If baseball is America’s favorite pastime, country music may well be America’s favorite music genre. Country music has deep roots in America, and different country artists have taken the genre to new stylistic directions. Ray Price messed around with rhythm, Willie Nelson veered into jazzy realms, and modern country artists such as Eric Church and Sam Hunt meld rock and R&B with country flavors.
Country has gone by several different names. Country musician Harlan Howard pegged it as "three chords and the truth," while others have described it as the music of heartache or line dancing. Besides having various names, country music is also a genre that welcomes the reinventing of existing songs as much as it embraces the writing of new ones.
With the 54th Academy of Country Music Awards coming up this Sunday, April 7, Stacker compiled a list of the best country albums of all time as per Billboard’s Greatest of All Time Country Albums list. These ratings are based on albums’ weekly performance on the Top Country Albums chart from January 1996 to June 2016. The albums are ranked by an inverse point system, meaning those that placed higher on the charts and spent more weeks in the top spots received higher rankings.
Eric Church’s fourth studio effort clocked in as the best-selling album in the U.S. after it hit shelves in 2014. It boasts several noteworthy singles, including the title track “Give Me Back My Hometown” and “Cold One.” In an interview with Morning Call, Church discussed the multi-genre aspects of the album, citing his rock influences and love of The Beatles.
Released in 1992, this collection of songs created a couple of hits on the Hot Country Songs Chart like “Chattahoochee” and “She’s Got the Rhythm (And I Got the Blues).” The former of these won a Country Music Award for single of the year in 1993. The album’s #1 ranking on the Top Country Albums chart made it Jackson’s first country record to reach such a position.
Some of the hit singles on this 1997 album include "It's Your Love," featuring McGraw’s wife, Faith Hill, on backup vocals, the title track, and “Just to See You Smile.” The music video for “It’s Your Love” prominently features Hill, who was noticeably pregnant at the time, and won Video of the Year at the 1997 Academy of Country Music Awards. The former pop trio She Moves recorded their own version of “It’s Your Love,” which made the Hot 100 chart.
Singles like “Honky Tonk Moon,” “Deeper than the Holler,” and “Is it Still Over” feature on this 1988 record, all of which made it to #1 on the Hot Country Songs charts. Some fans thought this third release wasn’t quite as good as Travis’ previous records, but it still made lasting imprints. The album landed Travis three Country Music Awards in 1990, including Favorite Country Album and Favorite Country Single for “Deeper than the Holler.”
Recorded live at San Quentin State Prison in 1969, this was the second of Cash’s live prison albums, the first being the one he recorded at Folsom Prison the previous year. “I Walk the Line,” “A Boy Named Sue,” and “Folsom Prison Blues” are some of the famous songs Cash performed on this record. The album was nominated for several Grammy awards, and won Best Male Vocal Performance for “A Boy Named Sue.” The record has been released several times with different songs, but the album cover shot by rock photographer Jim Marshall is largely thought of as an iconic photo of Cash.
This 1980 compilation album features three singles not found on any of Rogers’ previous records, including “Lady,” “Love the World Away,” which appeared on the “Urban Cowboy” soundtrack, and “Long Arm of the Law.” Lionel Richie wrote and produced "Lady" expressly for Rogers, and the song became a #1 hit single the year the album dropped. This song collection stands as the best-selling compilation record of all time, even topping Garth Brooks’ 1994 “The Hits.”
Released in 2011, this certified platinum record spawned five singles, including #1 hits “Drink in My Hand” and “Springsteen.” The latter of the two garnered critical acclaim and made it to #19 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making it the first of Church’s songs to achieve a top 20 ranking. The music videos for both of these songs have garnered millions of views on YouTube.
Pride’s 1969 compilation record sold more than 1 million copies, and became certified gold in the U.S. Though it doesn’t contain many of Pride’s most famous songs, it does contain other well-known tunes like “All I have to Offer You (is Me)” and “Kaw-liga.”
Released in 2002, this famous record came out as three versions with the same track listing: pop, country, and an international version rooted in Indian film music. Twain toured this #1 record in North America and Europe. She also performed the album’s songs in several promotional settings like the 2003 Super Bowl halftime show and the 2003 Country Music Association Awards ceremony. “I’m Gonna Getcha Good,” “Ka-Ching,” and the title track are some of the singles from this album.
This Grammy-winning record from 1999 sports the balladic title single, which spent six weeks at the top of the U.S. Hot Country Songs chart. Its sexy, sultry music video clocked in at #4 on CMT’s 100 Greatest Videos. The record scored Hill a Grammy in 2001 for Best Country Album. Other popular singles from the record include “The Way You Love Me” and “Let’s Make Love.” The year after the album’s release, Hill and husband Tim McGraw embarked on their Soul2Soul tour, during which they performed songs from the record. The song “Breathe” features on an episode of the TV show "The Sopranos."
The most famous singles on Chesney’s 2004 record include “There Goes My Life,” “I Go Back,” “The Woman with You,” and the titular track, which is a duet with Uncle Kracker. “When The Sun Goes Down” climbed a couple Billboard charts, and its music video featured shots of Chesney playing in small venues as part of his Keg in the Closet tour. The song “There Goes My Life” is about a high school teenager who finds out his girlfriend is pregnant. The song’s music video includes the actress Amber Heard as the couple’s teenage daughter.
This soundtrack hit shelves in 2000, and became a gold record within a month of its release. Ironically, the soundtrack got the most play for three of the pop songs “Can’t Fight the Moonlight,” “But I Do Love You,” and “The Right Kind of Wrong” ostensibly performed by the film’s main character and written by LeAnn Rimes. The first of these songs quickly became a radio hit, and reached #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Some of the album’s songs that fit more into the country genre include “All She Wants to do is Dance” by Danny Kortchmar, and “Didn’t We Love” by Jennifer Kimball and Tamara Walker.
Gretchen Wilson’s 2004 record boasts her breakthrough hit “Redneck Woman,” which is dedicated to women living in small-town America. The song gleaned the artist a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance in 2004 and placed on Rolling Stone’s list of 100 greatest country songs of all time. Other singles in the album include “Here for the Party,” “When I Think about Cheatin’,” and “Homewrecker.”
This collection of songs from 1982 came about when Willie Nelson was making a record with Merle Haggard, and the producers proposed that they record “Always on My Mind” by Johnny Christopher. Haggard wasn’t on board, so Nelson laid down his own version, and that was the start of this hit record. The title song spent two weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, and Nelson won a Grammy for it. Other songs on the record include originals and pop standards like “Bridge over Troubled Water” and “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”
The title track of this 1970 record made the most indelible imprint of this song collection, so much so that the Academy of Country Music awarded Ray Price Song of the Year. It rose to the top of the Country Music chart and reached #11 on the pop chart. The record also contains the 1956 hit “Crazy Arms,” which was part of the wildly popular album of the same name. Willie Nelson, once a member of Price’s band Cherokee Cowboys, recorded the album “For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price” in 2016. Price is largely credited with helping to reshape country music by playing around with rhythm and incorporating strings into the mix.
This country trio’s fourth full-length album was so popular it became the highest-selling U.S. debut in 2006 and was the second highest-selling record that year. The album produced the singles “What Hurts the Most,” the title track, and #1 hits “My Wish” and “Stand.” A later iteration of this record includes a cover of Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway,” which made it into the Pixar film “Cars.”
Sam Hunt co-wrote all the songs on his 2014 debut and took home the American Country Countdown Awards for Digital Album of the Year in 2016. The record’s main single, “Leave the Night On,” made the Hot Country Songs and Billboard Hot 100 charts, and its music video won a CMT award for Breakthrough Video of the Year in 2015. The single “Take Your Time” was met with a ton of success, and the record as a whole garnered attention for its use of hip-hop and R&B elements.
This 2010 record is the follow up to the band’s 2008 self-titled album. “Need You Now” won a Grammy for Best Country Album, and the single of the same name won a few awards, including Song of the Year. The record also includes other singles like “American Honey,” “Our Kind of Love,” and “Hello World.” The record received mixed reviews, and there were allegations that the band borrowed from the Alan Parsons Project song "Eye in the Sky" for their title track.
Toby Keith’s 2002 album gave way to four hit singles: “Courtesy of the Red White and Blue (The Angry American),” “Who’s Your Daddy,” “Rock You Baby,” and “Beer for My Horses,” all of which did extremely well on the Hot Country Songs chart. However Keith’s duet with Willie Nelson, “Beer for My Horses,” ended up garnering the most attention from fans and spent 20 weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
Some of the memorable singles from this 2002 album include “Young,” “The Good Stuff,” “Big Star,” and the title track, all of which ranked on the Hot Country Songs chart. However, “The Good Stuff” took the cake in terms of commercial success. The song spent seven weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Country artists Bill Anderson and Dean Dillon co-wrote the song “A Lot of Things Different,” which was part of Anderson’s record the previous year. Kenny Chesney’s version is slightly more pop-driven than the original.
This crossover album released in 1982 proved to be Alabama’s most successful project. The album gained a #1 ranking on the Billboard Country Albums chart and landed the band a Grammy in 1982 for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. The record’s singles are “Close Enough to Perfect” and the title track “Take Me Down,” which charted on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary Singles charts. The title song is known for combining rock and bluegrass, and tells the story of lead singer Randy Owens’ childhood on his family’s cotton farm in Lookout Mountain.
Garth Brooks’ second compilation album from 1994 ranked #1 on the Billboard 200 chart. The physical record is actually out of print because Brooks requested that it only be available for a certain amount of time in his push to sell his records as whole works. However, the record still sold over 10 million copies. Some of the iconic Brooks songs on the record include “Friends in Low Places,” “Ain’t Going Down,” and “Unanswered Prayers.” Several of the album’s songs made Billboard’s list of Brooks’ 10 best songs.
Cyrus’s debut 1992 album sports some well-known singles like “Could’ve Been Me” and “Achy Breaky Heart,” which overtook the #1 spot for five weeks on the Hot Country songs chart. “Achy Breaky Heart” was the best-selling single that year in Australia, and its music video is responsible for line dancing becoming the rage at the time in the U.S.
This 2004 Platinum record created singles including the title track, “Bless the Broken Road,” which was first recorded by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and “Fast Cars and Freedom.” The other single, “Skin (Sarabeth)” was originally a hidden track, but got so much radio play that it made the top 40 on the country charts in 2005. “Here’s to You” was also heavily played on the radio and became so popular that it later had its own music video. The title song made it onto one of the soundtracks from the TV show "Smallville."
“Ropin’ the Wind” hit record stores in 1991, and was the first country record to rank #1 on both the Billboard 200 and Top Country Albums charts since the release of Kenny Rogers’ album a decade before. Garth Brooks covered Billy Joel’s “Shameless” as part of this record, which came out as its second single. Other singles include “Rodeo,” written by Larry Bastian, “What She’s Doing Now,” “Papa Loved Mama,” and “The River.” Brooks initially wanted the song "Rodeo" to be sung by a woman, but he cut it himself when he couldn’t find a female singer to record it. Rolling Stone described Brooks’ music as “exploding country stereotypes.”
This 1978 record, which became famous in Asia, Europe, and North America, helped cement Kenny Rogers as one of the most popular musicians at the time. Several other musicians covered the Don Schlitz-composed title track, but only Rogers’ version floated to the top of country charts. The song also scored Rogers a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance by a man. “She Believes in Me” was the other hit song from this record. While most of the songs in this album were written by industry greats like Mickey Newbury and Alex Harvey, Rogers wrote one song called “Morgana Jones.”
Luke Bryan’s 2011 project boasts singles like “Country Girl (Shake it for Me)” and “I Don’t Want this Night to End.” Bryan co-wrote eight of the 13 songs in this album, two of which he co-wrote with famous songwriter Dallas Davidson. The magazine American Songwriter described the album as “an instantaneous cure for summertime blues.”
This Grammy-winning album came out in 2008, and garnered the band a Grammy for Best New Artist. The album’s first single, “Chicken Fried,” was the band’s first single to top the Billboard country charts and was first recorded on the band’s 2005 record “Home Grown.” Written over the course of several years, Zac Brown added a verse to the song after the 9/11 attacks. Part of the added verse reads “I thank God for my life, for the stars and stripes…” Another single off the album is “Toes,” which was turned into a music video featuring several cameos, including Kid Rock.
Luke Bryan’s 2013 effort produced several singles, including the title track and “That’s My Kind of Night.” The latter placed #1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs and Top Country Albums charts at the same time, making Bryan the first male country musician to do so. He first performed the title track at the 2013 Academy of Country Music Awards, for which he shared a hosting role with Blake Shelton. Its music video premiered on the "Today Show" in the same year.
This 1978 record spans multiple musical styles, including pop, country, and jazz, and sports 10 renditions of Willie Nelson’s favorite pop standards. The record did well on the Billboard charts, and led to a Grammy win for Nelson for his cover of “Georgia on My Mind.” Other chart-topping songs on the record include “Blue Skies” and “All of Me.” The record received the award of Top Country Album of the Year the same year it was released.
Tim McGraw’s breakthrough album, which came out in 1994, performed incredibly well on the charts and was named Album of the Year by the Academy of Country Music. “Indian Outlaw,” “Don’t Take the Girl,” and “Down on the Farm” are three of the record’s singles. “Indian Outlaw” sparked controversy because its lyrics included stereotypes surrounding Native American people.
Alabama’s fifth full-length record from 1981 created three chart-worthy singles: “Old Flame,” “Love in the First Degree,” and the title track. The first of these was featured on “The Americans” TV show. Country musicians Clay Walker and Randy Owen covered the title track on Walker’s album “She Won’t be Lonely Now.” According to All Music Reviewer Al Campbell, the band found their own style with this record.
Several musicians wrote the 15 songs that make up this 2010 record, including Neil Thrasher and David Lee Murphy. Jason Aldean recorded “Don’t You Wanna Stay” with Kelly Clarkson, and the two performed the song at the Country Music Association Awards the year the record dropped. A recording of this performance became the crux of the song’s music video. The pair also sang it on the 10th season of “American Idol” and at the 54th Grammy Awards. The record received a Grammy nomination for Best Country Album.
This 1986 album contains the singles “On the Other Hand,” “No Place Like Home,” and “Diggin’ Up Bones.” The first of these songs originally peaked at #67 on the Hot Country Songs chart, but later made the top spot after it was re-released the same year. Country singer Keith Whitley previously recorded the song for his album “L.A. to Miami.”
LeAnn Rimes’ debut record hit shelves in 1996, when the singer was just 13 years old. Its noteworthy singles are the title track, “One Way Ticket (Because I can)” and “Unchained Melody.” The second of these songs stayed at #1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart for two weeks. Rimes’ rendition of the title track, written by Bill Mack, won the singer a 1996 Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. During the holiday season, Target sold copies of the album that included an additional single: “Put a Little Holiday in Your Heart.”
Released in 1998, “Wide Open Spaces” was one of the first projects the band worked on after recruiting front woman Natalie Maines. It quickly became cemented as Dixie Chicks’ breakthrough record, and scored two Grammys the year it came out. The record produced the hit singles “I Can Love You Better,” “There’s Your Trouble,” and the title track. “I Can Love You Better” gave way to a music video set in an airport lobby and tattoo shop in Nashville. The band performed a children’s version of the song on “Sesame Street,” called "No Letter Better than B."
This debut record came out in 2012 and boasts five songs from the duo’s EP (extended play record), “It’z Just What We Do,” and six new tracks. As of early 2014, the album’s first single “Cruise,” which initially appeared on the band’s EP, became the best-selling digital country song in the U.S. The song is a prime example of what critics have termed "bro country."
The trio’s 1999 record was met with open arms; it ranked #1 on the Billboard 200 chart and garnered the group two Grammy Awards in 2000. Some of the album’s singles include “Ready to Run” and “Cowboy Take Me Away.” The latter became the band’s trademark tune. Another notable track from the album is “Goodbye Earl,” which tells the story of a woman who plots with her best friend to poison her abusive husband. The song’s video includes some fairly famous actors, including Dennis Franz and Jane Krakowski.
Clint Black’s debut album, released in 1989, quickly catapulted his career forward. All five of the singles from the record, including “A Better Man,” “Nobody’s Home,” and the title song proved wildly popular. In its year-end list, Billboard named “A Better Man” as the #1 country song of 1989. The video for “A Better Man” was Black’s first. The music video shows the singer driving on a deserted country road in a Ford pickup truck.
Taylor Swift released her second full-length record in 2008, and co-wrote some of its songs with artists like Hillary Lindsey and Colbie Caillat. Some of the hit singles from the album include the international best-seller “Love Story,” “White Horse,” “You Belong with Me,” and the title track. Swift compared the plot of “Love Story” to that of "Romeo and Juliet." The set used in the “Love Story” music video was inspired by Medieval, Renaissance, and British Regency time periods. The record won several awards, including Grammys for Best Country Album and Album of the Year.
The soundtrack to the 2000 Coen brothers film was recorded before the movie was even filmed because it played such an integral role in the plot. The best-selling record won three Grammys, including Best Male Country Vocal Performance for the song “O, Death.” While the record is rife with other somber songs like “Lonesome Valley” and “I am a Man of Constant Sorrow,” it also sports some upbeat tunes like “Keep on the Sunnyside.” Some of the musicians who performed on the soundtrack like Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, and Ralph Stanley performed songs from the movie at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
Shania Twain’s second studio record hit shelves in 1995 and was met with great commercial success. Two-thirds of the album’s songs came out as singles, including “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under,” “The Woman in Me (Needs the Man in You),” and “Any Man of Mine,” which became Twain’s first country song to reach #1 and to also become a crossover hit. The music video for the title track was shot in Egypt and shows Twain walking around ancient ruins.
This compilation album came out in 1979, and follows Waylon Jennings’ time recording outlaw country songs for RCA Records—a sub-genre of country music. Some of its most iconic songs are “I’ve Always Been Crazy,” “I’m a Ramblin’ Man,” and “Amanda.” The record was re-released in 1989 as a CD and cassette, with two songs cut out. This album was Jennings’ eighth consecutive album to hit #1 on the country charts.
Carrie Underwood’s debut album graced the world with its presence in 2005 and became the biggest-selling record in the U.S. the following year. “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” “Before He Cheats,” “Don’t Forget to Remember Me,” and “Wasted” are some of the album’s hit singles. The music video for “Jesus” was Underwood’s first, and snagged a nomination for Music Video of the Year at the 2006 Country Music Association Awards. “Before He Cheats” was also a smash hit. The “Before He Cheats” music video, which shows Underwood smashing her fictional ex-boyfriend’s car, was named Video of the Decade by CMT fans. The song aired during an NBC Sunday Night football game after Underwood broke off a relationship with Dallas quarterback Tony Romo.
Charlie Rich’s 1973 album scored three Country Music Association Awards, including Album of the Year and Single of the Year for the title song. Rich also won Grammys for this album. Another noteworthy song from the album, “The Most Beautiful Girl,” made it onto the soundtrack for the film “So I Married an Axe Murder” and was sung by Jason Alexander in an episode of “Seinfeld.”
This double platinum record from 1987 created the chart-topping singles “Too Gone Too Long,” “I Won’t Need You Anymore,” “Forever and Ever, Amen,” and “I Told You So.” Other musicians covered the song “What’ll You Do About Me,” including Steve Earle and The Forester Sisters. Travis and Carrie Underwood performed “I Told You So” together in Underwood’s album “Carnival Ride.”
Garth Brooks’ debut album came out in 1989 and ranked well on multiple Billboard charts, including Top Country Albums. It sports Brooks’ earlier hit songs like “Much Too Young (To Feel this Damn Old)” and “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” his first #1 single. “Much Too Young (To Feel this Damn Old)” has also been covered by other notable musicians, including punk rockers Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. Brooks’ hit song “If Tomorrow Never Comes” was also covered by singer Ronan Keating.
Taylor Swift’s first full-length record hit physical and digital shelves in 2006 and propelled Swift’s career as a country artist. The album gave way to several singles including “Our Song,” “Tim McGraw,” and “Teardrops on My Guitar,” which charted the best on Billboard's Hot 100. The music videos for these singles have all been successful and received nominations from CMT. Swift toured the album as the opener for Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw, and Faith Hill.
Released in 1990, this album is Brooks’ best-selling to date, and catapulted him into international stardom. “Friends in Low Places,” “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House,” and “The Thunder Rolls” are just a few of the record’s most well-known singles. It also boasts a cover of The Fleetwoods’ song “Mr. Blue.” The record was Brooks’ first to encompass a multi-genre pop/country vibe. It was set for reissue on its 25th anniversary and featured a new rendition of “Friends in Low Places” with Jason Aldean, George Strait, Florida Georgia Line, and Keith Urban contributing to the track. However, the re-release was delayed due to royalty differences.
Shania Twain’s 1997 hit studio album became the biggest-selling country music record ever and the highest-selling album by a female musician. Some of its most famous singles are “You’re Still the One,” “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” and “Man! I Feel Like a Woman,” all of which produced popular, award-winning music videos. The Video for “Man! I Feel like a Woman” won the MuchMoreMusic Video Award in 2000. Twain promoted the record via interviews and TV performances, and toured it across North America, Oceania, and Europe. Nearly every song on the record has been well-received by fans and critics.