Singling out 50 Country Songs That Don’t Suck in a world when there are undoubtedly thousands of country songs that don’t suck might seem condescending, except in the sense that country music’s Suckage Ratio (i.e.: songs that suck vs. ones that don’t) is just as high as any other genre. But sorting through all the chaff to uncover the wheat can be a chore—especially now, when country radio is probably at its dullest, most rote, point in over a decade. So perhaps this primer will help.

We're looking at the style here through a wide scope, historically and otherwise, starting with the decade when record companies first realized so-called hillbilly musicians might be worth signing, and the rural audience might be worth targeting: Three records from the ‘20s, four from the ‘30s, three from the ‘40s, two from the ‘50s, seven from the ‘60s, 11 from the ‘70s, five from the ‘80s, four from the ‘90s, seven from ‘00s, four from the ‘10s (which, after all, are still just a couple years old.) A sort of sloppy Bell curve, if you will.

We intentionally focused on artists who don’t get written about all that much—ones who you might not already know made great records, and also non-superstars who haven’t already earned all sorts of attentive ink from music critics. So: No Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton; no Dixie Chicks, Jamey Johnson, Big & Rich, Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift—all of whom have made records as good as several on this list. (OK, there were a few people on that level—Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Toby Keith—we couldn’t resist, no matter how hard we tried.) So we're not claiming these are the 50 best country songs ever made—More like, 50 really good ones that you probably won't be seeing on CMT's Country Music Awards show tomorrow night.

Written by Chuck Eddy

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