Country music is known for its timeless melodies, iconic twangs, and memorable acoustic lyrics. Holler has compiled his top 20 country songs over decades from timeless love ballads to beer drinking anthems – these truly represent what country music stands for!
Waylon Jennings established Outlaw Country music in the 1970s. His twangy sound made Outlaw country an alternative form to traditional country. Now, with all formats including sales and streaming data included on one chart, Hot Country Songs now encompasses Outlaw country as a genre and represents it on our Hot Country Songs chart.
1. “High” by Caitlyn Smith
Caitlyn Smith from Cannon Falls, Minnesota stands out in this year of increasing female country singer-songwriter prominence as she blends witty writing with classic steel guitar and fiddle for an enjoyable blend that spans both time and place.
Smith is a sought-after songwriter for hire (having written hits for Meghan Trainor and John Legend, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton among others), first charting with 2016’s Starfire album; its follow up, 2020’s Supernova produced two charted singles (including Old Dominion collaboration “I Can’t”) before returning with 2023’s High & Low album.
Smith delivers her most intimate performance yet at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, supported by husband Rollie Gaalswyk. She effortlessly glides from graceful notes (“Tacoma”) to gritty ones (the acoustic “Contact High”). Overall, though, Smith makes audiences fall in love with timeless tunes featured on this live album.
2. “Oklahoma Smokeshow” by Zach Bryan
Zach Bryan is an expert at red dirt country music, an expressive blend of folk, alt-country, and Americana styles. His expressive vocals convey complex feelings effortlessly.
Bryan is one of this year’s breakout stars, having amassed numerous buzzworthy singles and an EP Summertime Blues released in 2022 that have catapulted him to the forefront of his genre. Additionally, Bryan has become known as an outspoken political voice criticizing Ticketmaster’s overly greedy practices while advocating for trans rights.
“Oklahoma Smokeshow” is an emotionally impactful song about a girl longing to leave her small town and the struggle she is having with an unsuitable partner who won’t allow it. The lyrics emote regret and sorrow, making this an intimate piece that showcases Bryan’s impressive catalog.
3. “Holding Her and Loving You” by Chris Conley
This one-hit wonder has become the anthem of an entire generation, from Dixie Chicks singers like Karen Carpenter and Dixie Chicks member Dixie Chicks singer Dixie Chicks and Luke Combs alike. Its influence stretches across decades.
Guy Clark stands out among songwriters as one of the greatest ever. His emotive lyrics have become part of country music history; his work has had an immense influence over Dylan, Cash and Nelson among others.
4. “Follow Your Arrow” by Dixie Chicks
Natalie Maines may be one of the most divisive figures in Country music, yet no one can deny her musical skill. From their debut LP Wide Open Spaces to Gaslighter – their reunion album that brought back traditional instrumentation into a genre which had become overly polished – The Dixie Chicks brought traditional instrumentation back into an overly polished genre.
Radio didn’t embrace them fully, but their peers did, making “Follow Your Arrow” an unforgettable career highlight that still resounds today in an industry where women of color face extra hurdles breaking through its patriarchal culture. Therefore, we decided to include it in our top 20 regardless of its potentially divisive lyrics.
5. “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by Charlie Daniels
Following September 11, country music provided emotional release and patriotism like no other genre could. That sentiment was especially apparent with Charlie Daniels, a Country Music Hall of Fame member renowned for his 1979 hit “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, but his extensive catalog included much more than sing-speak recitations and fiddle fire. Daniels explored jam band side of Southern rock, experimented with polished Eighties anthems, as well as classic country storytelling techniques.
This song stands as an iconic example of country-rock crossover hit because it tells the tale of Johnny, an upstart musician, pitted against Satan in a fiddle contest. Bluegrass fiddle meets fiery rock riffs to produce an unforgettable country-rock crossover hit.
6. “Nothing Picks Me Up Like a Beer Can” by Luke Combs
First time since 1981, country musicians occupy the top two positions on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night” remains number one while Luke Combs’ “Fast Car” close behind.
Like his other hits, this moody country ballad finds Luke reflecting on things that help lift his mood such as Friday night slow rides or cold beers; eventually concluding none can compare with his love for his woman. Combs is now part of country music’s new wave with Cody Johnson, Lainey Wilson and Zach Bryan among many other new artists helping bring back traditional country sounds that fans have missed; giving this genre hope for its future success.
7. “Mind Your Own Biscuits and Life Will Be Gravy” by Kacey Musgraves
While pop and hip-hop artists tend to emphasize universal concepts through their songs, country artists place more of an emphasis on personal stories and expression. Yet some artists within country are experimenting with playing up individualism.
Kacey Musgraves is known for her signature “I Don’t Give A F**k” attitude and unorthodox lyrics on topics such as family troubles, recreational marijuana use and safe sex; nevertheless, fans from across country music genre have warmly received her albums with open arms.
Golden Hour was released in 2018 and broke several country records while earning numerous accolades, such as Album of the Year at both GRAMMYs and CMA Awards. Musgraves showcased her softer side through songs like “Mind Your Own Biscuits,” which chronicled both struggles and victories of her life journey.
8. “It’s Alright” by Midland
Billboard released its inaugural chart of Hot Country Songs during the first week of 2016. Up to four recordings of a song can be combined as entries into this category.
Midland is meant to serve as a bridge between independent and mainstream country music, traditional and contemporary styles – yet their background suggests otherwise.
Mark Wystrach channels the sound of Southern-sounding Diamond Rio singer Marty Roe; guitar player Jess Carson and bassist Cameron Duddy create Eagles-esque harmonies; they show up at awards shows wearing rhinestone suits that recall Gram Parsons and The Flying Burrito Brothers; this all adds up to create an unexpected sound from a genre often written off during its more bro-country period.
9. “Beautiful Things” by Luke Combs
Luke Combs stands out among contemporary country artists as an extremely versatile musician who can switch effortlessly between line dancing tunes and emotive ballads. A modern Country star with traditional roots.
The Hot Country Singles chart was expanded and renamed Hot Country Songs chart, now taking into account airplay on country music radio stations. Songs produced by Chet Atkins took 28 of the top spots on this new chart; representing a new Nashville sound which eschewed elements of honky-tonk for smooth productions with wider appeal.
Reba McEntire marks her 25th number one. Country music icons George Strait, Conway Twitty and Keith Whitley each scored number ones with their releases; Grand Ole Opry member Keith Whitley continues his iconic run at country radio with 2022’s Gettin’ Old album; Fast Car” was his 16th consecutive number one song – faster than any artist has reached this feat before!
10. “It’s a Good Thing” by Luke Combs
Country star from Asheville, North Carolina has reached the pinnacle of both country airplay and streaming songs charts with his hit single It’s a Good Thing. Since its release in late 2018, It has dominated both charts.
Luke Combs has proven that country is more than a genre associated with pickup trucks, whiskey, fights and men wearing extremely large hats. In 2023 alone he won multiple awards and expanded his sold-out world tour.