3 “Three Chords and the Truth” Country Songs

Above all else, country music is most often touted for its most essential part: being simple, and comprised of, as they say, “three chords and the truth.” And that is often the case. But in certain songs, it is very much exactly the case.

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Here below, we wanted to dive into three songs that are made of just three chords. Three songs that shed light on the world, the soul, and what it means to have fun with just three simple guitar chords and some good, keen lyrics.

[RELATED: American Songwriter November Cover Story: Dolly Parton—The Eternal Artist]

“Jolene” by Dolly Parton

Released on the 1974 album of the same name, “Jolene” is one of Dolly Parton’s best and most famous songs. At its heart, it’s a plea. The singer is begging another woman, who is pretty and alluring, not to use her charms on her man. Go elsewhere, the singer asks. And Parton does all this work on the track, which has been a hit now for some 50 years, with three chords. On it, she sings over three chords,

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I’m beggin’ of you, please don’t take my man
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
Please don’t take him just because you can

Your beauty is beyond compare
With flaming locks of auburn hair
With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green
Your smile is like a breath of spring
Your voice is soft like summer rain
And I cannot compete with you, Jolene

(For guitar tabs, click here)

“Tennessee Whiskey” by Chris Stapleton

While Chris Stapleton didn’t write “Tennessee Whiskey,” his Platonic ideal of a country voice makes it eternal. Originally penned by Dean Dillon and Linda Hargrove in 1981, the song is about finding a love that’s as good or even better than drinking. So many look to the bottle for salvation, for security, but when you find the right person, all that can melt away. That’s an important lesson. On the song, Stapleton sings over three chords,

Used to spend my nights out in a barroom
Liquor was the only love I’d known
But you rescued me from reachin’ for the bottom
And brought me back from being too far gone

You’re as smooth as Tennessee whiskey
You’re as sweet as strawberry wine
You’re as warm as a glass of brandy
And honey, I stay stoned on your love all the time

I’ve looked for love in all the same old places
Found the bottom of a bottle’s always dry
But when you poured out your heart, I didn’t waste it
‘Cause there’s nothing like your love to get me high

(For guitar tabs, click here)

“Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus

This song released on Billy Ray Cyrus’ debut 1992 album Some Gave All sees your three chords and raises you. Indeed, this is actually a track that’s two chords and the truth! This signature offering from the man now known as Miley’s father is all about being unable to deal with a breakup. Every part of the singer can understand the relationship is over, just not his heart. That part of him just can’t accept it’s without the object of its affection. Sings Cyrus over the two chords,

You can tell the world you never was my girl
You can burn my clothes when I’m gone
Or you can tell your friends just what a fool I’ve been
And laugh and joke about me on the phone
You can tell my arms go back to the farm
You can tell my feet to hit the floor
Or you can tell my lips to tell my fingertips
They won’t be reaching out for you no more

But don’t tell my heart, my achy breaky heart
I just don’t think he’d understand
And if you tell my heart, my achy breaky heart
He might blow up and kill this man, ooh

(For guitar tabs, click here)

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