25 country music songs everyone should listen to in their lifetime

  • If you’re new to country music but don’t know where to start, or don’t typically enjoy country music overall, there are several essential songs that will introduce you to the genre and give you a newfound respect for it.
  • “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus is a song that was passed on by many artists, until Cyrus made it a huge hit in 1992.
  • While Elvis Presley is a rock ‘n’ roll icon, he had some incredible country hits, like “Don’t Be Cruel.”
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

While country music is a genre loved by many across the United States and the world, a lot of people haven’t given it the chance it deserves.

They should though, because there are many country songs that everyone should listen to in their lifetime: not only are these songs appropriately catchy, but they also tell stories, evoke emotions, and invite listeners into their worlds.

Whether you’re new to country and don’t know where to start, or already a fan but looking for new tunes, we’ve got you covered.

Here’s a list of 25 of the best country music songs that everyone should hear.


“Hurt” by Johnny Cash

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Johnny Cash in his music video for “Hurt.”
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YouTube/lordheffa

Johnny Cash’s cover of the Nine Inch Nail’s song “Hurt” is a heart-wrenching take on the famous song, reinventing it for a genre that’s completely different than the original. When he first heard it, Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor said, “[I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore… It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form.”


“Jolene” by Dolly Parton

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Dolly Parton performing “Jolene.”
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YouTube/Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” is one of her most popular songs, inspired by the relationship between her husband and a bank teller who had a crush on him. The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2014.


“Fancy” by Reba McEntire

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Reba McEntire in her 1991 music video for “Fancy.”
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YouTube/Reba McEntire

“Fancy” by Reba McEntire has some expert-level storytelling, which is further illustrated in its six-minute music video. The story, about a woman named Fancy who was turned into a prostitute by her mother, was highly controversial when it was first released.


“Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus

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Billy Ray Cyrus in his 1993 music video for “Achy Breaky Heart.”
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YouTube/BillyRayCyrusVEVO

“Achy Breaky Heart” was passed on by several artists before Billy Ray Cyrus took it in 1992 and made it a huge hit, complete with an entertaining dance number as seen in the music video.


“Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood

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Carrie Underwood in her music video for “Before He Cheats.”
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YouTube/Carrie Underwood

“Before He Cheats” showcased a whole new side of the usually sweet and innocent Carrie Underwood, and fans loved it. It’s empowering, and makes anyone feel like they could take down a cheating significant other.


“Follow Your Arrow” by Kacey Musgraves

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Kacey Musgraves in her 2013 music video for “Follow Your Arrow.”
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YouTube/Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow” tells listeners to be whoever they want to be, and ignore the constant flood of criticism that bombards every aspect of their lives. It’s uplifting and its positive message is something that needs to be heard on a daily basis. Good thing it’s also catchy.


“Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” by Shania Twain

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Shania Twain in her 2003 music video for “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”
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YouTube/Shania Twain

“Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” by Shania Twain is a Grammy-winning feminist anthem and instant classic that has permeated many a wedding, karaoke bar, and DJ booth.


“All My Ex’s Live In Texas” by George Strait

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George Strait performing “All My Ex’s Live In Texas.”
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YouTube/outlawblues1

Country heartthrob George Strait’s “All My Ex’s Live In Texas” is pretty self-explanatory; he’s breaking hearts all over Texas. The song also includes many a Texan geographical reference, which must be why it’s the state’s favorite George Strait song.


“Strawberry Wine” by Deana Carter

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Deana Carter in her music video for “Strawberry Wine.”
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YouTube/DeanaCarterVEVO

“Strawberry Wine” by Deana Carter tells the perfect coming-of-age tale about a first love, and remains Deana Carter’s most popular song to date.


“Don’t Be Cruel” by Elvis Presley

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Elvis Presley performing “Don’t Be Cruel.”
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YouTube/32JRCash

Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” is a multi-genre hit that was #1 on the pop, country, and R&B charts. There’s something in this song for everyone, plus, it’s Elvis.


“This Kiss” by Faith Hill

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Faith Hill in her music video for “This Kiss.”
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YouTube/Faith Hill

Faith Hill’s Grammy-nominated song “This Kiss” is about finding an irresistible connection with someone, set to a catchy beat and killer vocals. Add in the wild visuals of the music video, and it becomes one of the most enjoyable songs the genre has to offer.


“Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line

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Florida Georgia Line in their music video for “Cruise.”
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YouTube/Florida Georgia Line

Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” is an easy-going, “listen to it with the windows rolled down on a highway” type song that’s just the right amount of catchy.


“Life Is a Highway” by Rascal Flatts

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Rascal Flatts in their music video for “Life is a Highway.”
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YouTube/Rascal Flatts

“Life is a Highway” is a fun song for anyone to listen to. It’s catchy, positive, and was featured in the beloved Pixar movie “Cars.” What’s not to love?


“Independence Day” by Martina McBride

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Martina McBride in her music video for “Independence Day.”
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YouTube/Martina McBride

“Independence Day” by Martina McBride deals with themes of domestic violence. The music video provided visuals that made the song even more powerful, which is why CMT ranked it as one of the best country music videos of all time.


“Workin’ Man Blues” by Merle Haggard

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Merle Haggard performing “Workin’ Man Blues.”
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YouTube/Joe Jabon

Merle Haggard’s “Workin’ Man Blues” resonated with blue collar listeners when it came out in 1985, and still remains relevant today.


“Austin” by Blake Shelton

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Blake Shelton in his music video for “Austin.”
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YouTube/Blake Shelton

Blake Shelton’s “Austin” tells a love story classic to the country music genre, but told through a series of voicemails. This emotional song ended up propelling Blake Shelton’s career to stardom.


“There Goes My Everything” by Jack Greene

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Jack Greene performing “There Goes My Everything” on “The Ernest Tubb Show.”
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YouTube/Old Country

“There Goes My Everything” by Jack Greene is a sad but easy-listening song that was featured on the Billboard 100 when Jack Greene’s version came out in 1966, though it was later covered by Elvis Presley.


“Tim McGraw” by Taylor Swift

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Taylor Swift in her music video for “Tim McGraw.”
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YouTube/Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift’s first single “Tim McGraw” was an ode to Tim McGraw as well as country music overall, with a small-town love story mixed in. The song showed her expertise in the country music genre, before she made the switch to pop.


“I Walk the Line (Revisited)” by Rodney Crowell

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Rodney Crowell performing “I Walk the Line (Revisited).”
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YouTube/Johnny Cash Infocenter

Rodney Crowell’s version of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” is not so much a cover of the hit song as it is a retelling of Crowell’s experience when he first heard the song. Cash’s chorus is placed intermittently throughout the song, making it a fun reuse of the renowned classic as well as a great song that stands on its own.


“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” by Willie Nelson

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Willie Nelson in his music video for “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”
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YouTube/WillieNelsonVEVO

While many popular country singers have recorded their own versions of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” Willie Nelson’s was the one that hit most for music charts and audiences alike, arguably becoming one of his best songs amidst his long and continually successful career.


“Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw

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Tim McGraw in his music video for “Live Like You Were Dying.”
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Youtube/Tim McGraw

The writers behind Tim McGraw’s popular single “Live Like You Were Dying,” Craig Wiseman and Tim Nichols, opened up about the 2013 hit in the book “Nashville Songwriter.” They were inspired to write it after a close friend was misdiagnosed with a potentially life-threatening disease.

Wiseman said, “At some point, we knew there was a song there, like ‘dying to live.’ I think I mumbled ‘live like you were dying,’ and Tim said, ‘Yeah!'”


“Blue” by LeAnn Rimes

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LeAnn Rimes in her music video for “Blue.”
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Youtube/Leann Rimes

Another song that’s been covered by several country artists is Bill Mack’s classic “Blue,” recorded in 1958. LeAnn Rimes’ 1996 rendition in particular became a hit and made the 13-year-old an instant star. Rimes became the youngest winner to take home the Grammy for Best New Artist and also scored a trophy for Best Female Country Vocal.


“Mama’s Broken Heart” by Miranda Lambert

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Miranda Lambert all dolled up in her music video for “Mama’s Broken Heart.”
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Youtube/Miranda Lambert

Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” is a modern breakup anthem that was penned by fellow artists Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, and Shane McAnally.

“The reason I love this song is because it’s about how sometimes when you get your heart broken, you kinda go a little bit crazy,” Lambert said. “You drink too much, you smoke too much, you cut your hair … you find a rebound. Sometimes your mama, if she’s like my mama, has to slap you around and say, ‘Straighten up, girl!'”


“Lovesick Blues” by Hank Williams

Hank Williams’ 1949 cover of “Lovesick Blues” was his first hit and topped the Billboard country charts for 16 weeks. Despite passing away at 29 years old in 1953, the singer’s legacy lives on with viral sensation Mason Ramsey’s own rendition of the classic.


“Not Ready To Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks

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The Dixie Chicks in their music video for “Not Ready to Make Nice.”
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Youtube/Dixie Chicks

This powerful anthem by the Dixie Chicks was in response to the backlash the country trio faced after lead singer Natalie Maines said she was ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas,” referring to former President George W. Bush.

Despite the controversy, the 2006 single led to three Grammy Awards for the group, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal.