (1962)
Here’s a song that enjoyed massive success in the 1960s, topping the country charts for six weeks straight and crossing over to the pop charts, where it also made a significant impact.
“She Thinks I Still Care” conveys emotional depth coupled with George Jones’s poignant delivery. It’s no surprise it resonated strongly with audiences, cementing its status as a classic within the genre. Over the years, it has been covered by numerous artists and remains a staple in country music history.
9. Wichita Lineman
From: Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman (1968)
“Wichita Lineman” was Glen Campbell’s first top-10 hit. The song peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 while ranking No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. It also made its way to Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Written by Campbell’s longtime collaborator Jimmy Webb, “Wichita Lineman” came to Webb while driving through a rural county in Oklahoma, where he noticed a lonesome telephone lineman working atop a telephone pole. It made him think of how the man would feel working up there alone every single day.
10. King of the Road
From: Roger Miller’s King of the Road (1965)
Roger Miller wrote the song himself, which tells the day-to-day life of a hobo who takes pride in his freedom despite having little to no money at all. It makes him comically and mockingly call himself the “king of the road.”
The song helped Miller take home five awards during the 8th Annual Grammy Awards in 1966 – including Best Country & Western Vocal Performance – Male & Best Country & Western Song.
So, there you have it – the top 10 country songs of the 1960s that laid a strong foundation, shaped country music’s future, and preserved its rich, authentic roots. Which of these songs do you still enjoy to this day?
George Jones, glen campbell, Jeannie C Riley, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, merle haggard, Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette, Waylon Jennings