Genres are funny things. Often, a label gets stuck with an artist and, whether it is the most appropriate label or not–it follows them throughout their career. Other times the difference between one genre and another might be the inclusion of a steel guitar in a song, or a saxophone.
These artists from the 60’s and 70’s were all progressive, popular acts, pushing the boundaries of their musical genres. But if we were to hold them up to today’s standards, we might find that the labels that once fit them would no longer be appropriate.
A quick note before we get started: All of these artists sang poignant songs, many with a purpose–protest or satire or love. This list is not meant to compare these all-time greats with modern country songs about sitting on tailgates and watching girls dance. Instead it is meant to compare these all-time greats with the sounds of modern artists with similar messages like Jamey Johnson, Sturgill Simpson, or even Brad Paisley.
Another quick note: I avoided Southern rock bands that would have been easy selections. So you won’t see Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker, or the Allman Brothers on this list.
Ok, that’s it. Enjoy.
11. Dusty Springfield
If you don’t see Carrie Underwood when you see Dusty Springfield, you’re probably not watching Dusty Springfield. The sultry singer from England flirted with folk and country her entire career, especially early on. In today’s world, she never would have gotten away with her pop and soul label.
10. Three Dog Night
Three Dog Night was a rock group from California that championed the songs of folk singer-songwriters Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman, among others. Much like Dr. Hook did for Shel Silverstein. (Dr. Hook of course also belongs on this list.) The band had a very beat-driven, straightforward sound, one that would mesh perfectly with today’s country music.
9. The Monkees
What essentially equated to a boy band in the 60’s, the Monkees wanted to be the Beatles but came off more NSYNC. Actually, that is exactly how they got their start. They began as a fake band for the TV show that wanted to be the Beatles, but when people began listening to their music, the group actually became a real band. They were so popular that in 1967 they outsold the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Combined. Eat your heart out, Justin Timberlake and the Mickey Mouse Club. There’s no denying, however, that the Monkees’ would be labeled country in today’s world.
8. The Byrds
The Byrds pioneered folk-rock genre, blending the sound of the British Invasion with traditional folk. By today’s standards, they don’t sound very revolutionary–rather they sound like they would belong on country or Americana radio. David Crosby got his start with The Byrds; look for his future band mates to show up later in the list.
7. Buffalo Springfield
No relation to Dusty, Buffalo Springfield actually was an early iteration of a collaboration by a few musicians you may have heard of: Stephen Stills and Neil Young. Add Jim Messina to the mix and a few talented others and you had an extremely powerful, if short-lived, folk-rock group. Of course Young would have a successful solo career and also team up with Stills for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, while Messina would join Kenny Loggins for Loggins & Messina, all of who belong on this list.
6. Warren Zevon
If you haven’t heard of Warren Zevon, you’re not alone. Somehow this musical genius has languished in relative mainstream obscurity, at least for those who aren’t familiar with Kid Rock’s insipid mash-up of Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” and Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” or Terri Clark’s 90’s cover of “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”. His early death in 2003 brought him a little exposure, but nothing like what he would have gotten if he were on country radio today.
5. Bob Seger
You know his songs. Heck, you probably can’t help but hum one of them every time you see a commercial for a Chevy truck. Waylon Jennings and the Highwaymen each released covers of his songs and a Kenny Rogers cover of “We’ve Got Tonight” topped the country charts in 1983. Furthermore, Seger penned a number one hit for the next group on this list. Need even more proof? Well, his latest album, 2014’s Ride Out featured covers of Steve Earle, John Hiatt, Kasey Chambers, and Woody Guthrie. The pride of Michigan certainly would have felt at home in the country genre.
4. The Eagles
Not only would the Eagles have been considered country today, but they might not have even ever made it on the radio. Their soft rock would not stand up to the drum machine, beat heavy music that today’s listeners demand from their country. Can you imagine a world without the Eagles? Horror.
3. The Band
What is there to say about The Band? They were country. They were blues. They were rock n’ roll. They were everything and anything they wanted to be. Levon Helm on the drums later would release Grammy award-winning folk and Americana albums and host Midnight Rambles at his home in New York. Where would they fit in today’s musical landscape? Like the rest of the bands on this list, they wouldn’t fit in rock anymore; they would be country.
2. Creedence Clearwater Revival
I wasn’t going to include CCR because it was too obvious, but honestly, what would this list be without them? A farce, that’s what it would be! If you sent country music back in time, stripped off its Nashville glamour, and told people from the 60’s s it was CCR, they wouldn’t bat an eye.
1. Bruce Springsteen
The Boss. In the iconic cover photo of with a white t-shirt, jeans, and ballcap, Bruce Springsteen is America. He was before and he has been ever since. The only thing keeping him off the country charts was a saxophone and the fact that he released his songs 30 years too soon. But check out his Seeger Session albums to see the Boss stripped down and playing some incredible folk. If ever there was an artist that would be country today, it is Bruce Springsteen.