From the opening song, which finds Steve doing his best Dylan impersonation in calling for the spirits of Woody Guthrie and Jesus to return and scour the land free of crooked politicians, to the last song, “Fort Worth Blues,” which finds Steve spinning a heartbreaking tale of wanderlust and an unnameable malaise, El Corazon shot like a bullet to my heart. Earle slides effortlessly between folk, Neil Young-like guitar anthems, country weepers, bluegrass workouts and bone-crunching rock ‘n’ roll. And throughout he writes brilliantly, offering up story songs with remarkable economy, using not a single wasted word.—Andy Whitman
Fourth generation (1970s–1980s) music included outlaw country with roots in the Bakersfield sound, and country pop with roots in the countrypolitan, folk music and soft rock. Between 1972 and 1975 singer/guitarist John Denver released a series of hugely successful songs blending country and folk-rock musical styles. During the early 1980s country artists continued to see their records perform well on the pop charts. In 1980 a style of "neocountry disco music" was popularized. During the mid-1980s a group of new artists began to emerge who rejected the more polished country-pop sound that had been prominent on radio and the charts in favor of more traditional "back-to-basics" production; this neotraditional movement would dominate country music through the late 1980s and was typified by the likes of George Strait. Attempts to combine punk and country were pioneered by Jason and the Scorchers, and in the 1980s Southern Californian cowpunk scene with bands like the Long Ryders and Mojo Nixon.

In the 1930s and 1940s, cowboy songs, or Western music, which had been recorded since the 1920s, were popularized by films made in Hollywood. Some of the popular singing cowboys from the era were Gene Autry, the Sons of the Pioneers, and Roy Rogers.[42] Country music and western music were frequently played together on the same radio stations, hence the term country and western music. Cowgirls contributed to the sound in various family groups. Patsy Montana opened the door for female artists with her history-making song "I Want To Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart". This would begin a movement toward opportunities for women to have successful solo careers. Bob Wills was another country musician from the Lower Great Plains who had become very popular as the leader of a "hot string band," and who also appeared in Hollywood westerns. His mix of country and jazz, which started out as dance hall music, would become known as Western swing. Cliff Bruner, Moon Mullican, Milton Brown and Adolph Hofner were other early Western swing pioneers. Spade Cooley and Tex Williams also had very popular bands and appeared in films. At its height, Western swing rivaled the popularity of big band swing music.


Alt-country is such a hard genre to define that the wonderful music magazine devoted to it proclaimed itself the “alternative-country (whatever that is) bi-monthly.” For our best alt-country albums list, we’ve chosen to focus on albums with significant country elements operating outside of the mainstream country music industry. So country stars we love like Kacey Musgraves and Chris Stapleton didn’t make the cut. Neither did folky Americana acts like Josh Ritter, The Civil Wars or First Aid Kit, though we’re huge fans of all three.

Country music has been growing as an art from since Eck Robertson’s recording of “Arkansas Traveler” in 1922. From the days of 78 RPM vinyl to digital downloads, fans continue to flock to the format. So who are the 25 greatest country artists of all time? That list might very well be subject to conjecture as the definition of country, but here are the acts that have made an immeasurable mark on the genre. In compiling this list, we took into consideration sales, airplay, and influence upon the genre -- and outside of it. Let the debates commence!


If Johnny Cash covered one of your songs on his final albums, it automatically meant it embodied some sort of country spirit however musically disguised. Cash, of course, interpreted the title track from this 1999 record the following year on American III: Solitary Man. I See a Darkness is dark, yes. It is gothic without being goth. Yet, its confessional cries and distant, discordant layering (especially on tracks like “Nomadic Revery (All Around)”) are also subversive in a way that honors the subgenre.—Hilary Saunders

Country pop or soft pop, with roots in the countrypolitan sound, folk music, and soft rock, is a subgenre that first emerged in the 1970s. Although the term first referred to country music songs and artists that crossed over to top 40 radio, country pop acts are now more likely to cross over to adult contemporary music. It started with pop music singers like Glen Campbell, Bobbie Gentry, John Denver, Olivia Newton-John, Anne Murray, B. J. Thomas, The Bellamy Brothers, and Linda Ronstadt having hits on the country charts. Between 1972 and 1975, singer/guitarist John Denver released a series of hugely successful songs blending country and folk-rock musical styles ("Rocky Mountain High", "Sunshine on My Shoulders", "Annie's Song", "Thank God I'm a Country Boy", and "I'm Sorry"), and was named Country Music Entertainer of the Year in 1975. The year before, Olivia Newton-John, an Australian pop singer, won the "Best Female Country Vocal Performance" as well as the Country Music Association's most coveted award for females, "Female Vocalist of the Year". In response George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Jean Shepard and other traditional Nashville country artists dissatisfied with the new trend formed the short-lived "Association of Country Entertainers" in 1974; the ACE soon unraveled in the wake of Jones and Wynette's bitter divorce and Shepard's realization that most others in the industry lacked her passion for the movement.
Many traditional country artists are present in eastern and western Canada. They make common use of fiddle and pedal steel guitar styles. Some notable Canadian country artists include Shania Twain, Anne Murray, k.d. lang, Gordon Lightfoot, Buffy Sainte-Marie, George Canyon, Blue Rodeo, Tommy Hunter, Rita MacNeil, Stompin' Tom Connors, Stan Rogers, Ronnie Prophet, Carroll Baker, The Rankin Family, Ian Tyson, Johnny Reid, Paul Brandt, Jason McCoy, George Fox, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Hank Snow, Don Messer, Wilf Carter, Michelle Wright, Terri Clark, Prairie Oyster, Family Brown, Johnny Mooring, Marg Osburne, Lindsay Ell, Doc Walker, Emerson Drive, The Wilkinsons, Corb Lund and the Hurtin' Albertans, Crystal Shawanda, Dean Brody, Shane Yellowbird, Gord Bamford, Chad Brownlee, The Road Hammers, Rowdy Spurs, Colter Wall and The Higgins.

Many traditional country artists are present in eastern and western Canada. They make common use of fiddle and pedal steel guitar styles. Some notable Canadian country artists include Shania Twain, Anne Murray, k.d. lang, Gordon Lightfoot, Buffy Sainte-Marie, George Canyon, Blue Rodeo, Tommy Hunter, Rita MacNeil, Stompin' Tom Connors, Stan Rogers, Ronnie Prophet, Carroll Baker, The Rankin Family, Ian Tyson, Johnny Reid, Paul Brandt, Jason McCoy, George Fox, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Hank Snow, Don Messer, Wilf Carter, Michelle Wright, Terri Clark, Prairie Oyster, Family Brown, Johnny Mooring, Marg Osburne, Lindsay Ell, Doc Walker, Emerson Drive, The Wilkinsons, Corb Lund and the Hurtin' Albertans, Crystal Shawanda, Dean Brody, Shane Yellowbird, Gord Bamford, Chad Brownlee, The Road Hammers, Rowdy Spurs, Colter Wall and The Higgins.
In 1952, Dawson began a radio show and went on to national stardom as a singing cowboy of radio, TV and film. Slim Dusty (1927–2003) was known as the "King of Australian Country Music" and helped to popularise the Australian bush ballad. His successful career spanned almost six decades, and his 1957 hit "A Pub with No Beer" was the biggest-selling record by an Australian to that time, and with over seven million record sales in Australia he is the most successful artist in Australian musical history.[117] Dusty recorded and released his one-hundredth album in the year 2000 and was given the honour of singing "Waltzing Matilda" in the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Dusty's wife Joy McKean penned several of his most popular songs.
Following World War II a growth phase for Canadian bands was experienced, this time among school bands.[75] Rapid advances in the inclusion of instrumental music study in formal school curricula brought about fundamental changes to the philosophy of the band movement and the type of repertoire available.[75] The CHUM Chart debuted on May 27, 1957, under the name CHUM's Weekly Hit Parade, was in response to the fast-growing diversity of music that needed to be subdivided and categorized.[76] The CHUM charts were the longest-running Top 40 chart in Canada ending in 1986.[77]
A diminished CBC comes at a great loss to the Canadian music community. For musicians, regardless of genre, there is no media outlet that will provide them the same coverage and audience reach as the CBC. For music fans, it could mean hearing far less homegrown talent at a time when Canada is creating more noteworthy music than ever. Canada has long had a reputation for punching above its weight with regards to exporting music, and the CBC has been a very big part of that success over the decades.
Years before the term “alt-country” was conceived, something a little uglier and grimier was festering in Nashville. Jason & The Scorchers—led by explosive frontman Jason Ringenberg—released a couple of EPs before dropping their best record Lost & Found in 1985. It’s a punk rock album at heart, but guitarist Warner Hodges has plenty of twangy licks up his sleeve. Songs like “Lost Highway” and “I Really Don’t Want To Know” showed off Ringenberg’s wry sense of humor, while also confounding audiences for being too country for some and too punk rock for others. The band never found any major success early on, however, three decades later Lost & Found proves that Jason & The Scorchers were light years ahead of their time.—Mark Lore

The Prairie provinces, due to their western cowboy and agrarian nature, are the true heartland of Canadian country music.[114] While the Prairies never developed a traditional music culture anything like the Maritimes, the folk music of the Prairies often reflected the cultural origins of the settlers, who were a mix of Scottish, Ukrainian, German and others. For these reasons polkas and Western music were always popular in the region, and with the introduction of the radio, mainstream country music flourished. As the culture of the region is western and frontier in nature, the specific genre of country and western is more popular today in the Prairies than in any other part of the country. No other area of the country embraces all aspects of the culture, from two-step dancing, to the cowboy dress, to rodeos, to the music itself, like the Prairies do. The Atlantic Provinces, on the other hand, produce far more traditional musicians, but they are not usually specifically country in nature, usually bordering more on the folk or Celtic genres.[114]
During the early 1980s, country artists continued to see their records perform well on the pop charts. Willie Nelson and Juice Newton each had two songs in the top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 in the early eighties: Nelson charted "Always on My Mind" (No. 5, 1982) and "To All the Girls I've Loved Before" (No. 5, 1984, a duet with Julio Iglesias), and Newton achieved success with "Queen of Hearts" (No. 2, 1981) and "Angel of the Morning" (No. 4, 1981). Four country songs topped the Billboard Hot 100 in the 1980s: "Lady" by Kenny Rogers, from the late fall of 1980; "9 to 5" by Dolly Parton, "I Love a Rainy Night" by Eddie Rabbitt (these two back-to-back at the top in early 1981); and "Islands in the Stream", a duet by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers in 1983, a pop-country crossover hit written by Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees. Newton's "Queen of Hearts" almost reached No. 1, but was kept out of the spot by the pop ballad juggernaut "Endless Love" by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie.[70] The move of country music toward neotraditional styles led to a marked decline in country/pop crossovers in the late 1980s, and only one song in that period—Roy Orbison's "You Got It", from 1989—made the top 10 of both the Billboard Hot Country Singles" and Hot 100 charts, due largely to a revival of interest in Orbison after his sudden death.[71][72] The only song with substantial country airplay to reach number one on the pop charts in the late 1980s was "At This Moment" by Billy Vera and the Beaters, an R&B song with slide guitar embellishment that appeared at number 42 on the country charts from minor crossover airplay.[73] The record-setting, multi-platinum group Alabama was named Artist of the Decade for the 1980s by the Academy of Country Music.
Country music often consists of ballads and dance tunes with generally simple forms, folk lyrics, and harmonies mostly accompanied by string instruments such as banjos, electric and acoustic guitars, steel guitars (such as pedal steels and dobros), and fiddles as well as harmonicas.[2][3][4] Blues modes have been used extensively throughout its recorded history.[5]
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