Born Sept. 17, 1923, Hank Williams certainly packed a lot of living into his 29 short years of life. By the time the singer passed away on Jan. 1, 1953, he had already released more than 40 songs to radio -- and most of them found success on the charts.
While country music has for generations mourned the loss of the music that Williams might have made had he survived his addiction problems and health issues, the now-legend still left his mark. His tunes have become country classics, and he's continued to inspire those who came after him for more than 60 years.
Below, The Boot has selected 10 of Williams' very best hits.
"Move It on Over" was Williams' first charting song; it peaked at No 4. The tune, which was about a man forced to sleep in the doghouse after coming home too late, put a humorous spin on Williams' real-life struggles, and the success of "Move It on Over" earned Williams a spot on the Louisiana Hayride show.
"Jambalaya (On the Bayou)"
Williams wrote "Jambalaya" with singer and pianist Moon Mullican. The Cajun-inspired song, about life on the bayou, stayed at the top of the charts for a total of 14 weeks. Since Williams' recording of the tune, dozens of artists have released cover versions, including Kitty Wells, Emmylou Harris, Brenda Lee, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Lucinda Williams and Garth Brooks.
"Your Cheatin' Heart" was Williams' first hit to land at the top of the charts following his death, although the song spoke volumes about his life. Written by Williams, the song was a message to his first wife, Audrey Mae Sheppard, following their divorce. With lines such as "Your cheatin' heart / Will pine some day / And crave the love / You threw away / The time will come / When you'll be blue / Your cheatin' heart will tell on you," "Your Cheatin' Heart" gave a not-so-subtle glimpse into the reasons for their split.
"(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle"
Williams wrote this song with Jimmie Davis, best known for writing classics such as "You Are My Sunshine" and "There's a New Moon Over My Shoulder." The tune, about a man who ran away on a train and ended up in prison, features Williams' spot-on ability to mimic a train's whistle. "(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle" is credited with serving as the inspiration for Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." Cash later recorded "Lonesome Whistle," as did George Jones, Hank Snow, Porter Wagoner and Hank Williams Jr.
"Lovesick Blues" is one of the few songs that Williams recorded but didn't write. Instead, renowned writers Cliff Friend and Irving Mills penned the track, for a 1922 musical, Oh, Ernest. But when Williams received thunderous applause for his performance of the song on Louisiana Hayride, he decided to record it himself. Billboard later named it the top country and western song of the year. Williams Jr. later recorded himself singing tune tune with his father, after he had passed away, for his Father & Son album, released in 1965.
Williams' then-wife, Audrey Williams, is once again rumored to have served as the inspiration for this song, which includes lines such as "I tried so hard, my dear, to show that you're my every dream / Yet you're afraid each thing I do is just some evil scheme / A memory from your lonesome past keeps us so far apart / Why can't I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart?" The legend is rumored to have written this tune after Audrey Williams ended up in the hospital due to an infection following an illegal at-home abortion. When Williams bent down to kiss her, she refused, prompting the singer to tell their nanny that his wife had a "cold, cold heart."
"I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"
Williams originally intended for this track to be a spoken-word piece, but he was convinced to set it to music by several of his friends and colleagues. With lines that include "Did you ever see a robin weep / When leaves begin to die? / Like me, he's lost the will to live / I'm so lonesome I could cry," the song was, again, about his relationship with his then-wife, Audrey Williams. Presley later called the song, during his TV special Aloha From Hawaii, the "saddest song I've ever heard."
"I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive"
Ironically, "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" is the last song that Williams released before his death. After penning so many tunes about his heartache and romance problems, this track was intended to be humorous, although Williams certainly didn't have much fun at the recording session: Chet Atkins, who played lead guitar on the song, later said (as recounted in American Songwriter), “After each take, he’d sit down in a chair. I remember thinking, ‘Hoss, you’re not just jivin’,’ because he was so weak that all he could do was just sing a few lines and then just fall in the chair."
Williams initially wrote "Hey Good Lookin'" for then-aspiring artist Little Jimmy Dickens, before deciding to keep it for himself. So the story goes, Williams was on a plane with Dickens, Minnie Pearl and her husband, Henry Cannon, when he wrote "Hey Good Lookin'," reportedly in about 20 minutes. With lines such as "Hey, hey, good lookin', whatcha got cookin'? / How's about cookin' somethin' up with me? / Hey, hey, sweet baby, don't you think maybe / We could find us a brand-new recipe?" the tune was later recorded by multiple artists, including Jones, Cash, Ray Charles, Ernest Tubb, Waylon Jennings and Jimmy Buffett.
Few artists have a song that is as synonymous with their name as Williams' name is with "I Saw the Light." Although the song failed to chart when it was first released in 1948, it later became one of Williams' most-beloved hits. The actual story behind the song is up for debate: Some accounts suggest that Williams' mother uttered the words after waking up her son, who was passed out drunk in the backseat, after seeing the lights of the airport in Montgomery, Ala.; others say that Williams himself spoke the words to his band as they were returning home. Still, one thing is certain: "I Saw the Light" remains the song by which the world remembers Williams. A biopic about the artist's life, starring Tom Hiddleston and named for this song, is set for release on March 25.