Between his days as an upstart traditional-minded hit-maker to his current status as Nashville’s elder statesman, Randy Travis‘ songs captured the imagination of fans and future singing stars. He and George Strait helped define the 1980s for fans of the old time way. As an established megastar in the ’90s, Travis joined Alan Jackson and other traditionalists in providing a increasingly pop-friendly genre with modern-day honky tonk heroes. Since then, he’s been a genuine legend for both country and gospel audiences.
For a broader overview of his career phases, consider this roundup of his 10 all-time greatest hits. Each song was made special by Travis’ unforgettable voice.
Travis, with his mighty voice and mightier faith, made this familiar standard his own over the years. From George Jones’ funeral to Travis’ own Hall of Fame induction, his version has become a rallying cry of sorts for fans that need a pick-me-up.
Despite its relatively low ranking here, “Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart” might be the best Travis song aside from his most obvious hits. Everything you’d want from him, from memorable hooks to a helping of fiddle driven “real country music,” is present in spades.
At the peak of Travis’ commercial success, this boogie-friendly blend of old-school country and contemporary sounds from 1988 became his fifth straight number one single. Travis simultaneously reached perhaps his most commercial and most traditional height simultaneously.
A torchbearer of what Bill Monroe billed a “high lonesome sound” revitalized country’s rich past with this classic song. It brings old-time music down from the mountain to cosmopolitan audiences.
Travis officially became America’s old-time counter to Urban Cowboy schlock with this hit, penned by Paul Overstreet and new Country Music Hall of Famer Don Schlitz. It was a perfect song for a new wave of ole country boys, based on an equally awesome version recorded by Keith Whitley.
In the 1980s, only Sissy Spacek taught more city folks that it’s pronounced “holler,” not “hollow,” in the mountains. As Travis acknowledges in the song, Deep South dialect serves as effectively as true love analogies as the crashing ocean or soaring eagles.
The mighty “I Told You So” exemplifies Travis’ influence on future generations of country artists. Carrie Underwood covered the 1988 Billboard singles chart-topper nearly 20 years later. Both artists converged for a hit duet in 2009.
Only two other Randy Travis classics near the staying power of this lamenting of finding artifacts of lost love. The greatest country songs ring true to listeners, and pretty much every one with a broken heart understands Travis’ sentiment loud and clear.
A man of faith, Travis sometimes shared the good word through country songs. Not even John Michael Montgomery broke as many tender hearts with a song about loss and redemption.
Of all the great songs by Travis, only one helps define the sound and spirit of late ’80s country. It remains as much a definitive statement of a place in time as Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” became for the following wave of superstars. Its music video further cements Travis’ greatness.