20. “A Good Year for The Roses”
Written by Jerry Chesnut.
Recorded by George Jones. Released 1970.
Another breakup song, this one capturing the dumbfounded shock of a man left behind, standing in a house as his wife walks out the door. “I can hardly bear the sight of lipstick on the cigarettes there in the ashtray,” Chesnut writes.
21. “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down”
Written by Harlan Howard. Recorded by Charlie Walker. Released 1958.
Harlan Howard was working as a forklift driver in a California factory when he penned the first in a career of country classics. Delivered by Walker as a hard-charging honky-tonker, “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down” manages to convey resentment, sympathy and wisdom. “As you tumble to the ground, pick me up on your way down.”
22. “I Still Miss Someone”
Written and recorded by Johnny Cash. Released 1959.
Cash wrote so many wonderful songs, many of which could be slotted here (or slotted much higher). And it’s hard for us to separate the lyrics and music here from his frayed, disconsolate, legendary vocal performance. But there is so much here to admire, including the way Cash writes words that convey emotion both in what they mean and in how they sound. “I go out on a party/To look for a little fun/But I find a darkened corner/ ‘Cause I still miss someone.”
23. “City of New Orleans”
Written by Steve Goodman.
Recorded by Arlo Guthrie. Released 1972.
Country is the train song-heaviest of all genres, and “City of New Orleans” is among the most memorable of those train songs. Goodman’s train passes the graveyards of automobiles, the very vehicles that are dooming the train to oblivion. Fast fact: ABC’s Good Morning America program took its name from the chorus of this song.
24. Coal Miner’s Daughter
Written and recorded by Loretta Lynn. Released 1970.
A song so powerful that it changed the name of a town: There was no such thing as Butcher Holler until the song came out. Lynn thought Butcher Holler sounded better than Webb Hollow‚ or the municipality of Van Lear. We love Lynn’s peculiar language (“I remember well the well where I drew water”) and her plainspoken truths.
27. “Do You Believe Me Now”
Written by Max D. Barnes and Vern Gosdin.
Recorded by Vern Gosdin. Released 1988.
Woman finds her old lover on the troubled side of town, awash in booze and shame. “Don’t you think you should have called to tell me you were coming down?” the man asks, before claiming that his sorry state is proof of his love. “Do you believe me now?” he questions. “Look at the living, dying proof/I ain’t nothing without you.”
28. “I’ve Always Been Crazy”
Written and recorded by Waylon Jennings. Released 1978.
One of country’s finest and most consistent writers, Jennings penned so many wondrous works. For our purposes here, we’ll go with this one, in which ‘ol Waymore proclaims, “I’ve always been crazy, but it’s kept me from going insane.”
29. “Blue Umbrella”
Written and recorded by John Prine. Released 1973.
Prine is a national treasure, even if some folks aren’t aware that they have a stake in that treasure. I spent a vacation week last year listening to nothing but Prine, and at the end of the week I was haunted by so many lines but especially “Blue Umbrella’s” end-of-chorus prayer: “Just give me one extra season/So I can figure out the other four.”
30. “Good Ole Boys Like Me”
Written by Bob McDill. Recorded by Don Williams. Released 1980.
Though tied to a specific time and place, this childhood remembrance manages universality thanks to McDill’s breathtaking imagery. He writes of “the smell of cape jasmine through the window screen,” and of a gin-breathed, Bible-holding father who would “talk about honor and things I should know/Then he’d stagger a little as he went out the door.”
View #31-50 on pages 2 and 3 below.