Top 10 Country Songs of the ’60s
From Woodstock to the Beatles, the 1960s were a huge decade for music — and country music was no exception. The ’60s gave country music fans countless future standards, and the highlights of those 10 years include everything from Loretta Lynn earning her first No. 1 single to Johnny Cash continuing to tear up the charts.
From songs so timeless we forget there was a time they didn’t exist to recordings that feel entirely of their time, the 1960s are a wealth of country music. Read on to learn more about The Boot’s picks for the Top 10 country songs of the ’60s.
Before it was used in commercials for Southwest Airlines and Choice Hotels — even before it was a Johnny Cash song — “I’ve Been Everywhere” was a Hank Snow standard. The slow-starting song eventually builds into an auctioneer-speed listing of all the places the narrator has been: everywhere from “Reno, Chicago, Fargo” to “Amarillo, Topacillo, Pocotello, Amperdillo.” While Snow made the song a No. 1 hit in America, “I’ve Been Everywhere” was originally an Australian song (and listed Australian towns).
Wynette was married five times, so if anyone was ready to sing a song about divorce, it was her. “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” released in 1968, shares the perspective of a mother trying to shield her 4-year-old son from things he can’t understand by spelling them out — things like C-U-S-T-O-D-Y and the titular D-I-V-O-R-C-E. The song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart, and made an appearance at No. 63 on the pop charts, too.
Those who have heard the Beatles’ version of “Act Naturally” sometimes comment that it sounds like a country song. There’s good reason for that: It originally was! The Johnny Russell– and Voni Morrison-penned number was originally recorded by Owens and the Buckaroos, whose recording sent the tune to the top of the charts. In 1989, Ringo Starr (the lead vocalist on the version recorded by the Beatles) and Owens released a new version of the song, which earned them a CMA Awards nomination for Vocal Event of the Year and a Grammys nomination for Best Country Vocal Collaboration.
“She Thinks I Still Care” is a tongue-in-cheek breakup song that finds the narrator claiming that an old girlfriend thinks he still cares about her just because he can’t stop talking about her, calling her and spending time in their old favorite places. Jones sells us on the lovelorn narrator, and as a result, “She Thinks I Still Care” reached No. 1.
With the exception of Dolly Parton, not many singers record songs that inspire entire movies (or television miniseries). But Jeannie C. Riley’s recording of “Harper Valley PTA” (a song written by Tom T. Hall) did just that. The story of a widowed mother who is judged by the PTA for her short skirts and flirtations with men exposed the hypocrisy of small-thinking, and also made Riley the first woman to simultaneously reach the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Country Singles chart. Fittingly, the next woman to do this would be Parton herself.
This 1966 single was Lynn’s first No. 1 hit, which is appropriate, since it set the tone for types of songs Lynn would become known for: sharp-but-funny feminist critiques that were controversial, but ultimately beloved, in their time. As with many of her songs to follow, the story of the song — a wife who isn’t going to put up with her husband’s drinking (or put out) — was pulled from Lynn’s personal life with her hard-drinking husband. In 1967, “Don’t Come Home a’Drinkin'” made Lynn the first recipient of the CMA Awards’ Female Vocalist of the Year.
On the surface, “Wichita Lineman” is highly specific; there aren’t that many songs written about men who are thinking about taking a vacation from their Wichita, Kan., telephone company job. But it only takes one listen to realize that this song crosses genres and meaning, as a meditation on loneliness that found success on country stations, adult contemporary stations and pop stations alike and has spawned endless covers (from Kool and the Gang to R.E.M.).
By now, “I Fall to Pieces” has long been a country standard. But in 1961, it was just the first song from songwriters Hank Cochran and and Harlan Howard that Cline recorded. “I Fall to Pieces,” a mournful ballad about an affair that can’t be, was a cross-genre success, charting on pop and country charts, and set up Cline’s future as a successful female crossover artist.
“Mama Tried” is a song of a lifetime — literally. Originally released in 1968, it was entered into the Grammy Hall of Fame over 30 years later, in 1999; it is also in the National Recording Registry. But back when Haggard wrote and recorded it back in ’68, it was just a No. 1 country hit inspired by all of the trouble that Haggard got in (some of which landed him in San Quentin), even though “Mama tried to raise [him] better.”
It’s fitting that one of Cash’s biggest hits was co-written by his (then-future) wife, June Carter Cash. She and Merle Kilgore originally wrote this song, about the hopelessness of falling in a love that “burns, burns, burns,” for her sister, Anita Carter. Cash took the song and added mariachi horns, and the result became an enduring classic: It stayed at No. 1 for seven weeks and is still one of Cash’s best-known songs.