Top 10 Kenny Rogers Songs
Kenny Rogers‘ songs are timeless. The country superstar has always had a knack for recording strong, well-written material that stands up well over time, which has helped him build a career as one of the most consistent hitmakers of his generation.
From his early successes fronting the country rock group the First Edition to his later smash success as a solo artist, Rogers has wandered around stylistically over the decades — but his best songs have always boiled down to telling a great story in a way that relates to people. Along with Rogers’ signature vocal delivery, those are the hallmarks of all of the tracks in our list of the Top 10 Kenny Rogers Songs.
“Twenty Years Ago”
Rogers was beginning to slip on the charts when he released They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To. The album was an unabashed crossover into more pop territory, and coming as it did at the dawn of the New Traditionalist movement, it did not fare as well as some of Rogers’ previous efforts. But its second single, the poignant “Twenty Years Ago,” rose to No. 2 on the charts on the strength of its universal refrain: “Life was so much easier 20 years ago.”
“Buy Me a Rose”
Rogers pulled off a later-in-life career resurrection with “Buy Me a Rose.” He drafted Billy Dean and Alison Krauss to perform backing vocals on the track, which tells the story of a man who’s been trying to impress his wife with material possessions, only to find that it’s simple, loving gestures from him that she really values. That timeless message took the song all the way to No. 1 in 1999, a dozen years after Rogers had last visited the top of the charts.
After years of toiling in various groups, to varying degrees of success and failure, Rogers was fast becoming a huge solo star by the time he released his third solo album. Its title song and lead single was a classic cheating song about a clandestine couple who are “daytime friends and nighttime lovers,” despite the fact that he is her husband’s best friend. The song became Rogers’ second No. 1 hit, earning a spot in the Top 10 Kenny Rogers Songs.
“She Believes in Me”
Rogers went from stardom to superstardom with his 1978 album The Gambler. The second consecutive No. 1 country single from the album, “She Believes in Me” tells the plaintive story of a struggling musician whose love has stood by him through all his tribulations. The track’s soaring melody and lush arrangement made it a perfect crossover vehicle, also reaching No. 5 in Billboard‘s Hot 100 and No. 1 in the adult contemporary charts.
“Sweet Music Man”
“Sweet Music Man” is a rarity among Rogers’ hits in that he wrote it himself. The singer sat by singer Jessi Colter on a plane flight, and her laments about the trials she was going through with her husband, Waylon Jennings, inspired Rogers to write the story of a fading singer trying to hold onto glory. Ironically, Jennings himself was among the singers who later covered the song, but Rogers’ is the definitive version, reaching No. 9 in Billboard‘s Hot Country Singles.
“Islands in the Stream” (with Dolly Parton)
Few country stars have re-invented themselves as often, or as successfully, as Rogers. This 1983 multi-format smash was a case in point: Written by the Bee Gees, its pop style was a dramatic departure from his previous efforts. Recorded as a duet with Parton, the song became a No. 1 hit in the country, pop and adult contemporary formats in the U.S., and reached No. 1 in many other markets around the world, making it a must for any list of the Top 10 Kenny Rogers Songs.
“Coward of the County”
Rogers was at the peak of his career when “Coward of the County” was released in 1979. The song tells the story of a young man whose father spent much of his life in prison, and makes his son swear he will not follow in his footsteps. His pledge not to engage in violence earns him a reputation for cowardice, until he single-handedly defeats the Gatlin boys in a barroom fight over his girlfriend’s honor. The song reached No. 1 in many countries worldwide, and inspired a TV movie of the same title.
After leaving the First Edition in 1976, Rogers released one relatively unsuccessful solo album. The second single from his self-titled second album was the song that broke him as a solo star. “Lucille” pains a picture of a man picking up a woman in a bar, only to think better of the situation after her brokenhearted husband shows up to confront her with the classic refrain, “You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille.” The track became Rogers’ first solo No. 1 country hit in America, and also topped the charts in the UK.
Rogers pulled off another cross-pollination of genres with “Lady,” a piano ballad written by Lionel Richie. Written specifically at Rogers’ request, the song was Richie’s first production outside of the Commodores. The track centers around a simple melody, lush string arrangement, and the sincerity of Rogers’ performance. It reached No. 1 across three formats in the U.S., and became a monster hit worldwide, not only bolstering Rogers’ status as a crossover sensation, but helping to launch Richie into a huge solo career as well.
No other song but “The Gambler” could head up any list of the Top 10 Kenny Rogers Songs. Written by Don Schlitz, and previously recorded by both Bobby Bare and Johnny Cash, the song became a runaway hit when Rogers released it in 1978. It reached No. 1 around the world, launched Rogers into a second career as an actor, and earned him a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.