Top 10 Songs by Mickey Gilley

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Gilley rose to fame with his many hits throughout the 1970s and ’80s but was in the national spotlight with his work on the Urban Cowboy soundtrack and his appearance in the film, starring John Travolta and Debra Winger. The country legend passed away in May 2022 at the age of 86, but his music still lives on in hits that oftentimes capture sadness and longing in his songs, part of which makes them classic country tunes.

Here are 10 of Mickey Gilley’s best songs:

1. “Room Full of Roses”

It’s hard to think of Gilley without association with “Room Full of Roses.” Comparing a rose with its petals destroyed to the feeling of a broken heart, “Roses” is an example of imaginative songwriting, such as when Gilley sings if I sent a rose to you/For every time you made me blue/You’d have a room full of roses. Originally recorded by George Morgan in 1949, Gilley also turned it into a hit with his recording nearly 30 years later. In fact, Gilley wasn’t impressed with how the recording came out and almost didn’t release it. But thankfully he did, as audiences gravitated to “Roses” and made it his first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and one of his best songs ever.

And if I took the petals
And would tear them all apart
You’d be tearing up the roses
Just the way you broke my heart

2. “I Overlooked an Orchid”

“Orchid” seems as much like a poem you’d send to a childhood crush as it is a song. Gilley lets each word have its moment as he acknowledges how he overlooked a flower perfect for him (“the orchid”) while trying to find something better (“the rose).” The lyrics are as pretty as the flowers he’s singing about, using the orchid as a metaphor for the woman who captured his heart, easily making for one of Gilley’s best. Originally recorded by Carl Smith in 1950, Gilley had his second No. 1 hit on his hands with this 1974 cover.

I overlooked an orchid while searching for a rose
The orchid that I overlooked was you
The rose that I was searching for has proved to be untrue
The orchid that I find my dear was you

3. “Stand By Me”

Gilley is perhaps best known for his rendition of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” The song marked a resurgence in Gilley’s career with its incorporation on the Urban Cowboy soundtrack that again cast him in a national spotlight. This is Gilley’s voice at its best—strong, steady, and as smooth as ever, capturing the earnest nature of the song while adding his own touch. The song was a crossover hit for the country star, marking his eighth No. 1 and reaching No. 22 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100.

When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
No I won’t be afraid, no I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you Stand By Me

4. “Doo-Wah Days”

From the moment this doo-wop melody greets your ear to the final notes, the energy remains upbeat as Gilley sings of the good old days, recalling fun nights on the boardwalk as time “skipped away” in the light of young love. It’s a song packed with nostalgia that focuses on appreciating the simple aspects of life, making for one of the most spirited songs in his catalog.

Back in the doo-wah days
When we were young
Life was a carousel
We fell in love

5. “Tears of the Lonely”

Gilley’s voice shines on this Don Williams cover, finding Gilley in his natural state of singing about sadness and despair with imagery of faded pictures and memories to match. Don’t let his quality voice distract you from the sadness of the lyrics that reference broken dreams and never-ending loneliness. “Tears” is a melancholy, yet beautiful song, reflecting what Gilley does best.

Oh, the tears of the lonely
Keep falling all the time
Tears of the lonely
Never dry

6. “The Song We Made Love To”

Like “Tears of the Lonely,” mourning and longing are integral to the story of “The Song We Made Love To” where Gilley sings of a sad man looking back on the special song that defined a previous relationship. Between his smooth vocals and tear-in-your-beer lyrics, “The Song We Made Love To” is a classic Gilley tune.

Well, that’s the song that we made love to
Now I can’t forget you
It’s got to be my favorite song, that sweet sad song
That song that we made love to

7. “Lonely Nights”

In case you haven’t noticed, loneliness and heartache are common themes in Gilley’s work, which he also channels into “Lonely Nights.” A beautiful violin introduction met with Gilley’s crooning voice that lends itself to storytelling makes the listener feel like they’re sitting beside him at the bar as he finds a kindred spirit in another lonely soul professing I can take the lonely days/But I can’t take these lonely nights. Here, Gilley doesn’t rush through the pain, but rather sits with a stranger, making for one of his most honest cuts.

Then the thoughts of loneliness
That tonight I guess I’m to just to weak to fight,
I can take the lonely days,
But I can’t take these lonely nights

8. “Just Long Enough to Say Goodbye”

Here, Gilley demonstrates how he matured as an artist and vocalist with one of his mid-career hits that lets his voice take center stage with a twinkling piano behind him that builds up to a choir-backed chorus where he professes, I’m not asking you to stay forever/Just long enough to say goodbye. It’s simple and sweet and worth a listen in Gilley’s expansive repertoire.

I’m not asking for a lifetime  
Just time enough for love to die
I’m not asking you to stay forever
Just long enough to say goodbye

9. “A Headache Tomorrow (Or a Heartache Tonight)”

With “Headache,” the hit singer’s voice is strong and soulful, so much so that one can feel the longing in his voice as he sings of lost love. The lyrics see Gilley as a man caught between deciding if he wants to delay the inevitable heartache he’s going to experience one more day by drinking away his sorrows, acknowledging in the chorus, no matter which one you choose you lose/I know which one I’ll take/When the sun comes up tomorrow/Something’s gonna ache/If I could take a pill to kill the pain/I know I’m gonna be all right/It’s a headache tomorrow or a heartache tonight.

The sun goes down, the blues come around
And the choice is black and white
Low down and lonesome and high as a kite
When you can’t win for losing, you know it’s just not right
It’s a headache tomorrow or a heartache tonight

10. “Paradise Tonight

Though Gilley made a habit out of recording tender-hearted country songs, he also showed off his lively side by joining forces with fellow hit ’80s country singer, Charly McClain, on this toe-tapping hit that would’ve seamlessly fit inside any dance hall. “Paradise Tonight” is pure fun, as two strangers become lovers who promise to make it the night of my life. As one of three collaborations, they released as a duo, “Paradise” was their most successful, hitting No. 1 on the country chart, in 1983.

Oh I was so afraid, I was so alone an’ blue
So I took you in my arms, now I’m goin’ home with you
I’m gonna wake up in your arms tomorrow
You gonna make it the night of my life
I’m gonna wake up in your arms tomorrow
Thank you for takin’ me to paradise tonight

Photos: Courtesy of Mickey Gilley Enterprises / 117 Publicity / Zach Farnum

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